“Family-friendly” isn’t a way you often hear anything in the music industry described. Between venues that serve alcohol, artists that curse in their music, and acts who, for whatever reason, don’t appeal to youngsters, much of the industry often feels like it is “by adults for adults.”
In some ways, this is sensible and even for the better, but it leaves out a key demographic: the children. This is not to say that there aren’t entertainment options for kids: there are, just not many in the form of live music.
Enter Koo Koo Kanga Roo. A duo from the Twin Cities, Koo Koo does the unthinkable: they make music and put on shows that appeal to kids and adults alike. Since their formation in 2008, they’ve played in nearly every conceivable setting and then some: from libraries and elementary schools to dive bars and Warped Tour.
Through all of that hard work and a participation-heavy live show, they’ve built a strong following locally, nationally, and even abroad. This weekend, Koo Koo Kanga Roo will conclude their fall run with a pair of Twin Cities shows that are bound to entertain.
Friday night they’ll be playing an all-ages show at the Cedar Cultural Center while Saturday will see the duo take the stage at Saint Paul’s Turf Club, where they’ll play a 21+ show alongside The 4onthefloor and The Shackletons. While they’ll likely be playing to very different audiences on the two nights, attendees of both can bet on a fun, dance-friendly atmosphere with lots of singalongs to boot. They’re a truly unique act, and you can bet these shows will reflect it. Bring your kids, or just bring yourself — you’re bound to have a good time regardless.
Below is an interview with Bryan Atchison of Koo Koo Kanga Roo
MIM: I’m curious as to what some of your earliest influences were in forming Koo Kanga Roo were? Sonically, conceptually, and musically?
BA: Neil comes from the punk world, he was in punk bands in high school. I was more about show choir, musical theater, top 40 pop music, and Disney movies, etc. We kind of blend together. We now come together at hip hop. Koo Koo is really a smattering of all those things. When we started…it really was more about “how can we get the crowd into these songs?” As far as influences upon that, because it was really show-elemented, it was Flaming Lips shows in that era, post-Yoshimi, so they were really into doing the costumes onstage with bright, glowing happiness. Of Montreal was on that list too, their live show, and two local bands that were the primary (influences). This band that existed called “Dance Band” that kind of ruled the scene for a while. There was this real fun Minneapolis scene for a while. Weird indie groups that wanted you to dance. Then there was this band called Zebra Zebra…beyond that it’s just a smattering of everything: Hip hop, pop-punk, and top-40 dance. Even beyond that, the reason why we were a kids band playing bars back then was there was a lot of people who would play and they were “shock culture.” We wanted to be the inverse of that, and then it just kind of snowballed into “Hey we’re an actual kids band…” We’ve always said yes, and always found new ways to expand it and go further.
MIM: You guys have played a wider variety of venues than any band seen. From libraries and schools to bars to warped tour to everywhere in between. Is there a particular setting in which you guys feel the most comfortable?
BA: …We set our show up to work in any setting, and that’s kind of why we play all those places. It’s more of a challenge to the audience than a challenge to us. We can break this crowd, we can do this. It’s simple, fun and easy. Now when we tour, we’ll play family shows. We’ll play basically the equivalent of the 7th Street Entry in every city…we play early, so doors are at 6, the show is at 6:30, we get an opener in there that hopefully is a little different. We play 55 minutes and are out of the door by 8. We play those kinds of venues all around.
MIM: This weekend you guys are playing two shows in the Twin Cities — one all ages, family-oriented show, and one being a 21+ show at the Turf Club. How does your approach differ depending on that setting?
BA: We’ll play the same set both nights, but might tweak the setlist for people that come to both. The new misconception right now is that we have this dirty set…With us, the only difference with a 21+ show is that we’ll play a little bit later, so parents and solo adults can feel free to embrace it. It really is just a difference of the time of our show, which isn’t actually that different, and how much liquor’s flowing. Minnesota is a little bit different than some other places because in Minnesota kids get a chance to see it more often because we play so many times around here. This show will be a little different because they’ve heard it more times.
MIM: Do you personally have a favorite music video that you guys have released?
BA: I really like the “Glitter” one, how that worked out. That’s a brand new one. We did that with a guy we always wanted to work with. He directed a show called “Yo Gabba Gabba.” We met him through The Aquabats. We loved this video that has us as puppets (“Leftovers”) that a local guy named Nick Abdo directed, just because it was different and fun. We controlled the puppets, and man is that exhausting. You gotta have some chops. Now we make videos for every song so that kind of comes in from the concept of making the song.