SongVault Artist Profile
The Baby Grands
Georgia, United States
ALTERNATIVE ROCK MUSIC FOR CHILDREN...
THE BABY GRANDS
ATLANTA BASED TRIO’S SELF-TITLED
DEBUT BREAKS NEW GROUND WITH WITTY
“ALT ROCK FOR KIDS THAT WON’T DRIVE
THE ADULTS CRAZY”
* * *
Vocalist Donny Todd, Lyricist Marc Castelo and
Producer/Songwriter Ben Rowell Form
The Latest Unique Addition To The Atlanta Based Label’s Growing,
Eclectic Stable Of Artists—Which Includes Rocker
Mark Gaignard & The Also Ran, Atlanta Singer/Songwriter
Brandon Swift and Veteran Bluesman Guitar Red
Parents across America know the teeth clenching drill all too well: their children are in the backseat singing gleefully along for the hundredth time to the latest chorus of yet another cornball, sticky-sweet and super lame song on a children’s music CD. Annoyed dad turns to exasperated mom and there’s this unspoken mutual prayer to the gods of kiddie music: isn’t there something out there that the kids can like and we don’t have to cringe at? Or better yet, clever pop-rockin’ songs that we can actually love and sing right along to with them?
It’s been a parched musical landscape for a long time, but like manna from kid music heaven, The Baby Grands—the Atlanta based musical trio of lead vocalist Donny Todd, producer, multi-instrumentalist Ben Rowell and lyricist Marc Castelo—are feeling the love of those frustrated parents everywhere as they gear up to release their self-titled debut later this fall.
As Rowell, co-owner of the band’s independent label Backspace Records says, “Enough with those artists who write and record forgettable, throwaway songs and call it children’s music.” Writing and performing what they playfully dub “alt-rock for kids that won’t drive the adults crazy,” The Baby Grands are quickly revolutionizing the genre with songs that feature great musicianship and clever, catchy songwriting that, for once, doesn’t insult the intelligence of its intended audience. The tag line that’s been catching on is: “Kids music that’s not just for kids.”
Fortunately, a few mainstream bands are catching on to this need as well. Earlier this year, Barenaked Ladies released the high spirited Snacktime! And They Might Be Giants put out Here Come The 123s.
Prior to the official street and online date for The Baby Grands, the group is doing a special pre-release starting November 8, at a fun-filled festival at Play 2 Grow, Castelo’s popular three year old Atlanta based children’s play center. The Baby Grands will be sold at a special discount during the pre-release phase. At this event, the 25 year old Todd will be performing the songs from The Baby Grands’ self-titled album live.
Even as they’re focused on Todd’s charismatic performing, good looks and compelling vocals, parents looking for the kind of catchy and well-played, family friendly musical tonic that The Baby Grands provide will relate especially well to group members and fellow parents Rowell and Castelo; Rowell and his wife (and label co-owner) Kimberly have a 17 month old son Roman, while Castelo has two daughters, five year old Olivia and three year old Lulu. The two met when The Rowells enrolled Roman in play classes at Play 2 Grow.
One day at class, Rowell heard a rough version of a Todd Castelo song and became immediately interested. As Rowell was launching his eclectic label whose artists include rocker Mark Gaignard & The Also Ran, young Atlanta based singer/songwriter Brandon Swift and veteran bluesman Guitar Red, he had been thinking about doing a musical project for kids. He saw great potential in Todd. When Rowell started talking about his concept with Castelo and Castelo showed him some of his lyrics, the initial concept for The Baby Grands was born.
Castelo says, “It made so much sense for Donny and me to begin working with Ben, and when we started writing and playing these songs for other parents we knew, they reacted so positively and loved the music as much as their kids. The two complaints I most hear from parents are lack of sleep and lack of good kid’s music. I realize that I can’t magically solve the first issue, but I knew working together, Donny, Ben and I could help solve the music problem!”
Rowell began writing songs for the project independently while Castelo and Todd went about collaborating in a unique way after Todd moved to Minnesota: Castelo would write lyrics and hum some basic melodies and send them to Todd who would develop a song from them, often via numerous voicemail exchanges. Once they had a batch of strong tunes, they joined Ben at his state of the art studio who worked on arrangements and instrumentation. The drummer for the sessions was Ken Nasta, who has played on all of Backspace Records’ projects. For a long time, they had no official group name. Late one night, Todd was at the piano about to add some harmony lines when he said, “How about The Baby Grands?” And the name stuck!
With children’s songs, it’s all about capturing their imaginations with clever lyrics, catchy concepts, infectious melodies and strong hooks. The Castelo-Todd collaborations include the high spirited “Sugar Makes Me Loco,” which was inspired by Olivia and which is one of the first lyrics Castelo wrote. It’s about how Mom and Dad won’t let the child have sugar but Grandma will—but at the price of the child’s hyperactivity! Driven by a fun, lilting reggae groove, “Wet Nose Friend” chronicles the great joy of a child’s first dog (who is often their first best friend!).
The two give a shout out to the parents on “Hittin’ The Road,” a true “road song” about the experience of driving the kids everywhere. Castelo and Todd are most proud of the inspirational ballad “Dream Big,” which is about that wonderful unjaded time in a kid’s life where anything is possible; the song encourages them to think outside the box, “think with grace, know about love and not about hate.”
Rowell’s most compelling cuts are the frolicsome “Diggin’ A Hole To China” (about running to the backyard and getting down and dirty for however long it takes!), the beautiful acoustic ballad “Sleepy Lullaby” and a quirky lament about Pluto’s demotion from “planet” to “dwarf planet” by astronomers. “Sometimes it’s interesting to see how these songs impact the kids,” says Rowell. “In the song, Donny sings that we can go all around space but can’t go there because it’s not a planet anymore. One mom reported that after becoming hooked on Pluto, her little boy repeatedly asked his teacher why Pluto isn't a planet anymore... the exchange turned into his classes' very first astronomy lesson!”
That’s the real power of The Baby Grands—touching, inspiring and impacting the lives of parents and children in ways they hope but don’t fully expect. Ben says, “This group was borne out of the frustration of having really very little worthwhile kids music in the world, and so it’s a fun project for us as writers and musicians but even better, it’s a wonderful gift for parents. I’ve been in the music business for 15 years and this is one of the most fun, effortless and seamless projects I’ve ever worked on. The songs I wrote were inspired by my son Roman and that makes them even closer to me.”
Todd adds, “I’ve been doing music for a long time and I didn’t expect that I would be singing kids songs and having such a blast doing it. I love making music that’s so uplifting and positive and am so glad that kids will hear my voice and get joy out of the words I’m singing. It’s also been a great experience writing with Marc, who is an amazing songwriter, and working with Ben, who is such a versatile and exciting musician and producer. I love that we cover such a broad range of areas of a kid’s life, from eating sugar to pursuing dreams. It’s fun to be silly and humorous one minute and able to lift someone’s spirits the next.”
As with their other releases, a portion of the label’s profits from The Baby Grands will go towards organ donor organizations. All of Backspace’s recordings are dedicated to the memory of Mack Lindsey, their friend, business partner and heart transplant recipient.