There once was a time when there two kinds of musicians: those who played for kids, and ones who played for grown ups. And there was not much overlap, in the styles of music aimed at the two groups of listeners. That’s changed in the last decade or two, and now it is not such a stretch for a musician to find his or her feet in both worlds.
That’s been good for Nathan Meckel, who finds himself the founder and lead singer of The Happy Racers, a band that attempts to blur the line between kids’ music and adult indie music.
Meckel, a Tennessee native, has a background in writing and producing songs in the pop/indie genre, having over 30 songs used by major television networks and recording companies.
But why the switch if he was successful in his first career? He says he never thought he would be a kids’ composer, but he tried it out. It became a kind of diversion from the usual pop/indie music that he had worked with for a long time. Within a year, he says it “clicked” and it just felt right.
"That’s really where my passion lies," he says. "How far can I push the envelope of blurring the lines between is this kids’ music, is this family music, what is this? And doing it in a way that’s still smart."
Meckel says he tries to infuse his songs with intelligence, and he truly admires Randy Newman and his work with music featured in kids’ movies, such as Toy Story. He says he enjoys making music with The Happy Racers because music gives kids a wholesome means to expend their energy.
The Happy Racers has been a family venture, right down to the name. That came from his then-five-year-old daughter.
"I was like, 'Hey, if you ever had a band, what would you name it?' And she's just like, 'The Happy Racers!'" he says. "Literally, just three seconds and it popped out of her mouth, and I went, 'Ah, I'm gonna hang on to that.' A couple years later, insert band name."
Meckel's children are also the beta-testers of his music and they will give him an honest opinion through their movement to the music, or lack thereof. His dad, Mark, is also in the music business and has worked with some educators over time. Mark met Barbara Joosee, a Wisconsin author, a while ago and suggested that his son work with her.
Meckel and Joosee have collaborated on Joosee’s book Lovabye Dragon, which has also become an interactive eBook. Meckel wrote the theme song “Lovabye Dragon” with Joosee and Nashville friend Burton Collins. Lisa Loeb does the narration to the book. (Check out a video of Meckel performing "Lovabye Dragon" below.)
While composing, Meckel takes the same approach to writing kids’ music as he would for a song he is writing for, say, Rihanna.
“I just know when it feels right and I am on to it," he says. For kids’ music, he aims for that “AAA” sound, one that children and parents can listen to and enjoy without one or the other feeling squeamish. Not surprisingly, then, another Happy Racers' tune called “Failure is a Myth," which encourages the listener to follow their dreams, is aimed at both kids and adults.
When programming a CD or a concert, Meckel says he wants a mix between “thinky” and “fluff” music. He wants to give the listener something more to think about than just “spoon feeding.”
Meckel will be playing at the Early Childhood Literacy Festival in Mequon tomorrow, after presenting a keynote address with Joose. A 6 PM concert at the Todd Wehr Auditiorium at Concordia University Wisconsin is open to the public for $5 a ticket.
You can check out a video of the making of The Happy Racers' album "Ready Set Go" here.