* This interview was originally conducted in March 2008, prior to the relaunch of ChicagoParent.com.
What do you get when you mix the Beastie Boys' toe-tapping tunes with a touch of Mardi Gras sass, blue mechanic's jumpsuits and a friendly neighborhood vibe?
The Imagination Movers, that's what.
Made up of rockin' dads Rich Collins, Dave Poche, Scott Durbin and firefighter Smitty Smith, the self-proclaimed alternative rock band for the preschool-going set - their devotees are affectionately known as Gearheads - is storming the mini music scene with critically acclaimed songs all about messy rooms, collecting meatballs, and taking medicine, all performed out loud and proud on a one-of-a-kind trashcan drum set.
I recently had the opportunity to go head to um, Gearhead with the dynamic group to talk about their crowd-pleasing combination of radio-friendly songs, tyke-friendly topics and energetic live performances - filled with dancing, games, and plenty of personalized face time with the audience; their launch into the solar system of stardom; parenting; and their highly anticipated new album, Juice Box Heroes, to be released on March 18.
Among you, there's an educator, architect,
firefighter, and a journalist - all with a rock background. It's
like you're kid-friendly super heroes living dual lives. How did
you all decide to make such a drastic change of going from the
serious working world to seriously rocking the mini music world
Rich: Well, to set the record straight, I don't think I knew 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 children?
Rich: 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 running.
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, for me,
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?
Dave: 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 the storm 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 problem.
That's awesome! So obviously you're all close friends in real life. How did you meet?
Dave: 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
Whew! What a story! You all were named Parenting Magazine's Parenting Pick in 2005, earned 14 national music awards, 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 story.
Dave: 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). When I look 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. I sometimes equate my life with The Truman Show. Things like this don't just happen as random events. It has been a crazy ride and there is more to come.
What keeps you grounded?
Dave: I think 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 [Hurricane Katrina] 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 stuff.
Will your new show on Playhouse Disney have a lot of the song and dance we're all addicted to in addition to a problem-solving plot and artsy adventures?
Dave: Oh yeah! Each episode will have two original songs and a few recurring tunes. Throw in a warehouse of endless halls and doors, some pratfalls, puns and some goofy dancing and you have a TV show!
Oh, and don't forget about modeling problem solving, teamwork
and hard work. We squeeze some of that in, too.
Do your own children's interests, fears, triumphs, and grade school-variety learning experiences inspire your songs?
Dave: 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.
I also think having kids helps to write songs in a manner that
is not condescending or patronizing. Kids get it and we respect
that. We see it every day.
Scott: 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.
In fact, if you look at our catalog, our indie releases parallel
our own children's development. From the early days of Good Ideas,
we explore sleeping through the night.
How do you motivate your own broods to follow your Movers motto and move their bodies and brains?
Dave: I try my best to push them to do their best without being overbearing. And lots of motivational techniques are unique to each kid's personality. They all come hard-wired to a degree and I think you need to keep that in mind.
It also helps to keep a sense of humor.
You're all fun and games in your music videos - what are your parenting styles like?
Dave: Most of what you see on-screen is us just being us.
I try to keep things light at home when possible. I also try to give 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 I think I have them figured out
they go and change on me. It is a learning process for all of
How did Hurricane Katrina affect all of you, both professionally and in your personal lives?
Scott: 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 professionally.
First off, 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, 'make' 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. Even today - more than two years after - empty
houses, lonely streets, lost neighborhoods now whisper for anyone,
anything to bring them back to their former selves.
The Mover office was also trashed. Countless CDs, coloring books, musical instruments were ruined.
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
Smitty, you participated in search and rescue efforts. Kudos by the way. Big Kudos. Was it a no brainer in terms of getting in there and helping out as much as you could? What did you take away from doing something so courageous?
Smitty: Really I did more firefighting than anything. My company, E-7, was located downtown and there were a lot of fires.
As far as jumping in and doing the work, it was definitely a no brainer. That is what a firefighter is supposed to do. To do anything else would be neglecting my sworn duty as a New Orleans firefighter.
And, when you are caught up in that kind of chaos, and you see
people suffering and buildings burning, you have to do whatever you
can to help. You can't stand by on the sidelines.
Scott, 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 son speaks caveman pretty exclusively, so I've gotten pretty fluent in grunt and point.
Scott: I'm not sure if parenting ever gets easier. 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 loop.
How has fatherhood changed you? What unexpected surprises did it bring to the proverbial changing table?
Dave: You always hear that when you have kids your life changes. I think I expected more of a philosophical change. While that part is certainly true, I did not 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.
Smitty, why the decision to belong to a kid-focused band without having offspring yourself? Although, I imagine that with everyone else's kids around, not to mention the band's multitude of pint-sized fans, you get plenty of hands-on experience.
Smitty: Basically, this is a lot of fun. I am getting to make music and use my creative side, while having fun with my friends.
Don't miss out on Juice Box Heroes - to be released March 18. Pre-orders come with an autograph!
The tracks are spectacular - check out the full length MP3s on the Movers' web site - the musical energy is infectious (just listen to the Imagination Movers Theme Song or Shakable You and you'll know what I mean), and each awesome 80's- and 90's-inspired song (I felt a Rusted Root/Sir Mix A Lot vibe going on) will have everyone in the family (Wills' dad gets a kick out of Farm) getting down with their bad selves .... and maybe even playing a little air guitar.
As for their upcoming TV show on Playhouse Disney... stay tuned.
Maria Pilar Clark is a mom times two and Windy City-based writer.
See more of Pilar's stories here.