Michael & the Rockness Monsters is a band that makes catchy music for children. On October 26, Michael & the Rockness Monsters will release “Monster’s Ball,” a party album rich with themes of celebration, inclusion, and accessibility. The diverse collection not only captures the live spirit of this super energetic band but also the love and care they have for the families they have performed for over the past 10 years.
Band leader Michael Napolitano is embracing a time of expansion and change as his company rebrands to Rockness Music. Through the growth of their business they are now rising to meet the needs of the children who have aged out of their NY/NJ pre-k music classes. As Rockness Music, the organization aims to reach older groups while still remaining early childhood specialists. The broadening of their services for older children includes drum seminars, ukulele classes, choral programs and private lessons.
Michael recently discussed this album and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in music and how did you create your defining sound?
Michael Napolitano (MN): My father is a drummer. I spent my youth sitting on his kit, hanging at his rehearsals and jamming with some really great players. He was a rock and roll guy from the late 50’s on so I think that had a huge influence on what I listened too, and developed. I never intended to be a funk/rock act but when we played live our sound found itself.
MM: What inspires your songs and do you typically write lyrics or melodies first?
MN: I write many of my songs around children. I think of an idea, or they do, and it just flows. I’ll change the key, drop a new beat on it with Dean and there you have it. Some songs are the lyric first type. I’ve been writing steadily since I was about 8 years old. I have oodles of old journals and sketch books. Lyrics come easy. Matching them to music is a little more tough. Now that I think about it, it’s usually lyrics first.
MM: How did you initially form your band and, from there, how did you expand into a full-blown company?
MN: A solo career came first. I began as a performer for kids working for other companies doing some odd ball gigs. I decided to branch out on my own. I was broke, bills to pay, a child and one on the way. I can’t express how incredibly scared I was to not be able to properly provide for my children. I had to learn how to be a business person and I never did see myself as a business person – the company was formed. Soon after I realized (with the help of some amazing people) I needed a band name. My best friend, and wife said, “HEY I got it, what about Michael & the Rockness Monsters” And there you have it!
MM: Can you tell us about the content and inspirations behind the songs on this newest album, “Monster’s Ball”?
MM: My intention was to bridge the gap of children’s music, family music, and music that I enjoy playing live. Songs that have tons of interaction, songs that make you feel like you are part of the band, part of the music. Songs that get down deep in your brain and play around when you don’t even know they are there. I’ve been writing children’s music for 10 years, so I revisited some oldies and put a fresh coat of paint on them. I wanted to stay away from the full-blown silliness of Funny Faces (our last release) while still keeping a fun, light and happy vibe. “Smile” was written pre-show in NJ. The children shuffled in with uniforms and no one was smiling. I remember being young and feeling that way, I remember a lot of when I was younger, I think that keeps me in tune. Anyhow, I was like “Did you bring your smile today?” I think that’s a good story. Another is “Les Lumiere Du Paris”, my wife, my two girls and I took a trip to Paris – we in turn composed this song together. I think it’s a true beauty. As always, my daughters are the biggest inspiration on these recordings. Once saying words and making noises on the record they are now singing harmonies with me. It’s beyond inspiring!
MM: Of all your songs, which are your favorites and fan favorites?
MN: “Dance Party” (we have not recorded yet) gets everyone grooving live as does “Growing Bigger”. Until you see the band live I don’t think you can feel the energy. It’s impossible to bottle that stuff up as hard as we try. “Pirate Song” and “Squirrel Fight” have turned out to be radio hits. Children like interaction, they want to feel like they are in the song. This is why “Pirate Song” is so good. I love “Elevator Song” and off the new recording I think “Woodpecker” is my favorite. It’s a full-on landscape of sounds and it’s completely ridiculous as well, as am I.
MM: What experiences with fans have been most memorable to you and why?
MN: I am with children every day and I feel truly blessed. I don’t really consider children fans. I’m their biggest fan, for real. But seeing a child in a Michael & The Rockness shirt jumping up and down at a show is unbelievable. I hope we are inspiring future young music makers everywhere.
MM: When you started out making music why did you focus on music for kids?
MN: I did not. I’ve been writing songs since I was a kid. I really made most of my living through college playing drums for a few bands. I toured and all that. Later, I made multiple solo records under another name and played with some wonderful NY musicians – I was at the same time making records with Blue Man Group as a studio assistant and instrument technician. Both of these experiences are a heavy influence on my children’s music. Once I had children I started writing tunes for them. I think there are many people who find themselves in this situation. I don’t think I would have made music for children unless I had children of my own for inspiration!
MM: You are now revamping the company so that older kids can also enjoy your music. How tough has it been to reach out to older age groups?
MN: Not tough at all. Honestly, we said in the office, “Lets offer classes to older children” and the word got out through the cosmos or something because we immediately started getting requests! Also, please remember we have many Rockness graduates over the past ten years. They are still out there and they know who we are and that we are going to do the best we can for their families.
MM: What aspects of the rebranding are the most exciting and which are most daunting?
MN: Nothing is daunting, it’s all so exhilarating. We are combining the band and our classes, and school programs. It’s truly a magical moment for us. Our company is a family and we could not do it with the support of the people in our ranks (you know who you are!). I am so grateful for all of the people who work with the Monsters. A new website, school offerings for older kids who sometimes get left in the dust – we are inspired and experiencing a true rebirth of the company rather than a rebrand.
MM: Overall, what are your biggest goals for the future?
MN: Well I don’t want to say too much but we plan on a multi-platform experience for children and families. Soon children will be able to see, hear and hands on experience the program in one way or another.
MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
MN: Yes, if you are reading. Please play your children music every day. Play them a variety of music, from various artists.
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To learn more, visit the Michael and the Rockness Monsters websites here and Rockness Music here. Watch their music video for the new song “Fish Named Dog” here.
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