If your family has never seen Josh and the Jamtones live, then it's possible you have a realistic view of a "high energy" concert. If you have seen the Boston-area ska/punk/rock kids' band, however, your definition of "high energy" is entirely unrealistic. The band BRINGS IT, and in addition to being very danceable, they've got a great sense of humor.
The band released ROCKSTEADY, their latest album, last week. The new album captures that live energy (and some humor) for those fans who can't catch the band live. I talked with bandleader Josh Shriber and drummer/producer Patrick Hanlin about the origins of the band, the interaction between the live shows and recording music, and being the only guy in Music Together.
Zooglobble: What are your first musical memories?
Josh Shriber: I remember taking road trips -- listening to the Beatles and Billy Joel when I was 12, driving from Mississippi to Indiana
Patrick Hanlin: Playing piano in kindergarten. Oh, and listening to Simon and Garfunkel in the backseat of the car on road trips. "Feelin' Groovy."
Josh: We totally agree on "Feelin' Groovy."
What was your musical background?
Josh: Early on, my grandma had a baby grand piano, and I'd play on that at her house -- then she convinced my mom to move it to my house. I took years of piano lessons. I always loved practicing and playing -- the classical music I put up a little bit of fight against -- but I played everything.
I'd go to summer camp and Jewish summer camp, and at temple I was always watching the song leader. That was my first way of performing, picking up a guitar in front of a group, going up front.
As a cantor?
Josh: No, I never wanted to be a clergy member as a cantor. But in the [Jewish] reform movement, the song leader teaches the songs, leads the group in singing. Making a living [doing that] wasn't on my mind until I realized that there was money in doing that, and I could do that in the morning, leaving the evenings free for other music.
When did that change -- when did you start to move full-time into kids music?
So I'd do the temple thing on Sunday, plus another couple hours during the week, and I'd think, "How can I find forty hours a week of this?" So I went to a local preschool, and I started to do Music Together. That was great, though the Music Together leaders would sometimes say, "play a little less guitar."
Yeah, we did several sessions of Music Together with our kids, and it's definitely not a performer's showcase.
Josh: Right, but the moms were happy to hear someone. There weren't many guys doing that -- I'd be the only guy except for the janitor. I think some parents thought it was cool to have [their] sons see a guy singing.
So my preschool and private lessons grew, to the point where I was hiring other teachers, and after a couple years of Music Together, I branched out on my own. I was incorporating other original music of my own, and rented space to incorporate all things I was doing. Pat had come in by then as a teacher.
Pat: The program grew really fast -- now it's JamBaby, JamKids, drama classes. Every semester -- and semesters are four times a year -- we'd do a CD featuring new songs. So after 3 years we had 100 songs.
Then we started getting asked to do gigs. The Jammin' With You band became the Jamtones. The Jamtones are now different -- not educational, just entertainment.
I had never engineered a band before in my life -- now I've done about 30 albums.
Is there a change from focusing on the daily classes and doing stuff with the band?
Josh: They all feed each other. People who attend a Jamtones show may sign up for class; the biggest promotion for Jamtones shows are in our center. The classes are me with a guitar, while the Jamtones shows are some 2-piece gigs, but generally guitar-drum-bass, sometimes steel drums. It's always good to practice songs -- get the extra rep, get better and try new songs.
How did the new album come about -- were these new songs?
Pat: Last year, we put out Fall, Winter 1, Winter 2, and Spring [semester] albums, physical CDs for the class. But for the Jamtones, once [the] Bear Hunt [album] came out, we thought our demographic wasn't 2-4 years old. So we went crazy with the cheese whiz -- we had new songs we wanted to put on a slammin' ska record.
Josh: About a quarter of these we'd work on in class.
Any favorite memories from recording?
Pat: I remember tracking the best bass player in the city. I wrote horn parts, which is something I hadn't done before.
Pat: We'd work hard during the day, let loose at night, have a couple beers. The beatboxing was fun.
Recording with other artists, we've started to think about developing JamHouse Records [with other artists].
What do you enjoy more -- recording songs or playing live?
Josh: Both are exciting -- writing and recording songs that new, you're working on your own, and you hope it's going to explode. The audience is where we get energy -- we've played in front of 600 kids or more. [It's fun] to see parents whip out their phones to take pictures because the kids are going nuts.
Pat: One wouldn't be as fun without the other... One year I played on the Warped Tour, and playing 45 minutes a day, 7 days a week, that got boring. When you've got that balance between recording and playing live, that's really great.
What's next for the band?
Pat: World domination! [Laughs] Lots of videos -- after we did the Kickstarter [for Bear Hunt]. we got names of 40-50 animators. We love our video content, now we want to put out a show with them. We want to develop other acts.
This [new] record came out 18 months after Bear Hunt -- we don't want to wait that long for the next album.
Josh: This is our first summer working with [booker] Rebecca Allison, and she's great -- we've got lots of shows.
Pat: We want more places for classes. Lots of stuff going on, we're busy, that's how we like it.
Photo credits: Eric Barry