The Doo-Dads in the Kansas City Star

Posted on Wed, May. 09, 2012
Kid music without ‘the cheese’
Doo-Dads’ songs are written to entertain the entire family, vocalist Matt Kesler says.
The Kansas City Star

Like the audience that bounces and dances in front of them, the Doo-Dads are growing up and maturing, at least lyrically.

“Instead of songs like ‘Let’s Potty’ or ‘Brush Your Teeth,’ now we’re writing songs like ‘Ridin’ My Bike,” said Matt Kesler, bassist and vocalist in the four-man children’s band. Or the garage-soul tune “Hey Mr. Robot,” a song about the complexities of friendship.

This year, the Doo-Dads are celebrating their 10th anniversary. On Friday, the band will mark the release of “Yeah Yeah Yeah,” its third full-length album. The party takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. at RecordBar, 1020 Westport Road, where the Doo-Dads have held court monthly for several years, drawing a large, lively audience of young children and their parents, all of whom give new meaning to “happy hour.”

“Our first RecordBar show was mayhem,” Kesler said. “Kids were going crazy. The staff was kind of freaked out. They couldn’t get the pizza out of the oven fast enough.”

Kesler founded the Doo-Dads in 2002 with his friend Mike Niewald, the band’s guitarist. At the time, Kesler’s daughter and Niewald’s son were 2 years old and both fathers decided that it would be a good idea to start creating kids’ music that parents would enjoy.

“We wanted to get away from the stereotypes of children’s music,” Kesler said. “We wanted to create kids’ music without the cheese factor.”

At first they performed as a duo with a drum machine, then a guitar/bass/drum trio. They have since become a four-piece. Joe Gose is the band’s drummer; Ken Lovern is its keyboardist.

All four are fathers and veterans of the local music scene, having been in bands such as Absolute Ceiling, the Saddlemen, and the Bindlestiffs. Lovern heads the Lovern Organ Jazz Trio; Kesler, who owns Midwestern Musical Co., plays bass in the Pedaljets. That rock background has come in handy, although initially it was something the band had to overcome.

“The first few times we played we were way too loud,” Kesler said. “It was a real challenge to settle down. Our first live show was hilarious. We were still a trio and we played this preschool, so they were little kids. They brought them in and sat them down in these little squares on the floor. We started to play and all they wanted to do was get up and dance. And some of the adults were freaking out because they were supposed to sit in their spot. When we played ‘Do You Wanna Dance,’ the kids went crazy.

“So we had to figure that out. We still, now and then, deal with issues of being too loud.”

Kesler noticed the popularity and potential commercial rewards of a children’s band while attending shows by the Australian kids’ band the Wiggles.

“We took our daughter to see them twice,” he said. “The first time, it was a pretty low-production kind of deal. But there were people lined up around the building — not to get in, but to buy merchandise. The second time, it was a huge production in a sold-out hockey arena, with tour buses and everything.”

The Doo-Dads responded accordingly, he said.

“After seeing that marketing thing going on like that, we trademarked our name,” he said. “And we’ve branded ourselves. We have a look and a logo.”

And recorded music.

Since 2005, the band has released a five-song EP called “You’re Here” and two other full-lengths: “The Doo-Dads” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll.” Kesler estimated that the Dads have sold nearly 4,000 CDs over the past seven years. And one of the band’s songs, “Mama Be Right Back,” made it to No. 1 on XM radio’s children’s channel.

The Dads have also made inroads into the ever-growing world of live performance, playing in out-of-state festivals like Riverfest Arkansas in Little Rock, where they will perform this Memorial Day weekend, the same weekend they will perform at Jiggle Jam, the annual family music festival at Crown Center.

Over the course of a decade, Kesler said, the band has had to adjust to writing and marketing to an audience that eventually outgrows the band’s music.

“We’ve seen it with our own kids,” he said. “My daughter is 12. She hasn’t been into us since she was 7 or so. Once they get into third or fourth grade, they start to have their own opinion about music.

“We see that at our live shows: the turnover. Kids grow out of the music. On the other hand, a lot of them have younger brothers and sisters and we start seeing them. It seems like for everyone that falls away, there are two or three new ones.”

And then there’s the parents, who buy the merch. Kesler said the band keeps in mind that the music it makes is as much for the adults as it is for the children. Like the Disney or Pixar movies that entertain two generations simultaneously but on different levels, the Doo-Dads’ music and CDs are made for different sets of ears.

That is especially the case on “Yeah Yeah Yeah,” he said, which is the most-produced of all the band’s CDs. The band worked with veteran producer and sound engineer Paul Malinowski to give the album more polish and heft. But it maintained one of its most appealing features, one that isn’t always possible for the average rock band: the ability to cross genres.

“We don’t really have a genre,” he said. “We do songs that are country-ish, rap-ish, punk-ish and lots of rock. We try to think of ourselves not as a kids band but as a band playing music for adults that is accessible to kids, that’s written with children in mind. The only thing that defines it as children’s music is the subject matter.”

That subject matter is evolving and addressing more mature themes, he said, but the premise remains the same: Entertain families.

Friday night, the band will arouse its typical Doo-Dads mayhem at RecordBar. Children will dance and sing along. Intermittently, some parents will join them. It’s not unusual to see a few adults without children present, sitting at the bar enjoying the music and the lively, family scene, dancing with their inner child.