[KIDZ POP] Folks in the indie world recording music for children is not new. For the past 10 years or so, dozens of artists and bands have taken either a quick detour into that universe (all the groups that have appeared on the TV show Yo Gabba Gabba!) or completely redirected the course of their careers (ex-Del Fuego Dan Zanes, Elizabeth Mitchell of Ida).
The trend has surprising longevity. Even as artists like They Might Be Giants and Barenaked Ladies have returned to making music for grown-ups, plenty of others are moving into the children’s pop game, including some in Portland’s music scene.
The question then becomes: What is fueling the continued success of these albums? Beyond the pure biological fact that the world is going to repopulate itself no matter what is on the stereo, is it bands looking to acquire lifelong fans from the get-go? Or is it a byproduct of liberal-minded parents doing everything to ensure their kids seem cool years before those toddlers and preteens have any conception of what “cool” is?
Speaking with Julianna Bright—the drummer-vocalist for Portland band the Golden Bears and mother of a 5-year-old girl—about her foray into the children’s market, her inspiration was far less calculated. In fact, the idea didn’t begin with her.
“My friends run an app company in town,” she says. “They asked me, if I was going to make an app for kids, what would it look like? They wanted to make three apps together, each one with music and artwork by me.”
The first app uses Bright’s version of the kid’s classic “Little Red Wagon” (recorded with Decemberists Chris Funk and Jenny Conlee) as well as hundreds of her illustrations. Inspired by the process, Bright moved forward with a full collection of tunes. Recorded under the name Cat Doorman, the album Songbook features some jazz-inflected pop tunes that lean slightly on the folk tradition, and even includes a bubbly version of Syd Barrett’s “Effervescing Elephant.”
But what does she think about the still-thriving kid’s music market that has inspired folks like her and fellow locals such as Laura Veirs and Jefferson Craig of Gamma Knife to record tunes for youngsters?
“I think that something happens when you are a creative person that has a kid,” Bright says. “I know I found myself wanting to make little capsules for my kid that evokes my worldview or a worldview I want to share with her. And for people who have been playing music for a long time, this is kind of a gentle little offering that they can bring forth.”
And, she says, the tone of the surprisingly complex music and stories being told on Songbook are meant to engage audiences both young and old.
“I feel like that’s a really important component of it,” she says. “I’m writing as much about the open-heartedness of kids, and the capacity that they have for joy and loneliness, as I am about the experience that having a child brings those ideas back into your life.”
SEE IT: Cat Doorman plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Twisted Whistle, on Saturday, Jan. 26. 3 pm. Adults: $8 advance, $10 day of show; children (12 and under): $6 advance, $8 day of show.