When you were 6 years old, what were the things that were most important to you, besides Mom and Dad and your siblings? Dinosaurs? Horses? Candy? Spider-Man? Drawing awesome pictures of dinosaurs and horses eating candy with Spider-Man?
Mike and Dan Flannery understand the concerns of the average first-grader. The Bangor-based brothers write songs for the kid with lots of things on his or her mind. Important things such as rutabagas, socks and pillows. The Flannery siblings have recorded several albums of music already, including their collaboration on “Mee Wee: Hip Hop For Kids” and Dan Flannery’s album “Show Me How You Dance,” a song from which, “The Crab Walk,” recently won a 2008 Children’s Music Web Award.
The brothers, both of whom are originally from New Jersey, dabbled in kids’ music while they were both attending Rutgers University and working on adult-oriented music. Mike Flannery, 30, was in a band called Little T and One Track Mike, which scored an MTV hit with the single “Shaniqua.” Before that, though, he played for kids while he was in high school.
“When I was in high school I used to dress up as Batman and play at kids’ birthday parties,” said the older brother. “I’ve always had a good rapport with the smaller people.”
From 2001 until 2008, the brothers worked intermittently on “Mee Wee,” writing and producing hip-hop songs with their friend and musical collaborator Danny Klein. Now 25 years old, Dan Flannery, upon graduating from Rutgers in 2006, was at a loss for what to do with his degree.
“Post-college, I was trying to figure out what to do with my life,” said Flannery the younger. “I was riding my bike across the country, and thinking about career options. I always came back to ‘What’s the most fun thing I’ve ever done for work?’ And, well, it was writing this music. And there it was.”
Dan Flannery moved to New York City and began writing those songs. Mike Flannery had moved to Bangor with his wife, Sasha, and was in the process of building his recording studio. Eventually, it became clear to Dan that he wanted to join his brother in the Pine Tree State, and try to make kids’ music for a living. And that’s just what they’ve been doing for the past year and a half.
The Flannery approach to kids’ music is that kids deserve the same kind of respect and attention to detail that adults do — it’s just that the music is more accessible, and the lyrical subject matter is a little different.
“You have to be more careful with the musical and lyrical decisions, but really, once you get going, it’s no different,” said Mike. “If you start designing music specifically for a kid, it’s kind of like pandering. One of our goals is to respect kids.”
“Kids aren’t dumb. A lot of kids’ music is very patronizing,” said Dan. “It’s like ‘You have an imagination! Did you know that?’ Yeah, kids know that. They’re regular people too. Just smaller.”
While the brothers have fun no matter what songs they’re playing, the ones that they love the most are the danceable songs — like the music from “Show Me How You Dance,” which gets kids to dance like various animals.
“The songs that are the most fun are the ones that get the kids up and dancing,” said Mike. “We like them to get up and jump around.”
Dan Flannery’s newest album, “Love Songs for Silly Things,” is a collection of tunes about things that are just plain silly — who needs serious stuff, when there’s so much to giggle about in the world?
“There’s so much that’s bad and confusing out there. It’s important to maximize fun, and have a party whenever you can. Sometimes there’s a lesson, and sometimes it’s just fun,” said Dan. “I want music that can be enjoyed by adults too. Not just tolerated by adults.”
The brothers play shows for kids in the Bangor area, often at the Bangor Mall and at the Maine Discovery Museum. If the kids respond, they know they’ve got a hit. Barring that, they have their own musical barometer.
“My friend Seth in New York has a 2-year-old named Sadie,” said Dan. “She’s my test subject. If she likes it, then I’ll keep it.”
Both brothers work on other things, besides kids’ music. Mike runs his recording studio, 32 Central, and Dan is a getting his Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Maine. Dan also recorded an album of adult music with his band Ukelele Funk.
“I write music that isn’t for kids too,” said Dan. “The music that I write for myself is for me. The rest of it is definitely for the kids.”
All the music the brothers make for kids begs the question — will they have their own kids, eventually? Mike Flannery says not just yet; the younger Flannery shrugs.
“I don’t think about that. Probably. I don’t know. I don’t want to answer that,” he said, grinning sheepishly.