I've said it before and I'll say it again: It's almost unfair the secret weapon April Mann has in her back pocket. At the beginning of every episode of her April Eight's Song and Stories podcast, she breaks out her beautiful singing voice, and it's impossible to not be enchanted as the rest of the episode plays. That comes from years playing live around the world with her band. But it's also true that April is a gifted writer, penning original folk and fairy tales for her show. So I chatted a bit with the writer, performer, and erstwhile rock star about her show, and how she made the transition from a mic on stage to a mic in her home.
So you're one of the legitimate, literal rock stars of Kids Listen. Could you start by telling me a little bit about your music career before we dive into the show?
You know why everyone wants to be a rockstar? It is the most fun thing in the world! Jumping around on stage with a live drum kit behind you, the energy from the electric guitars and the crowd. Putting on a rock show is all about pacing, energy, and expression. The wilder and more interesting, the better. How does it get any better than that?
It was an interesting experience too, because there were so few women in bands when my band, Arson Garden, kicked off, in the late 80s alt-rock scene. I had come from a musical theater background and my brother, musician James Combs, talked me into joining the band he was forming. I'm so glad he did, because the experience of that writing, rehearsing, traveling, performing, and collaboration has formed so much of how I see the world. I confess, I really miss that time of my life.
We got to play on great stages all over the world, from the Metro in Chicago to the Melkweg in Amsterdam, play at Lollapalooza, record at Paisley Park, do a Peel Session for Radio One BBC, I mean, come on. That's a blast.
Wow, that's awesome. I also miss that time of your life, and I didn't even live it. But now I see where the energy that's in your podcast comes from. So how did you make the transition to putting together stories for kids?
My husband Michael was one of the guitar players in Arson Garden. When the band wrapped up in the mid-90s we wanted to have kids, etc. He went to law school, I went to Design School. I started writing acoustic songs on my own, and an experience with my youngest daughter's obsession with fairy stories got me writing songs for children. After awhile I had the idea of creating little story homes for the songs, and it all fit together into April Eight. One of the first things I did was to perform at fairy festivals. My favorite is the New York Fairy Festival. What a magical dream that is!
The song I start all my podcasts with "Time Bound Travelers" was something I wrote as a way to gather an audience at Fairy Festivals. I was a college professor at the time, teaching in Design at the University of Cincinnati. I had 500 college students, and that's the fast track to learning how to be a very succinct writer!
Ah, very cool. I'm learning that you've lived a lot of lives. So here's a question that I think about when I listen to your show: You tell stories that are sort of very classic or traditional in terms of the elements (fairy and folk tales). How do you make that form new for both you and your audience (which, for the record, I think you do)?
When I write my stories, I'm always thinking about archetype because that is something we all understand, it is the basis of human experience. Archetypes are grounding for children. That does give my stories a sense of being traditional, but hopefully not at all stereotypical. Once I create the foundation of the story, I lay my own sense of humor, joy, love, curiosity, and compassion over the top of it. I trust my intuition when I am writing and I edit like crazy.
Obviously, your background is in live performance, and that comes across in your show. But how do you try to capture that sort of live, storytelling energy when it's you, at home, in front of a mic, at 2am? Or is that just me?
My voice is my tried and true favorite tool for conveying emotion to my listeners. Be it live or in front of the mic at home alone, it is my #1 goal to captivate my audience and pull them into whatever I am sharing. I listened to Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald when I was a kid, all those old-school singers, and they seemed to feel their way through a song and take you with them on the ride. If I am on my game, that's what I'm working toward, too. I was lucky to get so much time honing in that skill from being in choir from the time I was very little to being in my high school musicals, (Ado Annie, anyone?) to being in a rock band and performing night after night. Now I pour all of that experience into my podcast. I'm so glad I have this medium to create in.
That's awesome. So what's coming up for your show? Any live performances, new stories, anything you want to let listeners in on?
I have something new coming up every week at April Eight Songs & Stories. I'm writing a new story every two weeks, and in the in-between weeks, I just started a new feature called "A Little MInute about ..." because I always have more songs, poems, ideas and thank yous that I want to share. The first one was called "A Little Minute about a Little Minute" as an introduction. April Eight is in talks with a fantastic established arts entity here in Cincinnati to begin doing live April Eight Songs & Stories podcasts in their theatre a la Garrison Kellor - wouldn't that be fun?! And, I'm putting together a Patreon page so that my audience and I can share more with each other. I have a whole series of videos and writings to create there about my process, music made for adults, songs from my musical influences, and handmade unicorns for my biggest patreons! Oh, and exerpts from my YA novel... because those ideas, they never stop flowing. LOL!
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