Chances are if you have kids, Laurie Berkner’s been in your house (or at least her music has). She and her band have long been performing for kids (her “Best Of” album debuts June 29th), and Berkner recently forayed into TV with appearances on Nick Jr.’s Jack’s Big Music Show. We sat down with the well-loved kiddie singer to discuss how her music’s changed since having a kid of her own (daughter, Lucy, is 5), what to expect at a birthday-cake-themed concert, and what she really thinks of that “kindie rock” label.
How did you decide which songs to put on your “Best Of” album?
That was hard. I felt like we could’ve put out two albums – not past doing that, actually! We looked at sales of single songs, thought about emails and requests I get for shows and songs that were picked for Nick Jr. videos. I tried to get a mix of a few songs from each album. The “Best-Of” album is about 20 songs-pretty much how long all my albums are. I wanted it to be the full length of what I’d put out anyway.
Your music’s been describe as “kindie rock.” What does that term mean to you?
It’s so funny; I feel like that term arose recently. Not that I don’t use it myself, because it does seem to mean something to a lot of people that can help in translating. To me, kindie rock means music that’s being made with both the parents and kids in mind. It’s having a real sense of respect for kid – that the music they listen to doesn’t have to be talking down to them. It’s music that’s a lot like what adults would listen to except that the people who are writing it make sure to make the topics relevant and accessible.
Do you like being labeled as kindie rock?
When I first started, I didn’t identify with it, but that’s only because it brought to mind a harsher, more rebellious idea: we’re not going with the stuff you hear on the radio! But then of course, [kindie rock] became everything you hear on the radio. When I first heard the term, I thought, “That’s not what I really would’ve called what I do,” but once people started to label other musicians as kindie rock, I realized, “Well, I’m not really doing anything that’s so different from most people, so I guess that’s what I am doing!” It’s nice that there’s actually been such a real change in what’s available for kids and families to listen to in the last five or ten years.
How did you foray into children’s music?
When I graduated, I got a job as a music specialist at a daycare and preschool. I had to figure out what I was going to do with them, so I started looking for songs to sing. And the more I spent time trying to find songs I thought they’d like, the more I felt like I was wasting my time because I’d learn them, bring them in, and if the kids didn’t like them, I was stuck. So I started asking the kids what they’d like to sing about and make music with them. And those songs became the ones we’d do over and over again, mixed in with more traditional things. I realized if kids are struggling to follow something or I need them to chill out or I want to give them space to run around and make noise and be loud, I can just change the song. And that was great!
Favorite kids’ musicians: Justin Roberts, Liz Mitchell, Brady Rymer, Ziggy Marley.
Musical influences: Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, David Byrne, Liz Phair, Beck.
Highlight of her career: We played a free show in Central Park on Earth Day a few years ago; 15 thousand people came. I feel pretty strong about environmental things and always have, before it was trendy. It was such a community that day; so many kids and parents came – even parents of kids who had grown out of me came for nostalgic reasons.
What’s your thought process when creating songs that appeal to both kids and parents?
A lot of my early songs came from me asking the kids. The parent part of it was me trying to write from a musical place that I was in, as I was essentially the age of most parents. I wrote things I would like to sing and listen to and hoped that other parents would like it too, while also connecting with the kids. I’d also remember elements of songs that I loved when I was a kid and infuse the energy or intention of what I liked about them into my songs. In terms of subject matter, once I stopped teaching, I’d go outside, walk around and listen to what kids are saying to each other on the streets, on the bus, to their parents. Now when walk my daughter to school, I ask her and her friends about things.
Is your daughter a sounding board for new songs?
Yes, a lot more now. When she was first born, every interviewer asked me, “How has your music changed since you’ve had a daughter?” And I thought, “It hasn’t.” But by the time she was three, Lucy had strong opinions about things. So on my Rocketship album, there are a lot of songs that came from being with her. The song “Balance Beam” came from her being completely obsessed with stepping on anything and turning it into a balance beam. The song “Nona” was inspired when she was in the backseat crying inconsolably and I just started singing with her while she was crying and turned it into a song.
Do you think parents don’t give their kids enough credit in terms of musical taste?
Generally, if you ever limit what you’re exposing your kids to, then, of course, they don’t have the same chance of exploring what they like and dislike in the same way as kids who hear a lot of different things. Limiting your kids never seems like a great idea to me. [Once your kids go to school], they’re hearing music from their friends, teachers, music classes. Kids have iPods now at four. I don’t what the point would be of only exposing your kids to radio Disney.
What are the best concert moments for you?
When I see kids enjoying themselves, singing, moving their bodies to the music, acting out the songs. In those moments, I realize I have something to give to the people that are there, and I feel connected with the audience. We’re sharing an experience together, and that feels good. And when I see how much joy parents get watching their kids having fun, being a parent myself, I understand that so deeply and personally. It makes me cry to see people enjoying their own kid that way – and that’s new. I wasn’t so aware of that before I had Lucy.
If you ever limit what you’re exposing your kids to, then they don’t have the same chance of exploring what they like and dislike.
I hope what we do is give kids a space to come and move as much as they want and enjoy music with other people. Hopefully, they’re songs they really love which give them a chance both to sing along and move their bodies and really participate in what’s happening – not just sit and watch. We’ve also been doing theme shows the last couple of years. Last year’s theme was pajama parties. We asked kids to come in their pajamas, and there was a bed on the stage, and we pretended we were just having a pajama sleepover party together. This year’s theme is birthday party, and it feels really good to imagine I’m celebrating each kid that’s there.
What shocked you the most about parenting?
How it never turns off; I’m never not a parent anymore. In the beginning, it was hard to even find enough time to take a shower. Now I have more time, but most of it I spend planning things for Lucy; she’s just always a part of so much that I do all the time. She’s in school for six hours, she’s asleep at night, but somehow I’m still not able to get enough sleep and do the things I want or need to do for work and myself and for her and for my marriage. I wasn’t ever able to imagine what that would feel like beforehand.
What’s your parenting philosophy?
Never wake up the kids. Her body will work it out, let her body do what it needs to do. Also, listen to your kids. So many times I think she didn’t really get it or she said something that didn’t make sense, but I’ve found when I listen with different ears or I try to see her perspective, she’s always saying something valid and something of value. It’s remembering that when I don’t [listen], I feel frustrated and pissed off, but if I actually slow down and listen to what she’s saying, it helps everything.
What’s up next for you?
I’m touring at the moment. I pair up shows with charities – the next one will be with Soles4Souls, an organization that provides shoes to people in need around the world. We’re asking families to bring a pair of new or gently used children’s shoes to each concert. I’m also part of “Nick Jr. Mega Music Fest,” a concert event that will air this summer, and I’m putting out my own DVD next year.
We’ve got 5 copies of Laurie’s new CD to giveaway! Send an email with your kids’ favorite kiddie rocker and why to Christine@babble.com to win.