Kids' TV Host and Space Cadets Frontman Tim Kubart Talks His Journey Through Children's Music

Tim Kubart
NBCUniversal/Sprout

Tim Kubart 

A Gramy-winning and Emmy-nominated artist and entertainer, Tim Kubart has a lot on his plate these days. The children’s singer-songwriter and host of NBCUniversal’s Sprout Channel's Sunny Side Up show) stopped by Billboard on Thursday (April 27) for a very special performance in honor of Take Our Kids to Work Day.

Between his TV hosting gig to performing music with the Space Cadets (and with Postmodern Jukebox as the “Tambourine Guy”), Kubart juggles many projects that all revolve around one significant theme: children. “I think it’s really cool that there’s music out there that kids and families can listen to that kids can fully understand what’s going on in the music,” Kubart explains as to why he gravitates towards this particular genre.

Kubart’s music and stylistic choices prove to be working, with signature songs like “Superhero” that register an instant and electric connection to kids and families. His music plays with textured pop layers that are integrated with his expressive lyrics, findind a sweet balance between innocence and wisdom. "If Taylor Swift sang about breakfast it would sound like this,” he describes of his sound.

Before Kubart jets off to California to attend this year’s Emmy’s for the nomination of Sunny Side Up, we caught up with the passionate kids artist to talk music, influences and what’s next for the busy singer. 

Last year Tim Kubart and The Space Cadets took part in Take Our Kids to Work Day last year, and now you're back -- what’s the most enjoyable part about it?

It’s fun. I think kids are in a really good mood on Take Our Kids to Work day because we’re catching kids on a really good day. I think where parents go off to work is always a mysterious kind of thing, and when you get to see it happen -- no matter what it is, I think it’s really cool. I remember going to my mom’s work, and she was an accountant, and I thought that was a big day. I think the kids at Billboard are pretty excited to see behind the scenes of music industry stuff, which is super cool. 

How did you get into music -- children’s music specifically?

When I was a senior in college at Fordham University, part of graduating was volunteering and putting in a certain amount of hours of volunteer work. There was a list of places where I could volunteer and I picked a homeless shelter for women and children on the upper west side of Manhattan. I took care of kids in the nursery, I read books, and I helped out at snack time while their moms looked for housing or work.

The director of the homeless shelter found out I played guitar and said, “Play for the kids.” I said, “I don’t really know any kid songs,” and he said, “Well, learn some.” So, I learned "Wheels on the Bus” and I wrote a song called “The Octopus Song.” The first time I put on a show for the kids' shelter it clicked that this is what I do. And I’ve been doing just that for 12 years now. 

Why do you think it’s so important for young kids to have a connection with music?

I think it’s important for everyone to have a connection with music. It’s one of the greatest things we have. I think what’s really cool about a lot of children’s music today, is a lot of artists are speaking directly to what’s going on in kids' lives. I think it’s really cool that there’s music out there that kids and families can listen to, [where] kids can fully understand what’s going on in the music. 

Many of your songs involve life lessons for kids -- are those inspired by personal experiences or something else?

Mostly all of our songs are written about memories that I had as a kid, or my songwriting partner Matt Puckett had. We get together and talk about the special moments we had that we can remember with our family. We try to relate it to our own lives currently and that’s where the song starts. 

As a kid what was the biggest lesson you learned? As an adult what has been the biggest lesson you learned so far?

As an adult, I think the biggest lesson that I’m still learning is just to slow down. I have a lot of things on my plate and I try to do all of them at 100%. I host a kids' TV show -- Sunny Side Up on NBCUniversal’s Sprout Network -- I keep a band going full time, I’m writing songs for other things like Sesame Street. Sometimes all these things happen on the same day and I hit a wall and end up doing none of them. I actually owe an email to the Sesame Street team right now, but I have to fly to California for Sprouts -- so we’ll get that email out to Elmo soon!

As a kid, I think something I try to sing about in my music were the things that were hard for me to grasp as a kid, which was to really understand compassion and empathy. I think I was pretty concerned with myself when I was kid. I think a lot of kids as they're growing, it’s something they need to learn. Normally where our music hits is generally early elementary [school], kindergarten, first grade -- that’s when kids are realizing their actions impact others. So that’s what a lot of our songs are about. 

What were your musical influences growing up? Any favorite childhood bands or singers you have?

I actually was more influenced by children’s TV than I was with children’s bands. Fraggle Rock changed my life. So growing up, that’s what I loved. And also children’s books as well. I feel like Shel Silverstein books never stopped being [among my] favorite books. Where the Sidewalk Ends have been in my collection forever and still something I want to read.

As a musician in high school, I was only into pop-punk and emo music. I was in a band on Long Island called Seven Day Weekend. Now I’m mostly influenced by pop music. It’s what I love too. Also, kids love it. Kids at a very young age are already listening to Taylor Swift or listening to Katy Perry -- so the music I make needs to meet them sonically there.

When we record a new album, we’re listening to everything that’s on the radio. We’ll do one or two that might be experimental. We have an Aladdin song on our most recent album. We’ll do a Motown throwback sometimes. But generally, we go right down the middle.

Speaking of other artists -- what would your dream artist collaboration be?

This strays a little bit, but currently, if there was anybody I could sit down and write a song with, it's Sara Bareilles. That would be a slower song on the album. The one sad one on the album. I think Sara Bareilles and I would write a good sad song. We already have a sad song about moving, but maybe Sara Bareilles and I can write about a broken arm or something that kids have to go through. 

Tell me about your song “Superhero,” and what it means to you. 

“Superhero” was really the first song that my songwriting partner Matt and I wrote. Matt came to me with an idea when we were in another kid’s band and we were just looking for fun things we get excited about. When we think about kids' music we both love superheroes and comic books -- and we just wanted to write this song. It was the first thing where we were like, “Oh we could write this song together.” So, I think “Superhero” was the beginning of that collaboration.

Also, we just put out today a remix of “Superhero,” featuring Carly Ciarrocchi. The song is about 7-8 years old. Even though I had started making children’s music, it was a few years before I was able to make a record because I was just saving for that time. Finally, when I had enough money to record songs, “Superhero” was the first one. For a long time in the children’s world we were "that group that had the superhero song." We were lucky that people started paying attention to our other songs too. But that song has been a consistent in every show that we even played, so we wanted to put a spin on it. We wanted to make it sound like it just came out this year, so we changed all the music around and I think we succeeded. We wanted to make something that could be on pop radio right now. 

If you could be a superhero what superpower would you have?

I think I would like to be able to teleport because I have to get on a plane after this and I'd rather [just] be in California than go through all the security. 

Why do you think kids and families connect so well to your songs and albums?

There’s a whole kindie movement going on and I think it’s a lot of people who want to write at the core of what a good song is, which just happens to be for kids. I think we personally try to meet kids where they are lyrically and sonically. We don’t like any lyrics that will go over a kid’s head, and we don’t like anything that wouldn’t get them excited about the music immediately. 

What’s next for you?

I’m still hosting on Sprout. I’ll still be a constant presence on the Sprout Network. Tim Kubart and The Space Cadets are touring all summer long. We’re playing at a lot of northeast shows. We’re also going to be headlining the kids' stage at Lollapalooza. We have a new record that will probably be released in a year from now and in between there we’re going to start putting out a lot of YouTube content. As the “Tambourine Guy” from Postmodern Jukebox I’ll be touring all summer with them as well, doing a co-headlining tour with Straight No Chaser. Something coming from me is I’m going to start putting out videos of current pop hits and playing them as lullabies for kids to watch before bed. It’s going to be called Pajama Jams. That should be coming out 6-8 weeks now on YouTube. I also have a book coming out soon this year with HarperCollins, called Oopsie-Do! 

All in all, I just want to make stuff for kids, it’s what I do. 

Check out Tim Kubart and The Space Cadets live performance at Billboard below. 

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