I’m living life not only through my eyes, but through the eyes of my child. It’s a beautiful relationship that I take very seriously.
I understand that your first solo album Young Folk is mostly aimed at children. I’m interested in how you connect with children, and how they process art and the world. Do you think it’s important to make music that’s very simple for a younger audience, or that great art should touch all ages of listeners?
When I started writing songs for children, the intention was to write songs for my kids, to gather life and parenting experiences and the things we were going through as a family. I was trying to make our everyday activities better, more vibrant and more musical. You could say I knew my audience as well as I would know anything or anyone. As I started thinking about why I would release these songs to anyone else’s kids, I wanted to make sure I was creating something that was accessible and in its simplest form, but also introducing something to them that they’d never heard before. Maybe it’s a genre of music they’ve never heard, or a rhythmic pattern that is different than what they’re hearing in the normal circles of music that their parents are listening to, or allowing them to listen to.
I don’t have any kids personally, but I’m personally very fascinated by child development and how the emotional architecture of the adult brain changes when you start a family. How did your priorities become reshuffled when you became a parent? Was it a difficult or easy adjustment for you to not put yourself first?
When you’re a traveling musician who’s used to screaming fans and signing autographs, having a child will put you in your place. As soon as you think that you’re cool or everyone’s looking to you for inspiration or motivation, you’re immediately stopped in your tracks. You’re like “I just need to change this diaper right now.” I had a great childhood with parents and grandparents who were loving, supportive and encouraged me to do what I do now, so I was really excited about being a dad because I had good examples around me.
When we had our first child, Henry, I was ready to dive into fatherhood. I was nervous because I didn’t want to screw it up, but I was ready for the challenge. It changes you. It changes your emotions. You’re on a rollercoaster. You’re thinking “How am I molding them? Am I giving them the best examples of how to be a good human being — how to love others and experience life with their eyes open?” That also affects my music. It affects everything I do now, because I’m living life not only through my eyes, but through the eyes of my child. It’s a beautiful relationship that I take very seriously.
Absolutely — and as you mention good examples, that begs the question of what a good example is. I’m wondering from whom you absorbed most of your behavior or demeanor as a kid, even if they’re characters in TV, film or literature. Who acted as a role model for you and shifted the way you think?
When I was growing up, my grandparents were very influential in teaching me right from wrong, while introducing me to good music. They were very intentional in not giving me “candy,” as it were, in musical terms. They weren’t trying to give me the sweetest thing, they were giving me real meat and vegetables. So, I grew up listening to folk music — songs that were teaching lessons and making me think about who I was and what I was doing. Specifically, they introduced me to a singing group from Canada called Sharon, Lois and Bram. They were an amazing trio of teachers and educators that decided to make a record, and they made one together with no plans of starting a career. The record blew up, became a massive success, sold thousands and thousands of copies and spawned a TV show, which I was introduced to.
They were really the thing that shaped me through my whole childhood. My grandmother passed away when I was 10, and my family knew that Sharon, Lois and Bram were a big part of our relationship. They encouraged me to collect records, tapes and songbooks — different things that reminded me of those times with her. I still have all that. Being a dad, I can share it with my kids now. But Sharon, Lois and Bram were in my life every day. I listened to them together with my family. That was probably the reason I chose music as a profession. I saw them and realized they were bringing joy to peoples’ lives, to families, to kids. It’s different from what we do, but not really. What I do for a living is to make people happy and try to distract them from the world and the things that are going on. I want to provide a sense of joy and pleasure to the listener.
Now they’ve become friends of mine in my thirties, which is crazy. Sharon and Bram — and Lois, who just recently passed away — have become mentors to me and actually sang on this project with me. It’s a big full-circle thing. I feel very fortunate that I get to experience something like that. It’s a very heavy, personal thing to me.
Our children are watching us and how we are reacting to the world around us every day. It could be how our face looks when we walk in the door.
I’d like to briefly touch on your mention of “meat and vegetables” in music. Obviously, in media, there’s more of a substantial meal and then there’s the fluffy, inconsequential stuff. I spoke with one of my favorite songwriters for North of the Internet, James Jackson Toth, and he said something interesting — “Everything is grist for the mill, for better or worse.” He was saying that what you’re taking in should be super-safeguarded, because the low-quality things you take in might produce low-quality output later. It’s like the daily choice comes down to “Am I going to look at a bunch of crap on social media or read this beautiful, gorgeous novel?” Any thoughts on that?
I do agree with that. As an adult, I watch what I watch. I’m careful to not watch something that’s going to bring me down. I’ve got a lot of friends who love drama, or television shows that are really dark. When I’ve tried to binge-watch some of those shows on tour just to pass the time, I feel my demeanor change. I’m not the same. I’m not in my right mind. But on the flip side of that, I love a good comedy. Sometimes, it’s the mindless thing that allows me to not get too carried away into a fantasy world with whatever I’m watching.
I think the same applies to being a parent. We’re constantly monitoring what our kids are taking in, and in some ways, it’s kind of out of our hands. We send them to school, they’ve got friends, you know. We just try and do our best. Even on my record, I’ve got a song on there that goes “Sit on the floor and sing me your favorite tune,” as a kid saying that to your dad or mom. I think that’s what the essence of the project is about. It’s like, can we, as parents, adults and human beings, set everything else aside and make our relationships with our kids, the younger generation, the number one priority? Can we turn our phones off for a while, sit on the floor and play cars or make a fort in the living room? It really does a make difference.
Our children are watching us and how we are reacting to the world around us every day. It could be how our face looks when we walk in the door. Are we taking the weight of the world on our shoulders? I think they see that. For me, it’s a constant reminder that we have these gifts of our children for a little while, then they’re out in the world. It’s about making the most of the time I have with them right now, to spend time with them. That goes the distance. That goes further than anything I could prepare for them, as far as parenting. It’s about being with them, about spending quality time. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish. I’m failing every day, but I’m trying!
You also brought up an interesting point earlier, in that you’re trying to provide a nice antidote to the world with your music. It’s very horrifying right now — we all know that. The Western world is going through some serious tumult. I’m curious as to what your idea of redemption is for violence, hatred and other nonsense.
That’s a tough thing to think about. I grew up in a Christian home. My dad was a minister. I learned a lot of stuff, and some of it, now that I’m older, I don’t necessarily agree with! Some of it I’ve come to understand, accept and live out. I think one thing about growing up that always resonated with me, and still does today, is love. I think that our faith is built on love. We don’t get it right all the time, but at the core of humanity, that is the one thing we all share. We all want to be loved, and we’re designed to love. I don’t know what tomorrow holds for my world, the world around me or my kid’s world. I’m scared to death in some ways.
But, I think we should love other people as an example. Love the people who we’re around, but also people who we’re not around. Love the people who don’t believe the same things that we do, and love the people who are hurting or have lost everything to a hurricane or have lost loved ones to gun violence. Whatever it is, we don’t have to sit across from someone and have coffee with them to love them. We can love them from afar. We can love them like the people we are doing life with. It’s important for me to show that there is hope for a broken world, and that hope comes from love. I’m trying to continue to show my four-year-old what that means.
It’s a challenging time for me as a parent, but also as someone who travels a lot and meets a lot of people from different places, thoughts and beliefs. But there is hope. Love is the answer, and that will be the thing we can hold on to.
On the other end of this thing on the playground that you’re experiencing right now, there’s something bigger than this. There’s a plan, and the plan is in motion.
Do you have any astronomical knowledge? What stars, planets or constellations can you easily identify when you look into the night sky? How does it feel to look at ancient light from eons ago? Do you feel any interesting emotions from looking look at something very vast and majestic in the night sky?
I always have thoughts like that, especially at night. Now that a parent, I take my child outside and we’ll lay in the grass or stand in the driveway and just look up, point to stars. We live out in the country, so there aren’t a lot of big buildings or city lights. You can really see the sky. It’s just a reminder that there is something bigger than me and the things I dwell on or what’s driving me insane day-to-day. There’s something bigger than me that is way more important than anything I’m stressing or worrying about. Even as a three- or four-year-old, I think my kid understands that in some ways. I think he’s like “Wow, I’m really small.”
I don’t know enough about it as I probably should, but I appreciate it. I appreciate my smallness.
At this point, I’d like to cycle back to youth and children. If you could tell yourself one thing as a little child about the rest of your life, what would it be? And as a reversal of that, what would you hope your younger self could remind you of?
Man. That is a great question. Like I said before, I had a great childhood. There were some moments for me when I felt like I was small, or not good enough. I was picked on a little bit as a kid, and I didn’t exactly know how to handle it. I think if I could go back and tell my younger self something, it would probably be that these are small, small things that you’re going through, but you can make it. On the other end of this thing on the playground that you’re experiencing right now, there’s something bigger than this. There’s a plan, and the plan is in motion. You are going to do greater things than anything you’re going through right now. As a kid, you don’t understand that. Everything is extreme in the moment.
If my younger self could remind me of something now, it’d be that life is playful still. There is fun to be had. There are things in life that should still be enjoyed. You know, I have a job, I have a mortgage, two kids, cellphone bills and all this stuff. We have to deal with them, but those aren’t the things we should dwell on. We should enjoy the time we have here on planet Earth. We should enjoy the people around us and do things that are pleasurable. If I could remind myself of that daily, I would enjoy my life a lot more, and the people around me would enjoy me more.
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: Phone
Published: December 6, 2017
Total questions: 7
Word count: 2555
Reading time: Eight minutes
accessible, application, architecture, bills, building, Canada, candy, children, city, comedy, constellation, drama, emotional, extremity, eyes, fantasy, folk, guitar, James Jackson Toth, Josh Lovelace, life, light, love, meat, music, Netflix, phone, planet, playful, priority, process, proximity, reaction, relationship, reshuffle, Sharon Lois and Bram, show, spirituality, stars, television, vegetable, vibrant
About the curator
Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.
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