I’ve been compelled by the rules of this column, as well by my own expanding tastes, to listen to a lot of kindie music in the last year. As I’ve explained previously, there’s a lot of the stuff out there—a veritable universe of artists addressing the whims and peculiar mindsets of kids, explaining to the rest of us what it’s like to see the world through their eyes, and setting those expressions to music that is, at its best, as good as anything I’ve heard from “hipper” artists of the day. Part of me wishes I’d been exposed to this stuff years ago; that’s the part of me that last year heard my 11-year-old son listening to Rihanna sing “Come here rude boy, boy, can you get it up? / Come here rude boy, boy, is you big enough?”
Prudish protectionist regrets aside, there are fine sounds to be exposed to in the genre, and it didn’t take long for me to find a favorite band out of the bunch. Renaissance art had Michelangelo; Romantic poetry had Keats; detective fiction had Chandler; swing had Sinatra; Metropolis had Superman. Kindie music has the Hipwaders, a California trio who specialize in perfectly written and performed anthems for the kiddies. Quite simply, they are a great power pop band that just happens to play music for children. Think Fountains of Wayne performing songs aimed at six-year-olds, instead of thirteen-year-olds.
These guys, to these ears, are the best. My love for them is immeasurable, my respect for them immense. The band—singer/songwriter/guitarist Tito Uquillas, drummer Nick Baca, and bassist DJ Kinville—observe three essential rules for making great entertainment for children:
Rule #1: Don’t Talk Down to Them
Whether they’re extolling the virtues of maternal units in “Always Mom” (from their 2008 EP Goodie Bag) or dissing budding assholes in “Stand Up to the Bully” (from their self-titled 2005 debut), the band treats its topics, as well as its audience, with respect. The chorus to “Bully” even gives some sage, empowering advice:
Don’t feel shame
You’re not to blame
Bullies act out
They need to stop
You need to walk
With your head held high
They can also tell a story in a manner that grooves as well as it narrates. “(The Work Song) Cinderella” provides the ages-old tale from the perspective of the downcast title character, with a beat straight out of Creedence’s “Fortunate Son.” Even original stories, like “Field Trip”—a song about the coolest thing you’d ever have to get a permission slip to do—are done with a palpable sense of joy. Who wouldn’t want to take an interstellar trip, play laser tag with Martians, pass into another dimension, and take a space walk—all on a school day? And who wouldn’t want to have a cool new-wavy guitar riff as the soundtrack for the day?
Rule #2: Give the Parents Some
That joy is part of why parents should love the Hipwaders’ music, but there’s also a bit of winking content for parents in their songs. Think of the first time you saw the first Shrek movie—how the film’s makers sprinkled their creation with knowing asides and pop culture references that flew over kids’ heads, but hit adults squarely in the noggin. Likewise, Uquillas (the band’s chief songwriter) tosses out lyrics and musical snippets that entertain the adults in the room (or the car, or the party) as well as their progeny. The title track of 2007’s Educated Kid has a simple riff and cool chorus harmonies, as well as lines like “Get scholarships, student loans, special grants, get schooled at home, uh-huh.” Your kindergartner won’t know why Mommy just shuddered over the mention of “student loans,” but there ain’t an educated ex-kid who wouldn’t.
You had my heart when you tackled me
The recess monitor ended your assault
No, it’s not your fault
Hit its mark
And drove you crazy
Ah, to be young again! Boy shows his affection by yanking Girl’s pigtail, and she showed hers by bloodying his nose. Assault and battery never again seems quite so lovely.
Rule #3: Play It Like You Mean It
Let me stress again that the Hipwaders are a terrific band, capable of moving from tempo-shifting toe-tappers (“Dewey Decimal System”) to a sea shanty about dinosaur-hunting pirates (“The Song of the Paleo Pirates”) to pure power pop goodness (“Yes It’s Christmas”). All the smart, funny lyrics in the world would be null and void without great melodies, singing, and playing to get them across to listeners, and the Hipwaders do that as well as any other pop or rock band you can name.
They have a new record coming out in July; I’m looking forward to hearing it as much as just about anything else on my wishlist of upcoming releases. Give the Hipwaders a shot, particularly if you have kids; I’m pretty certain you’ll become a fan, too.