As a historical musicologist with training in classical piano and clarinet, Louis Epstein ’06 didn’t expect his most successful musical endeavor to be a children’s music duo. But since he and his friend Daniel Groll started Louis and Dan and the Invisible Band last year, they’ve recorded an album and played concerts around the upper Midwest.
Epstein and Groll, who are both professors, also play in local rock bands, and their children’s music career began with a few Saturday afternoon shows at a local microbrewery. Since then, they’ve recorded an eponymous album that highlights their experimental style, and they’ve made plans to play Fest du Nord, a family music festival in Minnesota.
“With our other bands, we feel like we have to fit into a pretty narrow genre character. We’re much freer with this children’s music to experiment,” Epstein said.
Available on Spotify, Apple Music, and Bandcamp, Louis and Dan’s first album showcases their creative approach to children’s music. “Hot Dog” and “Have You Got a Word?” sound like traditional rock songs, while “Yupster Food Song” is performed a cappella with limited percussion in the background.
“We approached this as an exercise in writing songs that we ourselves would not mind listening to,” Epstein said. “We don’t sit down and say ‘What would a 5-year-old enjoy here?’ We say ‘What would make a good song?’”
Just as they explore multiple genres in their music, Epstein and Groll write lyrics whose meaning transcends that of a whimsical children’s song. “Yupster Food Song” pokes fun at “yuppie” foods like almond butter and kale chips, while “What Do Princesses Do?” is a winding hypothetical about Disney princesses as adults.
While children may be familiar with the princesses, they may not fully understand the humor behind the idea that Belle grows up to be an academic. But as Groll noted, “It needn’t be the case that everything in there is geared towards them.”
Since parents listen to the music just as much as their children do, Epstein and Groll keep parents in mind when writing lyrics and composing music. With songs that Epstein calls “a little on the nerdy side, a little on the navel-gazing side,” Epstein and Groll have succeeded in engaging both children and parents.
While they have plans to play in Chicago at the Beat Kitchen in October, Epstein and Groll don’t plan to tour the country like Koo Koo Kangaroo or the Okee Dokee Brothers, two of America’s best-known children’s bands. However, Epstein, an assistant professor of music at St. Olaf College, and Groll, an associate professor of philosophy at Carleton College, both feel their music careers complement their academic work.
“As professors, we find that our creativity is stoked by doing this other work on the side —making children’s music or playing with our bands. We sometimes feel emboldened to take liberties in our scholarship,” Epstein said. “Dan and I don’t want this to be our full-time jobs. We tour locally. We’re both college professors, and we love our jobs.”