The Okee Dokee Brothers are returning to Swallow Hill Music on April 17 for not one, but two shows in Daniels Hall. Fronted by Denver natives – and former Swallow Hill Music students – Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing, the Minnesota-based Brothers are hitting the road ahead of the release of their latest album Saddle Up: A Western Adventure.
Saddle Up is the band’s third “Adventure” album, joining Can You Canoe? – which won the Grammy for Best Children’s Music Album in 2012, and the equally great Through The Woods.
We recently asked Joe some questions about Saddle Up, growing up in Colorado and the band’s connection to their fans.
Songs off the new album like “The Great Divide” and “Jackalope” deal with places and, um, creatures, that will be familiar to a lot of Colorado kids. How did growing up in the Centennial State inspire you in writing and recording A Western Adventure?
Joe: Growing up in Colorado played a huge part in the making of this album. Justin and I always draw from our shared childhood memories when writing songs for kids and families, and when the setting of an album revolves around places like the Rocky Mountains we can’t help but find inspiration in those past childhood experiences. Some of our earliest memories of singing together, writing songs, learning harmonies, and playing music around the campfire came from our Colorado excursions growing up, and those moments can be found in many of the songs on this new record.
Your first album, Kids With Beards, came out in 2008. No doubt you have fans that have stuck with you over the years. What is it like to watch your fan base grow up? What have you learned from them?
Joe: Watching your fan base grow up is one of the most rewarding parts of being a family musician. As our writing and sound evolves, so do our fans. They come along for the ride and we get to see them jump into the new songs at shows. We’re all on this journey together, and it’s a great progression to share with families.
I saw you recently had a “parents night” concert in the Twin Cities, where you asked your grown up fans to leave the kids at home. How do you prepare for a show like that compared to the all ages shows you are famous for? Do you play original songs that haven’t made it onto Okee Dokee Brothers records? Would you consider releasing a non-children’s album?
Joe: That was just a fun idea we had to change things up a bit. Nothing too serious or long-term, just a night out for the parent fans. We played some original songs that we’ve written about our significant others, some old drinking songs, and some covers we used to play in bars (Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Fleetwood Mac, Stones, etc).
Your new album is focused on the West, and previous albums on the Mississippi River and the Appalachian Trail. Are you willing to share some of the ideas that you ultimately decided to pass on – whether it was an idea of your own or suggested by someone else? Anything out of left field that you look back and laugh at?
Joe: Sure! We considered biking along the Continental Divide, sailing along the Pacific Crest, dog sledding in Alaska, fan boating through the Everglades, and hot air ballooning around Australia! None of those really stuck… but I guess you never know.
What’s next for the Okee Dokee Brothers? Outer space?
Joe: Yes! Outer Space. Thanks for asking! …no, we’re still figuring it out. We have a feeling our next adventure will pick us!
At your last Swallow Hill Music show in 2014, you mentioned taking lessons here in your youth. What are your lasting impressions of Swallow Hill Music?
Joe: We loved taking lessons and attending concerts at Swallow Hill! It is one of the biggest reasons we got in to music (and especially folk music) when we did – no joke! I took some harmonica lessons there and even a songwriting class early on, and Justin took his first guitar lessons there. The opportunities at Swallow Hill set us on a good path. So, thanks for that!
This interview was conducted via email with Swallow Hill Music Marketing Manager Barry Osborne.