Lisa Mathews and guitarist Mikel Gehl once wrote songs for grown-ups as the indie rock group Love Riot. But now, as Milkshake, they write lively and singable songs for children. I spoke to Lisa about the similarities and differences of writing and performing for older and younger audiences.
What is different about writing songs for children?
It’s a good rock song first. The melody’s got to be great, easy to remember. Simple isn’t dumb. And then the subject matter has to be something they care about and also understand. When I had my little girl I wanted to get her some music and I never bought the typical kid music, more world music. We were listening to all my favorite songs, Beatles Green Day, The Killers and she was too young for me to even bother trying to explain. And then when she was older, there would be a song with another thing I don’t want her to hear. Even though we loved the music, it was the words that were the problem. I was writing her songs from the beginning, counting songs, alphabet songs.
Do you consider the Milkshake songs rock?
We write in all kinds of genres, whatever befits the song, Cajun, Bert Bachrachy kind of stuff, a uke. We are treading the line, walking the tightrope between alternative adult rock and songs children can relate to.
Does your daughter have a favorite Milkshake song?
Her favorite is “I Love You.” I wrote that for her.
Was it a challenge to adapt to different subject matter for the song lyrics?
That’s the whole beautiful thing about kids’ music, the pallatte, this whole vast grand palate of subject matter that we didn’t have before when we were doing adult music. That tends to be pretty much “I love you,” “I drank too much.” Sports, being in a parade, imagination. Friends and family are a big thing, feeling competent is a big thing, knowing you’re loved. Feeling normal, fitting in. Our song “Enemies” is inspired by a book by Maurice Sendak called Let’s Be Enemies. Our song “Statue” is inspired by Mike’s daughter, who jumped on top of a rock and said she was a statue.
What is it like to perform before kids? They can be very enthusiastic!
They are wonderful! We’ve played places that as adult rock stars we only dreamed of playing. We never knew the definition of a green room before, but now we play venues that have them!