Bye, 2013.

Dec 28

So.  2013:

  • We had a ton of fun doing the South by Meltdown showcase during SXSW, and look forward to doing something again this year (details soon!).
  • We’re now pretty settled into doing the show in an hour, and we’ve added a couple of stations.
  • I’m pretty confident we’ll get on the air here in Austin in 2014, though I of course wish it had happened faster.
  • We raised a lot more money via the label than I’d expected, given the fact that we didn’t have any releases (with our year-end donations bringing our cumulative total to over $100,000!).
  • We didn’t end up releasing a new Terrible Twos record, and I think we probably won’t.  Boo.
  • We had more in-studios and interviews than we’ve ever had before; being in a big music city helps.  Hopefully we’ll add more and more non-kids’ artists to the list of folks too.
  • KindieFest ended.  This bummed me out, even though I had decided to scale back my participation anyway.  It grew out of a showcase — really just a party — that I helped create the first spring we were on the air, when we were heading to Brooklyn and just wanted to hang out with AudraRox.  It had grown into an anchor of the year for many artists and others in family music, almost like a family reunion.  The sense of unity and common cause that was there was…really lovely.  I will miss it terribly.

On that last topic: As we had in prior years, we partners set aside some money for the next year’s startup expenses.  Once we decided to end the event, we each got our share of that money.  So I sat down to decide what to do with it.  (For the past few years, any money I’ve made from the kids’ music side of my life has gone towards donations — not just the beneficiaries from the label, but from other income as well.  So we’ve made some contributions to Liam’s school, for example, which has suffered the same fate as other Texas public schools.)

It didn’t take long to realize that the perfect thing to do with the final dollars I’d get from KindieFest was to honor someone who has really represented the best of the kindie music world — and the spirit of KindieFest: Molly Ledford of Lunch Money.

Molly understood the potential of something like KindieFest better than probably anyone (including myself).  She was a constant, happy, engaged, and smart presence, not just willing but excited to share her gathered wisdom with others.  She knows that working together will always — always — result in a better scene than working separately.  She was a producer on Science Fair and made that record way better than it would have been otherwise (including writing two songs on it).  She is a wicked good songwriter and Lunch Money has a vibe that works better than just about anyone else.

And she’s doing a ton of great stuff with Girls Rock Columbia, including writing their theme song:

(Incidentally, I love the “Sisterhood is powerful” line.  On my box o’ things growing up (wooden box, built by me and my dad), among the countless bumper stickers was one that said “Sisterhood is powerful,” with a fist/♀ combined symbol.)

So I sent off a few hundred bucks to Girls Rock Columbia today.  If you’re looking for a place to make a year-end contribution, could I suggest you do the same?  They take PayPal right there on their front page.  Or find your local Girls Rock Camp — there are a ton — and send ‘em a few bucks.

And maybe head over to Lunch Money’s page and tell them you think they’re pretty swell.  If I were starting a family music act, there’s not a single act I’d try to take inspiration from more than them.  (Not copy!  Just be inspired by.)

Happy New Year, everybody.  Love you all.

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Tooting Our Own Horn

Sep 06

I’m feeling pretty darn good. In tomorrow’s mail, Spare the Rock Records is:

- Sending the Haitian People’s Support Project another $10,000 from Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti.

- Sending Girls Inc. $8,803 from Science Fair.

- Sending the Woody Guthrie Foundation $2,177.70 from Keep Hoping Machine Running.

By the end of 2013, the label will hit a cumulative total of $100,000 in donations.

Thanks to Dean Jones, Molly Ledford, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Jeff Giles — producers on the albums — and the over 50 amazing artists who have contributed songs.  Huge thanks also to Stephanie Mayers for her remarkable PR work and all the folks at Virtual Label for making it all work.

Visit the label’s page for more information about the releases.

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Some Thoughts About Lasers and Feelings and The Doubleclicks and Feminism and Stuff

Jul 19

A few weeks ago we had The Doubleclicks on the  show (you can see a video here) in support of their kids’ record Worst Superpower Ever.  Prior to their visit, I’d listened to that a few times, along with their non-kids’ stuff, and enjoyed it all plenty.  And the in-studio was super fun — the songs were of course witty and a nice change of pace in the kids’ world, as were the band members (sisters Aubrey and Angela), but what was maybe the best was watching them talk with Ella off-air.  Grownups who spoke her language.

a3607587551_2A week or so later, the band was kind enough to send an advance download of their new (not-for-kids) record, Lasers and Feelings.  And it is, well, pretty great, and it made me pay closer attention.

Easy stuff to talk about first: They’ve added way more instrumentation to their guitar-and-cello core setup, and it sounds great.  (As usual, I think many sax solos would be improved with trombone, but the sax solos on here largely work, and clarinets are great.)  That’s not to say I don’t like the usual setup — it highlights their voices and lyrics nicely, and is certainly a nice change of pace from your standard band lineup — but it’s fun to hear some other instruments in the mix too.

Like I said, that’s the obvious stuff, and that — along with their usual witty lyrics and a growing nerd fanbase — is presumably why they just announced that they hit the Billboard Top Ten for comedy albums.

Here’s the thing though: Lasers and Feelings is not just a comedy album.  I think it’s a (very funny) feminist album.  (And putting it in the “comedy” category tends to distract from the fact that they’re excellent songwriters, both lyrically and melodically.  This is not a novelty act.)

Sure, the album is funny — very funny at times — and there are certainly songs that are primarily for laughs (“The Guy Who Yelled Freebird,” “Rock Star Life,” etc.).  And every song has humor at its creamy nougat center.

But I like to think of Lasers and Feelings as the sequel to Science Fair.  (Granted, Angela and Aubrey didn’t have Science Fair until I handed it to them, and I’ve no idea if they’ve listened to it.  Presumably they didn’t listen to it, travel back in time, and make Lasers and Feelings intending it to be a sequel.  But stay with me here.)

Science Fair was (for me, and for I think all of the producers and artists) about giving girls power, to emphasize that there is no part of society where they don’t belong — about being themselves without being mocked, about feeling not just okay but awesome with being smart.  That basic idea — everybody gets to be in every room — is what a lot of Lasers and Feelings is about too, albeit at a slight angle.

Consider the core song representing that idea, “Nothing to Prove.”  (The video for it, featuring clips from fans all over, is supposed to be up soon.)  In it, the band sings about finding their way into the nerd community — on much the same path that Ella is on right now — only to run into the notion of “fake geek girl tests”:

I know it feels good to have a contest you win; it would feel better if I wanted in.  So women aren’t geeks, is that your conclusion?  That this is some secret club based on exclusion?  Twelve-year-old dorks would say that you’re being selfish, and then go and write in their journals in Elvish.  * * * I’ve got cred but honestly I shouldn’t need it; this world needs all kinds of folks to complete it. You’ve got gamers and aritsts and comic subscribers, cosplayers, crafters, and fan fiction writers.  You can stop – never say ‘fake geek’ again.  Our club needs no bouncers; all who want can get in.  But go ahead, if you want to own that role fully – I’ve got nothing to prove to a bully.

That is, I submit, the next step from Science Fair, especially the Nields’ song “Butterfly” and Rachel Loshak’s lovely “Oh Girl.”  The former acknowledges how much it can suck out loud to be a smart (nerdy?) girl:

I know metamorphosis means you have to go to pieces first; things will not get better, ’til they get a whole lot worse.  They are laughing in the girls’ room — they think they’re tearing down the sky.  When I come out, finally find me, you’ll see a gold flight as we fly by, as I fly by…

And it’s not just The Doubleclicks’ “Nothing to Prove.”  “Oh, Mr. Darcy” provides a nice reminder not to get distracted by a British accent  (“If a boy treats you with tasteful indifference, if he is handsome but bristly and cold, don’t be intrigued just because he’s ignoring you — not every asshole has a heart of gold.”).  “The Mystery’s Gone” points out how much one’s online presence can differ from their reality.

My point?  Here, I’ve got one: If you’ve been listening to the show since we started (eight years in a couple of weeks!), you may well have a kid (boy or girl) who could use some of what’s on this album.  (You’d probably like it too.)

It would be easy to get distracted by the plentiful laughs on Lasers and Feelings, and then you’d miss what is a really strong record with a resonant message.  I cannot wait for Ella to get back from camp to hear it.  I am positive it’s going to hit the spot for her.  It is not a kids’ record — as you can see above, it has some language you might not love and some themes that aren’t aimed at the younger kids.

But it absolutely reflects much of how I want my kids to grow up: smart, funny, and — most importantly — being who they are.

(Also: writing in Elvish.)

P.S. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my brother and sister-in-law Mike & Jenn for introducing me to the band.  They saw (if I remember right) their first public gig!

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Science Fair: “We don’t leave out half the world in any career — especially science.”

Jun 28

In addition to asking my mom to write something about the background of Science Fair, I also asked my sister Lisa, a scientist and lawyer herself, to do so. Here’s her amazing contribution:


Lisa’s second from the left

Bill asked me to write something about our parents “as science education advocates and feminists.” That’s a little bit sweeping, of course, and, as usual, I put this in the important, but not urgent, quadrant of the Eisenhower matrix. That was June 1, and here it is, umm, later, and I’m gathering, from the notes I see on Facebook, that I should move it to the “important/urgent” quadrant.

Here goes.

I can remember road trips where Daddy would make up word problems for us to solve when the alphabet game grew tiresome, and my parents quietly worrying about a particularly bad geometry teacher (who was particularly mean to girls), and getting to skip third grade one day to lobby Oklahoma legislators to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, and a trip to the International Science & Engineering Fair my first go (and state science fairs, one of which was chaperoned by both grandmothers when my folks had commitments elsewhere), and statewide math competitions, and the famous chalkboard in the dining room[i]

And I can remember my Granddaddy Hartrick taking me to spend the day checking on ‘his’ trees and showing me where a pileated woodpecker made its nest, and my Poppaw Childs taking me out to check on his cows and quizzing me about P:N:K ratios in fertilizer, and when he started worrying about the farm girls getting to college about as much as he did about the farm boys.

And I remember my Gralma Hartrick paying me a penny for every two planaria I transferred for her biological supply company, and how our first pets were planaria she sent my brother Mike for his birthday. (My mother had a deep-seated phobia of dogs, and my father was allergic to cats and birds, which didn’t leave much left over in those days.)

And my Granny Childs showing me how to can or sew, and applying her home economics and teaching degrees in feeding the five thousand, and Poppaw acknowledging that it was her algebra skills that got him his master’s degree in animal science.

And how proud we were to know that some of our immigrant relatives were sanctioned for going to door to door, politicking back when Flushing, Queens, New York was still Dutch.

And I remember stories of my brother Bill (or was it Mike?) running into the house, yelling, “Spider! Spider! We need to look it up!”

And I remember my mother telling me every year on my birthday (as part of my birth story), how she conspired with her doctor to lie about her due date so she could work at Phillips 66 into her third trimester.

And I remember the stories of our great-greats who were on the Underground Railroad, and were abolitionists in Ripley, Ohio (the same area where Eliza crossed the Ohio River in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which is a really easy read – there’s a reason Abraham Lincoln described its author as “the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!”), and then moved to Illinois to carry on the tradition. In fact, our great-great Rev. James Gilliland (photo here) pastored the Red Oak Presbyterian Church, and is credited with making it the center of the anti-slavery movement in Ohio. The Ripley, Ohio anti-slavery society there was founded in the 1830s.

And I remember how irritated Daddy would get at the Scientific Method, because that’s not how scientists do science. And when the press would describe the beginning of the universe as an explosion. And how proud he was of the Bartlesville schools introducing a gifted and talented program before they were common – the first high school graduates from that program featured a bumper crop of National Merit Semi-Finalists (including my brother Mike), and Daddy saw a causal relationship there. (My mom has told me that she thought Mike would have dropped out in 5th grade if that program hadn’t been there.)

And I remember being told by some high school girl as we were leaving AP English, “You’re liberal?! But, I thought you were smart!”

And I remember when the help wanted ads in the newspaper were sorted by gender. And when my high school counselor responded to my conceding that I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up, by telling me that I should go to a state school in western Oklahoma, which had the 4th best pharmacy program in the US. Why? Because my skillset would be more portable, and I could go where my husband went for his job. (Not that it matters, much, now, but I wasn’t dating anybody at the time, and she left unexplained how I would meet somebody at this school who wasn’t a pharmacist.) And how concerned Eagle Forum was that men and women might have to share a bathroom, although I guess it was all right for them to share a bathroom at home.

And I remember my brother Bill taking on his third grade teacher on evolution, and her telling him that he was d—ned for believing in it. And him coming into the living room after his bedtime to kiss all the women goodnight who were working to do something about women’s rights.

And my mother talking about the work she did to abet integration in Fayetteville when she was in college, involving pie and coffee. (Fortunately, there was a reimbursement since she didn’t really have two nickels to rub together.)

So, it’s hard for me to write about science education advocates and feminists because, for me, that was what our family did and always has done. We think it important to work at making the world a better place, and one way to do that is to make sure that everyone in it has a voice, and that we don’t leave out half the world in any career – especially science. I’m glad that this CD is being used to further that ambition.


[i] An aside about the chalkboard: my mother’s folks also had unusual things in their dining room. They had a sawfish nose and a set of arrows tipped with curare that my great-grandfather brought back from a trip he had taken to Venezuela. As I heard the story from my uncle last week: after my great-grandmother died, he went down, more than once, to Venezuela to visit two of his children, who were missionaries there, working his way on boats. (In fact, my grandmother’s three siblings all made missionaries, in one way or another.) At some point, he fixed a motor for somebody, who gave him a very large sawfish in exchange. He couldn’t take the whole fish home, so he sawed off the nose.

So, maybe I can be excused for not realizing that our chalkboard décor was well outside the normal range of dining rooms.

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Mates of State Video!

Jun 26

You can watch the Mates of State video for their contribution to Science Fair here:

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World Premiere for the Mates of State Video!

Jun 21

You can check out the video for Mates of State’s “I Am a Scientist” cover today at Paste Magazine.  Whoo-hoo!

Thank you to: Lindsay Van Dyke for conceiving of and directing the video, Bob Pollard (Needmore Music) for permission for doing the video, Smith College for the fantastic location, our great volunteer cast and crew, and Mates of State for a terrific performance!

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