Kindie Rock: New Amsterdams' Matt Pryor battles The Terrible Twos

Matt Pryor and The Terrible Twos: Wednesday, August 20, at Modified Arts

By Clay McNear

Once upon a time, rock ’n’ roll was about bad dudes singing about bad shit, and it was very, very bad for you. One of my formative images was punk progenitor Iggy Pop stage-diving onto a field of shattered glass. The dude rose slowly, like a demon out of ooze, gushing corpuscles and grinning like a ghoul. I was 13. It was fucking great.

But somewhere along the highway to hell, rock’s nihilists O.D.’d, grew up, or sold out. Iggy Pop made a commercial for Motorola’s ROKR phone with Little Richard. Whatever evil once existed in rock got sucked up by gangsta rap.

It’d be easy to blame Dan Zanes for all of this, but it’s not that kind of piece and he’s not a bad dude. What he is is the former leader of the cult-fave band the Del Fuegos, which had a couple/three-year spin as a critical darling in the mid-1980s. When the ride ended with a shriek of the brakes, as critical-darling deals inevitably do, Zanes effectively retired, settled down, had kids.

Kids. Ugh. The kiss of death.

Well, used to be. Today, they rule the roost, the little bastards.

If Zanes didn’t invent the term “kindie rock,” the music he’s been making for his own Festival Five label since 1999 embodies it. Many kindie rockers are like Zanes: former or still-extant “real” rock musicians who discovered that writing for a child’s sensibility is as, or more, rewarding than the “real” thing – and who pursue the new muse with their own boutique labels, home studios, and Internet-savvy distribution.

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Other artists who’ve set up housekeeping in the K-R realm either as permanent residents or esteemed guests include Laurie Berkner (the so-called “Ani DiFranco of the under-10 set”), They Might Be Giants (Here Come the ABCs), Lisa Loeb (Catch the Moon), Devo (Devo 2.0), Justin Roberts (Meltdown), Jack Johnson (the Curious George soundtrack), and Medeski, Martin & Wood (Let’s Go Everywhere).

As Kenny Curtis, director of children's programming at XM Satellite Radio, told Salon.com, "It's becoming more mainstream – more chic, actually – to do music for kids. We always make the joke that it's amazing what happens when rock stars have kids."

Matt Pryor (pictured) has three of the little imps, and having them actually changed his life – in more than the usual, “having kids changed my life” kind of way. The Lawrence, Kansas, musician spent a decade fronting the much-beloved postpunk group The Get Up Kids, but having flesh-and-blood children spurred him to put the big Kids to bed for good.

However, Pryor’s still tightly linked in to his other group, the New Amsterdams, and splits his time writing bright, radiant alt pop for adults and bright, radiant head candy for kids with his side-side-project, The Terrible Twos. His latest platter for the latter, Jerzy the Giant, was released at the end of July, in the acclaimed wake of 2007’s If You Ever See an Owl.

The other members of New Amsterdams also perform as The Terrible Twos, and other than a subtle context, you’d be hard-pressed to differentiate between a “regular” New Ams song and one like the lovely “Lady Bug,” off Owl. Says Pryor, “I don’t consider myself a ‘children’s artist.’ I’m just an artist who made some music children like. My initial wave of inspiration was just to do something different, something fun that there’d be no expectations for. And then I started thinking about all the children’s music my kids were listening to and how a lot of it really wasn’t very good. I just wrote what I liked, and as it turned out, my kids liked it, too.”

Me, three, though I gotta say I miss those oozing demons and gushing head wounds. Maybe somebody’ll skin a knee.

Matt Pryor and The Terrible Twos perform at 6 p.m. Wednesday, August 20, at Modified Arts, 407 East Roosevelt Street. Tickets are $5, $3 for kids. Pryor then joins Chris Conley of Saves the Day for an all-ages “big kids” show; the doors for that separately ticketed performance open at 7 p.m. For more info, see www.modified.org.

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