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An Interview with Grammy-Nominated Trout Fishing In America

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Following a successful stop at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, four time-grammy nominated Trout Fishing in America will play in various venues around the country. You can see them at the Robert Irwin’s Central Garden at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles August 22 & 23.

This fantastic duo is on tour promoting their new storybook-music CD My Name Is Chicken Joe (for more information, please visit http://www.thesecretmountain.com) which I can wholeheartedly recommend. Not only is the book filled with funny illustrations and original, sometimes zany song lyrics, but when you listen to the accompanying music (11 songs in total) you’ll soon be humming along. I can see why it’s so easy to get hooked on Trout Fishing in America!

I recently interviewed the multi-talented Keith Grimwood who plays bass, sings, and writes songs with Trout Fishing in America. (In case you’ve seen a picture of the group, Grimwood is the shorter half of the band.) He’s really excited about the new book and I am sure you will be, too.

Q. Why write a book called My Name is Chicken Joe?

We have always felt that our songs are very visual and the idea of having them illustrated has always appealed to us. The trick was to make the connections to make it happen. Roland Stringer, of The Secret Mountain publishing company, and Dick Renko, our manager, are friends. Well, as I understand it, they got to talking one day and the idea of a book/CD came up. We jumped at the chance right away.

Q. Which came first, Chicken Joe lyrics or music?

Whew…you scared me! I thought you were going to ask, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Now that’s a really hard question.

dsf7008_medWhen we write, I generally start with lyrics and Ezra starts with music. Then we get together in a co-writing session and see if any of my words fit any of his chord progressions. That’s how this song got started. So the answer is that they started separately, but pretty much at the same time. Don’t you wish that chicken or the egg question was that simple?

Q. I love the character of Chicken Joe and how he pops up throughout the book. Is he based on a cat you know?

Chicken Joe is one of my cats. I have a lot of cats but Chicken Joe is one of our favorites. When he was a little kitten, he’d turn up missing when we went to feed the cats in the morning. We’d find him out in the chicken coop. He’s a smart cat. You may not know it, but hens generate a lot of heat. They really kept him warm. That’s how he got the name Chicken Joe.

Q. The illustrations are wonderfully evocative yet simple – how did you find your artist?

Roland sent us examples of several artists that The Secret Mountain had worked with before. We were particularly fond of the beautiful watercolor works of Stephane Jorisch. He sent us some initial sketches and we gave him a few suggestions. He really captured the personalities of all these animals. I especially like his chickens. They look like a bunch of punk rockers to me.

Q. Does a reader need to be familiar with your music to enjoy the book?

Not at all. You can even read the book without the music playing, or listen to the music without the book. Of course, I think it’s best appreciated together. For those of you not familiar with the music of Trout Fishing in America, know that we strive to play music that both kids and adults will enjoy. There’s a lot of good music to listen to with lyrics that don’t sing down to the kids. We have received 4 Grammy nominations for Best Album For Children. It has been difficult to define exactly what kind of music it is that we play. Give it a listen. Go to our website at <troutmusic.com> and then you tell me. One of my favorite answers so far is “Music for people who take their fun seriously.”

page_06Q. A Cat Named Chicken Joe, It’s a Puzzle and Why I Pack My Lunch are my 3 favorites. Please give me the back story to these three songs.

Well, Chicken Joe is one of my cats, but he’s not the only animal mentioned in this song. The other animals are all real animals, too. Miss Kitty was Ezra’s mother’s dog. His mother has a weird sense of humor. She wanted to be able to say, “Here kitty-kitty,” and have a dog run up. King Kong was Ezra’s son’s parakeet, and Mister is our neighbor Fred’s mule. They all have odd, misleading names. Sometimes you need to look beyond names and labels to see what a thing really is. By the way, we promise that none of these animals were injured in the writing of this song or the publishing of this book.

It’s a Puzzle has a verse in it about wanting to go to Idaho. Trout Fishing in America has been to 49 of the 50 states, but we’ve never been to Idaho! Why? It’s a puzzle…
“Do you want to know why I want to go to Idaho?
Gotta go to Idaho, I haven’t been there.
It’s excuses and saying it’s no use
That keeps us from getting anywhere.”

Why I Pack My Lunch began with my wife, Beth. She works at the elementary school in West Fork, Arkansas, where she runs the computer lab. Every weekday when I’m home, I pack her a nice sack lunch to take with her to school. When I asked her why she didn’t just eat the school lunches, she explained by writing these lyrics. We came up with some appropriately creepy music and this lovely song emerged.

Q. Which are each of your favorite selections?

I asked Ezra and he says he likes Boiled Okra and Spinach the best. He thinks it contains one of the best lyrics we’ve ever written. “I’d rather eat boogers than black-eyed peas…” It does have a nice ring to it.

I like Something Sweet. It takes me back to my childhood. When I was a baby, I cried a lot. My mother would get frustrated and hand me to my father. She would tell him, “Say something sweet to him. Make him stop crying.” Dad would sing to me, “Say something sweet to my baby, chocolate, custard, pudding and pie.” For years I thought he was singing a song that had already been written. When my sister asked him about it, we found out he was just making it up as he went along. Ezra and I finished it for him and I love singing it. He loves it too since he’s not even a musician and he still gets writer’s royalties for it.

chicken-joe-guitarQ. Do you see yourself coming up with more books in the future?

Yes, we do. I love the way the book has turned out. We are currently working with these 4 main characters, writing stories and mapping out songs. Each character is so distinctively strong in my mind that I can see hundreds of scenarios, both hilarious and tender emerging from their interaction.

Q. What have your fans said about this new concept and has it helped garner new fans?

I am a reader. I have always loved books. I have always loved music. When you love something you naturally want to share it with your children. I think reading to kids and sharing music with kids are about two of the best things you can do for them, ranking right up there with loving and feeding.

The first day the book was available at one of our live shows, we started playing the song Chicken Joe and I saw a couple of kids open up the book and follow along as we sang. I got so choked up I could hardly make it through the song. To me, that’s what this is all about. A book and a collection of songs…what could be better for a kid?


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