This quest has lead me to a lot of great punk music for kids. Some, like Peelander-Z and the Ramones, just happen to be fun music that we both like listening to. In addition, there is a lot of great punk rock directed at kids, with messages that are fun and kid friendly, combined with a sounds that's not grating on the ear drums of mom or dad.
Asian man records founder Mike Park is one punk musician who's made the transfer to kids' music after having his own children, as is former Stretch Marks guitarist Billy Jackfish. On his self-titled album he has taken his stretch as a punk rock musician and translated it with a bit of twang into a pile of hilariously fun songs that range from the uproar of "Stinky Poo Song," to the mildly irreverent "Punk Rock Kid," to the nursery rhyme revisions of songs like "Poor Little Humpty" and "Twinkle Earth."
We connected with Billy to talk about his background in punk rock, how he transitioned into parenthood, and where his musical direction is headed now.
RC: Tell us a bit about your background in punk rock?
BJ: I was the guitar player in the Stretch Marks in the early 80's. We were signed to the Better Youth Organization (BYO) label and enjoyed touring and playing shows with a lot of infamous second wave punk bands. We recently got back together to play the Punk Rock Bowling Tournament/Concert in Las Vegas. Fat Mike of NOFX cites us as one of his early influences and NOFX recently covered our song "Professional Punk" on their hard core cover album.
RC: And how did your outlook change once you had kids?
BJ: We were part of what I would call the socially conscious punk scene rather than the slash and destroy faction. Sure, we were rebellious but with the goal of raising awareness and promoting positive social attitudes. Once I had kids nothing really changed. My kids learned to think for themselves, be true to their beliefs and fight for what they believe in.
RC: How do punk rock and parenting go together? Do they?
BJ: When you have kids, I don't think it matters what your background - they become your primary focus. The upside of being a punk is that you understand and encourage your kids' individuality. The downside is you have to explain expletive lyrics. (Oh, the hypocrisy of turning into our parents!)
RC: What made you decide to cut a children's album?
BJ: I have always loved music and making music - having children didn't change that. When my kids were born I was driven to make them laugh and smile. For me it was natural to do that through music and so I started to write silly songs and haven't stopped.
RC: Do you think there's a problem with the state of children's music today?
BJ: While some of it is pretty sappy and commercial, there are also some awesome artists out there. Despite my personal taste, if children enjoy it, it's good music. If parents can get their children connected to music, I think they've given them a huge gift.
RC: What goes into writing a kids' song? Does it just happen, or do you decide to write a song about, say bugs, and then take it from there?
BJ: For me it almost always starts with a tune and then I just find myself singing along with certain lyrics... the lyric focus then takes over and is usually the toughest. The song "Bugs" was written on a plane en route to a large theme park in Orlando. I enlisted my nine year old son to help me write songs and he came up with the original concept and early start to the lyrics. Currently and for my next project, I have a few situational concepts that I am developing through lyrics before I create the music.
RC: Do you subject the songs to field tests? By that I mean do you run it past your little ones as you go? Or do you unveil the new songs after they're ready?
BJ: A little of both... I have a circle of friends with little ones and sometimes what they like best surprises me.
RC: How do your kids react? Are they supportive or are they pretty harsh critics?
BJ: My kids are very supportive and love being roadies and social network advisors.
RC: A thing I love about kids' music - especially well-written, non-annoying kids' music - is how similar it is to a lot of basic punk rock. The lyrics are often just as juvenile as old school punk and the music is often pretty similar. What is it that makes punk rock and kids' music so similar? Is it a philosophy? A mentality? Or does it just happen?
BJ: When you think about it, young kids live in a "do this, don't do that" world. Music, especially with goofy themes, gives them some freedom and perhaps a chance to express their "inner rebel". When they get older, the raw energy that is so much a part of punk can encourage positive social rebellion against the injustices of the world.
RC: Aside from your own music, what are your kids into?
BJ: I've always taught my kids to appreciate all forms of music. They are into a wide variety from old school rock to pop to punk. I enjoy going to mainstream and alternative concerts with my kids so they can enjoy and appreciate live music and the artists that create it.
RC: Do you have any advice for your fellow punk parents, whether its about music, raising children or anything else?
BJ: My advice about life in general is captured in the lyrics from a tune I wrote for my daughter when she was just wee:
Learn to laugh, and you will be happy
Be true, and you'll be free
Make friends, and you will be wealthy
Above all, know that we love you
The self-titled album by Billy Jackfish is available now, check out his website to find it on CD Baby or iTunes.