Travel Boulder (2022)

New Family-Friendly Music from Jenn Cleary

Jenn Cleary, who makes blues-leaning rock music, looked to established artists who made children’s records when writing her second family-oriented album “Happy Day.”

“There are a lot of artists who, once they went and had kids, created children’s albums,” Cleary says. “Like Kenny Loggins from Loggins and Messina, I’m a huge fan of them. I’ve got so many – Sweet Honey in the Rock, Marlo Thomas’ ‘Free to be You and Me’ was an influence when I was a kid. Even Jerry Garcia did a kid’s album.”

She says the record, released on June 17, was a bit of a gift from the pandemic, to be able to have the time to sit down and write two cohesive children’s records. The other is “All Together Now,” released last year.

“I’ve always had some kids’ songs in my other albums,” she says. “But it was just like one or two on each album, which didn’t make it as cohesive as these. With this I could focus on the kids and create a kids act.”

She hopes to get her live act into schools, museums and libraries because the songs are educational in nature. Kids can be heard singing on the record and she brought some of them on stage at a recent performance at the Junkyard Social Club in Boulder.

“I had seven kids come in and sing the songs,” Cleary says. “Several of the kids were there. They get up on stage with me and sang the songs. It was hilarious. It was really cute. I did (the record) from beginning to end and did a couple from last year’s album.”

Both albums are very collaborative, and about half the songs are written with others. Topics tackled in songs include imagination, snack time and candy and its relation to good oral hygiene. She’s also tackled going to sleep and animal poop on a song that appeared on last year’s record, the Billy Holiday-inspired “Scat’s the Word for That.” That song is a crowd favorite, especially among kids, for obvious reasons.

“A lot of the songs have a positive message,” Cleary says. “Some of them touch on appreciating the great outdoors. ‘Take a Walk in the Woods’ is a message to myself and kids that we live in this beautiful place in Colorado and New Mexico but I find myself too much on my phone or my TV.”

The song, “I’m a Yak,” is a collaborative effort with her daughter, Dorje Dolma. Dolma is originally from a rural area of Nepal but came to the United States as a child. She was adopted by an American family and grew up in Boulder. She has detailed some of her experiences in the book “Yak Girl: Growing Up in the Remote Dolpo Region of Nepal.”

“She sat down and told me all these ‘yak facts’ about her experience of raising and herding yaks up until about the age of 10 on the border with Tibet,” Cleary says. “I was able to write out the lyrics.”

The song is built around a damyen lute melody played by Dolma’s birth father, who still lives in Nepal, and a recording of villagers in her home village singing a traditional Nepalese folk song that weaves in and out of “I’m a Yak.” Dolma played bells and a whistle used to herd yaks.

“It’s very traditional,” Cleary says. “It could be a thousand years old. It’s just one of those old, old folk songs appreciating nature. Dorje came into the studio and guided the producer on how she wanted it to be a combination of the new and old world.”

Dolma says the song marks the second time she’s collaborated with her mother on a song, the first being “Families of all Kinds” on “All Together Now.” It was her first songwriting experience, and she jumped at the opportunity to follow up. Yaks are an important animal in Nepal, and people use them for transportation and food.

“I always wanted to do something about yaks,” she says. “I talk about growing up in Dolpol at 13,000 feet and no electricity. I was a herder and I was taking care of the yaks every spring, summer and fall. Yaks have been and still are an important part of life to people in the Himalayas.”
Dolma says the animals also represent a sense of peace, and she considers them to be one of her spirit animals. She sees the song as a way to give thanks to yaks and educate people about them.

“We just did a CD release for ‘Happy Day’ and I had all these pictures and drawings of yaks,” she says. “All the kids asked, ‘What is that?’ That’s an animal that’s not always in schools. Not every kid knows about them.”

She adds that she considers the song “Asian fusion” because it stylistically merges eastern and western music. Music has always been a big part of her life. She likes world music – specifically Tibetan, Nepali and Bollywood – and especially when musicians combine sounds from different cultures. New age meditation music and classical also hold spots on her playlist, anything relaxing really.

“I listen to music all the time,” she says. “Music is the only way I can create art or write. It just helps me and I listen to it every day.
She adds that she taught school in Boulder for eight years and often struggled to find music for kids that was education.

“One thing I really love about both my mom’s CDs is all of her songs are very educational and inspiring,” she says. “It’s something both kids and parents can listen to. As you are listening, you’re learning something new.”

Cleary adds that she set out to make music that kids and parents could listen to that wouldn’t send parents looking for the nearest cliff. Anyone over the age of 23 who’s seen the Muppet Babies or an Alvin and the Chipmunks recently movie can relate.

“That was the kind of intention – to merge those two worlds, and not make it too little kid squeaky,” she says. “Parents can enjoy it, too, and want to put it on.”

“Happy Day” and “All Together Now” are available on all major streaming platforms. For more music and information, visit jenncleary.com.

VoyageDenver (2022)

Conversations with Jenn Cleary

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jenn Cleary.

Hi Jenn, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I have always loved music—from singing along to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 back in my youth, to picking up the acoustic guitar in middle school, to going on to writing my own songs in my early 20’s. My original aspiration was no more than wanting to be good enough to sit around a campfire and have sing-a-longs with friends. However, when I moved to from Boston, MA to Boulder, CO back in 1988, I took my amateur skills to busking on the Pearl Street Mall and found that performing and engaging with the passersby was enlivening. I then dove into voice, guitar, songwriting lessons and even took a rock band class. I was hooked. Before long, I had my own rock band and started recording albums of my own. I have mostly been performing acoustic rock and blues, with family-focused tunes woven in. The children’s genre became a focus in 2020 when I finally had the time to develop this part of my musical expression.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
The music business is hard. As musicians, we typically to start with open mics, tip gigs and/or late-night bar shows. It is great to have the opportunities to build from these types of venues, but it is also a grind. Many a time, when starting out, I played to nearly empty rooms or on the other end of the spectrum, bars packed with people talking loudly over my performance. It can be quite humiliating. I had to learn to still always put on the best show that I could, to enjoy it for myself and remember that you never know who might be listening. I have been surprised many times with people coming up to me after a show to say how much they truly enjoyed the music. And I didn’t even know they were listening.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I am a folk-rock singer-songwriter from Boulder, Colorado, with many years of performing on international stages. Highlight shows include Colorado Rockies games, E-Town, Sundance Film Festivals, blues and folks festivals and multiple European tours. I have a range of song styles and perform bluesy, acoustic solo shows and also rock out with my full electric band. I have released two albums of original songs (Breakin’ Loose, 2006; Back to the Wheel, 2010) and one of bluesy covers (Blues Full of Heart, 2018). My first children’s album, All Together Now, won prestigious recognition from the 2021 NAPPA awards for being the best in the music industry. I was the Back to School winner of the 2021 Fall Parent and Teacher Choice Awards and a 2021 International Songwriting Contest semi-finalist for her song “Our Wild Family.” I just released my current album of children’s songs, called Happy Day, in June.

We’d love to hear about any fond memories you have from when you were growing up?
The favorite part of my childhood was being able to play outside in the woods. My brother and I and neighborhood friends spent hours every day exploring, climbing trees, picking berries, rolling over giant logs, and building forts. This was the inspiration for my latest song, “Take a Walk in the Woods”. It reminds me, as an adult, to get off my computer (which I am one of right now 😊), as well the variety of other screens that I tend to get glued to these days and get outside. Colorado is such an amazing place to live and I need to remember to enjoy it!

National Parenting Product Awards (2022)

Happy Day has family-friendly, rocking kids’ tunes for all to enjoy! Super-duper fun and educational songs with lots of positive messages about appreciating our environment, using our imaginations, and validating the one and only you, plus a wonderfully relaxing sleep song and even a tune with a yak’s perspective, co-written with the author of Yak Girl.

Evaluation comments from our NAPPA Awards Music Judge:

“By leading off her second album of children’s music with the cheery title tune, Jenn Cleary clearly establishes the upbeat, joyous mood that fills Happy Day. After getting kids excited about their day on the highly danceable “Happy Day,” Cleary invites youngsters to use their imaginations on “Magical Music Train,” which is a running theme throughout the album. The Colorado-based musician suggests putting down your devices and explore nature on “Take A Walk In the Woods” and plants the idea of growing your own food on “Plant A Garden.” Cleary cleverly flips the moral of “I Like Candy” from being a pro-sweets ditty to one supporting healthy oral hygiene. She also is inventive with her use of animals. “Turtle Time” is a tune (and concept) about the benefits of taking a rest during a busy day, while “I’m A Yak” is creatively packed with all sorts of yak facts. On “Fly Seagull Fly,” Cleary nicely utilizes a conversation with the gull to convey the idea about enjoying your life. A similar “be who you are” sentiment is the kindly, simply expressed in “Only One You.” The album ends with the gentle, low-key “It’s Time To Go To Sleep,” and I always give musicians extra points when they put sleep songs at the end of the album (isn’t that the natural place for them?). Additionally, Cleary grounds her down-to-earth songs with a complementary, and engaging, folk-rock style that is fleshed out with touches of a harmonica, organ, accordion, woodwinds, and horns. With Happy Day, Cleary has succeeded in creating a set of music that will be bring more sunshine into your day.”