Interview: Jack Forman (Recess Monkey)

If Recess Monkey aren't the hardest-working band in kids music, then there's some other band who's figured out how break the 24-hours-in-a-day rule.  The Seattle trio has been cranking out a new studio yearly like clockwork, touring locally and nationally, and coming up with crazy-cool collaborative notions like Kindiependent, the Seattle-area collective of kindie rockers.

Their latest project, the recently released album In Tents, has also spurred a burst of creallaborativity (that's a word I just made up to reflect "collaborative creativity"), as it was the soundtrack for a kid-friendly circus show by Seattle-based troupe Teatro ZinZanni.

Last month bassist Jack Forman took time out during a "dingy, Kafka-esque Seattle morning" (his words, not mine), to talk about the album, the circus, and keeping things fresh when you're so busy).

Zooglobble: What are your childhood memories of the circus?

Jack Forman: I didn't go to the circus a lot.  I did go to the Ringling circus with my grandma in Indiana.  They had real Transformers and Truckosaurus, when I was 7 or 8 years old.  I've been interested in that combination of humor and darkness.

What are your favorite types of circus acts?

Oh, the contortion stuff, acrobatics, gymnasts.  There's this 11-year-old gymnast named Saffi Watson in the ZinZanni show, she's just insane.

Those are some of my favorites.  They're so good you sometimes forget they're just people.  I saw a Cirque du Soleil show recently, and when one of the trampoline gymnasts couldn't nail a landing, it was almost a good thing, because it reminded you just how hard these things are.

Yeah, there's the humanity, too.  It's refreshing to see when they've trained their whole life.

What came first - the album or the show?

The album came first -- we've been thinking about it for a couple years.  We kinda joked about it -- you know, hokey melodies for 3 year-olds, dinosaurs, clowns like you'd see at a teacher supply store.  But then we decided we wanted to steal back the idea from the cheesy preschool store and make it our own.  Give it a rich treatment, work with Dean [Jones, musician/producer].

Four months out from recording, I mentioned it to Korum [Bischoff[, who's a drummer for Johnny Bregar and who also works with Teatro ZinZanni, and before we knew it we spent 6 monhts with them working on a storyline.  Now we're so excited -- it's the coolest live show we've ever done.

So it's awesome live?

It's the first time we've played a record this fully live.  We've focursed on making our show dance-driven.  It's a pretty intense set, fully high-energy, sing-alongable.  Kids never sit and listen.  That's just what works for us. So there are a number of songs we've never played live.  For this show, we play 13 of the 15 songs from In Tents.

"Carousel" is my favorite musically, underscoring the performance.  There are 8 performers with costumes, a ballerina with 10-foot wings.  It's collaborative, complementary.  It's similar in some ways to a Flaming Lips show -- amazing visuals, interactive.  There are some moments where we're part of a larger team.  It's a dream come true.

Are there other favorites from the album?

"House of Cards," we don't do live, but the lyrics are really funny, and was the song most changed by Dean.  It started out as a ragtime song, then became a samba with a crummy Casio loop.  "Bouncy House" is really fun to play live.  You nailed the comparison to "Get Back" in your review -- yeah, even to the guest on keyboards.  (It was Drew's favorite song at some point at least.)

So you're probably the "Hardwest Working Band" in kids music... how do you keep the music and performances fresh?

Well, thank you for the premise of the question, that it's still fresh.  I was really worried a few albums ago (around Aminal House) -- how do you do it if you think it's the best you've done?  And it's been satisfying to detect growth each time.  We're playing more every year, which has helped as we've played new genres and can play new licks we couldn't do a couple years ago.  We've got 75-100 shows 'til the end of the year, but there's time to think about next year.  Maybe a concept record, maybe something more loose.

We really just enjoy each other creatively.

Other things you're doing to help with that?

On the business stuff, I took a year off to be with [my son] Oscar.  I do the booking and other stuff.  It gives Drew and Daron time to have more creative energy.  That's worked, I think.  It's helped to preserve the artistic core of the band.

What's next?

We're playing a lot -- a lot of time on the road with library shows and on the East Coast.  We'll probably add some circus shows. [Note: They're playing a handful of shows in August and September.]  And we're thinking about the new record -- themes, song ideas.

Photo by Kevin Fry