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Still the Shazzbots: Columbus “kindie” band hasn’t forgotten their retro roots

J.R. McMillan

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Music for kids tends to get a bad rap for good reason. From the Wiggles to Barney, inane to annoying, somewhere along the way, “kids” and “music” became decoupled, as though children don’t deserve sincere songwriting, and education and entertainment also became mutually exclusive.

That’s why parents are over the moon for the Shazzbots, the credible Columbus kids band that might just save the universe from one more infernal refrain of “Fruit Salad” or a hyperkinetic purple dinosaur professing his static affection.

Founded by Ian Hummel more than a decade ago, the Shazzbots began a live show which eventually evolved into an Emmy-winning television pilot, funded entirely by loyal fans. Their latest album, LIGHTSPEED!, is their long-awaited third release and an apt metaphor for their change in trajectory, marked by a growing international audience.

Kyle Tracey

“When we first started, it was just songs. But I didn’t want it to just be me. I wanted it to be more, something along the lines of Sesame Street, with characters and a backstory behind the songs,” recalled Hummel, whose nautical alter ego Captain Captain travels the galaxy with an acoustic guitar and an archetypical band of misfits in a heavily-modi ed Winnebago. “We weren’t even sure what form the band would take. For a while, there was no drummer, only percussion. For a hot minute, there was even an accordion.”

Hummel recruited friend and bass player Mike “Navigator Scopes” Heslop to help craft the band’s elaborate backstory, with characters whose talents matched those of their real-life counterparts. Josh Tully, better know to kids as Professor Swiss Vanderburton, moved back to electric guitar when Steve Frye, aka Watts Watson, settled in behind the skins. That initial lineup has remained unchanged, but there have been three female members of the crew. Amber Allen as Debora Nebula, Molly Winters as Aurora Borealis, and Diane Hummel as Luna Stardust, who rounds out percussion and also happens to be married to a certain space captain.

“It’s important to have female role models, and you can see from the stage how little girls connect with Luna Stardust,” noted Hummel. “Her costume is still girly, but you can tell she’s a member of the crew. There’s a team dynamic you see in cartoons like Voltron and Thundercats I knew I wanted in the Shazzbots.”

Though the age of their audience has stayed the same, expectations for the entire music industry changed course. Social media was barely a blip when the band began, and streaming services were almost nonexistent. Now they’re essential. But this too is where the Shazzbots shine, a retro band ready for a new frontier.

“After filming the television show and getting it on Amazon, we kind of hit a wall deciding what was next,” he admitted. “So we spent nearly a year creating content for YouTube, something new every week. Kids still listen to songs in the car, but they also watch music videos on their iPads. You have to be available everywhere they are.”

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Another giant leap into this new era for the band required rethinking the brand. Matthew Hubbard, one of the filmmakers behind the TV pilot, helped tap into the emerging “kindie” industry, clever slang for independent music catering to kids. Unlike commodity kids bands created to make a quick buck, so-called kindie artists are steeped in the sincere songwriting tradition that predates the digital age. They Might Be Giants and Dan Zanes are more contemporary ambassadors for children’s music with a message, but even Johnny Cash and Woody Guthrie released kids albums every bit as sophisticated as their more famous fare.

“Embracing the kindie label, as well as working through a distributor and with a PR person who understand that audience, has really opened doors,” Hubbard explained. “We’re now available on Sirius XM Kids Place Live and Shazzbots albums are in more than 600 libraries nationwide. There are also all of the major streaming services, Spotify, Amazon, and Apple as well helping to reach a global audience.”

The irony of the Shazzbots now broadcasting songs via satellite hasn’t escaped the band. It’s probably impossible to be more on brand. But that doesn’t diminish the analog roots and inspiration behind LIGHTSPEED!, available on CD, digital, and as an actual vinyl record with an intricately illustrated gatefold cover featuring a cross-section of the ship created by artist Joel Jackson, whom many may recognize as the ominous pirate from the television pilot’s cliffhanger ending.

“These new streaming options and the release of the new album have given us more reach and more information than we’ve ever had before,” Hubbard noted. “We know how many people are watching the TV show, which is really starting to take o in the UK. We can see which songs are doing well in Australia, a market that is also growing due to songs getting play on the in flight kids entertainment service on Quantas airlines. We use these insights to decide which song should be next for a music video, or maybe shouldn’t, at least not right now.”

“Having all of this data can be overwhelming, and you can overthink it. It can reinforce your instincts as a musician, but you also have to be careful not to let it affect you too much as an artist,” Hummel explained. “These are great tools to have, but you can’t let them keep you from pushing boundaries by trying to find a formula for success. Sometimes those simple little songs will surprise you.”

Plenty of musicians have been there before, watching an outtake or alternate track that barely made an album resonate unexpectedly, despite prevailing opinion. It’s also why live shows remain the best market research for the Shazzbots, even now that some of their earliest fans are old enough to be in college. Requests from the audience, often songs that may not have the obvious hallmarks of a hit single, still spark something unexpected. It’s evidence that those obscure deep cuts have sticking power too, feedback a synthetic studio-only kids band just wouldn’t understand.

“I was playing at Big Fun last weekend, and a dad and his two daughters were there. The youngest daughter was wearing one of our t-shirts she’d gotten as a hand-me-down from her sister who is now a teenager,” Hummel revealed. “The older daughter still knew all of the songs. It’s something they shared. She grew out of the shirt, but not the Shazzbots.”

For more on the Shazzbots, LIGHTSPEED!, and upcoming live shows, visit theshazzbots.com.

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Arts & Culture

Virtual Experiences bring culture to our couch

614Now

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Now that we're all stuck at home for the foreseeable future, we could use some entertainment beyond hours of Netflix bingeing. And yes, Carole probably did it*

WOSU Public Media has come to the rescue by putting together a list of local, virtual experiences to enjoy from the safety and comfort of your bunker. Here's a list of just a few upcoming events ranging from music to the arts.

Sunday, March 29
Columbus Symphony’s Russian Winter Festival – The Columbus Symphony broadcasts its Russian Winter Festival ll concert, featuring masterpieces by Prokofiev, Borodin, Rimski-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky at 1 p.m. on Classical 101.

Columbus Goes Live – The Cyber Festival –  A virtual entertainment experience streaming across different pages to support local performers who are directly impacted by the critical shutdowns of venues during the COVID-19 outbreak. Join in and make history by supporting your favorite bands, comedians and performers in the Columbus area.

Why not a virtual bar?

Brewdog is even getting in on the act with its upcoming, Brewdog Online Bar. They plan to "open" for business at 6pm on Friday, March 27th. The bar plans to feature live beer tastings with our co-founders James and Martin and other beer experts, homebrew masterclasses, live music & comedy and more.

Brewdog will be sharing further details soon and a complete schedule of the events on their Twitter and Instagram accounts.

*Carole, as in this Carole.

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8 things to do this week that don’t involve human contact

614now Staff

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It is a strange time to be alive, Columbus. With the concerns and cases of coronavirus on the rise, you may be feeling worried, fearful, and/or unsure of what to do.

In addition to washing your hands to protect you from the virus, you may want to consider being more of an inside person this week. To curb cabin fever, consider these eight activities to keep you occupied indoors.

Plan a getaway

Once the threat of coronavirus is over, which Gov. Mike DeWine assured would happen in yesterday's address, you'll be ready to get the hell out of Columbus. Consider planning a trip to one of the Scarlet Oaks cabins, Gervasi Vineyard in Canton, Yellowsprings, or the birthplace of bourbon!

Schedule a whacky road trip

Already have a vacation on the books and worked into your budget? No problem! Opt for a cheaper, shorter adventure with one of the destinations highlighted in our Worth The Drive series: Buckeye Express Diner in Bellville, Kewpee Hamburgers in Lima, Cincinnati's Hathaway's Diner, Dietsch Brothers chocolate in Findlay, and Waldo’s G&R Tavern.

Test your Columbus knowledge

You're sick of all your board games and you hate the idea of spending another weekend in front of the tube. Liven up your entertainment with Columbus trivia! What is the hottest month on average? What is Hilliard's median household income? What year did the Kahiki close? See how well you know your fine city.

Binge local podcasts

Not only do podcasts entertain, inform, and engage you, they're also great to binge while multitasking. Podcast + mopping the kitchen? No problem. Podcast + walking the dog? Easy. Podcast + julienning veggies? Careful… but definitely possible. Be sure to support local podcasters! We're sure you can find something that'll pique your interest in the list below.

Get hooked on knitting

What better time to dive into your hobby than a worldwide viral outbreak? And though cold weather is almost completely behind us, it's never too early to get a jumpstart on those Christmas gifts. Click the button below to learn more about where to find materials and resources.

Explore the pasta-bilities of a home-cooked meal

You’re probably hungry after all that knitting. Flex on the fam by whipping up a delectable home-cooked Italian meal. You'll have to slip out of the house to grab your groceries from famed local market Carfagna’s, but trust us, it'll be worth it.

Get hyped for Ohio State Buckeyes 2020-21 season

With no spring game to rev your engine pre-season, you may be feeling a Buckeyes football void right about now. To help plug it until the opener against Bowling Green on Sept. 5, check out old Ohio State hype videos below. O-H!

Read the latest issue of (614) Magazine

The physical copies of the March issue of (614) Magazine are flying off the racks, but you don't have to go out into the world to read it. To learn more about the Columbus esport revolution, the latest food and drink news, and other updates in the community, click the button below to read the digital issue.

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Listen Local: 10 Columbus podcasts to binge

Regina Fox

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The thing with binging TV is that you have to be using two senses at once to be engaged: sight and hearing. That really cuts down on the possibilities of getting other things done simultaneously. But, podcasts on the other hand require only one sense—hearing—so the productivity possibilities are exponentially greater.

Podcast + mopping the kitchen? No problem. Podcast + walking the dog? Easy. Podcast + julienning veggies? Careful... but definitely possible.

That, plus the power of spoken word has the ability to inform, entertain, and inspire you unlike any other media.

Now that we've presented a great case for podcasts, consider subscribing to one made right here in Columbus.

The Rock Doc Chronicles

Interviews, Current Events, Entertainment

Being the on-call doctor to some of your favorite musical acts comes with a lot of stories. Dr Randy Sharma (@rockdocohio) sits down with some of his famous patients to discuss whatever comes to mind.

Ohio v. The World

Culture, History, Places & Travel

An Ohio History podcast, hosted by Alex Hastie.

Rogue Squadron Podcast

Culture, Entertainment, Hobbies

Star Wars Comedy, craft beer, gaming, and more. It’s the rowdiest podcast in the galaxy!

Momcast

Culture, Entertainment, Self-Help

Columbus, Ohio moms Mindy Drayer, Mikaela Hunt, and Stacy McKay discuss everything relating to being moms and parenting on weekly installments of the Momcast.

Columbus' Entrepreneurs' Podcast

Business, Entrepreneur

Columbus Entrepreneurs’ Podcast is primarily for members of the Columbus, Ohio chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). The stories are inspiring and focus on core principles of EO, including speaking from experience instead of advice giving, building peer learning experiences, and focusing on the top and bottom 5% of our lives.

Chatimals

Entertainment, Hobbies

Chatimals is the nature podcast where information meets imagination. Each episode covers one kind of animal with an eye out for all the goofy, surprising animal facts.

The Sounds of Bustown

Culture, Entertainment, Music

A bi-weekly podcast featuring interviews about the musical creation process with people in the music scene in Columbus, OH.

Thrive and Connect

Culture, Self-Help

How to live your life in a more genuine, simpler manner and develop abundance in all aspects – yourself, family & friends, and business relationships.

Columbus! Something New

Culture, Entertainment, Places & Travel

Why do we do what we do? Why does C!SN exist?

  • To introduce listeners to local entrepreneurs and big thinkers
  • To be a conduit between community and events, museums, and new experiences
  • To be a value to entrepreneurs as we broadcast them to the world
  • To be a value to listeners as we expand their world and bring them new ideas

The Digital Analytics Power Hour

Business, Technology

Each episode is a closed topic and an open forum – the goal is for listeners to enjoy listening to Michael and Tim share their thoughts and experiences and hopefully take away something to try at work the next day.

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