Whether you call it “family music” or “kindie rock,” there’s one name that stands out among the rest, and that’s Laurie Berkner. As the leader of The Laurie Berkner Band, she has redefined and refined the genre, releasing her first full-length album for children (and their parents) in 1997.
Now, with 13 albums under her belt, including 2019’s “Waiting For the Elevator,” 2017’s “Dance Remixes” and 2012’s “A Laurie Berkner Christmas,” the diva for the diaper set and beyond is showing no sign of slowing down. The best part is that Berkner’s songs are clever and catchy enough to be enjoyed by listeners of all ages, and a long way from the mind-numbing blather of Barney the Dinosaur. She talked to WAG ahead of her upcoming Westchester County appearance:
Laurie, “The Laurie Berkner Band Holiday Celebration” is scheduled to take place on Dec. 7 at the Tarrytown Music Hall. In addition to holiday music, will you be performing songs from your new album “Waiting for the Elevator”?
“Absolutely. I can’t wait to share some of these brand-new songs in concert.”
What’s involved in your songwriting process when creating a family music song?
“I often start with an idea of a theme, or a line of a chorus or a tag for a verse and then play around with my guitar or the piano or just singing to myself, to find the melody and the chords that I want to go with the melody. I think a lot about what it might be like to sing the song if I were 3, 4 or 5 years old. Once I have a rough demo of what the song sounds like, I send it to my band to listen to. Then they come up with the parts for each of their instruments before we go into the studio to record.”
Were the first songs you wrote songs in the family music genre?
“No. I had a band called Red Onion for a while in my 20s, and I wrote original songs for that band. Prior to that, I used to perform original songs on my own at cafés in the East Village in Manhattan and at coffeehouses in college. I started writing songs for kids while I was a music teacher. I figured since I was writing music for adults, I could try doing it for the kids I was working with as well.”
Who are some of your family music influences?
“I think I have been most influenced by listening to musical theater and a few of the singers I listened to when I was young, like Hap Palmer, Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary. They had a record I listened to a lot called ‘Peter, Paul and Mommy.’”
Being at the forefront of the family music scene, how do you feel about how the genre has evolved?
“I feel proud of all the good music that is out there for kids now. It didn’t really seem to be that way when I started out. I heard a lot of complaints that the music being written for kids was unpalatable for adults. That was part of what motivated me to start writing music for kids myself. I didn’t want to have to sing a lot of what was out there over and over as a music teacher for preschoolers. Now I sometimes wonder if it has actually swung a little too far in the other direction — that some of the music being recorded today is actually more appealing to the parents than it is to the kids. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but having said that, I do think there are a lot of artists out there doing it pretty successfully.”
When did you first pick up a guitar?
“I was in my senior year of high school. I can’t remember if I was 16 or 17. I had a steady babysitting gig for two girls, one of whom was taking guitar lessons. I would fool around on her guitar after she went to bed and I started to get hooked.”
Are you self-taught or did you take lessons?
“That first year that I started playing, I took a night-school class at my high school and strummed along to folk songs with a roomful of adults. In my 20s, I took private lessons for a few years from singer/songwriter Frank Christian. He played on Suzanne Vega’s first album and was a staple in the West Village folk music scene in the ’80s and ’90s. Beyond that, I’m mostly self-taught. But I had taken many years of piano, clarinet and violin lessons prior to picking up the guitar, as well as some music theory classes in school, so I had a decent foundation to start from.”
When I first heard your “Dance Remixes” album it made me wonder if there was a Laurie Berkner album for adults in the works and, if there were one, what would it sound like?
“I think I would really love to make one someday. There is not one in the works at the moment, but I do write a lot of ideas down for adult songs. I have always imagined that when and if I’m inspired to finally record an album for adults, I won’t even really plan it, I’ll just find myself doing it. At this point though, I don’t always take the time to complete the lyrical ideas I have by adding music. And as far as what it would sound like, I’m not sure exactly. But while I loved making the ‘Dance Remixes,’ I can pretty safely say it won’t be an EDM album. (laughs)”
“The Laurie Berkner Band Holiday Celebration” will be presented Dec. 7 at the Tarrytown Music Hall. For more, visit tarrytownmusichall.org.