Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Spinning Wheel Part IV: Recess Monkey

Daron Henry, Drew Holloway and Jack Forman are three schoolteachers who have done what I always wanted to do with my fellow librarians: form a band. Daron plays drums, Drew plays lead guitar, and Jack plays bass guitar for Recess Monkey, a Beatles/Beach Boys/everything else-inspired band that presents original rock and roll music for children and their lucky grownups. Since Recess Monkey is a local Seattle band, I've seen publicity for their shows around town quite a bit. A month ago, Recess Monkey played at the Madrona Playfield up the street from my house as an extra incentive for the community coming together to clean up the park. (The snacks helped, too.) Before the show, I chatted with Jack for about music, storytelling, and school. About the band, Jack said, "We're friends first and foremost." I got the impression that the guys were a lot of fun to hang out with and they genuinely liked children as well. I was convinced when, later on in the show, Jack led the children in a dance around the park shelter-house during the "Monkey Bars" song.

Jack, Daron and Drew at their Madrona Playfield gig

Recess Monkey have two albums out: Recess Monkey Town, and Aminal House. Their newest album, a two-disc set called Wonderstuff, arrives October 13, with a big CD release show at the Experience Music Project on October 20. You can find their music on the Recess Monkey website, as well as CDBaby, The Land of Nod, and The AVcafe. Want to know what they sound like? Here you go (full songs, not 30 second clips).

And now, as Marti DiBergi from This is Spinal Tap would say, "Enough of my yakkin'--let's boogie!"

Recess Monkey as their alter-egos "The Traveling Wildebeests"

Saints and Spinners: What exactly do you do for a living?

Recess Monkey: Recess Monkey is the stage name for Daron Henry, Drew Holloway and Jack Forman, three Seattle teachers. We all met while teaching together at
University Child Development School. Since then, Daron moved to Giddens School, but we’re all still active in the classroom. We’re excited to be part of the grassroots family-rock movement, but also we get to revel in the classes that we teach each day!

S&S: How long have you been working in your chosen professions?

RM: Between us we have 34 years of classroom experience: Daron did 29 years of that (can you tell that’s a joke when typed? We need a rim shot emoticon!).

S&S: What prompted you to perform for children?

RM: We’ve each been involved in lots of adult-based musical projects, but always wished that we could share our music with the kids that we teach. Seriously: it’s so hard to come into class and play songs from your new album, “The Seven Stages of Grief!” (We really did make that album once, in another band, The Waiting Room). Recess Monkey arose out of our desire to make music that kids and their parents would both like- it’s really taken off from that initial seed. Now kids are even helping us write.

S&S: Why do you continue to do it?

RM: It’s really cool to hear our songs being sung by kids that we haven’t met before! We just hope that these songs help kids be inspired by music as much as we are. Also, the last two albums that we’ve made were rooted in summer camps that we ran; camps where kids had an active role in writing and performing parts of each disc. We really like how transparent the process has been- real kids get to see real musicians play real songs on real instruments! In the process, we’ve been inspired to write songs that really reflect what it feels like to be young, not just our memories of it. (Daron’s over 100 years old! Ba-dum-dump).

S&S: Which performers are your inspirations for your work?

RM: We’re huge
John Vanderslice fans (we’ve actually made a pact that we’ll give an audio shout-out to him on each album that we make). Of course, The Beatles. We listen to some pretty eclectic stuff and try to get nuances of it all into our songs. The new album, “Wonderstuff” has homages to The Beach Boys, Tom Waits, Spoon, Harry Nilsson, Led Zeppelin and more. Daron is also really influenced by the illusions of Doug Henning, though we haven’t yet figured out how to record this onto a CD.

S&S: What are some of the things you enjoy doing outside of your profession?

RM: Daron likes long walks with his dog KC and doing yoga. Drew is a huge listing-to-music-while-running fan. We think he’s nuts. Jack plays trombone. We’re also members of the same book club but Daron’s usually the only one who reads the book. Drew and Jack are waiting for it to come out on video.

S&S: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Daron: I started college in the genetic engineering program.
Drew: I wrote a book called “Pancake Truck.”
Jack: My real name is Giles.

S&S: Was there ever a time when your audience surprised you? What happened?

RM: We played shows at a bunch of
Seattle Libraries this summer. Our first one was at the Greenlake Library: at fifteen minutes before the show, there wasn’t a single person there. Next thing we knew, over 350 people had arrived- there were families literally watching through the windows from outside. We thought, "Wow, this is really taking off!" The room quickly got so hot that Jack had to run outside during “Monkey Bars” just to cool off. We met a lot of really nice people this summer and played a lot of really fun shows. Another big highlight was the Fremont Fair: we had a lot of twenty-somethings rocking out every bit as hard as the kids. So cool to see that some good music knows no age demographic!

S&S: What’s in heavy rotation on your stereo/iPod lately?

Journey, John Vanderslice, Philip Glass, Arcade Fire
The Smiths, Neko Case, Guided by Voices
Jack: Belle & Sebastian, Elliott Smith, Raffi

S&S: If you could headline a festival with three other performers, who would they be?

Dan Zanes
Drew: Fozzie Bear (maybe our opening act?)
Paul McCartney

S&S: What is the song that never gets old for you?

RM: Funny story. We've been consistently running with the joke about how our song Mercado (off of our first album, Welcome to Monkey Town) is Drew's end-all be-all favorite song in the whole world. Drew likes the song but, in actuality, it's really not his favorite. We have a lot of fun with this on stage- Daron and Jack trying to get the audience to request the song because didn't they know that Drew loves it so much, Drew trying to weasel out of playing it while still pretending to love the song. It's really fun- like a chess game! You never know what's going to happen; I think we're about 50/50 in terms of shows that we play it and those that we don't... but it never gets old!

The Pivot Questionnaire is a set of questions popularized on “The Actor’s Studio" and introduced to me through Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. I asked the band the questions, but they responded, "Recess Monkey’s manager, Mayor Monkey, demanded requested that he be allowed to answer these questions on behalf of the band– which usually means that he’ll answer them however he pleases. He’s known to speak with a rather loud voice- please excuse the yelling."

Plug your ears and cover your eyes. Here's the Pivot Questionnaire of Mayor Monkey:

What is your favorite word?
“OFFSHOREACCOUNTS!” (Is that one word?)

What is your least favorite word?

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

What turns you off?

What is your favorite curse word? (optional)


What sound or noise do you love?

What sound or noise do you hate?

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

What profession would you not like to do?

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

[Editor's note: At this point, I had to turn down this next exchange, as there were three people shouting.]

God: Mayor Monkey, I'd like you to meet Warren Buffet. Warren Buffet, meet the smartest rock and roll manager of all time!

Warren Buffet: Pleased to meet you,Mayor Monkey, I'm Warren Buffet. But you can call me Warry.


WB: Maymo, What's your thinking about NASDAQ?


WB: Oh Maymo, you slay me!

God: And so ends another episode of PEARLY GATES. Next weeek: Minnie Pearl meets Robert Gates!

[Editor's note: You may now safely remove your earmuffs and sunglasses.]

Related links:

*Music review by Children's Music That Rocks
*Two music reviews by
Zooglobble: Aminal House and Welcome to Monkey Town


Tony said...

Wow, Mayor Monkey sounds AN AWFUL LOT like our old friend Brad the Gorilla! Very suspicious if you ask me...

Brad the Gorilla said...

Mayor Monkey and I go out drinking from time to time. My influence was bound to rub off on him. Mayor Monkey even tried to manage my old band, the Deadbeat Crawdads, but he got tired of cleaning up the rotten produce the audience constantly threw at us.

jules said...

KA-CHING! Love it.

And I love the Spinal Tap quote. Rock on.

These interviews are so great, and isn't this a resource no one else provides -- a running series of interviews of musicians for children? You go, you.

TadMack said...

Heh. Doesn't everybody just want to be in a BAND called 'Recess Monkey?' I mean, I would've gone for it when I still got recess!!

I'm totally out of the loop on this world -- the world where kids go to concerts and their parents aren't having to sit through Barney. This looks like a way cooler alternative!!

drew said...

Thanks so much Farida! Best wishes for tomorrow's fun at Kids Fest!

Take care