"Lately, I’m becoming more focused on this idea that the songs and the music within them can be for the whole family."
Brady Rymer's fifth album Every Day Is A Birthday is a fun mix of songs dealing not only with the experience of childhood but also with the experience of parenthood. Rymer recently was kind enough to answer a few questions about his latest album, what it's like to be a kids' musician, and the strange effect of the Grateful Dead on his son.
Many thanks to Brady for taking the time to answer these questions. It's a long interview, but well worth the read.
Besides the concert hours, what are the biggest differences between being an "adult" musician (in From Good Homes) and a "kids" musician?
At a live show, the kids are roaring and ready from the first note, and I’ve got about 45 good minutes with them. The dynamic reminds me of those old rock ‘n’ roll road shows that had a handful of acts on the bill; each band would do a quick 30 minute set, and each of ‘em got the place rockin’, with their hits, from the get-go. When I was with From Good Homes we’d be onstage for hours; if I did that now, the parents might just be with me at the end of the show, but you know those little ones would be snoozin’ after a dozen songs. Other than that, there aren’t too many things that I approach differently. I want the music (and musicians) to be interactive and engaging, and I want the set to gain momentum and get lots of good energy flowing back and forth between audience and band, no matter who I’m playin’ for-- grandmas, toddlers, dads, whoever!
On "Every Day Is A Birthday," "Dilly Dally Daisy" clearly was inspired by your daughter. Are most of your songs based on your kids?
Certainly my kids bring home and inspire a lot of songs. Their worlds are so packed with crazy situations, colors, and events that you could probably write a record a day if you just followed ‘em around with a pen and guitar! It’s incredibly fun and refreshing as a songwriter to get down a little lower to the ground and look at the world through their eyes (this also helps me as a parent-- one great perk of my job). It’s exciting to me to bring this unique language to songwriting – it’s not every day you get to write about your baby’s last night in utero or how proud a kid is to see his big ol’ belly reflected in the mirror.
Other families and friends also inspire songs. “Full Moon Walk” developed out of a beautiful experience we shared with family friends; “Mama Hug” and “Keep Up With You” were inspired by conversations with friends and neighbors. The other day at Little League practice, one of the moms was telling me how she’s been in the backyard throwin’ the baseball with her son. And he said to her after a pitch, “who knew, Mom-- you have a great curve ball!” Now if that doesn’t sound like a cool song, I don’t know what does.
I've read a bit of parental frustration into "Instead of Watching My TV." Was that a case of over interpretation, or have there been times you've had to encourage your kids to go outside (or another room) and do stuff?
The TV song, along with “Look in your Pocket,” were definitely written with the challenges of parenting in mind. It’s an ongoing adventure to keep your kids creative and inspired. It takes a lot of energy as a parent-- so I guess those songs are just me tryin’ to help some kids that might be stuck. Sometimes they just need a little encouragement, a suggestion, and then they’re off & runnin.’
For instance, my son loves weeding the garden – he goes out there with his mom and they make it fun – he gets a penny a weed, and they have this rewarding thing that they share together. But it’s still a project to un-stick him from the cartoon-filled TV on Saturday mornings, no matter what! I don’t even know if “Blowin’ in the Wind” could accomplish that!
"Rock N Roll Mother Goose" is a fun song to listen to, with lots of energy. Was it fun for you to record the song?
It was a blast! I’m glad that spirit comes through on the recording. I remember getting into such a fun place singing it; I could have kept singing all night. It’s modeled after Ray Charles’ great song “Shake a Tail Feather”; if you listen to that recording, Ray and the band are having such a good, boisterous time, and I really wanted to capture their playfulness and exuberance. So yeah, I was boppin’ around the studio when we were working on that one, waggin’ my elbows, shakin’ my tail feather, doin’ the goose! As we added elements to the song – the keyboards, horns, backup vocals – it grew more and more exciting; we all had a lot of fun creating the song.
Which is harder for you to write -- music or lyrics? Why?
Lyrics, I guess. I grew up listening and learning songs from the radio, picking out the tune and playing it on my guitar, so I identified first with the chord changes and music, and then focused on the lyrics (usually getting a lot of them wrong!). That kind of changed when I heard Bob Dylan-- I was hit over the head with how beautiful, colorful and poignant lyrics could be. They seem to take a little more time; you want to make sure that they’re just right. Songs for me generally come pretty fast, at least the initial idea. Music and lyrics together, but then it just takes time for it to all settle down, for the right words, musical ideas and textures to fall into place. I think of it as a puzzle – at the end of the process, with some luck, all of the pieces of the song fit together.
The song “Diggin’ Up A Dinosaur” was inspired by a songwriter, David Wilcox, talking about his songwriting approach. He said that writing is like dusting off dinosaur bones that are in the ground, carefully, a little at a time; until eventually it all becomes clear. He described that so well; anyway, that idea eventually turned in to “Diggin’ Up A Dinosaur,” a song about discovering who we are.
How easy is it for you to write music that kids will relate to, but that parents might enjoy, too? Do you think you've improved your ability to do so over the years?
I have always written songs about the experience of being a parent, as well as the experience of being a kid. My earlier songs are more closely focused on a kid’s world; I think they work for parents because they’re written with love, and they’re honest and real, reflecting experiences we’ve all gone through in some way.
Lately, I’m becoming more focused on this idea that the songs and the music within them can be for the whole family. I think kids can handle a challenging lyric, or a metaphor, and certainly can enjoy listening to music that is layered with great instruments and played by great musicians. The lyrics are getting to a broader place: “Keep Up With You” speaks to everyone, and the band’s new favorite song “Road Trip,” which we’ve been playing a lot live, is the best so far in terms of communicating with the whole family. I really look forward to recording this next batch of tunes I have ready; I think they are going to be the most inclusive of families yet. I love this direction; it really feels right.
Aside from your music, what do your kids like to listen to?
Green Day, the current American Idols, Elvis, Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen, Annie Lenox, Simple Plan, KISS, Chuck Berry…the list goes on and on! My kids’ tastes are pretty eclectic. We love introducing them to different kinds of music, and we play all sorts of stuff around here – gospel, old blues, rock n roll, you name it. I remember the first time my son heard the Grateful Dead; he was in his bed getting ready to go to sleep. The song came on and he just got up on his bed and started doing the trippy, spaced out, freeform dancing that goes on at Dead shows! I was amazed. He never saw his mother dance like that!, but there it was – reacting completely honestly and in spiritual synch with that music!
We like putting together iTunes Playlists together. You get a real variety that way and you can work on a theme, which is fun. For my daughter’s birthday party we made one playlist with a Rainbow theme: it has everything on it -- Lesley Gore and Louis Armstrong, Paul Anka, Willie Nelson, the Ramones and the Rolling Stones, and they enjoy it all.
What's next for you and the album?
Well, we are working real hard on making some videos. So many of the songs paint pictures and tell stories, and it’s really exciting to explore their visual possibilities.
I love doing live shows (I’ve loved it since I first played with a band in Junior High), and I have the best time onstage with The Little Band That Could. We are so excited with the response that Every Day Is A Birthday has received, and we’re working on getting some farther-flung tour dates, to get the live show out there to families across the country.
And like I said before, I can’t wait to start recording my new CD.