Douglas Brake’s organic fall into children’s music

Originally published here for Ruckus Magazine.

Douglas Brake of Douglas Brake and the Sizzle, Hiss, Pop Band didn’t just wake up one day and say, “Hey, I should write and play kid music.” It happened organically, late one night while Brake was trying to get his then-1-year-old son to fall asleep. “I ran out of songs I knew that would be soothing to my son, so I began improvising a tune called, ‘Good Night,’ which ended up being on my debut album,” Brake explains.

However, it wasn’t until his son was 4 that the song “Makin’ Bacon” and the Sizzle, Hiss, Pop Band came to life on a Saturday morning while Brake was cooking bacon for his wife, son, daughter, two cats and dog — the pets, whom he thanks in the cover of the album for sleeping on his hand and foot. Brake jovially began to make up a song about the sounds and smells of bacon while he cooked, which later resulted in a hyperactive and imaginative self-titled album.

“I honestly don’t know what spurred me to begin singing ‘Sizzle, Hiss, Pop,’” says Brake, who’s as fun and lighthearted as a kid. “The rest of that song took shape while cooking a pan of bacon. I decided it would be fun to pull out the recording gear and record it for my son, because he liked it. It was so surprisingly fun that once I finished recording ‘Makin’ Bacon,’ I tried a few other kid-based tunes, including ‘Good Night.’ Next thing I knew, I had an album’s worth of tunes!”

Brake had recording gear from his previous foray into the “music scene.”

“I always enjoyed music with a lot of vocal harmony,” Brake says, when asked about his musical past. “Oddly enough, I found myself at an early age vocally harmonizing with anything that would hold a tone — a hair dryer, a lawn mower … anything where a tone was consistent. I would find all the notes that were in harmony with the sound.”

In addition to Brake’s vocal talents in harmonizing with everyday objects, he was in two bands in high school, was heavily involved in his school’s music programs, and plays trumpet and French horn.

“I will attempt almost any instrument,” Brake says. “I primarily play acoustic guitar in ‘Sizzle, Hiss, Pop’ live, but I played all sorts of instruments during the recording of the album.” Other instruments heard on the album include a mandolin, a trumpet, a piano, a keyboard, various percussive instruments, a penny whistle and, most notably, mason jars, which you can hear at the beginning of the song “Don’t Eat All the Cookie Dough.”

In addition to “Don’t Eat All the Cookie Dough,” there are quite a few songs with a food theme on the album, including “Chicken-Dog,” which, like all the songs on the album, came from real-life experience.

“I promised my kids we were having hot dogs for lunch,” Brake explains. “Promise almost broken when I discovered we didn’t have hot dogs, but plenty of buns. Necessity is the mother of invention though, so I found chicken, cooked it up, and placed it in the buns.”

As with all new products, it had to have a catchy jingle to promote it, “so I began singing that ridiculous song spontaneously as I was serving up the faux hot dogs. The kids liked the song more than the meal and kept singing it for the rest of the day, so, down to the studio I went,” Brake says.

When not using experiences with his own children for inspiration, Brake thinks back to his own childhood. “All the songs I’ve written and am in the process of writing are inspired from two sources — experiences I had as a child combined with the experiences of my children that I’m fortunate enough to witness or hear about,” Brake says. “[It’s] somewhat of a mash-up of two different generations of childhood experiences.”

Otherwise, sometimes fatigue and feeling loopy from a day’s work brings out humorous ideas for tunes. “There are quite a few elements on the album that were stumbled upon/recorded as a result of mistakes that were made due to fatigue, so there’s a positive side to late-night composition when it comes to kid music,” he says.

“I just want to create fun songs, and if they happen to accidentally educate, so be it … kid-flavored music, to me, is akin to jazz, or in some respect, abstract art,” he explains. “You never really know where you’re going or where you’ll end up once you begin writing a song, which is why [children’s music] is so much fun to produce.”

Looking ahead, Brake says, “I think that I’ll always be pursuing a career in music; probably driving folks crazy in the nursing home someday.

“Part of the fun of musical pursuits is the unpredictable journey, from writing a song and playing for an audience of one — your cat — in the basement, to performing in front of large audiences, then back to the basement, where your cat is apathetically waiting for you once again.”

Douglas Brake and the Sizzle, Hiss, Pop Band will play June 15 from 5:30-8 p.m. at the Decatur Beach Festival, near the Brick Store Pub on East Court Square.

Preview and purchase Douglas Brake and the Sizzle, Hiss, Pop Band’s album at douglasbrake.com/index.php.


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