Ants Ants Ants is a uniquely named musical group for children that is about to release an album titled “Why Why Why?” These new original songs celebrate a childlike wonder at the natural world, beginning with the first track, “Morning Song,” and continuing with songs about where the moon goes, what the largest mammals on Earth are like, the lilting “Willow Tree” and the soothing “Stars” above.
As every parent knows, kids never tire of asking “Why Why Why,” and the songs on this album draw inspiration from this fact. Ants Ants Ants is actually the brainchild of musical artists Johnny Clay and Dave Gulick, who are songwriters, performers and producers. They have played their music in Portland’s independent music scene for at least the last decade. Both still perform occasionally, but more often are making a living licensing their songs for film, television and brands. Lately, the duo has thrown all of their energy into creating songs and other media for the Ants Ants Ants project.
“Why Why Why?” was recorded in Portland. Sound engineer Will Hensley also worked on the 2016 Best Children’s Album GRAMMY winner Home by Tim Kubart. Chris Purdin (whose credits include Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, NPR and Laika) designed the cover art and animated music videos. Ants Ants Ants plans a day of album release concerts at the Village Ballroom in Portland, Oregon, on May 20, 2018.
Recently Johnny Clay and Dave Gulick discussed their band and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in music and what led you to create Ants, Ants, Ants?
Johnny Clay (JC): I’ve loved music ever since I can remember. I first started playing in bands and writing songs in High School and I’ve been writing songs ever since! Friends have been encouraging me to write songs for kids ever since our daughter Annie was born (almost eight years ago). Showing her clips from classic “Sesame Street” episodes and remembering all those fun songs got me thinking about it more seriously, but when I rediscovered “School House Rock” and especially “The Point” by Harry Nilsson I was hooked and the songs started coming.
MM: I’ve got to ask, how did you come up with the name?
JC: Ha! It’s not that exciting, really. I had started writing songs and coming up with little ideas and needed a place to keep those demo files, and I must have seen “A Bug’s Life” or “Beat Bugs” or one of those shows that week because the name “Ants” just jumped out at me. It was Dave who suggested (insisted really) that we change it to “Ants Ants Ants.”
MM: What inspires your songs and lyrics?
Dave Gulick (DG): You know it really depends. “Why Why Why?” was inspired by a good friend’s son. He was constantly asking questions about everything imaginable. I felt like it was a perfect song idea. Really exploring those questions that you can’t even begin to answer.
JC: For me it’s just talking to my two kids. They’re both full of questions, as kids are, and I’m very lucky in that I get to walk my second grader to school every morning. That’s honestly where some of the best song ideas have come from, talking with her on those walks. She’s the one who pointed out the falling “Helicopter Leaves” to me (something I’d never heard of before, having not grown up around maple trees). One morning she asked me what the biggest animal on Earth was and I told her it was a blue whale. She didn’t believe me at first, so we looked it up when we got to school. Of course, then she was excited to tell all her classmates about it, and I wrote the song “Blue” later that day.
MM: What makes this new album stand out?
DG: I’m really excited about how many of our musician friends were kind enough to play on the album. The community of musicians we have here in Portland is great and it was awesome to have them be a part of this record. I think that really helped with the sound and the vibe of the album.
JC: I definitely agree with Dave. We’d all played in different bands and shared stages many times, but with this band we get to make records together! For me, it’s also been a thrill to reconnect with my good friend Will Hensley, one of my bandmates from my first band who won a Grammy for mixing Tim Kubart’s album “Home” (which won Children’s Album of the Year a couple of years ago). Will mixed the entire “Why Why Why?” album and plays on a few of the songs, so that was a ton of fun for us.
MM: What can people expect from your concerts?
DG: That actually depends on the show. For festival concerts and bigger shows (like our upcoming CD Release party), we’ll perform as a full 7-piece band which we think will bring a cool energy to the shows. For smaller shows (like in-store performances) we’ll perform as a two or three piece. Singing in two and three-part harmonies and playing with multiple instruments is something you’ll definitely see at every show.
MM: You make some cool music videos; can you tell us a bit about them and the work that goes into them?
DG: I used to work at an animation company here in Portland called LAIKA/house (they make stop-motion animated films like “Coraline,” “The Box Trolls” and “Kubo”). Chris Purdin, the video animator and creator of our videos, worked there as well. We had always talked about collaborating and the Ants project was the perfect opportunity. Chris being the mega talent that he is, came up with all the video ideas and really knocked it out of the park.
MM: What are the challenges of being a professional musician?
DG: In the ever-changing world that is the music business, figuring out how to market your music is always a challenge. We’ve been exceptionally lucky and have been able to change with the times and still make the music we absolutely love to play.
JC: We’ve definitely had to learn to wear many hats, but that’s been part of the fun too. I’ve been singing and playing guitar for years, and I’ve wanted to play the drums for ages. But it wasn’t until recently that I started playing because I needed a drum track for a song and had to get it done that afternoon. I had a borrowed drum kit in my basement, so I just sat down and played the part until I got it right. Or close enough anyway. For the song “Ants,” both Dave and I dreamed of having horns on the song but neither of us had really arranged horn parts before. So, we just had to sit down and figure it out. It ended up being a great experience!
MM: Overall, what are your biggest goals for the future?
DG: Especially in this current climate it’s been wonderful to write songs about acceptance and happiness. I’d love to create more educational songs that are both fun to listen to and could be used as a learning tool. I loved watching “Square One Television” on PBS as a kid. There was a learning element with that show but it was fun and engaging too. I’ve had such an amazing time working with Johnny and I can’t wait to make more songs and videos for everyone to watch and hear.
JC: I agree with Dave here. We’re having such a great time making these records and for me, I feel so lucky to be capturing some of these memories with the kids.
MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
DG: Thanks so much for the interview. We’re excited to share this album with you.
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