For those not in the know: Justin Roberts is a veteran children’s musician whose songs capture the essence of sunny days filled with games on the playground. Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players release their ninth album, Recess, this month. It’s an album filled with endless energy and tunes that stay in your brain. It’s a delight from start to finish.
Roberts recently chatted with Nerdy With Children about his start in family music, songwriting and childhood vandalism.
Nerdy With Children: What brought you to children’s music?
Justin Roberts: I started working at a preschool in Minneapolis back in the early ’90s, while I was playing in a band that [I] started in college. I started writing songs for the kids and kept writing songs for kids after I left the school.
In 1997, I released Great Big Sun just for fun before I left for graduate school at University of Chicago. Next thing I knew, kids music was looking a lot more fun than studying theology.
NWC: How do you encourage children to get involved in music?
J.R.: We have a lot of call-and-response singing, and some choreographed parts of songs to engage kids and parents.
NWC: How long does it typically take to write a song?
J.R.: Some songs take a day, some songs take a month, some songs get started one year and completed seven years later. It’s all over the map. But more recently, I write on computer with guitar, keyboard, vocals and drum loops, and I find that to be very inspiring.
NWC: Who are some musicians that inspire you?
J.R.: Brian Wilson, Fountains of Wayne, Loudon Wainwright and Frank Sinatra.
NWC: What are some nerdy themes that pop up in your songs?
J.R.: “Get Me Some Glasses” where I say, “Mama there will be those that’ll call me four eyes, ‘cause I got more eyes than them. But they don’t understand that there wouldn’t be a Superman without Clark Kent (to an extent).”
NWC: How much do you draw on your own childhood memories to find inspiration for your songs?
J.R.: Quite a bit, but I also check in with other folks and see what they remember. A friend’s brother carved her name on their family Steinway, and I used that story in the song “My Brother Did It.”
NWC: What was your favorite game to play at recess?
J.R.: Four square. Absolutely. I think it should be an Olympic sport.
NWC: Tell us a little about your upcoming picture book?
J.R.: It’s called The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade, and it tells the story of a very observant girl named Sally who sees all the details of the world around her but nobody notices her until … well, you’ll have to read the book to find out.
NWC: Describe your music in three words.
J.R.: Nostalgic childhood rock.
Recess is available through Justin Roberts’ website.