We're so thankful that Jack was able to answer our questions.
Why do you do what you do?
We all first lived dual lives- working teachers by day and musicians by night. Anyone that's lived the "indie band" schedule knows that it's totally insane: you're oftentimes loading out of a club and back into your rehearsal space as morning papers are being delivered and the city is about to start humming again… suffice it to say, this was not a recipe for super energetic days in the classroom. Recess Monkey began as a lark: taking the indie rock instincts we'd learned playing clubs around Seattle, but applying them to what we knew best, the kids that we teach. Soon, the indie band felt Sisyphean by comparison to the successes we were having connecting to family audiences. We learned that 10:30 really is the best time to play a show- we just mistakenly thought it was 10:30 PM! Anyone who plays family shows knows that 10:30 AM is the absolute best time to play music for this audience.
What was the first thing you remember building/creating?
Personally, it wasn't music: it was movies. I've been involved in music since I was a young kid (cello since I was four and several other instruments and choirs filled my childhood) but the first time I remember really making something artistic of my own was, armed with our family's hefty VHS camcorder, making movies for school credit with several friends in middle school. It's no surprise then that I've made four dozen or so music videos with Recess Monkey since then and a bunch of full-length live concert films- it's such a fun and completely open storytelling form. I studied creative writing in college and wrote a novel, but I realized I was really writing a movie in my head the whole time. I love making music for kids that's story-based because so much of the lyrical content is cinematic too! I wish I could see the weird, quirky mini-movies that kids form in their heads when they hear our songs.
Who or what has influenced and inspired you most in your art/building/creating?
Musically, there's just no escaping the Beatles. I discovered recently that I actually purse my lips like Paul McCartney when I'm playing a particularly Beatlesque bass part- it's kind of funny, actually! I was playing in front of a mirror in our front room and looked up and saw what was so clearly my body's last-ditch attempt to actually become Sir Paul. And of course, the kids that we all teach, and our own kids, are just an endless source of inspiration. I think you could find an entire career's worth of family songs from spending just one day in a first grade classroom, writing down everything you hear.
What kind of training or schooling do you have that has helped you?
I was a 9-year member of the Northwest Choirs here in Seattle, which was such a huge musical experience for me. I was a second soprano as a boy, which meant I constantly got to practice harmonizing. We got to tour nationally and play with some really first rate musical organizations like the Seattle Opera and Seattle Symphony. I was never an athletic kid growing up, so the choir provided the kind of shared social "team" environment that I wasn't getting in the more traditional sense.
What are some challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
I've been thinking a lot lately about the balance between making art and selling art- the kind of self-promotion that artists have to do in order to be successful. Kafka would tell you, I think, that maybe he could have done a little more self promoting! But knowing how much is the right amount is a big challenge- particularly when bragging on yourself doesn't come super naturally. I've always been a believer in letting the work speak for itself, and when we play live I spend a lot of energy cultivating emotional authenticity in the room… but I get pretty tired pretty quickly of the social media humblebrag when I see peers use that strategy. Maybe we'd be a more successful band if I were willing to brag a little bit more, but the truth is we're already super successful and I like channeling creative energy into music, video and writing a lot more than the perfect Instagram post.
Another challenge is the classic time and energy dilemma- how to commit to the right things, not over-commit, how to not spread yourself too thin, but how to also keep yourself moving, growing, learning and challenged. I find that evaluating opportunities based on the prospect for happiness (both immediate and long term) with them is a can't miss strategy. Happiness is a much more exciting metric than some others!
What’s the most favorite thing you’ve ever created?
This may be a cop-out, but it's 100% my kids. What an instant and completely life-changing reality check it is to have kids. We have two and they consistently keep our house interesting.
Musically, that's a very hard question to answer: we have over 200 songs recorded now and tons come to mind. Thinking more about it, it might be the song "Nancy" we recorded waaaaay back in 2005 for our first album. I was still on the fence about making music for kids- I just hadn't seen a band like what we were destined to become and didn't really grasp what an amazing opportunity was sitting in our laps. We were working on that song, overdubbing a backwards snare drum part onto the rough tracks, really pushing ourselves creatively and it all clicked to me in one very memorable instant: "wait, THIS is what it means to be in a kids' music band!?" I was sold immediately.
What advice do you have for kids that want to be an artist or builder or creator?
Do not ask for permission to be creative (but ask for permission before using the power tools).
Did you have a favorite toy growing up?
Legos, no question. They had the potential to be EVERY TOY. I played with legos for thousands of hours going up.