Throughout the 1980s, Dan Zanes toiled away in front of the Del Fuegos, playing everything from bars and theaters to fraternity houses and the occasional barn. And while the ensemble certainly stamped their presence on the decade, it was the birth of Zane’s daughter that inspired a change in his musical direction. After jamming for a group of kids in a local park with some fellow fathers, Zanes found a new audience for his music, as well as a new musical calling. Over the past decade, Zanes and his friends have released six family-orientated albums. Their 2007 release, Catch That Train!, even earned the ensemble a Grammy Award for Best Musical Album for Children. As a band, Dan Zanes and Friends hark back to an era where the musical rewards were equally rich for everybody. They offer timeless music for a modern age. But, most importantly, they are having fun doing it.
Having spent so many years playing in a rock band, touring with a family show must be much more user friendly : Yeah, the hours are great, there’s no doubt about that. But I also think the audiences are incredible. We’re still playing for adults, but now we’re stirring young people into the mix, and that lifts the whole thing up into the party zone pretty fast.
Are family shows more fun than playing rock concerts? Kids are everything I wanted adults to be when I was playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band. They have that spontaneous spirit, so things start to become unraveled pretty fast when young people are around, and that’s what makes it fun for us.
What do you feel is at the core of family music? For me, the distinction is that children’s music is really for children and tends to be about their experiences. But all-ages music-or family music, if you will-is music where my daughter and I can both have some kind of emotional connection to it. It’s a shared experience, so there’s as much in it for me as there is for her.
What directed you down this path? When my daughter was born 14 years ago, I started looking for a sound that reflected the type of music I grew up with, which I would call all-ages music. I was making a solo record at the time, and nobody cared for songs about old girlfriends and drinking, but everybody wanted more of my family music. And I have been having a blast doing that ever since. I had no inclination that this would become my life; it was really just a way of entertaining my family and the kids around the neighborhood.
Do you find there is a crossover from your Del Fuego days? Are those fans now bringing their children to your shows? Yeah, and it’s kind of a funny thing. Here we all are living in another lifetime, yet we’re still here doing kind of the same thing, having wild musical parties where everyone is singing along and dancing. It is pretty surreal at times.
Your sound embraces a myriad of musical influences. What inspires you musically? I’m just trying to make records that sound like my neighborhood. I live in Brooklyn and it is its own little world. Depending on which street I walk down, I might be hearing Arabic music or Soca music or music from Puerto Rico. It’s kind of subconscious. It’s whoever crosses our path and whoever brings something to us, but everyone who comes in teaches us something.
Given your own musical evolution, what is the most satisfying part of the experience for you? One of the most satisfying things for me is that the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll is so much alive and well-and when I say rock ‘n’ roll, I’m thinking of ’50s rock ‘n’ roll. I feel like I’m in a ’50s rock band where nobody knows what’s next. There’s no road map, and it’s all about spirit and enthusiasm. For me, not knowing what the day is going to bring musically is an incredible thing. We’re working with a very old-fashioned idea, but doing it in a twenty-first century manner.
And that element of music, especially when stripped back, is very much a common denominator, isn’t it? It’s hardwired into us as people to come together to sing and dance. It’s just so basic. I think that, in the end, it always gets broken down to that. I think that our specialty is just throwing a party. We could give a concert and people could sit quietly and take it all in and I’m sure [they’d] be happy about it. But throwing a party is really our specialty, and no matter where you are in the world, people are always up for a party.
Arts & Lectures presents Dan Zanes and Friends in concert on Thursday, March 12, at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.). Call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu for details.