As the editor in chief of The Creative Independent, an impressive new webzine launched by Kickstarter in September 2016, Brandon Stosuy is helping to enable artists and innovators to share advice and anecdotes concerning their creative processes. Partisans of outstanding music journalism and cognoscenti of aural extremes have known and relied upon Stosuy for years, as a leading advocate for innovative sounds and performers during his noteworthy run at Pitchfork, and as a curator involved in presenting memorable events at MoMA/P.S. 1 in New York City, the Broad Museum in Los Angeles, the Basilica Soundscape festival in Hudson, NY, and National Sawdust in Brooklyn.
In October, Stosuy added a new line to his burgeoning C.V. – children’s book author – when Simon & Schuster published Music Is…, a charming board book featuring vivacious, enchanting illustrations by Amy Martin, a Los Angeles-based artist who has worked on projects for Obama for America, The New York Times, McSweeney’s, Death Cab for Cutie, Sufjan Stevens, and St. Vincent, and who illustrated the award-winning 2011 children’s book Symphony City. Aimed chiefly toward the youngest beginning readers and their parents, Music Is… offers a simple yet sophisticated overview of musical attributes and sensations, presented with a colorful verve and rhythmic flow that achieve their own sense of musicality.
During a recent conversation in a Greenpoint café, Stosuy related some details about his own creative process in producing this unique, special project, and talked about a dance party he’ll host in its honor in Brooklyn on Oct. 16.
STEVE SMITH: What made you consider taking on this particular challenge initially? Or did someone approach you about it?
BRANDON STOSUY: Sort of a mixture. I used to be a contributing editor at The Believer, and was talking to Andrew Leland at The Believer about maybe doing some kind of kids’ book for McSweeney’s at one point. Then when we started pitching it, thinking about it, it was getting too complicated, and wasn’t actually what I had in mind. We both just got really busy and nothing ever happened, and it was because it wasn’t something that struck me right away – we were thinking maybe we could do some sort of book of advice, like how to raise a kid, in sort of a not-jokey but less formalized/New Agey kind of thing, and from my viewpoint. And nothing ever really came of it.
But because I often tweet about my kids, or Facebook-post about my kids, or post photos of them, my friend Jeff Salane, who’s at Simon & Schuster and used to be a drummer in the bands Orchid and Panthers, one day hit me up and was like, “You know, you always have these amazing stories about your kids and these funny things that they say… have you ever thought about writing a children’s book?” And I was like, yeah, I actually had, and gave him this concept that I’d had. And he said, “What would you think about doing something much simpler, for younger children?”
My kids…when I first started doing this, Henry was still five, so they both still fit into the age bracket, and because I read my kids books every night, at this point I kind of know the language of children’s books. So then we just sort of talked about it: “What if it’s really basic, to explain what music is to children that age?” And it sounded like a good idea. Then Amy Martin, who illustrated it, she and I started going back and forth figuring out this is what the words will be, she came up with images that would work, we shifted things around a lot…
How did you and she connect?
She was someone who’d done a lot of stuff for McSweeney’s and in that zone, and was someone that Jeff had always wanted to work with. He introduced us and we got along really well, so we decided that it made sense, so we started collaborating from there. It was, for him, this illustrator that he always thought would be perfect for a book of this sort, and then it just happened to be that she and I had some overlapping connections. And we worked well together, and they went for it. The whole process was really fast. I’d just sit down and start writing it out: here’s what the words were going to be. Let’s have some of them kind of rhyme and some of them not, some of them speed up in the middle, like in the jazz part, and then slow back down, things like that, just kind of the language of children’s books that I’d picked up from reading so many to my kids.
I think, honestly, the hard part was Amy doing these amazing drawings, because I think the illustrations are beautiful. They’re so detailed and colorful. You look at a lot of books and the cover will be nice, but the images are not really as hardcore throughout. She just really went for it with each page, which is amazing; every page you’re like, wow, she really put a lot of effort into this. Pairing her images with the words worked out really well.
The one thing we were really lucky about was getting Björk to write the blurb on the back. I think a lot of people are going to be like, “Oh, a kid’s book… oh, Björk wrote on the back!” She’s always been someone who’s into education, and into children learning about music, and talks in interviews about how she learned about music in all the wrong ways as a child, when it was shoved down her throat in a really academic way. I thought that she’d be into the spirit of this book, so I sent her a PDF before it was out and she was really into it.
This just fit in with the whole feel of the book; for her it was about introducing kids to music in a way that’s not over-complicated, based on emotion and feeling and sound rather than being super-strict about it. My six-year-old, Henry, takes drum lessons with Greg Fox [of Liturgy, Zs, Guardian Alien, and more], who’s a really good drummer, obviously. But the way Greg started off was like, “All right, we’re just going to count” [taps table], that kind of more hardcore way of learning, and for a while Henry thought, “This isn’t any fun.” But after a while, they found a balance between doing paradiddles and all that other stuff, but also let’s just write some songs and get together and play.
I think sometimes kids can be a little turned off by something if it’s presented to them in too complicated a way at the beginning – it almost sort of crushes their spirit a little bit. So we just had this idea: Let’s make it really fun.