Interview: Laurie Berkner

LaurieBerknerYellowBG.jpgPhoto credit: Michelle Pedone
Laurie Berkner needs no introduction. In spite of this fact, I'll provide one anyway. Over the course of five albums and more than a decade, Berkner has become quite possibly the biggest kids music superstar, at least among the preschool set. Although there have been a number of other folks who have been making great music as well over the past decade, I think it's Berkner's appearances on Noggin's Jack's Big Music Show that served as the tipping point, the catalyst for finally making the genre resurgent.

Berkner talked to me while riding in a cab to her New York City offices. Read on for details of her first singing experiences, what it's like to give up (some) control in the studio, and how hard it is to not lose sight of those singing experience amidst all the other business aspects of life as a musician.

Zooglobble: What were your strongest musical memories growing up?
Laurie Berkner: Well, the first memory was being 2 1/2 or 3 1/2 years old, and my parents made me stay in my room until a certain hour in the morning. I had a Fisher-Price record player, and I had a "Do Re Mi" from The Sound of Music. Our bedrooms must have been on opposite ends of the apartment, because I would march around the room and sing loudly.

The first time I sang in a group I was about 7, and it was my first chorus practice. We sang the schools' theme, "A whale of a school." It was the most incredible feeling to me... I listened to a lot of Broadway music, and then being in college, I listened to Joni Mitchell.

When did you know you wanted to be a musician?
I graduated from college as a psychology major, with an art history minor. Coming home, I wasn't sure what I'd do. My dad said, "I thought you'd be a musician." And I said, "Who would pay me?" So my parents said they would pay for an apartment for 1 year, and pretty quickly, I got a job as a preschool music specialist.
LaurieBerknerInConcert.jpgPhoto credit: Todd Owyoung
What's the difference between playing in a classroom as opposed to an auditorium?
The good part of playing in the classroom is the relationship you develop with the kids. In an auditorium, you have an energy with the kids -- it's exciting, festive, but without that intimacy of the classroom. In an auditorium you also have that sharing of a musical experience with the band, which goes back to that singing together thing I liked so much. I'm trying to do more of that [the playing with kids], they taught me a lot.

Both are exhausting.

What was the most rewarding part of making Rocketship Run?
Well, I have a real control thing. I certainly felt like I knew what worked musically. Working on the album with Adam [Bernstein] and Susie [Lampert], it was really great, but it was really hard - a real learning experience. But when I let go, I left open a space for something much more exciting.

RocketshipRun.jpgLike on "Going on a Hunt," which was a song I made up while walking with [my daughter] Lucy. Adam said, "let's try doing it in different styles." And [percussionist] Bob [Golden] said, "we could do a story" based on the song.

And it was just different in the way it was produced. I wrote lots of songs out of my experience of being a parent.

How much time do you spend on music versus other stuff?
It is embarrassingly -- painfully -- out of proportion.

I've been thinking about it for years. I'm very blessed that I have a lot of reat people working for me. I don't spend enough time with the 3 people on paid salary. In fact, I'm going to a meeting with them right now.

When I started this, I hated [the time spent on business]. It can suck me under. And if I don't spend time on the music stuff, it loses the structure. I need to squeeze in a rehearsal. I need to walk around listening -- I'll make time for that. Part of it is being a parent. I know lots of people feel the same way, feeling like I don't do it well.

Yeah, that's just part of being a parent, I think.
Yeah, I'm always working to find that balance.

LaurieBerknerBandlowres.jpgPhoto credit:Steve Vaccariello
So how did the "Pajama Party" tour come about?
That was a fun thing that just came up. One day in the van on our way to a show, Susie joked, "Wouldn't it be great not to have to get dressed up for a show?" And so we decided to do it. We found out there was an organization called the Pajama Program that collects pajamas and books for kids that are waiting to be adopted. It's not a big change to the show. It's a little more theatrical, but really just a big party. It's very energizing.

What's next? Is there a new album on the way?
I'm working on a number of projects, but they're mostly so early in the process. I don't have an actual product at the moment -- it's not the best place for me to put my energy in at the moment.