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No longer is the Nelsonville Music Festival directed at just an older audience. This year will be Nelsonville’s third consecutive time hosting the Columbus based kids band The Shazzbots.
These Columbus musicians are looking to bring some heart and soul back into kids music as well as spice up the spontaneity of the festival. which also includes burlesque shows and plays.
Check out what frontman of The Shazzbots “Captain Captain”/Ian Hummel had to say!
ACRN: What made you guys decide to write kids music?
Ian Hummel: Well, we kind of started as an experiment. I had been writing a bunch of other types of music, then I noticed a lot of kids music out there just doesn’t have a lot of heart and soul to it. Like in the old days, you had the Muppet Show and that kind of stuff. I’m sort of a big kid anyway, so I just wanted to see if I could do it. I wanted to see if I could write a kids song and before I knew it, I had about 20 kids songs here and I didn’t know what to do with all the songs. So that’s kind of how we formed the band, a space kids band. It was mainly me noticing a lack of good kids music out there.
ACRN: So your idea with The Shazzbots is to recreate kids music?
IH: Yeah, the idea is to put that heart and soul back into the kids music. I noticed a lot of kids bands that are super popular, but if you listen to it, it doesn’t have any of that real band kind of quality to it. I know a lot of it is just the producer in a studio and they get some faces to be the front of the band and I just kind of wanted to get back to that Muppets type stuff. It wasn’t always smiles and lollipops all the time, there can be some melancholy aspects to it too. It’s something that parents maybe wouldn’t want to stick a pair of scissors in their ears to.
ACRN: Do you keep the parents involved with any “adult-esque” humor--sort of how Nickelodeon shows had adult jokes the kids wouldn’t understand--to keep the parents watching with their kids?
IH: Well, not necessarily in the music. The music and such has that written for kids feel, but the parents actually respond to it because it's us actually playing the instruments, so they are still well written kind of songs. They're still sort of quirky fun songs though. I think the parents like to watch the shows too, and obviously they like watching their kids have fun.
ACRN: Do you guys just write music or do you have any sort of video shorts, movies, or shows?
IH: Right now it’s just the music. The game plan is to do more video content and do kind of a web-based show--sort of short attention span styled things where there are music bits and quirky little things. There might be some music lessons; we’re not trying to teach to much about science, math and that kind of stuff. Our idea is teaching kids about music and art and the creative side of things, and how fun that is. The next thing we are working on is our second CD and that will hopefully come out in the next couple months, and along with that we need to get some video content. We want to do some longer form programming like that or at least some music videos.
ACRN: You brought up your kinds of songs and I found that most of your songs are about learning some fundamental things, as well as art and teaching kids not to be afraid of things like monsters. So why the song about comic books? Does it have something to do with all the movies today?
IH: The comic book song I had written a while back, actually in another band, just because I’ve always loved comic books. The other band I was in, we put out a little EP, with five comic book songs on it and that was one I had come up with. It was more inspired by Johnny Cash’s song "I’ve Been Everywhere," where he names a bunch of cities and stuff and I wanted to see if I could do it with a bunch of superheroes. We basically structured it that way. One verse is just a bunch of superheroes, the middle verse is all the [superheroes with] colors, like Green Lantern, and the last verse is all Superman and Batman, that kind of stuff. It wasn’t because all the movies. I had written it before the movies had gotten hot, so I kind of repurposed it and made it more kid friendly. The kids love it; its upbeat and fun to dance to as well.
ACRN: How’d you meet the band members? Are they people you previously played with or people who also want to help bring this heart and soul style back into kids music?
IH: Kind of all of the above. The Professor, our guitar player, has been in some of the other bands I have been in. I had him come along with me because he’s a good sport and doesn’t mind putting on a lab coat and funny glasses, and having fun with me with stuff like this. The other guys, some of them were friends that I came to with this idea and they jumped on board. Our bass player is also a bit of a writer--he’s written a couple books--so I wanted to get him on board so he could sort of flush out the show, like I had talked about, even though we haven’t reached that point yet. We’ve been busy doing the music thing. Our drummer was through the studio we were working with, we just needed a drummer and he turned out to be a perfect fit.
He’s not too crazy on the drums; he’s just right and willing to do [kids music]. You gotta wear jumpsuits and stuff like that and have all these made-up characters and what-not, so you have to be able to do a little acting in there. You gotta keep that smile on your face and go out and talk to the kids after the show and they are all great at doing that. The girl we have in the band now, Aurora, is another local musician and she joined in after another girl had to drop out. But she teaches music to kids and stuff like that, so I thought she would be a pretty good fit.
ACRN: Where did the name The Shazzbots come from?
IH: Well I was talking about this idea to some other musician friends and was trying to get my mind wrapped around it. A friend of mine suggested [Shazzbots] and we just stuck with it. It’s kind of a link to the old show Mork and Mindy, but we just wanted kind of a fun name and that just always stuck with me.
ACRN: How’d you guys come up with your theme? For instance, “Captain Captain” is this cowboy style space traveler?
IH: When I first started writing all these songs, that was the first step to see if I could write a kids song, and I came up with a handful, like “My Cat’s Name is Peanut Butter,” and that’s pretty much the first album. Then I’m wondering what takes this to the next level, makes a kids band, makes us different, and I’ve always liked the idea of these alter egos--that super hero type of idea. Even in my other band--I’m in an old-timey country band now as well--we all kind of have code names. So I took the idea of these code names and then kind of thinking about what kind of character is it, and built characters from there. I got some help from Scopes, the bass player that I told you was a writer. Most of it is coming from me where I’m just making these characters and I’ve written all the back stories with siblings and bios on the website. It’s also sort of a fun thing, just as a writer, to write and make up these characters--what’s their story? Why do they act like they do? Even though the characters that we play are just ourselves, so really we aren’t acting that much, you just kind of base it on yourself and make an idealized version of you.
ACRN: Any certain values you are trying to teach the kids?
IH: The idea is just about being creative. We have a song about numbers, but I’m not trying to bulk down in those kinds of lessons. We are just trying to teach them you can write songs about anything and that songwriting is fun. You can write songs about your cat, the number five, a monster party, or the comic book shop. It’s not just the music either; we have some other artists involved, and we have some caricatures on our websites and the artwork on our CDs to show the creative side of stuff and show kids to not forget about that. In the world these days, it's down on the scale of things to teach kids, with math and science and English and all that. I know that’s important, but you have to have this creative side to things, too, and I think that helps with all the [math, science, and English]. I would feel hypocritical to teach kids those things, because I wasn’t the best student and I’m still not very good at multiplication. What I am good at is the creative side of things and I just want to show kids how fun it is to use that side of your brain.
ACRN: What type of venue do you guys typically play?
IH: We’ll play anywhere first of all. We have and we will. We’ve played a lot of birthday parties and different venues too. We’ll play at houses, backyards and movie theaters. We’ve played quite a few libraries, and we did this last year, but we are doing another tour of 10 different Columbus branches of the library for their summer reading program. We do a regular show once a month at a movie theater here in Columbus. We kind of host it and play some songs, and show some Pixar shorts and other shorts from around the world. And Obviously the Nelsonville Music Festival, we’d like to get more of those [venues]. Like I said, we will play wherever they need some kids entertainment.
ACRN: How’d you come about getting the Nelsonville gig?
IH: Two years ago we were just getting off the ground, our first CD had just come out. We were trying to just find any place to play, and we thought “summer time is coming up, let's look at all these festivals.” Well, I had emailed the organizer of Nelsonville, Tim [Peacock], and one guy in the band owns a coffee house on Ohio State’s campus here. We were just hanging out in there and Tim came in to hang up some posters for Nelsonville. Scopes, the guy that owns the coffee shop, isn’t afraid to speak his mind and asked if The Shazzbots were on the poster.
Turns out the guy remembered the name and we ended up giving him our first CD. He contacted me later on that night, or the next morning, and said he listened to it on the drive home and loved it, and wanted to have us for the new kids area they were putting together just that year. So, it was kind of like a happy accident. Now, this is the third year that we have been going to Nelsonville. It’s getting bigger and bigger, the festival itself, and hopefully for the kids it will be too. It’s cool that the people there realize that, and that they are helping get some kids musicians out there. I really appreciate it and I hope that in a smaller and getting bigger festival, that they don’t lose sight of the kids side of that.
ACRN: Anything new planned for the show?
IH: No, we kind of have our show down for how we like it at this point. We will have a lot of that same fun stuff that we always do, obviously some new songs, and that kind of stuff. We will have some other guest stars stopping by from the world of The Shazzbots. Like I said, we have this whole sort of back story going on. A couple of my imaginary stepbrothers will show up and sing some songs with us and some other siblings from other Shazzbots are gonna come and I think that’s the kind of stuff we did last year too. We are just gonna have some fun like we always do--Get the kids up and dancing.
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