Jamming with the Jimmies: Ashley Albert’s songs celebrate being a kid
Ashley Albert is a different kind of children's music performer. She has no kids herself. She has no significant musical training. And she has no silly performance gimmicks. But she does have a certain something else.
"Razzle-dazzle is what I rely on completely," Albert says by phone from her home in New York. "I don't have a particularly mellifluous voice. I just have razzle-dazzle."
This fall, Albert and her band, the Jimmies, released their second album, "Practically Ridiculous." It's full of easy, upbeat hooks, showcasing Albert's bright and versatile vocals.
"I'm not writing songs for kids," she says. "I just am writing these songs, and it just so happens that my sensibility is most closely aligned with a third-grader."
Albert, 38, says writing songs comes easily, that the hooks just pop into her head. Because she doesn't play an instrument, she sings a tune into her phone, builds the song from there and eventually takes it to a musician friend who, with meticulous direction from her, plays it.
"I know exactly what I want it to sound like, but I don't have any language to express it. So he just has to keep playing something, and I'll be like, 'No, no,' and then I'll be like, 'Yes! Yes! That one!' "
The technique seems to work, except, say, when there's a mariachi band on the train.
"I got this really great hook when I was in the subway," Albert says, "and I kept singing it to myself over and over so I wouldn't lose it. . . . Then a mariachi band came into the car. I was so desperate to keep the hook that I just kept trying to sing louder than the mariachi band. People thought I was just absolutely insane."
The lyrics come easily, too, often inspired by everyday life. Albert wrote the song "Toothless Lament" after seeing a girl who was missing her four front teeth try to eat a cracker. "I can only approach from the left or the right / If I ever hope to crunch off a bite," the song goes.
While not entertaining kids, Albert makes a living doing voice-overs. It's her voice saying, "Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!" on the cereal commercial. She worked on the MTV animated show "Daria," and it was her voice-overs for Nickelodeon that led to the formation of the Jimmies in 2007.
The network needed a kids' band for a show, and even though Albert wasn't in one at the time, that didn't stop her: With the help of a couple of guitarist friends, she formed the Jimmies in a week, complete with performable songs.
"I always wrote little Shel Silverstein-y kind of poems and stories for kids, and I never actually did anything with them. When I started this band, no one ever said to me, 'That's weird!' They were sort of like, 'Hmm, that makes sense.' It just sort of worked somehow, and I don't know why."
The TV show was canceled, but the Jimmies survived.
"I love the concept of sprinkles and jimmies on ice cream," Albert says. "There's no reason to have them. They don't even impart any flavor. They are just ridiculous. They are just there for fun. They are just there to add a little sparkle to your day."
So it is for the band.
"I have always loved things that were made expressly for kids, that really just let kids celebrate being a kid and not have to worry about anything else. So I feel like if that's what I'm providing, then I really can't ask for more. I just want kids to feel sparkly and fun and happy, and I feel like that's what sprinkles do and hopefully that's what the Jimmies do."
--Moira E. McLaughlin, Oct. 28, 2011