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An Interview With Justin Roberts About His New Album, Jungle Gym

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I'm a long time fan of Justin Roberts, reviewing his album Meltdown! for this site and later interviewing him for his album Pop Fly.

His lyrics are always good. He was recently featured in the New York Times with this piece. That prompted me to approach him about doing an interview regarding his newest album. The album has songs on topics ranging from getting a haircut to getting lost at the mall.

First, what's it like to be dubbed the "Paul McCartney of Children's music" by USA Today?  Next what's it like to get such praise – and a longer story than usual – in the New York Times?

It's always nice to get good reviews of the music. I've been making kids' music for 13 years and touring for about 10 and it's always nice to know that the hard work is getting recognized. I was especially happy with the New York Times piece because it highlighted the songs of mine that explore more serious issues that kids might experience.

Does that put pressure on you now to really excel or are you someone who doesn't mind pressure of living up to that billing?

I put tons of pressure on myself to make really high quality music for families. This happens regardless of the press feedback. I feel like I'm always trying to make music that is going in a new and interesting direction for me as well as the fans that have followed my career.

Is it getting harder as you age to connect with the narrators of your songs (mostly kids)?

No, writing a song from a kid's perspective is no different than writing any song. It's about getting inside the character's head and trying to be truthful. It's all about imagination and memory and making things up.

I love how you turned  the game"duck duck goose" into a very catchy song. Do you plan to do that with other games? Hide and seek maybe?

Thanks! I have a long list of topics including many other games however I have to find the right moment where I can see an interesting way to write a song about a subject matter. I'd been wanting to write one about a "Gym Class Parachute" for a long time and tried and failed. However, while I was working on Jungle Gym it suddenly came together. So, we'll see.

What's your favorite song of your own and why?

I don't have an absolute favorite but most of my favorites are the ballads. Currently I really like the new song "2×4" from Jungle Gym. It describes that beginning of summer feeling after the long spring rains when you first step out into "that wild backyard." And it resonates with me because I'm ready for summer.

Do you have a favorite story about how kids and families react as you sing your songs?

There are so many great stories from concerts and emails, I wouldn't know were to begin. I love how the kid audience are unaware of the division between the stage and the audience. So one time a girl stood up and told a story about her magic pillow that protected her from monsters. After she finished, the crowd wildly applauded. That was a beautiful moment.

Did you ever get lost at the mall as you describe in one song?

Not really, I certainly got lost at some point but I don't remember a particular instance. It was more about imagining the character in the song and trying to be true to the emotions of that character.

Did you ever get a haircut in the way you describe? Or are you just tapping into how you think that first haircut – or a time getting lost at the mall – would feel like?

No, I enjoyed going to the barber as a kid. The only thing that is autobiographical is the moment where the kids starts getting mesmerized by the hair clipper buzzing. That was always my favorite part of getting my hair cut. It was more imagining why the character might have a dramatic experience when they are getting a new haircut.

What are you working on next?

We recorded our first video for Jungle Gym (the song "Obsessed by Trucks") and we are hoping to do more videos from the new record. We are also touring all over the country this summer and looking forward to playing the new songs.

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About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.
  • Scott Butki

    Thanks to Justin for the interview. Check out his music – it’s not just for kids. You’ll thank me later.

  • Scott Butki

    will do – thanks