Interview by: Hibo Muse
What The Kids Want: For anyone who doesn’t know, The Happy Children is a band from Minneapolis, Minnesota. What inspired you guys to form a band? How did it all start?
Caleb: We started the band in Olympia, Washington. We lived there about 2 years and we went to school there at Evergreen State College. Everyone there was sad, depressed, and unenergetic; no one had ambition for anything. We were seeing our friends back home, still pursuing music. We were doing music in Olympia; Mitchell was in a band and I was in a different band but you know everyone was “down in the dumps.” So we started writing some songs, not really with the intention of starting a band but we just got together and wrote “Drop The Starfish” and other stuff we still haven’t used. And then we were like “Aw man, we should go back home and do this for real.” And so we moved back home and did that.
WTKW: For anyone who hasn’t listened to you before, how would you describe your sound?
Mitchell: We’re independent and independent spirit –
Caleb: – Some punk elements.
Mitchell: Punk and –
Caleb: I feel like this newer stuff that’s coming out tonight actually has more folk elements. It’s a lot more lyrical and there’s a couple of acoustics on there.
Mitchell: And the new stuff we’re writing too is different from all of it.
Caleb: Guess there’s definitely remains of a rock style songwriting.
Mitchell: It’s like guitar music and most of the time that’s what we start with.
Caleb: Someone on City Pages described our music as like “jam band” and I was like “what?”
Mitchell: That’s funny I wouldn’t say that. It’s very not jammy. We never jam.
Caleb: Yeah I don’t think any song has been made from a start of a jam. Never ever.
Mitchell: It’s always just writing parts and bringing it to a drummer.
Caleb: It’s always been in a living room.
WTKW: You guys released your debut album, Self Help Book, today, January 16th (which is very exciting!) Can you describe the process behind making this album? What’s your process for writing a song and deciding what stays/goes?
Caleb: There’s a couple songs that didn’t make it but I feel like a lot of these songs on the release, we’ve been actually playing for over a year now like, “Sentimental“ and “Clean.”
Mitchell: “All This Time” is almost a year.
Caleb: It’s been a while that we’ve been working on them, refining, and playing them live. Most of the people in the Twin Cities have probably heard all of them before. But people from out-of-state who have never seen us live, it’ll be completely new to them. The theme of the release is about reacquainting yourself with the past; it’s a way of moving on. And I think that was a big part of the release. Also the process of making these songs are different. “All This Time” Mitchell wrote most of the parts and we arranged it together. I wrote the outro for that. “Sentimental” was pretty collaborative. They’re all different, usually someone brings something.
Mitchell: A lot of the time it’s just like, I have one part and he (Caleb) has one part or like he has almost a whole song or I have almost a whole song.
Caleb: And lyrics are like –
Caleb: – “shit we need lyrics.” And I would like “put a hood on” and hunker down for a sec. But the process is changing and we’re already working on the next thing. We’ll talk about process next time because this is way different!
WTKW: By the time our readers are seeing this your album will be released. Do you have a favorite track from it?
Caleb: I like these kind of questions. But I overall just really like “Long Jon Silver.” I just think it’s a good story and good song. Manipulating a familiar circumstance with humor.
Mitchell: My favorite song is “All This Time” probably. I love playing that live and that’s just an awesome thing.
WTKW: How is Self Help Book different from your previous EP, Small Talk? Have you noticed any changes as a band from producing Small Talk to now?
Caleb: Everything has changed.
Mitchell: Self Help Book was more expensive.
Caleb: Yeah we put a lot more money into recording, producing and we’re making an actual book. That’ll be available for preorder because the books aren’t done but we’re going to have a book release show on the 17th of February at the Electric Fetus! So we put a lot of money into printing those. It’s more of a production than Small Talk. Small Talk was kind of like, we needed to get something out there and we recorded it fast. There’s a different drummer on Self Help Book. The music I think just has a little bit more lyrical emphasisthan Small Talk. Small Talk was a little bit more “in your face” and crazy. I feel like in our personal lives, we’ve kind of chilled out a bit. I live with the dog now.
Mitchell: Small Talk was like, we just moved back, things were really popping off with Judah and things were feeling awesome. So we were like this year will be the year we breakthrough, it’ll be awesome and we’re going to go on tour. We just like had that energy behind it. I feel like, Self Help Book we realized we really need to hunker down and we can’t expect everything or we need to be ready for anything. Kind of jus like more chill and defensive.
Caleb: Just more introspective. I feel like we’re a really young band but we’ve actually been through a lot already that a lot of bands don’t necessarily have to go through in their first two years of being a thing. Just like the car crash and having to get rid of people and maintaining the integrity of the peace. That’s kind of what Self Help Book is about.
WTKW: What local bands have you been inspired by?
Caleb: Obviously inspired by Hippo Campus. They’re our very good friends and I love watching what they do and seeing them progress and develop. Yeah they’re the shit. I also really like the Bad Bad Hats, I think they’re super good. I actually used to work with Chris, the drummer, at the Bogart’s Doughnut shop. Nicest guy ever!
Mitchell: I work with a dude who plays in a metal band. I like all the dudes I work with, those are the people who really inspire me. My bike buddies and blue collar people. Man, they’re like the best people. That’s because I can really relate to those people. I have a tougher time relating to younger artist, to be honest. Like people you’d expect me to be able to relate to. It’s actually not as easy for me. But like DJ Wonderland, Vante Jackson he’s always doing something.
Caleb: I’m continuously inspired by my brother’s band, Why Not. They are just tearing up people’s notions of what a young band should be able to do. Talk about “fuck the system.” Like Josh used to lie about their age to get shows and stuff. Also in terms of recorded product, I love Good Luck Finding Iris. I think Mike Stein so, so talented! HOLY SMOKES!
Mitchell: Yeah she’s quite the singer and guitarist.
Caleb: And Patrick is great at making shit happen and being a person who has their feet.
Mitchell: They’re all dedicated to making something real, which is cool.
Caleb: Yeah for sho.
WTKW: I’ve seen you guys at a few local shows. What are some of your favorite shows you guys have performed before? Can you describe the energy of the crowd?
Caleb: Favorite show ever played, ever in my life was at-
Both: Beloit College!
Caleb: It was a show that we played in a house at Beloit and It was one of the pinnacle moments of my life. It was crazy!
Mitchell: It was like 20 people in a basement and it was like crazy
Caleb: I almost threw up like 4 times because I was so excited
Mithcell: Literally like pure ecstasy! Could not believe it.
Caleb: I was like covered in sweat and we gave everyone free shirts afterwards because it was like so magical!
Mitchell: Holy shit! It was like so alive! The coolest thing is we had all this time to like socialize. It was a house show at a college that we’ve never been to but we knew a couple people and we brought our friend Julia along. So like we spent most of the night socializing with these people at the show and then we go down there and it’s like 20 faces we’ve never seen before. It was cool to introduce myself before hand and then go down there and be like “and this is what we came here to do!” It was amazing.
Caleb: It makes me all woozy doozy just thinking about it.
Mitchel: I want that to happen again for sure!
Caleb: On the flip side of that show, very opposite type of environment was playing First Avenue with Hippo Campus; it was just like crazy! There were a ton of people there and everyone was receiving the music too well, like more than I expected.
Mitchell: Yeah that was something else. But those are the two shows that stick out the most.
WTKW: Usually when I think of The Happy Children, I also think of brand Normal Parents and now Scary Mama. Can you elaborate on the two?
Caleb: Normal Parents is like a super brand, like an ultra, multimedia, and love movement umbrella. It sells shirts and stuff. But it’s more of an idea you know? It’s the idea that anybody can sort of do anything with barely anything. All the hats are handmade with sharpie. There’s spray painted shirts and the motto: “They Have No Power.” Normal Parents is more of an idea that holds all these things underneath it. And obviously there’s this little mythology of the family with The Happy Children, Normal Parents and Scary Mama, which is… I don’t know what that is, it’s always changing. Now all of our friends and us have the Scary Mama Instagram. I’m not even in control of that. Even Bessie (Caleb’s dog) has it queued up on her phone, if you ever see her selfies. She does a mean duck face.
WTKW: Going back to the release of Self Help Book, I really love how unique the album artwork is. How did you come up with that image?
Caleb: Well the image for the album is an old picture of Mitchell’s sister and she’s reaching for the water that is moving.
Mitchell: Just seemed like a very downstream, deep picture.
Caleb: Yeah it’s very like, longing for something you can’t touch but it’s moving so fast. All those little droplets of water have so much movement in that photo.
Mitchell: It’s this little baby girl and she can’t help herself and she’s doing what she needs to do. It just felt like a very fitting picture.
Caleb: Just like heavy, like damn. Especially when I first saw that picture.
Mitchell: We were going through a lot of older pictures like, film photographs. Something about those film photographs, you’re more like to get a picture that’s heavy. I feel like that picture would still be touching if it was digital, but that fact it was photographed, the colors are like special.
Caleb: The book is made up of all these photos of our families we found, mostly around the idea of motherhood, you know we don’t live with our mothers’ anymore. Just sort of a longing for home and longing for simplicity. The book is about that, like heavy shit.
WTKW: Finally, so our readers can look forward to hearing more of you in the future, can you give us a look at any upcoming plans? Maybe a tour or a few local shows coming up?
Caleb: We’re probably gonna do a tour sometime in the summer. We’re doing a book release on the 17th of February at the Electric Fetus and that’s during the day. It’s gonna be a real nice, calm performance. Like imagine you’re going to see fucking J.K. Rowling release some weird little Harry Potter diary and everyone walks into the record store.
Mitchell: Yeah it’ll be really calm and quiet. It’ll just be me and Caleb on acoustic guitars.
Caleb: But we’re switching stuff up like we’re writing again and we’re doing a whole new recording process this time around. So, I would say enjoy this release but also know we got a fucking curveball coming up and it’s gonna be the most Happy Children thing yet.
Mitchell: Pure Happier Children.
Listen to their new album Self Help Book on Bandcamp