Steven Drozd (Flaming Lips) and Steve Burns (“Blues Clues”) join forces and make music everyone can enjoy.
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Children’s music is often shunned by those who look for sounds of a more “serious” variety. For those who are don’t have kids of their own, or whose kids have matured beyond the early adolescent state, it means music of a specialized nature, great for weaning infants but hardly the kind of thing to share as an everyday pastime.
These days though, that may be an outmoded notion. More and more artists who once provided the soundtracks for emerging maturity and the everyday challenges of love, life and the consequences of being a grown up in an oppressive world, have now turned their attention to making music for the younger set, achieving respectable results in the process.
Even so, Steven Drozd, best known as Flaming Lips’s multi-instrumentalist — a band that’s built a reputation on being avant-garde experimenters of the decidedly eccentric variety — and Steve Burns, the host of the children’s program “Blues Clues,” have joined forces under the all-too-appropriate handle StevenSteven. Their recently released debut album, Foreverywhere, does the improbable, offering up songs about princesses and unicorns that the kids can enjoy with adroit and intriguing melodies that adults will find immediately accessible as well. This isn’t your parent’s children’s music, or anything like the sounds us adults might have been nurtured on early on. It is instead, remarkably enticing, a set of songs that ought to appeal to Flaming Lips fans, and anyone else that prefers music with a decidedly progressive posture.
BLURT recently spoke with the two Stevens – depending on how one interpret text fonts, the duo could arguably be called Steve N Steven, which in fact is how one of their videos is listed – and asked them to share the backstory of how their collaboration came about.
BLURT: For starters, how did you guys hit it off so quickly?
DROZD: I think it’s a testament to what a stellar human being Burns is. We met in late 2001 at Tarbox Road Studios in Fredonia, New York, The session was set up by Dave Fridmann, long-time Flaming Lips producer, and I only had a few of Burns’ demos to go on. I didn’t really know of “Blues Clues” (this was before I had kids), and I just had no idea what the vibe would be. Burns disarmed me within fifteen minutes and we were instantly laughing and talking about absurd, stupid, silly things. I knew immediately that we were going to work great together.
BURNS: We share a similar sense of humor — dark, but goofy, Steven is a remarkably unpretentious guy. He’s a very open book. We also shared a surprising amount of musical favorites, and that’s always a trusty barometer of potential friendship. Plus you have to remember that the (Flaming Lips album) The Soft Bulletin was — and still is — my favorite album of all time, so he probably could have poured a glass of chocolate milk over my head and smacked me in the face with a trout and I would have been completely accepting of it.
BLURT: Had either of you tried making kids music individually before this?
DROZD: I had made a couple of silly songs for kinds of my friends, but nothing too substantial.
BURNS: I hadn’t, but recording the songs of “Blue’s Clues” episodes was always my favorite part of the day. I love the process of making and recording music…more than performing it really. I just find it so fascinating.
BLURT: Was this project intimidating at all, knowing you had a very specific young audience you were trying to reach?
DROZD: By the time we decided to make the record, we had received such positive feedback for our song “I Hog The Ground” that it felt like we were meant to make this music! It was mostly fun — Burns had the kid friendly educational content to consider. But I just got to make music that I was very comfortable making
BURNS: I think children are a very difficult and demanding audience if you’re serious at all about being sincere with them. I’ve always sort of made it my mission not to talk down to kids with the entertainment I provide them, and that’s much easier said than done.
BLURT: What is it about Foreverywhere that finds such appeal with both kids and adults? Is that a difficult divide?
DROZD: I guess it can be difficult, but there really is a long history of music that is loved by both kids and adults that isn’t just kid music. The Beatles, Vince Guaraldi, “Sesame Street,” etc. – I guess we were trying to connect the things we loved as kids to what we could listen to now and also have our kids love. I think it has worked in that way as I hear from a lot of people that specific things on the album remind them of their own childhood.
BURNS: I don’t think there has to be such a division between what makes great music for children and what makes great music for adults. Drozd mentioned Vince Guaraldi, and I think it’s a terrific example of music that is both. There’s plenty of overlapping space to explore.
BLURT: Still, most family friendly music these days seems to be aimed wholly at children. Why do you think that is? Why does it not engage adults as well?
DROZD: There is just so much music in general these days. We are inundated on a very regular basis with so much stuff. It’s like the Onion headline from a few years back — “U.S. children born with 1,000 songs on their iPods!” Haha… it’s true, though. My kids know #so much# music and they’re still very young. So, I think the children-specific idea is to try to make a mark in a sea of new stuff. But, we want the kids and their parents to connect…
BLURT: The kids market has become huge in the last decade…How have you seen it evolve? Was the fact that the market has really embraced it an impetus for the two of you to dive in?
DROZD: We did the song “I Hog The Ground” back in 2006-2007, and it felt like this big wave was happening. I thought the wave would crest, but it seems as though it just flooded and then became a whole new market, which is great timing for us…
BURNS: It does seem like there is an impulse out there to return to children’s entertainment that works on many levels at once. I grew up on the Muppets and Electric Company. I might not have understood all the jokes with actual clarity, but I knew they were inherently “funny,” and all of that informed my sense of humor in a positive way. I think people are coming back around to multi-level content in general.
BLURT: What is it that each of you brings to this project that was specifically gleaned from what you had done before — specifically “Blue’s Clues” and the Flaming Lips?
DROZD: I just make a lot of music, and I like to make music for different things and with different people and projects. Working with Burns is fun and pretty rewarding. We’re on the same exact plane 95% of the time. I’ve fooled him into thinking I’m a musical genius and he is an actual genius.
BURNS: I feel like the curricular parts of the record are pretty relaxed and from the hip, but Drozd keeps reminding me that I was a total stickler for the details of the content and lyrics. That’s #definitely# a vestige of my time on “Blue’s Clues,” which was so painstakingly researched and considered.
BLURT: How do you think the fans of your previous work will take to this? What’s been the reaction so far?
DROZD: There’s been a lot of great support from so many different people. I think Flaming Lips fans that like certain elements of The Lips hear things that they recognize and respond to.
BURNS: What’s freaking me out, truly, truly blowing my mind, is that fans of my previous work have spawned new fans of my previous work, and that sometimes both present and previous fans of my previous work are fans of our present work at the same time. In the present.
BLURT: What was the overall idea/concept at the heart of this album?
DROZD: Wondering is wonderful. Being excited and having your mind expanded and your heart open at all times is what to strive for.
BURNS: Yup. What he said. That, and never giving up. There is often great beauty in the struggle!
BLURT: How difficult is this to replicate on stage? Is there a lot of storytelling involved? Did you model your touring show after any particular precedent, such as Disney, “Sesame Street,” etc.?
DROZD: We are figuring out the live show literally right now. There is storytelling, puppetry, rock n roll hootchie koo, sadness, epic wonder. All of those things. Hopefully it’s gonna work!
BLURT: So what’s next? Will you continue to work together, and if so, will it be a challenge to balance it against your “day jobs?”
DROZD: We will definitely continue to work together, and, if the upcoming Brooklyn Bowl show goes well, we will definitely find a way to perform together whenever we both have any free time.
BURNS: I want to do a Bing Crosby/David Bowie-esque holiday album that’s part music, part radio theater, full of sound effects and characters from our first album and stuff. That’s my idea, so please don’t steal it if you’re reading this. Thanks.