The idea came from a father on the road with a band sending home photos and videos to his train obsessed son. It was a way to stay in touch even when he couldn’t be with the family. Bands tend to travel and good bands travel a lot. Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players are one of the best (Two Grammy nominations.) They travel quite a bit. It started with the melody and the words “Seems like you’re always looking for trains.” So began Looking for Trains by Justin Roberts off of his recently Grammy nominated CD Recess. The father in the band is drummer Gerald Dowd (drummer, father and good guy extraordinaire) who was doing what dads do. If the kids wants to see trains you send that kid pictures, books, videos and whatever else you find train related. With a melody and opening lyric Justin then further developed the song on his guitar which is not how he usually works these days. Nowadays he likes to develop songs on Logic. This is an Apple program that allows him to add all sorts of instrumentation. Strings, horns, guitars, etc. So when he heads into the studio he already has a direction and feel for a song. But this time he grabs his guitar and starts working it out old school (I’m a big fan of old school.) Lyrically he comes up with every rhyming verse he can think of that makes references to trains. Then he inserts the lyrics to mimic the train rhythm he has set up in the instrumentation. When it comes to the bridge he envisions it as getting bigger. This is where his co-conspirator/producer and fellow band member Liam Davis stepped in, stripped it down (just piano and violin) holding the listener right when the point of the song is being made. The best thing about this song is that it’s about more than trains which I suspected and Justin confirmed. It’s about life. About hope. How we are all looking for our trains “even though all we can see right now are the cars.”
“Maybe it’s caught up in tunnels in the middle of a mountain so wide. Maybe it’s stuck over bridges trying to get to the other side. Either way it’ll be here any day I can see it now it’s coming through…”
I asked if Mr. Roberts writes the music or words first and he said said both. That he writes the words and the melody at the same time. He is also not a constant writer or an inspirational writer but rather a “writes when he has too” writer. Which is impressive. Knowing you have a deadline puts added pressure on the whole process. This works good for some but poorly for others. He also made a simple statement when asked why he writes kids songs that I find resoundingly true. That he “just writes songs.” Rather good songs if you ask me. These days Justin has a new picture book coming out called The Smallest Girl in The Smallest Grade (Putnam Books), is writing a musical, got elected to the Chicago Chapter Board of The Recording Academy and will be touring with the band. Do yourself a favor. Whether you have kids or not go and give Recess a listen and you tell me if it’s not a power pop masterpiece (It is). Good music knows no age is our motto and Justin Roberts and his band mates put out some of the best music around for kids, families, aliens, dockworkers and whoever else is listening. Listen to the track (pun intended) below and go support your local kindie artist today.