An Interview With Multi-Platinum Rocker James DiNanno On His New Project FIRST ROCK BAND ON MARS With Well Known Musicians, Kelly Quinn, Ryan Key and Howi Spangler!
Multi-platinum selling rockers Kellin Quinn (lead vocalist of Sleeping With Sirens), Ryan Key (formerly the lead vocalist of Yellowcard), Howi Spangler (lead vocalist of Ballyhoo!) and James DiNanno (formerly of Silhouette Rising) recently announced their new kid-friendly, pop-punk band The First Rock Band on Mars. TODAY (June 11), they released an accompanying album of the same name. The album features music geared toward parents, who would love nothing more than to have alternative options outside of “Baby Shark” and other classic children’s tunes to bond over with their kids.
The idea stemmed from the four musicians, most of them dads, who felt there was a void in modern day children’s music. Quinn stated, “I think it’s important for parents and their kids to have a song that they’re both into, one that doesn’t feel punishing to put on in the car or at home and listen to. That’s what we set out to accomplish.” The concept album was spawned from DiNanno’s 2020 best-selling children’s book The First Rock Star on Mars, which explores an adventurous journey through space, with the first ever music festival performed on planet Mars. In the book, kids are encouraged to follow their dreams, learn about the planets, and think big. DiNanno noted, “When my son Caden was born, I was compelled to create this animated, musical universe that inspires the current generation of children and their parents. It’s been very rewarding creating the book, album and cartoon. I think it’s going to be an equally fun journey for the families exploring it.” The children’s book The First Rock Star on Mars is available to purchase now via Amazon and an animated mini-series is in the works.
Learn more about The First Rock Band on Mars in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! So first things first, how did you all start this project? What made you all think that you could work together? How difficult was it to come up with a name?
This all started as a book idea that hit me shortly after my son was born called, “The First Rock Star On Mars.” When the book was done, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if an actual rock star narrated the audiobook?” I asked Kellin and luckily, he was down. Then I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if the audiobook ended with a song.” Kellin was also down. So I brought in Howi and Ryan to complete it with Kellin and I. Kellin and I were so happy with the result that we decided to do a full EP in support of the book.
How are you all feeling at this point about the pandemic and the recent openings? Are things slowly getting back to normal life for you guys? Have you gotten vaccinated?
Feeling good. I’ve been vaccinated for awhile. I’m trying to appreciate the little nuances of togetherness a bit more now.
Since you have all been in different bands prior to starting this project, what has it been like bringing all that experience into this group? How has that helped shape the sound of The First Rock Band on Mars?
It wasn’t anything we ever really discussed. I think we all sort of had an intuition on what the music for this animated universe would sound like. Perhaps that is where the prior experience came into play. We all seemed to have our mental antennas tuned into the same frequency.
Let’s talk about your album. How excited are you all to release it today? Where did the idea first come from to write music for parents that is also fun for their children? How has being a father yourself helped to create these songs?
I think everyone is really happy with the way this came out. I am really proud of it. It’s funny, I didn’t think I would have any real attachment to the tracks at first since they are fictional and geared towards families, but the result has been the opposite. I feel like the songs are saying a lot. I just hope that families enjoy listening together— we had fun making the tracks!
The idea came from the book and just sort of built from there.
Without being a father, I wouldn’t have thought of the book idea and none of this would have ever happened. My son, Caden, is my inspiration for anything I do these days.
How does the children’s book, The First Rock Star on Mars go together with this music?
The book is about a young boy pursuing his dream of (surprise, surprise) becoming the first rock star on Mars. The story follows his journey to space. We made sure that all of the songs supported the story’s visuals. Lyrically, everything is about the universe (sometimes, metaphorically.)
Can you talk about some of your favorite songs on this upcoming album? Where did the inspiration for them come from?
I don’t have a favorite. This really is a concept album. That sounds a bit ambitious for a family friendly album but I really love it as a full front-to-back listening experience.
It’s really neat that at a first listen, these are just pop songs. They don’t sound elementary. Kellin wrote a track called, “Comet,” based off a little lyric idea that I had. It sounds a bit like a 90’s Brit Pop ballad. It’s very powerful and I don’t think parents will be expecting that.
What do you think makes for an ideal show for this project?
The only way we are performing is if it is actually on Mars. If Elon Musk wants to get us out there, the martians will get a show!
How do you think your hometown has influenced the sound and how you all carry yourselves in this group? If not, why do you think that is?
When I wrote the book, The First Rock Star On Mars, I was trying to encourage big, sometimes abstract, thinking. I had a great upbringing in a small Massachusetts suburban town called Wakefield and really cannot complain. But, I think in general, small towns can sometimes give way to small thinking, or settling.
I definitely had some teachers and people throughout my early life that tried to dismiss big ideas. I suppose that influenced this project because the book and music encourage the reader/listener to defy that.
What musicians have really been inspiring you all since you first started making music? Who would you all love to work with in the future?
I can only speak for myself. But I’ll just say that I have been very lucky to have Howi, Kellin, and Ryan support me on this. They are all extremely talented and versatile. They’ve inspired me throughout this entire process and it wouldn’t have been possible without their combined talents. I can’t ask for more.
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
I just hope that the music is equally enjoyable for parents and their kids. Hopefully, that can create some fun bonding. I also hope the book, album, and future animated shorts encourage kids to think big and pursue their dreams; especially the unique ones.