Making music for families and kids isn’t something a lot of artists dream of doing. Some artists stumble into it. Some artists do it out of necessity. Some artists have kids and use it as a creative outlet. It’s not often an artist says “I have always wanted to make a record for kids.” And yet, those were the first words out of Josh Lovelace’s mouth during our conversation.
Josh Lovelace doesn’t need to make a record for kids. He’s a member of the successful, Grammy-nominated band Needtobreathe and could merely be content with the success he’s had with them. But he went and made a record for families anyway.
Simply put, Josh is doing it for the right reasons.
Writing songs for kids seems to come pretty natural to you. But, you’ve always been busy with your band Needtobreathe. What made the timing right to make your first family album Young Folk?
I have always wanted to make a record for kids and families. Growing up, there were a lot of great artists that were making really good records for kids. Sharon, Lois & Bram, Raffi. I was very inspired by Pete Seeger & Woody Guthrie and folk music as a kid. I always appreciated it and thought it would be fun to add to that collective of people that have done it before and are doing it now. I didn’t know when it would happen. When I started having kids, I started really enjoying singing songs with them and for them. When my son was just a couple of years old, I remember just sitting on the floor and trying to teach him songs and to see his face light up. Learning music, learning songs for the first time, it was something that just really inspired me to create something original, to create something that was from our home, and put it out. I never necessarily had the intention of starting a career as a children’s artist, but at the same time, I’ve appreciated the people that have come before me, and to be able to do it, and have my kids young enough to enjoy it themselves, is absolutely the funnest way to do it. It’s been a blast.
When you first decided to tell the rest of the band – ‘OK, I’m going to make this record for kids’ how did they react?
It’s interesting. We all have some things that we’re passionate about outside of the band. Some of those things are music related. Some of them are other business things that we just love to do and always wanted to do. The guys were extremely supportive from the beginning. I’ve been working on this record for three or four years, really since my son was born. They knew that I had some songs here and there that I was working on. They saw it coming. When it came down to when, it just really did make sense. We were in between record cycles and it made sense to put it out and just let it do what it’s going to do. I never had any intentions to really tour it unless something crazy happens and I can. But the main thing was I just wanted to get it out. It was kind of a time capsule. It was the first four years of me being a parent and I felt like it was the perfect time to get it out there, but to also creatively move on from that and be able to really create the next Needtobreathe project. They were very supportive and still are.
If this is a time capsule of the first four years. Are you already looking ahead to making a second family record?
I think doing what we do as musicians, being in a band for pretty much my whole life (laughter), I feel like the way that it goes, where you put all of your energy into making something that you’re really passionate about, you put the record out, then you tour it. And pretty much at the same time, you’re already thinking about the next thing. And that’s the cycle. That’s been the cycle my whole life. I definitely think that I would like to do something else whether it’s children, family, just something that continues to give back to the children’s music community, and to my kids. I think that’s been the funnest thing for me as a parent, to be able to use the things that I love – music, and writing songs, and engaging an audience – to use those things for not only for my kids, but for other kids. I would love to do another one and I think that that’s definitely on my mind. Needtobreathe, is heading into the studio to do our seventh record, which is absolutely insane. We’ve been doing it for a long time, 15 years now. So, the fact that we get to do that, and then we can also spread our wings and do the things that we’re passionate about, we can explore those things. I really think I have the best job in the world.
Pete Seeger, Woodie Guthrie are guys you grew up listening to, there were some politically charged messages within the songs. Is that something you maybe see yourself pursuing on the next record? Do feel kids are able to grasp or understand the message?
I’ve thought about that a lot. Studying the heroes, for sure, has opened up the part of my brain, as far as the way I think, and the way that I can engage the culture that is listening to these songs. Looking back at some of those Pete Seeger and Woodie Guthrie, those guys were at the forefront of big movements, and they were using their voices to change the world. I definitely think that that is something that’s tangible, and it’s something that a kid can understand in the sense of their voice can make a difference. I think that’s something that I would be honored to carry that and to inspire kids, but also moms, and dads, and grandparents. People would want to use their voice and use their life to do something that makes other people’s lives better. I’m definitely exploring that more and more and thinking about ways that music can do more than just be a pleasurable experience. It can be something that can really be a game changer.
Which leads me to the standout song – ‘Climb a Tree’
‘Climb a Tree’ was one that I had a chorus first, and I knew that there was something really special there. It felt like when you’re talking about songs that feel like you can change the world, or that was that song for me. I felt like it was the song on the record that I knew I had to get right, because you can put songs about bears eating your underwear, and messy Bessie, and itchy beards, and all that is great. But the goal for this record was to find a balance, to find a way that you can…you could play those kind of songs, but then at the same time introduce a vision, and something that’s important, something that has some meat to it. And that was the one that I thought, ‘man, if we can get this right, I feel like it could inspire some kids to stand up for their friends, in this crazy world we’re living in, and if they could be a difference maker in someone’s life. That was the goal. That’s that song. And I had my friends from the band Welshly Arms, who we toured with as well, and they just knocked that vocal part out of the park. It’s one of those songs that I hit repeat even still because it means so much to me, and it is definitely the heartbeat behind the whole idea of Young Folk.
You brought a couple of guests in on your record – Ellie Holcomb, Ben Rector and others. Ellie has previous experience in creating music for children. Was she offering you any advice when you were looking to record her as being part of one of these songs?
I’ve known Ellie (and her husband Drew) for a very long time. We’ve done a lot of touring together with Needtobreathe, and just been a big fan of theirs, not only musically, but just as people. I think that they are some of the best people that you could ever meet. I remember when she was on the road with us, and they had their first child, and just to see the way she interacted with her child, she was definitely someone that you looked at you thought, well, this person has got to be the best mom ever. Her voice is perfect for children. It’s perfect for that audience. When we started thinking about this project, I couldn’t think of anybody else that I would want to have a voice on the record, because she’s just one of the best there is out there.
How long did it take Ben Rector to say “yes” and join you for ‘A Bear in the Woods’? Did he bring in his own set of lyrics, or was it already written, but with Ben in mind?
It was definitely written with Ben in mind. I had the song finished. I actually had a demo of me kind of doing the part that Ben sings. As a songwriter, sometimes you put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Like what would they say? What would they do to it if they are writing or singing the song? And I definitely think that when I was writing ‘A Bear in the Woods’ I was thinking how would Ben Rector have delivered this lyric or how would he do this? When it came down to would Ben actually guest on the record, I honestly didn’t think he would do it, and he immediately said, “Yes, I’m in. When? Sign me up.” We went into a studio and actually re-tracked my vocals and his vocals at the same time. It was just so fun, and he jumped in and really made the track. I mean you hear people all the time that didn’t know that Ben was on it, and the track comes on and they had no idea he was on it. They’re just sitting eating dinner, and spitting their food out, because it just shocks and surprises them to hear Ben Rector sing about a bear eating his underwear. So, it’s pretty awesome.
You’ve been able to play a few gigs in front on children and families. How have they reacted and how have you learned how to do a show with kids in the crowd?
Yeah. It’s a totally different experience (laughter) to play in front of kids than to play in front of adults. I’ve been very lucky that in the last couple of months getting to do those kind of things, getting to play for families, and it’s been so fun. This record was really created to be celebrated together. When I thought about doing shows, I thought well, I have to do some shows, because I don’t want to not hear these songs sung in a room with a bunch of people. The goal is that we all can sing along, and then we can do this thing together. I have loved playing shows, and I’m learning so much from not only from the experience of doing it, but just from kids, and watching them light up on certain things, and the way you interact and engage them. I was lucky enough to go to Canada right when the record came out and do some shows with Sharon & Bram, and they’re celebrating their 40th year of doing children’s music. They get up there, and they absolutely slay. (laughter) If you can say that. They just absolutely know what they’re doing. They know their audience, and they’re the best at it. They’re in their seventies and eighties, hey look like they’re in their twenties, because they’re giving it everything they’ve got. They know how to engage with children. They know how to get respect from parents. And so, they’ve been definitely the ones that I’ve looked at for my whole life really and just been like, OK, that’s how you do it, that’s how you make a kid’s records, that’s how you engage families, that’s it.
Young Folk was release in November. What has been your initial impression of the current landscape of kids’ music for families. Are there some artists that you’ve discovered in the kindie music industry that have impressed you?
In making this record, I’ve learned a lot about kindie music. There is some amazing stuff coming out of the children’s music industry that I didn’t know about until I really started getting serious about making a record. Caspar Babypants was one that somebody was like, “You need to check this record out.” I knew his band, The Presidents of the United States of America and then…and then to hear that, I was like ohhhh, this is…this is amazing. This makes so much sense. This is so good. The Okee Dokee Brothers, somebody passed their record along to me and I actually reached out to them, and said, “I just want to let you know I love what you do, it’s really good, and I’m putting out a record, but just wanted to say ‘hey’ because I don’t know anybody.” They were so nice. They wrote a note back and were super encouraging. I’ve just met some really nice people that really want to make family music and make it as good as it can be with no hidden agenda. We live in the music industry. You have people that are just fighting their way to the top just to get to the top, but there’s no real purpose behind it in some ways. I’ve been very fortunate to be in a band that is trying to make music that matters and I feel very lucky to be surrounded with some great people in the children’s industry that are doing the same kind of thing. It’s a great community to be a part of.
Young Folk is available from Josh’s website and all other fine music outlets.