A Chat With AndyRoo, Houston's Leading Children's Musician
Photo courtesy of Andrew Karnavas
Adam P. Newton recently became a father for the first time, so he has decided to explain the entirety of post-WWII Western pop music to his new daughter, "Fig"…one genre at a time.
Hello again, Fig! I hope you enjoyed our initial chat about music. The subject is near and dear to my heart — and your Mom’s — so please forgive us if we seem over-zealous in our attempts to introduce you to the songs, genres, and artists we love. And since people enjoyed our conversation about children’s music so much, I wanted to introduce you to a great singer who lives here in our town. Known to your parents as the lead singer of local roots-rock band Runaway Sun, Andrew Karnavas also makes excellent children’s music here in Houston under the moniker AndyRoo and the AndyRooniverse. Standing rather firmly in the Raffi tradition, he’s released two records filled with upbeat folk-pop tunes and silly, singable lyrics that tell an engaging story. As soon as you’re old enough, we’ll catch one of his shows, and I’ll probably embarrass you by dancing around the room.
Before we chat with him, why don’t you watch a little bit of “Tumbleweed”/“Caterpillar” to familiarize yourself with his work?
Houston Press: You’ve kept busy around Houston for many years playing your take on classic blues and folk music, both as a solo artist and with Runaway Sun. What made you interested in playing children’s music?
I started writing music for kids in 2010. My sister Vanessa had two kids at the time, and she told me that they were listening to songs from Runaway Sun and my solo album when they were driving around in the car, but she had to skip some of the songs since they were not kid-friendly. When I heard that, I felt compelled to write some songs for the kids that they could listen to with their mom without driving her crazy. A few songs turned into an album, and then I turned into AndyRoo and the AndyRooniverse. I didn’t know that writing music for kids would end up being the most enjoyable songwriting that I do and my primary focus in my music life.
Describe the writing process for an AndyRoo song. Specifically, what are the similarities and differences between writing songs for kids and songs for Runaway Sun?
The biggest difference between writing songs for kids versus adults is the audience. Kids are new to the world. They are imagining more than they have ever experienced, because they don’t have the years of experience adults have. I try to write songs that are welcoming to them, and incorporate movement whenever possible. I like to write short songs for kids, which is very different from the other music I’ve written. I need to be in a quiet place free of other music or people talking no matter what kind of song I’m writing at the time. I write a lot of songs while driving in the car with the radio off. Usually the lyrics and vocal melody come first. I hardly ever write down the lyrics. I just sing out loud and record it on my phone.
Where do you find your inspiration for AndyRoo songs? Are there certain children’s musicians influencing you, or do you find ideas in other places?
Talking to kids at the shows, teaching for Writers in the Schools, observing nature, and recalling memories of my own childhood are some sources of inspiration. Shel Silverstein, Mr. Rogers, Raffi, Jack Johnson and Barry Louis Polisar are my role models for children’s entertainment. There’s a good mix of silliness and tenderness in all of these men and their work. My girlfriend, Grace Rodriguez, has co-written some of the songs and illustrated the AndyRooniverse. We talk about song and character ideas all the time. I love being able to share that creative outlet with her.
Obviously, kids respond to AndyRoo different than grownups respond to Runaway Sun, but how do the grownups who bring their kids to an AndyRoo event respond?
I write songs that can be a shared experience between parents and their kids, so the grownups enjoy the shows too. Some Runaway Sun fans have had kids over the past few years, and now I see them at more AndyRoo shows than Sun shows!
Is it easy to keep AndyRoo and Runaway Sun separate in your head? Is it a split-personality thing, or can one batch of songs inform the other on occasion?
It’s easy to keep the projects separated from an artistic standpoint. Promoting multiple music projects simultaneously is the challenge. I am typically in the mood to write for one project at a time. I can’t think of a time when I’ve written an AndyRoo song and a Runaway Sun song in the same day.
What do you like most about being a children’s musician? Did you ever think you’d have written two entire albums of music for kids?
This is my calling, and I didn’t see it coming, but it does make sense to me. I love everything about it, but my favorite part is the moment in the live show when it gets quiet and the kids are drawn into the story. Every show is an exciting one. I wish everyone the happiness that I feel when a show starts.
What’s next for AndyRoo and the AndyRooniverse? New tour? New album? Any local shows? A live video? What do you want to see happen with AndyRoo?
The AndyRooniverse is made of the ever-expanding landscape of the imagination of the world’s children, and so the possibilities are endless! I have a brand new album out called Color Your World, and a coloring storybook to follow. I’ll be back on tour in September with stops in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Chicago, and other cities. In Houston this summer, I am performing for the Houston Public Library’s Summer Reading Program, and I have partnered with Phoenicia Specialty Foods, magician David Rangel, and Sessions Music to create a monthly Saturday-morning variety show for kids in Houston called "Music, Magic, and More" at MKT Bar. In the near future, I want to partner with as many companies and organizations locally and nationally to create more events for kids geared toward imagination, exploration, and making things.
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