They Might Be Giants' Danny Weinkauf debuts kids CD

Kai Weinkauf, 14, sings the song "Ambivalent," accompanied

Kai Weinkauf, 14, sings the song "Ambivalent," accompanied by his father Danny Weinkauf, Grammy-winning musician, composer and bassist for They Might Be Giants, at their in-home studio in Lynbrook. (Credit: Heather Walsh)

Lena Weinkauf was in her bedroom, under the covers with her door closed, but still the 12-year-old could hear the music.

Dad Danny Weinkauf had just pumped up the volume because Sirius- XM radio was playing a song performed by Lena's brother Kai, 14, called "Champion of the Spelling Bee."

Kai stopped watching TV, and they called mom Michelle, who was at the grocery store. Lena says she could hear Mom's shrieks, too. She jokes that her parents were "screaming like little girls."


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It's a shout-worthy time for the Weinkauf family of Lynbrook. Dad's new CD for kids ages 4 to 10 -- "No School Today" -- comes out Tuesday. Danny Weinkauf has been the bass player for the Brooklyn-based indie rock band They Might Be Giants for 17 years; the group has won two Grammys, including one for "Boss of Me," which was the theme song for the TV show "Malcolm in the Middle."

This is Weinkauf's first solo effort. The CD includes several tunes belted out by Kai, and Michelle and Lena also join in with either singing or shouting on many of the 16 tracks, which include "The Moon Is Made of Cheese," "Archaeology" and "The Kidney That Lived in Four People."

FRIENDS HELP, TOO

Bringing the family into the act is exciting, says Weinkauf, 50. "It gives the album a sense of variety, and, of course, it makes it more fun for me," he says. Friends of Weinkauf also play a part. Suzanne Luna, whom Weinkauf met in Lynbrook South Middle School and who is now a director for "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," co-wrote a couple of the songs with him. Newer friend and established kiddie rocker Laurie Berkner plays a duet with Weinkauf called "Our Love Fits." Says Berkner: "It was such a cute track. I thought it would be really fun to do it."

Weinkauf started writing children's songs for They Might Be Giants' four children's albums; he wrote and sang one of the band's most popular children's hits, "I am a Paleontologist." Weinkauf had been penning more educational kids' tunes in anticipation of another TMBG children's effort, but the band decided to return to its adult-rock roots. Michelle said, "Why not just do your own record?"

RAISING FUNDS

Weinkauf launched a Kickstarter campaign to see if he could raise the $13,000 he estimated he would need to do so. Alone in his hotel room while on tour with TMBG, Weinkauf used a banana as an improvised tripod, peeling it and sticking his smartphone into the fruit to keep it stable while he explained his quest.

"They could send in $10 and get the album downloaded in advance, which seemed really fair to me," Weinkauf says. Other fundraising offerings included pledging $100 and having your child's face appear in one of the album's videos. Baldwin resident Heather Smith pledged $1,200 for a "living room" concert by Weinkauf -- she plans to invite her nieces and nephews over as well as other friends who chipped in. "We wanted something more exciting than the album," she says.

After a few days, the campaign had raised $7,000, which seemed unbelievable and heartwarming to Weinkauf. Then, TMBG co-founder John Flansburgh decided to help. One night on tour, he put out messages to the TMBG online fan base. "Danny's sleeping now. Let's get him over the top when he wakes up in the morning," Flansburgh wrote. Weinkauf woke to see the $13,000 goal had been met. "I felt like crying," he says.

LYNBROOK ROOTS

While Weinkauf was on the road with TMBG traveling to Australia, New Zealand and throughout Europe for weeks at a time in 2013, this year the band is performing closer to home, which has given him time to promote the children's album. He's also putting together a band to perform children's concerts live.

He does most of the work in the music studio in his Lynbrook basement. Weinkauf has strong ties to the community -- he graduated from Lynbrook High School in 1982. "My daughter has the same teacher I had for math in sixth grade," he says. The family's poodle-terrier mix, Dr. B., is named in tribute to Weinkauf's late high school chemistry teacher.

Weinkauf met Michelle while they both were studying to be physical therapists at Stony Brook University; Weinkauf has long worked part-time as a physical therapist, focusing on developmentally disabled kids when he's not touring.

Ideas for kids' songs often are born during daily life at home. For instance, one day Mom and Dad were making up a song because they had to clean the floor. Lena said, "You guys sing about anything."

And so Dad wrote "A Song About Anything." But fans will have to wait until Weinkauf comes out with a second children's album to hear that one.

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