Daisy Mayhem! Getting “Ranky Tanky” in the Mad River Valley
Sunday, March 28 at 10:30 am.
The Big Picture Cafe and Theater
$20 families / $5 individuals
Arts writer Rob Williams talked with Rani Arbo about their new “Ranky Tanky” CD, being a musician and a Mom, and their upcoming Spring Hill School fund-raising concert at the Big Picture.
Q: So Daisy Mayhem has produced three wonderful CDs – why a kids project?
Kid projects are de rigeur here now – the band collectively has four, ages 12, 9, 6, and 3 1/2. And four months, if you count Ranky Tanky, which gestated about as long as the rest of them did. As parents, we’re all tuned in to family life. We’re musicians, artists, carpenters, writers, recording engineers – but everyone’s main channel is still parenting. We love playing together as a band, we love hanging out with our kids – so why not make a soundtrack for all that fun? This band’s danceable, uplifting music has always appealed to kids, so we knew we could do a decent job of it. We have just changed the themes a little. Less love and death and more animals.
Q. What does “Ranky Tanky” mean? Is it some sort of “kids only” code phrase?
It’s the catchphrase in the album’s title track, a song from the Georgia Sea Islands called “Ranky Tanky,” also known as “The Old Woman from Brewster.” It’s a traditional children’s game – which we teach the audience – that involves moving your elbows, knees, hips (whatever we call out) and singing, “ranky tanky!”
Q. How did you go about selecting which songs to bring to the recording?
The answer is as varied as the songs. Some we’d already been performing at grown up shows – including “Ranky Tanky” and Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers.” Others were remembered from our own childhoods, like “The Green Grass Grows All Around,” or “Kind Kangaroo” (a lullaby Scott’s grandmother used to sing for him). Others were covers of songs we love – not necessarily children’s tunes, but perfectly suited to them anyway – such as “Purple People Eater,” Cat Stevens’ “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out,” Nat King Cole’s “Kee-mo, Ky-mo,” or the Meters’ “They All Ask’d for You.” Still others were songs we sang to our own children. “Morningtown Ride” was Anand’s son Jack’s favorite lullaby for a while; I sang Quinn to bed with “Bushel and a Peck.”
Q. As you were making this CD, were you inspired by any other kids’ musicians?
Glad you asked, because I left two important covers off the list above. We are everlastingly inspired by Billy Jonas, a North Carolina-based percussionist who uses recycled materials – like Scott’s Drumship Enterprise, but on a much larger scale. Billy is also a guitarist and a brilliant songwriter for kids. He writes to their quirkiness, curiosity, and deep intelligence, with songs that are catchy, funny, and smart. We covered his “Bear to the Left” on Ranky Tanky. We also found (via YouTube!) a song from an LA-based duo, Renee and Jeremy, called “It’s a Big World, Baby.” We recreated it as a lush, gorgeous lullaby. It’s the last song on the CD, and it’s a heartstring-puller, reminding us that our wee ones are only “little for a little while.” My 6-year-old son calls it “the baby song,” and doesn’t like it one bit.
Q. What’s your favorite song on the project, and why?
I have two. One is the first track, Cat Stevens’ “If you want to Sing Out, Sing Out,” which is getting lots of play on Sirius XM Kids’ Radio right now. The song was used in the movie “Harold and Maude” (and thereby has gained us an odd collection of 30-40 year old male fans). We decided to record it, learned it, arranged it, and recorded it all in one day, and it still feels like one of the freshest songs on the CD. Plus, the message is just loud and clear: Be who you are. Sing Out. Be free.
My other favorite is “Where did you get that Hat,” which dates to a broadside published in 1901. I first heard it on a compilation of field recordings by Anne and Frank Warner, sung by Edith Perrin in 1941. She puts great character into her delivery, and Andrew did the song tremendous justice – all 30 seconds of it – with just a ukulele and his big personality.
Q. Some kids music is awfully saccharine – can we adults expect to like what we hear on your new project?
No artificial sweeteners. I will admit, though, that there are some arguably cute sing-alongs on Ranky Tanky. And that we do mention at least 25 different animals and one purple alien in the course of 17 songs. And, yes, we are earnest about having a great time. In the studio, we collapsed with laughter at the end of many of the takes, and some of that laughter (and all of that energy) stayed on the CD. But despite our earnestness, our life-is-good sensibility and our positive, sing-out-be-free attitude, Ranky Tanky isn’t syrupy. Or maybe it’s maple syrupy, but not Karo. The humor, the grooves, the camaraderie and the spontaneity of this CD feel too much like a party for that.
Q. Did the band bring any different musical mojo or sensibility to this project, as a kids project, or did you follow the same sort of recording process as you have with your other 3 CDs?
We planned less and we judged less. We had fewer preconceived notions and more fun. Perhaps that’s because this is a kids’ CD; more likely, it’s because it is our most recent CD. It has taken us years to learn, forget, and re-learn this lesson: the less you expect of it, the more a situation (or a recording) can just be what it is, what it’s meant to be. Not a bad metaphor for life, especially with kids…
Q. Can we expect you to play any other songs from any other of your albums (like, maybe, “Joy Comes Back” or “Finland”- wink wink, nudge nudge) during your Mad River performance?
I will give you your own personal concert of Finland, I promise! But it barely makes sense to even me, and it’s a real brooder….I think the kids would be totally nonplussed. We may do Joy Comes Back. If you request it, we will.