• Thu, May 13 2010

Rules To Rock By: The Real School of Rock

I’m super-excited about Rules to Rock By, a YA novel by author and musician Josh Farrar. (It’s out in July from Walker Books for Young Readers). Rules to Rock By is the story of a kick-ass middle-school girl named Annabelle Cabrera, who has just moved to Providence from Brooklyn with her little brother, her parents, and the drummer in her parents’ band. Annabelle’s parents have a well-regarded indie band called Benny and Joon (shades of Kim and Thurston!) and basically neglect their kids while they record and perform. Annabelle plays bass and was in a popular kid rock band back in Brooklyn, and she misses her grandmother, who cared for her while mangling the English language so her parents could gallivant around, like, the Mercury Lounge. Also, Annabelle wants to start another band in Providence.

Annabelle is an awesome role model for young readers. What obsesses her is music–not boys, or clothes, or social standing, or makeup. And she is no prematurely jaded hipster, just a real girl who loves to play music and aspires to write songs. I want my Hannah Montana loving 7-year-old daughter to read this book. Annabelle is to Hannah Montana as Kathleen Hanna is to the Spice Girls. She will inspire kids to make their own music. (For more rock inspiration for tweens, check out John Crossingham’s cool how-to book, Learn to Speak Music, which you can find at www.owlkids.com)

What first attracted me to this book is that it has a companion soundtrack. How cool is that? I have never heard of a book that comes with a soundtrack. The author (this is his first novel, but he’s a musician and has written over 200 songs) gathered kid and adult musicians to record tracks “by” The Bungles, the band Annabelle eventually puts together. The part of Annabelle is sung by Sofie Kapur, the 15-year-old lead singer of critically acclaimed Blame the Patient. Annabelle is inspired by the real band Deerhoof, and Deerhoff covered Swedish band LiLiPUT’s track “Hitch Hike” for the soundtrack. You can hear some of the tracks at www.rulestorockby.com. You can also check out a cute short video about the book.

I was interested in the process of making music that is meant to represent the music of a fictional band, so I got Sofie and Josh to answer some questions about it.

What was it like creating music supposedly made by a fictional band in a book for young readers?

Josh Farrar: Producer Chris Daddio and I tried to make the album sound like a real teen band: scrappy and fun and a little sloppy, but not too sloppy. The sound had to be polished enough to be able to listen to repeatedly, but rough enough to sound like the Bungles, the band from the book. We knew we had to have some teen musicians involved – not just the two singers, Sofie Kapur and Justine Skyers, but instrumentalists like guitarist Hunter Lombard and Sofie’s bass player brother Anders Kapur – to give the music an extra pop and energy, and the adults who played on the record had fun pretending they were back in their high school garage bands for a little while.

Sofie Kapur: It seemed different from recording songs with my band. I was supposed to be a character younger than myself while still giving my performance everything I could. I had to really think about how I wanted my performance to come off, but that made it more interesting.

How were the songs written?

JF: The record is about 2/3 covers, 1/3 originals. We wanted the record to feel like it was a really, really well-recorded rehearsal, and we wanted to capture the sound of a garage band that was just starting to find its legs. Most young bands do that by experimenting with covers, and that gave us a chance to put our own spin, or The Bungles’ spin, really, on songs by Cheap Trick, The Breeders, Santigold, and others. Kevin March, Chris Daddio, and our friend Sivan Gur-Arieh also did some original writing, and I wrote most of the lyrics. It wasn’t a huge step to write in the voice of Annabelle Cabrera, the main character, since I had just written the book in her first-person. But when it was all over, I think we all wished we’d written more originals; we had a blast writing them.

SK: My band and I wrote one original song for Josh. We wrote the instrumental parts and melodies first. We had some trouble writing the lyrics though. We were trying to write from the perspective of a young teenage girl, which was particularly difficult for my older brother, but finally we sat down and just wrote the lyrics in about thirty minutes. We had read the book already and tried our hardest to write with Annabelle in mind.

Do you imagine that people will listen to the album while reading?

SK: I hope that people listen to the album while reading. We’ve put a lot of time into it. I feel like the book and CD compliment each other well. It’s another way to get engrossed in the book, which is my favorite way to read.

JF: I hope that people who get into the album wind up seeking out the book, and vice versa, but they’re meant to stand on their own. It’s not like you have to play track three while reading chapter three, or anything like that. We just wanted to create an experience where you could have fun reading the book, and then put the album on and feel like you’re actually listening to Annabelle’s band. And maybe that each medium would help bring the other to life a bit more.


You can check out some more of Christina’s musing on music and life at Fallen Princess.

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