True Kid Rock
The band that even makes the mamas and papas very happy
By Billy [Eye] Ingram
What is a home without children? Quiet.” — Henry Youngman
Eye had the distinct pleasure to talk music the other day with Chuck Folds who, along with Steve Willard, and Eddie Walker, constitute North Carolina’s most popular children’s act, Big Bang Boom. This whirlwind trio possesses the ability to whip toddlers and grade school youngsters — and even their parents — into a grand mal frenzy: Everyone go-go-ing, pogo-ing and slow mo-ing from the moment this band takes the stage with their almost criminally infectious lyrical concoctions.
Big Bang Boom taps into that frenetic Greensboro sound epitomized by Bus Stop in the 90s. Small wonder, it was Folds, Eddie Walker, Britt “Snuzz” Uzzell and Evan Olson who formed arguably the city’s most successful pop band around 1991. Not much more than a year later, Bus Stop entered and won Dick Clark’s USA Music Challenge — the American Idol of that decade — broadcast on national television.
Bus Stop split up in the mid-’90s. That’s when Folds, along with guitarist/vocalist Steve Willard, concentrated on their touring cover band, Rubberband. All the while, in the back of his mind, Folds was toying with the idea of forming a combo called Big Bang Boom, for no other reason than he liked the name.
“Anybody with kids in the last 20 years knows, when you have small class sizes, like 11 or 12 kids, everybody has to invite everyone in the class to their birthday party.” Attending and/or throwing a dozen birthday parties a year, it’s not long before bouncy castles, The Little Gym, even our spectacular Science Center would fail to jumpstart the youngsters or bored parents, for that matter.
“When my oldest son was about to turn 7,” Folds says, “we were like, oh my God, what are we gonna do this time?” Folds asked long-time collaborator Steve Willard to join him and, “We cleared out the living room, put up a bunch of lights, then played a rock show as a made-up band called Big Bang Boom.” The rug rats went Richter scale nuts, their parents just as enthusiastic. After that electrifying 30 minute set, the adults were inquiring if Folds could perform at their offspring’s next soirée. “Well that’s funny,” he thought. “Because this isn’t really even a thing.”
Chuck Folds was scribbling down children’s songs as an aside, giving little thought to actually recording them, merely musings he noodled around with solely because he had little ones of his own. “I was hired to play bass at a recording session,” he tells me. “The producer, Ralph Covert, had a Disney children’s music show called Ralph’s World. This was around 2002.” Covert handed Folds his latest preschooler oriented CD. That got him thinking about his own roughhewn kiddie compositions and about actually finishing them.
Since forming in 2007, all three Big Bang Boom bandmates compose the songs. They also switch off on lead vocals, backed by Chuck Folds’ buoyantly bumping bass, Steve Willard’s kaleidoscopic guitar riffs and the action punctuated by Bus Stop alumnus Eddie Walker’s pop punk, rat-a-tat-tat, rimshot heavy riffs. The result is an effervescent explosion of irreverent (but respectful) melodic mashups spoofing life’s most basic conundrums.
Folds and his bandmates grew up in the ’70s, were teenagers in the ’80s, before becoming parents in the ’90s. “When they were little, our kids were listening to pop bands like Cake, They Might Be Giants and Weezer,” Folds says. “They liked it. So we approached the arrangement, the production, the instrumentation, the melody, everything, no differently than if we were going to record a song for regular pop radio. We just adjusted the lyrical content to address kids’ and their parents’ point of view.”
Honing their craft, they’d jam on Friday afternoons at the Greensboro Children’s Museum. “One of the ladies working there loved to have us play,” Folds says. “We’d just do it for free practice space. Then we started getting paid, playing for birthday parties.”
There’s a tonal groove you may not be aware of that Big Bang Boom neatly plugged into: Kindie. That is, indie music geared for kindergarteners that won’t drive grown-ups up the bloody wall. “It’s only been in the last decade or so that parent-friendly kindie artists emerged from an underground movement to become more mainstream,” Folds tells me. “It’s all very organic. It’s not run through major labels or record companies. This is all independent.”
You might not be surprised to learn that the kiddos today are so plugged in they have their own music festivals. “We played Lollapalooza in 2012,” Folds says. “You have people going to Lollapalooza that attended when they were in their 20s but now they have kids. So there’s a family stage called Kidsapalooza.” (Even if such a thing had existed when I was growing up, no way my parents would have taken us!)
Can an artist really be taken seriously if their core demographic pedals around on three wheels? In 2013, a band called the Okee Dokee Brothers won the Grammy for Best Children’s Album of the Year for their fourth disc, Can You Canoe? They subsequently garnered three more Grammy nominations. “These guys were like our heroes. That’s what really turned the corner for kindie music,” Folds says. “Because here’s a really freaking good musical group that recorded a great album and they won the Grammy.” Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, a kindie band out of Asheville, hip hopped their way to a Grammy of their own in 2017. “It’s one of the few areas in the music world that’s evolved the way it has,” Folds says. “Kind of like the way rock ’n’ roll came about.”
Word spread rapidly about Big Bang Boom. With their first album, Why Can’t I Have Ice Cream, planting aerosonic earworms into young minds around the world, Parenting magazine raved: “These former rocker dads are creating kids’ music you won’t be embarrassed to blast in the carpool line.” A great example is “Hippie Mom” from the CD Because I Said So!, with jaunty lyrics like, “With pretty flowers in her hair, she’ll let me pick the clothes I wear.” Then it ends with, “You’re so much fun I scream and shout, I want to tell the world about my hippie mom.” Check it out on YouTube.
A song the band opens their live shows with, “Big Bang Boom,” blasts out word salads like, “We’re gonna jump and shout, your underwear is inside out, don’t put boogers in your mouth, someone’s gonna throw you out!” I mean, that’s good advice no matter what your age!
Your chance to experience Big Bang Boom will come during this year’s NC Folk Festival, September 10 and 11. “How many people actually make a decent living off of music? It doesn’t happen very often,” says Folds. As a side gig, he and Steve Willard formed a cover band called SNAP! that entertains at weddings and other private events. OH
Billy [Eye] Ingram is the author of a new book, Eye on GSO, a series of essays focusing on Greensboro history, all previously published in O.Henry and Yes! Weekly.