Adam Levy made his first foray into the world of kids music with his band Bunny Clogs way back in late 2008 with the album More! More! More!. (That band name, by the way? It's a pun on Levy's primary musical outlet, his band The Honeydogs.) That debut album had a distinctive, eclectic sound and some out-of-nowhere lyrics and musical tidbits, aided no doubt by the fact that Levy created the album with assistance from his two daughters, grade schoolers at the time.
Fast-forward six years or so. Levy's daughters are in or approaching high school, and the follow-up album I'd never expected would happen showed up. Whales Can't Whistle is maybe a little more streamlined, slightly poppier than its predecessor, but nobody would ever mistake the new album for bland, cookie-cutter music.
Levy recently sent some thoughts via e-mail about the latest album, musical parenting memories, and the good and bad of making an album (and playing live) with your kids.
Zooglobble: What are your first musical memories (growing up)?
Adam Levy: My parents didn't have a big record collection... but what they had got played a lot. I used to dance/march around the house with a Monkees ukelele guitar, air uke-ing to Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass's "Going Places." My hip Aunt Judy brought Rubber Soul to my folks in 1967. That got major air time for a few years.
What are your first parenting musical memories?
Big sister Esther was breach in her mom's stomach. We put Bach cello preludes on headphones to mom's belly for a few days and she flipped around... the girls' mom and I listened to music constantly. Lots of old funk and soul. I remember my girls going bananas for Fountains of Wayne's "Red Dragon Tattoo."
How did the first Bunny Clogs album come about? What inspired you to make that album?
I had just gotten my first ProTools studio rig set up at home in 2003. Esther would have been about 4 and Ava Bella 2. I would try to entertain the girls as I was figuring out the equipment and would make these danceable, amusing kids' songs. The girls would chime and sing and giggle and I'd record everything and made it a family affair. I kept writing these songs in the midst of, and as a break from, more "serious" musical endeavors. Friends would come over with kids for dinner and I'd play them the songs and folks would laugh and the kids would jump around like little squirmies. After a while I just thought, "maybe I have something" -- the songs were more absurdist, dance-beat and adult-friendly, less acoustic-folky than most kids' music. It alwasy took a back seat to my main songwriting muse, The Honeydogs... but eventually I just resolved to finish it and put it out in 2009.
What led you to make Whales Can't Whistle an animal kingdom-themed album?
We made a food-related record for the first one. I always incorporate the household characters and stories and silly phrases we used into the music. We are very into animals at our house and have been since the girls were small. I find it easier to write when I create some parameters and goals.
Your daughters were actively involved in making this new album -- what was their biggest contribution? Was Isaac's participation anticipated, or more of a surprise?
The girls are singing all over the record. Ava Bella (14) even recorded herself in some cases! She also designed the cover art. Isaac's participation was a necessity. He's 12 and a natural. He plays like an adult. Amazing.
What was it like having your daughters participate so much in what you do as a career? I'm assuming it was lots of fun, but did it also lead to tensions at times?
It's amazing. We've been performing publicly together since they were about 10 (Esther) and 8 (Ava Bella). Sometimes I have to encourage them to perform by increasing pay... sometimes they are not up for it. They tease me a lot. I get back at them by being a complete dork on stage. Ava Bella who is 14 now has expressed more interest in music than her big sister. I have loved watching her do musical things that are not with family.
You wear many different musical hats -- what particular musical itch does Bunny Clogs let you scratch?
Bunny Clogs fills a need to simply have fun making music and sharing it with my own children. Much of my music is conceptual, cerebral and sometimes deals with serious subjects. After I lost my son in 2012, the need to find joy in the midst of great grief and life-reassessment became very necessary. Last summer the girls spent a couple months leisurely making the record. We had so much fun.
What 3 (or 1 or 5) "not-for-kids" albums (from any artist) did your kids absolutely groove to growing up?
As I mentioned, the house the girls grew up in oozed music... all of The Beatles stuff. They have fond memories of Burt Bacharach's Butch Cassidy soundtrack. The Jackson 5.
What's next for Bunny Clogs (and you)?
I'd love to do some kind of animated film [and/or] a book. Depending on the girl's energy, perhaps more touring. As mentioned I'm ready to be Reuben Kincaid to Ava Bella's musical projects.
Photos by Youa Vang.