What do you get when you mix the Beastie Boys'
sound with Monkees-style comedy, blue mechanic's jumpsuits and a
friendly neighborhood vibe a la Mister Rogers?
Every dad's man crush, that's what.
More specifically, the kid-tested, mom-approved Imagination
Made up of dads Rich Collins, Dave Poche, Scott Durbin and
firefighter Smitty Smith, the self-proclaimed alternative rock band
for the preschool set (their devotees are affectionately known as
Gearheads) has taken the mini music scene by storm with Emmy
award-winning songs about everything from messy rooms to saying
please and thank you, all performed loud and proud on a
one-of-a-kind trashcan drum set.
I had the honor to go head to Gearhead with the dynamic group in
early 2008 to talk about their launch into the solar system of
stardom with what was then a brand new Disney Channel television
show (also called Imagination Movers) and their personal
adventures in parenting.
And, they must have liked what I said, since a year later I was
granted a follow up interview to launch Cosmotot's Green Room
interview series, and to get the scoop on their 40-city tour
(including Waukegan), "Happy Ha-Ha-Holidays" premiere coming up December
5 at 10 a.m. ET/PT on Playhouse Disney, and the family
traditions (shrimp and grits for breakfast) that really get them in
the spirit of the season.
What was the inspiration behind the holiday show where
Santa loses his signature laugh?
It was really a collaboration of us brainstorming with the
writers. Without giving too much away, it's not the same old
Christmas story and Santa is a really human character.
So little kids will really be able to realate to
Yes, and we're really proud of it being original. It's tough to
come up with new angles for Christmas. The fact that Santa comes to
the Idea Warehouse fits in with whole second season of the show
where we have a lot of very archetypical characters from Santa to
the Tooth Fairy to Cinderella come through the door. It's one of
the coolest things we've done.
Do you have any special family holiday
For Thanksgiving, the Smith family usually does something
outdoorsy like a fishing trip and then has a big feast where
everybody gathers around like a little family reunion. We just hang
out and do the stuff-yourself-take-a-nap situation. For Christmas
it's very much the same thing. It's getting together with family.
Chillin out. Maybe doing something outdoors and having some time to
actually hang out with the people you don't see on a regular basis.
A lot of food in New Orleans, too.
Rich has five little ones under 10, and does all the usual
rituals with the tree and the gifts and of course hoping Santa
comes. This year, we're taking the family and driving halfway to
D.C., to meet my family at a rented house on a lake in the Smoky
Mountains. It's an eight hour drive for each group of people -
everyone will be in this one big house and essentially, have one
big feast. Four days of food.
How do you stay connected with your kids, wives and
families when on tour?
Postcards is about as old fashioned as you can get, and Skype is
about as advanced as it gets. Those are the best ways. Us Movers
decided to send postcards home every day while on tour. We get
almost every city. It's a tradition, but yet being able to
use Skype is a great way to do homework with the kids. It's the
closest thing to sitting in a room with someone. Dave was actually
doing math homework with his son Dean the other day, and they were
sitting there looking at his paper, doing the work, it was
As for the postcards, it's not only old fashioned but there's
still nothing like getting a letter from a loved one in the mail.
It's just cool. It makes people feel good.
Among you, there's an educator, architect, firefighter,
and a journalist - all with a rock background. You're like super
heroes living dual lives. How did you decide to make such a drastic
change from the serious working world to seriously rocking the
music world together?
Well, to set the record straight, we didn't know what the
serious working world was like until we started this business. When
you work for someone else's company, you can punch out and go home,
but we're on duty 24/7, managing every aspect of our business, from
making music to distribution to public relations. We've never
worked so hard … but we've never had so much fun.
Was it any one person's idea to sing songs for
The whole thing started in 2002, when Scott asked the rest of us
if we'd like to brainstorm an idea for a music-fueled kids show.
This was the pretext for me to assemble the home-recording studio
I'd always wanted, and within a few weeks, we were off and
We sketched out the idea for the TV show and began to document
our first song ideas. The key to the whole thing is that our
friends and friends-of-friends immediately embraced the project and
began to play our music and request copies for other people. We
were inspired by this early positive reaction. From there, there
was never a thought of turning back. I'd always wanted to use my
creativity to entertain people and this whole venture was a lot
more interesting than working for a big company (although my family
sure missed the regular paycheck and health insurance).
How did your families react to the career change? Was
there a lot of planning involved, or was it more a
fly-by-the-seat-of-your-jumpsuits kind of thing?
The change was really pretty gradual, but we always had the
support of friends and family.Early on, it was more like a hobby.
We would meet to plan and write music and occasionally have a
performance or two. Most of our meeting time was late in the
evening. A couple of nights a week we would come home from work, do
the general husband and father duties then once everyone was in bed
we would gather to work on the Movers. Usually we would meet from
about 9 p.m. to midnight or 1 a.m.
Soon the CDs were selling well and the booking requests were
coming in regularly. At this point we were all starting to feel
real pressure to make the jump. Our wives were meeting weekly to
fill orders and book shows from the "office" in Scott's spare room.
The rest of us were taking vacation time, working hourly etc. to
make room to fit everything in. The promise of the Movers was
certainly there but with families to take care of we could not take
the same leap that a single, childless, 20-year-old could. Rich was
the only one able to make the leap into full time Mover-dom. Then
came [Katrina] and all the rules changed. All of the roots
that kept us from a true career change were gone. It went
from being the second option to being one of the few things we
could hold on to. It was shortly after the storm that we signed
with Disney. Even then, there was some side work to make ends meet.
When the TV show began production is when it became a viable
full-time career for all of us. Actually, Smitty is still a
firefighter with the City of New Orleans. He is taking a leave of
absence while we are filming the TV show. Fire on the set? No
That's awesome! So obviously you're all close friends in
real life. How did you meet?
Ok…you might want to sit down. Scott and Smitty have known each
other since they were kids and went to high school together. Dave's
wife, Michele, and Rich's wife, Becky, have known each other since
they were infants. Becky met Rich at Catholic University in D.C.
and brought him back to New Orleans after graduation. Rich ended up
being Smitty's roommate through a mutual friend. Scott knew Becky
and Michele, to a lesser degree, in high school. In fact, Scott
took Becky to the Junior Prom. Dave was friends with Scott's wife,
Gretchen, from their days at LSU. And Dave first met Smitty's wife,
Mary, at a party while she was on a date with a mutual friend. So
yes, we are all close friends in real life. There was so much
cross-pollenation that we could not help but be close.
Whew! What a story! You've earned countless music awards,
have been named the top pick for children's prorgramming in
numerous publications, and have been rising to the top non-stop
ever since. Do you feel a little bit like Cinderfellas? After all,
you do have kind of rags-to-riches, grassroots kind of
It is absolutely a Cinderfella story. Good thing we are so
intelligent, talented and generally great or we might let it go to
our heads (sarcasm, of course). Looking back at where things are
now compared to five years ago, it is hard to believe. The good and
bad have been extreme, luckily most of it has been good lately. It
has been a crazy ride and there is more to come.
What keeps you grounded?
Being adults who had established careers, becoming husbands and
fathers and had to deal with mortgages, car payments, etc. has
worked to keep us grounded. We have been through enough to have
pretty well established personalities and priorities. The storm
also served up a good dose of perspective. You learn to appreciate
the little things more and not get caught up in the superficial
Do your own children's interests, fears, triumphs, and
grade school-variety learning experiences inspire your
Always. They are the reason we jumped into this wacky world we
work in. It is amazing how things change once you have kids, as I
am sure you are well aware. Almost all of our songs have been
influenced in some way by a shared experience with our kids. Losing
a tooth, being scared of the dark, taking medicine, etc. And, once
the topics have been put to music, we have a built in audience who
does not pull punches. We have a great little test market in our
cars and minivans.
Just so you know, we are dads and husbands first and Movers
second. As for our kids, they've always been our first test market
and they were not afraid to give their two cents whenever we need
to remember to see things through their eyes. We try to have them
participate as much as possible too, from a shout out on a song to
dancing on the DVD.
You're all fun and games on TV - what are your parenting
Most of what you see on-screen is us just being us. We try to
keep things light at home when possible by giving them enough room
to make mistakes and test their limits but keep close enough to
help and encourage when they need it. Only problem is that each
time we think we have them figured out they go and change. It is a
learning process for all of us.
How did Hurricane Katrina affect all of you, both
professionally and in your personal lives?
Katrina, without question, was a reminder of just of fragile we
are; how life can turn on a dime with very little warning. Its
effects were truly devastating, but with destruction there comes
new life and so it was with us personally and the Movers
Katrina destroyed three Mover homes and most (if not all)
possessions. Keep in mind, most of this water stayed around for
days. Sadly enough, photographs, videos of a child's birth - you
name it - met a watery and moldy grave. Actually, it went further
than that - it destroyed the neighborhood. The places you went to
have coffee, groceries, the church you attended or the school you
dropped your kids off were gone. In the blink of a wink, everything
you saw for miles became ghost-like. The Mover office was also
trashed. Countless CDs, coloring books, musical instruments were
And guess what? The Movers didn't have insurance. We had
liability insurance, but we were so small and mom-and-pop-ish that
we hadn't needed more insurance - or so we thought. Luckily, Smitty
lived on the West Bank, so although his home experienced minor wind
damage, it escaped the destruction. The material things naturally
hold memories, but not life and our thoughts focused on the well
being of him and others like him soon after Katrina hit. Right
after the disaster, everyone was reeling from the new reality we
were forced into, and for all intent and purpose had not processed
the extent to which our lives would change, but we knew at the very
least we did have the Movers.
In particular, the Movers had two shows booked in Texas, one in
Dallas on the Labor Day weekend and another in Plano. With the
exception of Smitty (who was knee deep in search and rescue), we
all rallied and went to Texas to fulfill our obligation. Quite
honestly, no one knew about their jobs or future income or
anything. All we could see in front of us was a small payday and so
we went with literally the clothes on our back. We had no
instruments, no Mover suits - nothing, but we went. And we
I read that you once said life as a parent is like
navigating a foreign country, along with all of the cultural and
linguistic differences it brings. Does it get easier? My daughter
speaks caveman pretty exclusively, so I've gotten pretty fluent in
grunt and point.
It's like everything - there are ebbs and flows. One day you feel
you're on top of things and the next, your kids throw you for a
How has fatherhood changed you? What unexpected
surprises did it bring to the proverbial changing
You always hear that when you have kids your life changes. While
that part is certainly true, you don't realize that every minute of
every day changes. Your entire daily routine is now centered around
what is best for your kids...and there are surprises around every
corner for sure.
Maria Pilar Clark is a mom times two and Windy City-based writer.
See more of Pilar's stories here.
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