People magazine has called Dan Zanes the ‘‘crown prince of contemporary kids music.’’ A former member of the 1980s pop-rock band the Del Fuegos, he began making “all ages” music after the birth of his daughter. His first family-oriented album, Rocket Ship Beach, was released in 2000. He has since built a career using infectious sounds from all over the world, and has become a staple in the homes of music-loving families. His latest album, Turn Turn Turn is a collaboration with that other Kids Music Giant, Elizabeth Mitchell. I had a lovely conversation with him recently about the new album, his future plans, Lou Reed, and the changing face of America. I will be posting an edited version in two parts, part one is below.
AC: I’m really enjoying your new album, Turn Turn Turn, that you recorded with Elizabeth Mitchell. I was lucky to catch your set at Kindiefest this past April, how long have you been playing together?
DZ: Thanks! I think we’ve been doing shows for about 8 or 9 months, we’ve been friends for a long time.
AC: How long? And how did you meet?
DZ: A mutual friend introduced us at a Maternity Shop in SOHO. I don’t remember if she was playing or if I was playing. It was probably more than 10 years ago. When people ask me if there are other records out there, [because] they like my records and want to know what I can recommend, I always recommend Elizabeth’s records.
AC: So this record took you three days to record, what was that like?
DZ: It was pretty relaxed. Like I said, her first record was made in the same way and so was mine so over time , you know. I think we both drifted into the land of, you know, more time, more money and just, all of that. I think it was exciting for us to get back to basics.
AC: That’s right, I know that your first kids album you recorded in your living room?
DZ: I’ve recorded just about all of them in my basement, though we use the living room sometimes. I never go into the studio to make my own music.
AC: That DIY spirit, I feel like, not just with Kid’s Music but all over the Music Industry is becoming more and more the norm, but you have always done that….
DZ: Yeah, originally I did it because I could. I had an 8 track machine and I wasn’t making music that could be played on the radio and I knew how to record. I wanted something simple and homespun, I felt like that was, that the idea of a studio is an abstract concept for a kid, but the idea of something that sounded like a house. You know, I wanted records that sounded like people in a house and that’s the way to do that, to put people in a house.
AC: Makes sense
DZ: Yeah, right? So that’s the way we’ve always done it. But now, I think, over the years, I figured how to stretch it out, make it cost more. Bigger and bigger productions, still in the house, but it got to a point where everything was costing more and making less in the end. Selling records isn’t what it used to be, so from a practical standpoint, DIY is the way to go. Financially it’s the only thing that makes sense a lot of the time…fortunately I’ve always worked with a great engineer, Rob Friedman. You know, having people that really know what they’re doing is real helpful.
AC: Your original songs have a throw-back, classic feel. Is that something that you have pursued on purpose? You know, are you trying to write these more timeless, folk inspired songs, or is that just what happens to come out of you musically?
DZ: That’s really it. There’s very little thought that goes into it other than to try and write a good song. Just sit down and write a song and see what happens. I like the lyrics to make sense to young people and to grown ups as well, that’s always a consideration for us. Aside from that, no, it’s always just, trying to write a good song. If it makes sense, if it will stay in your head, if it makes you feel like dancing. That’s really it. There’s not a lot of thought. We really had no agenda for this. Besides just, let’s capture the moment.
Come back to read Part Two of our chat on Monday, we’ll cover some of Dan’s collaborations, future projects, and the future of American Folk music!