Interview: Recess Monkey

RecessMonkey_SPL.jpgLongtime readers will know that we're big fans of Jack Forman, Daron Henry, and Drew Holloway -- AKA the Seattle trio Recess Monkey -- here at Zooglobble HQ. Great songwriting, engaging live act, down-to-earth guys, not-entirely-overbearing handpuppet band manager, the band's got it all. They're busy busy busy all the time -- they're recording their next album with producer Tor Hyams this month while probably planning even more cool stuff with the Seattle-based Kindiependent collective -- but still found time to answer a few questions. So without further ado, please enjoy.

Zooglobble: What were your earliest musical memories?
Jack Forman: I remember going on long road trips around Indiana, listening to Beatles and Johnny Mathis 8-tracks with my parents. I think Anne Murray was in there too. My mom was always extremely musical, and my dad thought he was, so they encouraged me to try instruments out.

Daron Henry: My first musical memory is listening to "Here Comes the Sun" while sitting on my grandparents' kitchen counter. I think that I was 4. As a kid I was always much so that my first grade teacher called me "The Dancing Bear" after a Captain Kangaroo character.

Drew Holloway: I'll never forget the look my Dad gave me when we came out of Record Revolution in King of Prussia, PA with a copy of Van Halen's 1984. I begged him to get the record after watching "Jump" on MTV hundreds of times. He must have seen potential in my augmented air guitar (playing a broom up on our couch) that helped him overlook the striking cover! My father's finger tapping on the dashboard to the AM radio hits we listened to on the way home from baseball practice and his openness with his record collection (The Beatles, Beach Boys, Jim Croce and Chet Atkins) are truly etched as early musical memories for me.
Jack_SPL.jpgWhat are your musical memories from being in bands pre-Recess Monkey?
Jack: I took cello lessons in the music building at Indiana University when I was four or five. I have two distinct memories (neither of which relate to actually being able to play the cello, sadly): my instructor had extremely bad breath, masked by lemon cookies, and whenever she wasn't looking I'd lift my tiny 1/4 size cello onto my knee and play it like a guitar. It took twenty years to pick up the bass for the first time, but I think this was definitely an omen! We have a fan here in Seattle who's about the same age that I was who just started taking electric bass lessons! It's such a coup! Who ever heard of starting with BASS!? It's a total score for all of the bass players in the kindie scene!

Daron: I started playing percussion in middle school. I went on to play bass drum and quads in the marching band in high school. I taught myself how to play the drum kit in college so that I could play in a punk rock band with my friends. After that I played in all kinds of bands from rockabilly to goth dance!

Drew: In high school, a number of geeky cross country runners, me included, got together at my house to make lots of loud noise in the basement. Again, props to my parents for their support, and homemade pizza as we rambled through Stevie Ray Vaughn inspired "gems." I think my Zoom effects processor clouded the fact that I wasn't really playing actual chords.

Thinking back to the very first RM album, how (if at all) has your philosophy/songwriting approach on music for families changed from then 'til now?
Jack: One thing that hasn't changed- we put all of our faith in Drew and it always kind of works out.

Daron: I think that our songs have changed because we continue to challenge ourselves and each other.

Drew: We've been working hard to grow as people, teachers and parents and I think that process has informed our approach to writing, recording and performing songs. It's a growth mentality where it's kind of necessary that we are pushing ourselves creatively.

Jack: Something else we notice is the songs continue to be more and more danceable, and they invariably become 10-20 bpm faster when we introduce them live.

Daron_SPL.jpgWho came up with the idea for Mayor Monkey? Does he have his own insanely devoted fans?
Jack: We were recording the second half of our first album, and liked the idea of someone to introduce us and the album. We were really scratching our heads about it, and then suddenly there was a knock on the door. Drew opened it, and there, suitcase and overcoat in hand, was Mayor Monkey.

Drew: Sometimes I wish we had just pretended not to be home. I feel bad about saying that. It's just that...

Daron: MayMo would like to think that he has as many FB fans as Lamb Chop, one of his show biz heroes. But alas this is not the case.

MayMo: I would like to interject here! I might not have a lot of fans... but I do think that they may be insane.

How do you do so much (recording an album every year, DVDs, touring) and still hold down full-time jobs? What's the band's division of labor?
Jack: The funny answer to this is "we're sponsored by Starbucks." (Okay, not that funny)

Daron: possibly a Time Machine?

MayMo: Not to Brag...but, I think that it is due to my ability to organize and keep these boys on track!

Jack: We feel really lucky that each of us has a really unique, and complimentary skill set. Plus, we just have an insane amount of trust in each other.

Drew_SPL.jpgWould you rather be writing, recording, or playing live?
Daron: Every part of the process has its own charm. I personally love seeing the journey of a song...from the mind of Drew to the studio and then being slowly transformed in front of a live audience.

Drew: Watching a parent smiling at their kiddo singing or dancing along to one of our tunes is pretty grand, as is the excitement of loading in to the studio for a new session... yet as a songwriter there's a special magic around the spark of an idea; creating melodies and wordsmithing, that takes the cake for me.

Jack: What's great about being prolific is we never have the chance to get tired of any of it.

MayMo: Well, personally, I like the part where the song makes money!

Jack: And when is that, exactly?

Have you found that Kindiependent has helped further increase the visibility of the Seattle family music scene? What else would you like to see Kindiependent do?
Jack: We were really inspired by what we saw in Kansas City last year when we played the amazing Jiggle Jam festival. They really have dialed in a supportive, collaborative music scene there, full of bands truly respect and help each other. We came back with wind in our sails, eager to help build that kind of an atmosphere here in Seattle. The great news is, we were already friends with lots of other bands that we loved- and we had all already played shows together. Really, all we had to do was give a name to what was already starting to happen!

Daron: One of the other cool outcomes from this project has been that it has brought all of the bands closer together as musicians. We all had a blast creating the song "Vagabond Worms" as a collective of creative folks. We are really excited to keep creating songs in the near future.

Drew: Community is such a powerful thing and it really does help to make a bigger impression! There's so much to share, we're only just scratching the surface. It's such an honor to and joy to play and create with this talented and varied bunch - be on the lookout for more tunes, series and helping out of towners jet-set into the Emerald City!

Jack: Each time we do a group show, we tend to double the attendance: from 400 to 800 to over 2000, so we're eager to be talking about what our next big festival event will look like.

What's next for the band?
Jack: We are so, so excited to be jumping into our seventh album this winter! We're lucky to be working with Tor Hyams, and are looking at next spring for the release.

Daron: We have a lot of fun shows planned for 2011. We are really excited about a Mini-East Coast Tour that we will be taking in February: NYC’s Symphony Space on Feb 26 and Vienna’s Jammin' Java on Feb 27. We also have a big show here in Seattle at The Moore Theater on May 7, sharing the stage with our Kindiependent buddy Johnny Bregar!

Drew: We've been so energized by meeting and collaborating with other bands, in Seattle and all over the country. Our 2010 summer tour was marked by visits with Lunch Money, Michael Rachap, Billy Kelly, Joanie Leeds, Uncle Rock, Grenadilla and Dean Jones and Dog on Fleas. We're so fortunate to be making music for families and connecting with other amazing artists! We hope to deepen these relationships and make new ones in 2011. Needless to say, we're excited to say hi to everyone at Kindiefest in the spring!

Photo credits: Charlie Bartlett