Author, illustrator and self-proclaimed frustrated rock star Sandra Boynton is back with a new kids' recording and companion book: Dog Train (Workman), a follow-up to her bestselling Philadelphia Chickens.
What inspired you to embark on another musical project?
I was in the middle of promoting Philadelphia Chickens and I got to thinking that even though I had loved that kind of musical theater, I really wanted to do a genuine rock and roll album for kids. While I was on tour, I was booked on the same Minneapolis morning show as the band Blues Traveler. I met them in the green room and, incredibly, they knew my work. "I can't believe you're Sandra Boynton!" the guitarist exclaimed. "We love Philadelphia Chickens!' We all exchanged information and when I contacted them later I asked if they would want to record something for a new project. Once they said yes, I scrambled to write a song for them. I immediately thought of a train song, because it would be perfect for John Popper's harmonica. They agreed to record "Dog Train" when they could fit it in during their own tour.
And just to backtrack a bit, even before I met Blues Traveler, I happened to be standing in line with Al Yankovic at the Grammys [Philadelphia Chickens was nominated for Best Children's Recording in 2003]. We started talking; he has a two-year-old child and he knew my stuff, which blew me away. I asked if he might ever consider doing something together and he said he would. We got him to record a duet with Kate Winslet and that was the first demo we put together for what would become Dog Train. With Al and Blues Traveler lined up, I said to myself 'I guess I'm going to do another album.'
How do you handle the logistics of this kind of project?
It's pretty much a nightmare dealing with managers, schedules and travel. Since we finished Philadelphia Chickens, my partner Mike Ford and his family moved up here to Connecticut [from Philadelphia], so it's been great that we are in the same place now. But in terms of working with the artists, we used studios all over the country. Alison Krauss recorded in Nashville, Hootie & the Blowfish recorded in one of their houses in South Carolina and Kate Winslet recorded her part of the duet here in Connecticut while Al did his from L.A.
The whole project was much more complex than Philadelphia Chickens probably because it was a true music project, through and through. We sent artists a demo of the song they were going to do and then we let them give it their own direction and flavor. When we had some good sessions recorded (which usually required very few takes), we would rebuild each track using live instruments, following what the artists had done with it. It was like a puzzle—a pretty exhilarating puzzle.
Dog Train took two years, with us putting in every minute we could spare. I think I was lucky because I hit the music business with this at a time when everyone seems to have young kids. Most of the time, either the people I wanted to work with or the artists themselves had children, so they were open to it. It was actually easier than I thought it would be to make contact. I even tracked down Billy J. Kramer—his album was my absolute favorite when I was 10!
Do you want to do more kids' recordings?
I'd love to. It's a little addictive—even if the logistics are definitely a problem. I knew after the first one [Boynton created the adult recording Grunt: Pigorian Chant and, also with Ford, Rhinoceros Tap, prior to Chickens] that I wanted to keep doing these. But I don't know what the next one could be. Do you have any ideas??
This whole project has been the most fun I've ever had. I was able to work with amazing musicians and they all said yes right away. My sister Judy, who was a huge Alison Krauss fan, asked me to approach Alison about Dog Train. I told Judy I would try, not thinking I'd even get the time of day from Alison Krauss or her management. But there again, I couldn't believe our luck when Alison agreed to do it. I'm only sorry that Judy did not get to hear the finished recording [Boynton's sister, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease, passed away before Dog Train was completed]. Once you get going, something like this really takes on its own life, and leads you on some wonderful detours.
Boynton and company were feted at a launch party for the book November 2 at B.B. King's in New York City, where Spin Doctors and The Phenomenauts took the stage to make for a rockin' evening. And Boynton plans to ride the rails (or highways or skyways) to take Dog Train on an 11-city tour beginning inPhiladelphiaon November 17, wrapping up inMinneapolison December 10.