Spencer “the Gardener” Barnitz remains a fixture of Santa Barbara’s homegrown music scene, which the Mesa-raised singer/songwriter entered back in the 1980s. A decade ago, after years of playing sunshine-kissed, Latin-infused, utterly unique pop-rock-jazz-funk, he busted into a brand-new genre — children’s music — by releasing Organic Gangster, a fun-loving, singalong album of catchy tunes about food, farming, nature, and more.
This year, Barnitz unveiled Organic Gangster Vol. 2, and has been hitting the family-friendly circuit hard. Here, he reflects on this unlikely evolution.
What prompted you to record music for kids? When I released the first Organic Gangster in 2009, I had no idea how many bands and solo artists had recorded kid and family-type records. Almost everyone! If I would have looked into it, I might not have continued.
So it was lucky I didn’t, as it was a beautiful mistake that opened up a whole new territory in subject, songwriting, and audience. It was also timely because California was at the forefront of the organic movement, at least in the United States, and, basically, “Old Macdonald” had a brand-new farm.
What led to the second album? I started playing in lots of schools throughout the 805, which is a surprisingly big area when you change the way you look at it, and every short distance is brand-new. So after the continued success of Organic Gangster, I knew it was only a matter of time before I recorded OG Vol. 2. The process ended up being a bit longer, but I was in no hurry.
It’s the same time frame with OG Vol. 3 — no hurry. And Old Macdonald’s farm is still brand-new and constantly changing.
What’s different about Vol. 2? This new record has an even more eclectic feel and there are no rules, at least for me, in this genre. I’m not even sure if this is a kids’ release. That being said, there are more songs about food — “Sweet Potato,” “Ballad of the Strawberry,” “Fruits and Vegetables,” “Granola” — as well as the natural world: “Hey Whale,” “El Niño,” and a song by Shawn C. White called “Riding my Bicycle,” which suits any age. I feel that way about all these songs.
Who else is on the album? It was produced by Tom Lackner, who also played on all the tracks in one way or another, and features the many talents of Jim Connolly as well as the vocal talents of my sister, Liz Barnitz, who goes on a little scat-singing jazz journey on “Fruits and Vegetables.”
How does it feel to be the OG OG? I feel extremely lucky that I stumbled into this Organic Gangster world. Playing schools and shows for kids is always surprising in one way or another and it gives back intangibles: smiles and questions and ways of looking at things that I hadn’t thought about. It’s whimsical for sure and I often leave laughing!
4•1•1 | Spencer the Gardener will be playing songs off of Organic Gangster Vol. 2 throughout the summer, including on July 5, 7 p.m., at Figueroa Mountain Brewing in the Funk Zone; July 11, 5:30 p.m. at Elings Park; July 12, 10:30 a.m., at the Santa Barbara Central Library; July 13 at Restaurant Roy; and, during Old Spanish Days, on July 31, 8 p.m., at Casa Cantina; and Aug. 3 in De La Guerra Plaza. See facebook.com/spencerthegardener/.