How the husband-and-wife pop/folk duo turned a family tradition into its new album.
From iPads to iPods, video games and all things electronic, it's not just adults who are so often receiving such a steady stream of stimuli these days. Kids are, too.
Folk duo Martha's Trouble  decided to go unplugged in hopes that children might, as well. At least at bedtime.
The Alabama-based husband-and-wife tandem of Jen and Rob Slocumb today (May 8) released its 11th album, and first entirely geared toward children and parents specifically, "A Little Heart Like You." The set, timed to coincide with Mother's Day this Sunday (13), mixes centuries-old lullabies with new compositions penned by the pair.
Ahead of the set's release, Jen spoke with Chart Beat by e-mail to offer insight into a style of music that Martha's Trouble feels is well-worth reawakening interest in: lullabies.
You've called lullabies a "lost art form." What made you record an entire album around the concept of such peaceful, relaxing music?
Over the last few years while touring the country, we've had a lot of parents ask us, "When are you going to make a children's CD?" We also had parents say to us along the way that their child knows my voice and falls asleep to our CDs. That was really the spark that fueled the project. We thought it would be perfect to record an album for children that helps them relax and fall asleep, and at the same time, be something mom or dad would enjoy listening to, as well.
This world is full of things to stimulate and entertain children and we wanted to do the opposite and have them have some quiet time ... time to dream and imagine.
As I talked to more parents, I found out that they didn't know what to sing to their kids at bedtime. That's where I feel the "lost art form" comes in. The people that I've run into didn't know a lot of lullabies, and I felt like we needed to be reminded of them once again.
Lullabies are really just love songs. We wanted to have a collection of songs that would make a child feel loved and secure.
What have responses been from parents - or children - when you've played these songs live? (I suppose this would be the one time where if any audience members fall asleep during a show, it would actually be considered a compliment …)
We really haven't played these songs live a whole lot except for recently. This has really been something that we've done for our own kids and we've seen the positive reaction from them. The songs that we recorded are songs that we've sung to our kids as babies, and still sing for them now. They are four and six, and when testing out the CD we put it in our kids' rooms at night, and they would fall asleep soon after. It's funny, but I guess it's been tested on our own, so we knew it would work for other kids, as well.
In no way are we saying, though, "Just put our album on and your child will fall asleep instantly!" We joked about doing a money-back guarantee that your child will fall asleep to this. That really isn't what we're saying, but we know it will help them relax and hopefully that will turn into sleep.
We formed a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money to record the album (more than $10,000) and just from the people that have received it already, the response has been overwhelming. The reaction is exactly what we hoped for. It already has made it worth doing, just hearing some of the stories that parents have told us. Here's an actual post from a mom (who contributed to Kickstarter and received an early copy of the album) on our Facebook page that truly captures the heart of this project:
"I had the absolute pleasure of being introduced to your 'A Little Heart Like You' album the other day by a friend. I picked my three-year-old son up from daycare, all riled up as usual, and put the CD on in the car. There was absolute silence all the way home (a first!) When we arrived home, he cried and cried not (wanting) to get out of the car. Once I managed to get us in the house, I played the CD all evening, and he sat in the family room quietly playing with toys and listened.
"Thank you for the wonderful gift of your beautiful music, and also for a very relaxing evening, which I don't get very often! I can't wait to purchase this CD for many of my friends who have kids … and some who don't!"
The original songs on the album, like the covers, are what Martha's Trouble does best - melodic folk/pop sung in your sweet, soothing voice (so perfect for lullabies). Was it a different process to write songs geared toward children?
Yes, it was a little different. We thought about so many aspects of each song. The lyrics we wanted to be simple, yet thoughtful. And, since we were going to be speaking to impressionable little hearts and minds, we wanted to make sure that it was positive and gave them a sense of security and love.
The melodies we wanted to have an easiness about them, and repetitive patterns. We researched lullabies and wanted to make sure it fit the structure of what made a good lullaby. "Goodnight Sweet Child" was the first song we wrote for the album, even before we arranged some of the traditional lullabies on the project. The song really set the feel for the rest of the album.
How did you decide on the standards that are on the album, such as "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "Brahm's Lullaby"?
We had a lot of traditional lullabies on our list and we just went through each one to see how we would do it. There were also certain lullabies that we sang to our kids as babies, and so we wanted to include those, for sure. We ended up using "Brahm's Lullaby" as part of a mash-up with "You Are So Beautiful" and titled it "Slocumb's Lullaby." Rob's favorite song he would sing to the kids was "You Are So Beautiful" and I would sing "Brahm's Lullaby" a lot to them, so we thought it would be cool to put those two songs together as a dedication to our kids.
"A Little Heart Like You" must be such a personal work, as you've said that you've sung these songs to your own two children. What's it like sharing these family lullabies with others?
Yes, it is so personal. But, we feel like all our albums have been that way. I guess this is just a different aspect of our lives. I think Rob and I both love to be very transparent with people. We love sharing not only the beautiful things in our lives but our challenges, too. I think, with this CD, it's nice to be able to share our love for our kids.
You took quite a break between your previous two albums, 2004's "Forget October" and last year's "Anchor Tattoo." Now that you're back so relatively quickly with this new album, what can fans expect next from Martha's Trouble?
We have so many ideas and projects in the fire, but what will surface we aren't quite sure of yet. It could be a live album, or a third Christmas album, and we are always writing for the next full-length, as well.
For now, we're ready to get back on the road. We have several appearances booked throughout Alabama and the southeast at local libraries for what we are calling "The Library Tour." We are really looking forward to playing songs off "A Little Heart Like You" for kids and their moms and dads.