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. Every other week, he also chats with child-rearing Houston musicians.
Good morning, Fig! In this week’s interview, we’re chatting with one of my favorite advocates of the Houston music scene — Jeremy Hart. As the creator, owner, and chief bottle washer over at Space City Rock, he’s been an indispensable asset for many years to many a Houston music fan looking to plan a weekend full of live shows. He’s also an active dad of two kids (one of whom is a teenager), so I wanted to speak to a fellow music critic about what it’s like to talk to you kids about music.
Houston Press: Did you grow up in a music-loving household? If so, what sort of tunes did your parents and family play on a regular basis? Better yet, who or what formed the background of your musical education?
Jeremy Hart: I did grow up in a music-loving household, although my parents liked listening to music rather than making it. They've always been people with definite opinions about what was good and what they liked, so I think that rubbed off on my brothers and me. They were pretty wide open as to what we could find and listen to on our own. I listened to a ton of metal in middle school and high school, from cheeseball glam-metal to hyperspeed thrash, and they were totally accepting of that.
And then I went to college, where I listened to grunge along with the rest of the universe, at first, and then went with a friend on a whim to apply to be a DJ at KTRU, figuring I had no hope in hell of getting a shift. DJ’ing there really was eye-opening, I have to say; I heard a whole lot of things for the first time. It really opened a world of music for me, and I'm actually a little surprised to look back and realize just how much my time as a DJ affected my later musical life.
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I'm sure lots of music writers get asked such questions (I know I have), but here goes: Can you actually play music? Have you at any time ever played music in any sort of capacity?
*Kind* of. I learned how to play guitar in high school, but wasn't ever really very good at it, despite idolizing all the usual guitar-god guys of the era like Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai. In college, I ended up in a band called The Freshmakers (because Mentos ads were a thing) with several friends who were much more musically talented than myself. I was a pretty terrible guitarist, so I wrote and sang-slash-yelled most of the songs while pounding on power chords, instead. I figured that if I wrote the music, they couldn't kick me out.
Since we both know it's such a lucrative career, how did you get into music writing? What keeps you going at it in 2015?
Oh, yes — I am *rolling* in that sweet, sweet music-critic cash, let me tell you. I started writing reviews in college, although it wasn't something I'd ever planned on doing. I worked production for the Rice University paper, the Rice Thresher, and then started reviewing shows and albums just for fun.
As I did it, though, I realized I liked writing about stuff like that and was decent at it, so I kept going, off and on. I really liked Popmatters, and managed to convince the editor, Sarah Zupko, to let me write for her for a few years. I wrote a few articles for the Houston Press a long time ago, which is pretty much the only time I've ever made any decent money off this gig. As far as what keeps me going, I like getting the opportunity to hear all kinds of stuff I might not hear otherwise. Even now, with things being a lot more available than they've ever been, it's still cool to me. That said, it's a struggle sometimes to keep doing it, and I do go through phases where I just want to say, "Screw it!” and walk away.
How did becoming a parent impact the role of music? Did it change what you listened to, how you listened to it, and/or how you talked about it?
I don't think it's really changed anything about what I listen to. I still listen to all kinds of stuff, although now I *do* find myself thinking, "Oh, I bet Abbie would like that, and Dylan would like that." It's fun introducing them to music that they'd probably not hear otherwise. I know it probably sounds weird, but I make them mix CDs every once in a while.
Obviously, I do have to be aware of what I'm listening to when they're around, because, y'know, not all of it is something I want them to repeat. I accidentally let an Emmure song play once when Dylan was in the car — "Solar Flare Homicide,” to be exact — and he freaking loved the song. He went to his pre-K class the next day telling his classmates all about this awesome band called "The Me-urs." So I do have to be a bit more vigilant when they're around.
It's great, though, because as a family we bond over music. We recently were down in Surfside, and my wife wanted to see the sun setting over the chemical plants. We drove to the edge of the island, and the kids asked to hear Robert Ellis's "Chemical Plant," which sounded like a great idea to me. We watched the sun go down, and both kids sang along with the song; it was pretty awesome.
As someone who semi-professionally recommends music to other people, how do you talk to your kids about music? Are they old enough to ignore you yet and explore on their own terms?
Well, it's changed a bit since we had our second kid. When my daughter was little, we were the yuppie-hipster, pseudo-crunchy parents who didn't want her exposed to anything that wasn't absolutely appropriate. So, she listened to a lot of straight-up "kid" music — Raffi, Baby Einstein, Barney, these CDs we got from this music class she went to — and a lot of classical music. It took a while for us to realize she needed to hear things that weren't necessarily so kid-friendly. My wife still cringes when I mention it, but my daughter loved it the first time I played her a Killswitch Engage song. These days, she knows exactly what she likes and doesn't like, and she's rabid about it.
With my son, we did a whole lot less of the only-appropriate-music thing when he was really little. He was bored to tears by the things Abbie was listening to at his age — hated Baby Einstein, hated The Wiggles, all of it. So we started playing other stuff for him earlier, and we're constantly surprised at what he gravitates to. Right now, he's into anything heavy and metal-ish — the more “Cookie Monster” vocals there are, the better — but at the same time he loves Imagine Dragons and Louis Prima.
Watching as they each discover music is one of the coolest parts of being a parent. It's all so new to them, even if it's old to us. With every new "discovery," it's like they're the first person to ever like a song or musician or band. My daughter came home one day last year, in 5th grade, and excitedly told us about this new artist called "Hammer" who had a song called "You Can't Touch This" and who we'd probably never heard of before, being utterly uncool parental people.
Are they more interested in music as fans, or do you see any of them trying to play music instead of listen to it?
They're into both sides of it, for sure. My daughter's written songs, and at one point, she had a very complicated musical worked out about a fantasy world where dragons fought humans or something. The songs she came up with for it were far beyond anything I ever did at her age.
My son, on the other hand, likes to growl his own little metal/hardcore-sounding songs while beating on a guitar, which is entertaining as hell. He's also been attacking his harmonica lately, which is alternately entertaining and headache-inducing. We had Family Music Night the other night, where Dylan declared himself the bandleader, and he was standing there strumming open strings on an unplugged electric guitar with one hand, playing the harmonica with the other, and stomping his foot to give the rest of us the rhythm.
I hope both of them really get into making music as well as listening to it, later on. Hopefully they've got more musical talent than I do.
What do you feel the role of a parent should be in terms of musical education?
That's a good one. I guess I figure that's my job as a parent when it comes to music: to give my kids every opportunity to love it, whatever they happen to be into, and not give a crap what anybody else thinks of them for their musical tastes. I've read the research about how music makes you smarter — playing it, especially — and that's great, but that's not really my focus. For me, it's more that music has played such a massive part in my life that I want my kids to be able to experience that same sort of thing in their own lives.
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As someone who attends LOTS of concerts, when did you start bringing your kids to shows? What's a good age and/or time to begin that sort of shared experience?
I think it depends. I've taken the kids to a handful of shows so far, but they're in bed early every night, which limits things. So they've mostly gone to see stuff during the daylight hours. I took my daughter to the Westheimer Block Party a couple of times, and I think she really liked that. I have yet to take her to a quote-unquote "real" show at Fitz or Walters or wherever, but I'm looking forward to doing that sometime in the next few years.
Now, while I love music and definitely think kids should be exposed to it, I cringe every year at Free Press Summer Fest to see people out in the blazing heat all day with little, little kids. I'm definitely not doing that. I don't need to cook the six-year-old's brain so he can see Rocket From the Crypt with me, especially since he probably won't remember it. That said, my daughter still hasn't fully forgiven me for not taking her to this year's FPSF so she could see Skrillex and Tove Lo.
What do you hope your kids understand about your relationship to music as a writer and fan, and what do you hope they come to appreciate about the Houston music scene in general?
Well, they know daddy writes about music and listens to a whole lot of it, but I don't know beyond that. I've got the same relationship with music that a lot of people do. I'm glad they like it as well, of course; I'm not sure what I'd do if, say, my son didn't really give a crap about music at all except as background noise. That would be somewhat of an existential crisis for me, I think. As long as they really, truly love something musical, I'm good with it.
As for the other part, growing up here, in a big city with a massive, diverse, accessible music scene like the one we have, that's a pretty incredible thing for a kid. I think people who are actually from here overlook it sometimes, but it's truly great. Having grown up on military bases, all of which were well off the beaten path, concert-wise, I definitely don't take what we have here for granted. It's beautiful to me that I can soon take my daughter to see The Last Place You Look or introduce my kids to the Jealous Creatures folks. They'll make the connection that these are actual people making music that they're listening to and love, and they're right there in front of them, in real life. That's a cool thing.