If it's spring, it must be the runup to a new Recess Monkey album. Like clockwork, the Seattle trio turns out a new album each year, and on June 21st their latest album, FLYING!, hits the shelves (or servers, if you're a digital family). I had a chance to chat with bassist Jack Forman and drummer Daron Henry recently about a whole host of Recess Monkey-related stuff, including why a superhero-themed album, bringing in a producer, and Mayor Monkey's continued empire-building.
Zooglobble: You have a ton of different things going on -- do you have more ideas than time to implement them?
Jack Forman: Definitely. In the past year or so, we've had to prioritize. We'll still do anything, but we're OK turning down the $200 gig.
Daron Henry: We've met a lot of others who've inspired us. We've gotten a creative spark that we didn't have a year ago.
Jack: In business, they call it scope creep.
So what is your mission?
Jack: Hm. We haven't written it out, but it's definitely kid-centric. We're family-focused, but the energy comes from the kids in the audience or class. A 6- or 7-year-old hears a knock-knock joke for the first time, that's what we're about. We've written jingles, like for cellphones. but it has nothing to do with the band.
Daron: I believe in the kid focus, in being joyous. Life is hard, but there's joy too. We hope kids aren't passive consumers all the time, but can also create. The best part is when a kid tells us they're taking drum lessons or brings a uke to a show. That's awesome to me.
Jack: We're gonna work today on a video for "Sidekick" featuring Mayor Monkey in a Barbie Corvette. The DIY thing is key to what we do even with pro tools.
Why superheroes on this latest album?
Jack: There are three or four themes that never go away. Star Wars, monsters, animals, and superheroes. I teach kindergarten/pre-K, one year there was a kid who dressed up as a different superhero everyday. One day he came as "Apache Chief." He started inventing his own superheroes. He even did his school picture in costume.
We talked about superheroes with Tor [Hyams, producer of the new album], and he said he had a crocheted superhero costume. What was his superhero name?
Daron: "Super-Tor," I think.
Jack: [Laughs.] Yeah. Anyway, we can't do Star Wars because of --
Daron: George Lucas... But just this past year, kids had brought their stuffies to camp, tossing them from bunk to bunk, which is how our idea for "Super Stuffies" came about. Like jumping from couch to couch.
Where do you draw your inspiration? Has that changed over time and as a couple of you have become parents?
Jack: That's changed as we've changed. When Drew wrote the first album,That album, by the way, we're letting go out of print.
Jack: We've already seen people charge $30 for it, and I think, "what are they smoking?" But the album was based very specifically on his preschool class. We can't separate it out, but we're much more the third-person fly on the wall. We've each found different ways to bring in our other experiences. Drew's written songs about the sibling bond inspired by the birth of his second daughter. "Flying (Reprise)" on the new album was inspired by the birth of my son, Oscar. It's not in stasis.
Daron: I should say here that Jack and I are lucky to have Drew as a songwriter bring these inspirations together -- there are some many layers in the songs.
Jack: And it totally drives him crazy that the old songs... he wants to revisit old songs. He's also really good at writing from the perspective of an object.
You have a lot of new folks helping out on this new album... what was that like when you've been self-contained in the past?
Daron: Well, as for other artists, we've been doing that since Aminal House. As we kept making more albums (through a collaborative process), as we met more people we've been bringing in more people.
Jack: It's like a scrapbook of people. Molly Ledford [from Lunch Money] is a good example. We were big fans before. Molly, Jay [Barry], and I had a conversation on the floor at Littlefield (at Kindiefest). It's organic, can't make it happen. The change is in the kindie world.
As for Tor, it was like bringing in Billy Preston, a different energy. As a quartet playing live, it was so much fun, a collaborative give and take, so inspiring. As for production, he has such a better ear for production [than mine], it was freeing not to have to worry about it. He could make great suggestions. We actually spent the least time in the studio of our albums, more time songwriting. That was really a surprise to us.
Daron: We'd say, "this sounds like..." and he'd sit down at a piano and play it. It was like Wikipedia.
Jack: Like Rain Man -- "Samba, samba sounds like..." We brought in Chris Ballew, who was holed up in my basement by the furnace working out harmonica solos. For "Sidekick" we thought about a George Thorogood sound, but Tor brought in some instruments we hadn't thought about.
What's next for the band?
Jack: Some traveling this spring. We're going to Kindiefest and playing a couple shows in New York. We're super-excited for Kindiefest -- it's a family we didn't know we had. And super-excited to hear Kenny Curtis. We'll be working on videos, too.
Daron: We're also doing a show at the Moore Theatre in Seattle with Johnny Bregar. Not a lot of kindie artists play there.
Jack: It's where Pearl Jam filmed the "Evenflow" video. Big rock shows play there -- last time I was there I saw Aimee Mann...
And Mayor Monkey has a new talk show?
Jack: Oh, yes, MayMo thinks he has all the answers, a stuffed Dr. Phil.
Daron: His degree's from a community college.
Jack: Distance learning. He finally got a question, he's going to answer "why aren't reindeer called snow deer?"
Daron: I think it's just an attempt to get friends on Facebook, but that's cynical, right?
Jack: Yes. I woke up at 2 o'clock one night this week to find him building his set for the show.
Daron: But we can't quit our contract.
It's for seven albums, right?
Photo credits: Kevin Fry