Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Spinning Wheel, part I: Interview with Eric Herman

Welcome to Spinning Wheel, a new Saints and Spinners interview series. Spinning Wheel features musicians, storytellers, children's librarians and other people who work with children in some performance capacity. I have blatantly borrowed the interview format from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast including the Pivot questionaire. "But Alkelda, why not just start completely from scratch and be completely original?" you might ask. The answer is threefold: 1) It's hard to improve on something that's already excellent (2) I am a magpie, and prone to "borrowing" shiny objects and (3) Jules and Eisha said I could use their format. If you know of performers who might like to be interviewed (especially those in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States), please let me know.

I'm pleased to kick off this series with Eric Herman, the preeminent performer and songwriter from Richland, Washington. I discovered Eric Herman after I downloaded "Magic Toast" by The Sippy Cups and curiosity prompted me to search the internet for articles about the band. I found Eric's Cool Tunes for Kids blog, and a review of The Sippy Cups' album Electric Storyland. When Eric wrote, I do have to blast them outright for dissing The Wiggles in their press release, claiming that, "We're not in Wiggles land anymore," I had to follow the link to his post in defense of The Wiggles. Even though I'm still not a fan of The Wiggles, I was impressed by how Eric poked holes in my assumptions about what what worked for kids as opposed to what adults think should work for kids.

Eric is the front-man for the Invisible Band. Eric's stage manager is his "nearly-identical twin brother named Zeke," who always dresses like Eric and makes sure the two are never actually viewed together. However, a recent post on Cool Tunes for Kids revealed that the true stage-manager (as well as co-songwriter, stage-managing, video-director, graphic designer and all around superwoman) is Rosann Endres, Eric's wife. But see, I already knew that. The House of Glee got to meet Eric's wife and daughters last July at a local library gig in Shoreline, Washington.

You can check out Eric Herman's website for song samples, album purchases as well as videos for The Elephant Song (an infinitely flexible song that never gets old), Crazy Over Vegetables, and Snow Day. You can even book him for shows. However, don't ask him to do anything remotely dangerous like shave or move your barbecue grill. When it comes to safety precautions, Eric is a wretched role-model for today's youth.

For more biographical information, click here. And now, without further ado, here's Errrrrrrrric Herman (and yes, you do have to say his name exactly like that or he'll correct your pronunciation):

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

Eric Herman: I create and perform music for kids, elementary school students and families. So in one sense, I provide a means for kids to go completely bonkers in front of their parents or teachers, and not get in trouble for it. And in the case of school assemblies, they even learn some cool things and get motivated to take on the world in the process.

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

EH: I played my first show for kids on December 29, 2002, and have been doing this full-time since about September of 2004.

S&S: What prompted you to work with/ perform for children?

If you'd asked me early in 2002 if I'd ever be doing music for kids at all, much less as a career, I'd probably have laughed at the idea. But there seemed to be a convergence of several different people suggesting I do music for kids, all around the same time that year. So I gave it some thought and checked out a lot of the kids' music that was out there and realized, hey, this could be fun stuff to create and perform and I think I could add my own unique take on the genre.

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

EH: Because it's fun stuff to create and perform and I like to add my own unique take on the genre. And it's not just writing and performing music in the traditional sense, but also writing comedy and creating theatrical and interactive performances, all of which I really enjoy. I'd been working with several different things over the years including singer/songwriter material, progressive and jam rock bands, musical theatre, orchestral arrangements, film scoring, etc. I enjoyed all of that, but never really gave enough focus to one thing, which makes it hard to really break out in any one area. At the time I started doing kids' music, it was really just one more thing to add to the list, but then it kind of took off and also felt like something where I could combine a lot of the different things that I like to do with music and theater. It was also something that really clicked between my wife and I, as far as working and producing together. Roseann had always wanted to work in some capacity with children's entertainment, and though she never pushed me to do so, once I became interested on my own, then it was easy for us to turn that into the family business and focus our energies collectively on that.

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

EH: Gosh, too many to name here, that's for sure. Musically, some of the big influences would include
The Beatles, Paul Simon, Kate Bush, Frank Zappa, The Tragically Hip and Rush. For comedy, it would be things like Monty Python, Bill Cosby, The Umbilical Brothers and Weird Al. Some of the kids' acts that inspired me early on to do this include Trout Fishing in America, Ralph's World, Justin Roberts, John Lithgow, Sesame Street and Schoolhouse Rock!

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

EH: I don't seem to have too much time to do things other than spending time on my work and with my family, and that's okay with me. I love my family and my work, so there's not a great need to do much else. As Frank Zappa once said, "As long as you're absorbed in something, you're not missing anything." I guess that depends on what you're absorbed in, but I think that safely applies in this case. I do like to play computer games and board games to unwind, usually strategy games of some type, and I watch movies and TV shows like Lost and Scrubs. I like to read and write and meditate, but again, time constraints don't always allow for too much of that.

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

EH: I was engaged to my wife two days after we met. We had met online prior to that, so we had actually known each other for several months before meeting in person. And for something like that, you never really know how it might go until you do meet in person. We definitely hit it off, though.

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

EH: My audience surprises me all the time. I'm still learning and laughing from things they do and say at almost every show. The other day I asked a few kids to come up to play some highly crafted, precision musical instruments... which were really bicycle horns and bells. When I offered for one little boy to play the Stradivarius bicycle bell, he said, "No, I want to play your guitar!" Sometimes an entire audience will surprise me by being a relatively quiet group which doesn't seem to be as enthusiastic as other crowds, but then afterward they're all lined up to get CDs and meet me and really excited about how the show went. Different towns and venues sometimes have different types of audiences, and I'm learning to not assume that a particular show isn't going over well just because the audience decibel level is a little lower than I'm used to. [Editor's note: check out Eric's post on how
Kids Make the Darnedest Audience.]

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

I'll have to invoke that Zappa quote again, because right now I'm very absorbed in the current mixes of songs for my next album and working on tweaking the lyrics and phrasing and arrangements for that. And otherwise I'm listening to whatever CDs have come in for my blog, of which I still have many to catch up on. Aside from the usual "daddy songs," my girls keep requesting "the lady songs," meaning
Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang, so those two CDs get some pretty heavy rotation in the RV.

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

EH: If I'm headlining, that makes a difference... Obviously, I'd love to do a show with acts like John Lithgow and Trout Fishing, but I wouldn't stand a chance headlining after them. There are countless kids' performers that I'd love to share a bill with... any of them on my blog, for example... I think a great bill of artists that would work well for a theme of mixing kids' music and kid-friendly comedy would be something like
Ginger Hendrix, Kenn Nesbitt, John Hadfield and then Eric Herman and the Invisible Band.

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

EH:Any time I hear the Nylon's recording of "Lion Sleeps Tonight", it makes me feel really good. I've read Watership Down a few times over the years and always have a great adventure with that. I look forward to reading that again with my girls in a few years when they're old enough.

The Pivot Questionnaire:

What is your favorite word?


What is your least favorite word?


What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Thinking about how incredibly BIG life is can have a good effect on putting things in perspective, which can lead to all sorts of creative, spiritual or emotional moments.

What turns you off?

The little switch at the back of my neck.

What is your favorite curse word? (optional)


What sound or noise do you love?

My girls laughing when they play together or when we play together.

What sound or noise do you hate?

The scraping of a metal fork or knife on a plate. Auuugghh!

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

I'd love to do more acting and theater again, as well as film/TV scoring, and hope to someday when I have more time (ha!). But as far as something I've never really attempted at all, I think I might have made a good trial lawyer.

What profession would you not like to do?

One of my favorite shows is
Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel. Pretty much any of those...

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

I believe in Heaven, though I don't view it as an exclusive club. I imagine we'll all pick up where we left off here, for better or worse, so what God will say at that point might depend where I leave off. I hope he greets me like a good friend or father would and asks about my family and how they're doing. I would be interested to know the answers to some of the great mysteries of life, the universe and everything, but I imagine there'll be plenty of time to get into all of that.


Eric Herman said...

Glee shout!

Alkelda, thank you so much for the interview and for not digging out too many skeletons. I'm also glad that you warned everyone about my grill moving deficiencies. The number of times I've been asked to move grills has been drastically reduced in recent months, and every little bit helps. :o)

Take care,

Vivian Mahoney said...

What a great interview. It's always interesting to see how people answer the pivot questions...and Eric's answers are wonderful. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Well done, you! Nice use of the Pivot. 7-Imp approves.

Saints and Spinners said...

Thanks for doing the interview, Eric!

HWM, I'm glad you liked the interview. I have a feeling that people aren't being quite as honest as they might when they answer the "favorite curse word" question. Or maybe "favorite" is different than "most used.";)

Eisha: As Dewey said in the episode of Unshelved involving his worries over being perceived as an aging librarian, "Pshaw!"

Lone Star Ma said...

He seems really cool. Except for liking the word plethora. That word is reay for a rest home.

Lone Star Ma said...

Or maybe I am. I meant "ready".

Saints and Spinners said...

LSM: Someone's got to look out for the word "plethora." In fact, that's what I'm naming my next daughter, only you have to pronounce it, "Play-thora" and give it a slightly French air.

Anonymous said...

Now, that is the best response to the Pivot "what turns you off?" that I've read thus far.

Great job! Woo hoo! Looking forward to the rest . . .