Interview Outtakes: Dan Zanes on Playing in Bahrain, the Impact of Children's Music and the Del Fuegos Reunion
Children's music isn't just about Raffi, Disney and Kidz Bop anymore, and thank goodness for that. From They Might Be Giants to Elizabeth Mitchell, more and more respected artists are trying their hands at a different kind of children's music, one with an emphasis on inclusive, family-friendly fun.Dan Zanes may be the foremost proponent of this new approach. He frequently speaks of wanting to inspire families to make their own music for fun. Since 2000, he's enjoyed a thriving career with just that attitude. His CDs -- all on his own independent label, Festival Five Records -- combine elements of the blues, jazz, early rock & roll, folk and African music in a lighthearted mélange. In this week's paper, I spoke with Zanes; below, here are some outtakes in which he discusses an upcoming Del Fuegos reunion, playing his children's music in Bahrain and how having his own label has been a boon to his career.
Dan Zanes and Friends will be at COCA (Center of Creative Arts), 524 Trinity Avenue, University City. 7 p.m. Friday, March 11. 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday, March 12. 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, March 13. Tickets are $18 to $22. 314-725-6555.
Mike Appelstein: You have your own label. Has that helped you weather the current music business climate?
Dan Zanes: It has. When I made my first recording, it was really just a cassette tape. I was making a solo record when my daughter was born. When she was about three, I made this cassette to give out to friends with kids. I was thinking of all-ages music, and I was also thinking about parents going to get CDs for their kids and not enjoying them. There's a window of opportunity when your kids are young where you can have a musical experience without resorting to pop music. There are a lot of themes of romantic love that are difficult for three-year-olds to understand. So I decided to see if I could make all-ages music, made this cassette and gave it out to people. No one cared about my solo record, but everyone wanted copies of this cassette. So I decided I would leave pop music behind and start a record company. It was an incredibly easy decision to make because I was having so much fun doing it. I have a business that's [been] working for ten years. I have some incredible people running the label, and by staying nimble and independent we've been able to survive the downs of the music business when others haven't.
I once read an interview with They Might Be Giants where they talked about children as being tough crowds. Have you found that to the the case?
I love They Might Be Giants, but I disagree with them on that one. Young people are the best audience ever, because having instruments and playing songs is enough. It doesn't even need to be more than that. I love it when people sing along and it's great to have dance parties, so there's a lot for people in the audience to do at our concerts. Music in and of itself is a full meal.
I don't want to forget to ask about the Del Fuegos, because I see that you're doing a reunion show.
We're going to play one or two shows in Boston. They're benefits for Right Turns which [the Del Fuegos'] drummer [Woody Giessmann] started. It's an organization that helps out people with drug and alcohol problems. He's doing really well with it, but they're struggling financially. But he's really good at it; he just went to Washington to get an award. I don't know if it's exactly "Counselor of the Year," but something along those lines. It's going to be a one-off thing; we're already having fights about the opening act! But we're still friends, so it's good natured. I'm proud of the lives that everyone's led.