Jaret Reddick is the band's lead singer and primary songwriter, and he wants to make you happy. And if that means trying to bring the word "gay" back into the lexicon the way Mary Poppins used it, then he's going to do it. Quirky and fun can still be meaningful.
Bowling For Soup recorded the theme song for the wildly innovative kids show Phineas and Ferb, which is about step-brothers who spend their summer building time machines and roller coasters. The show features lavish musical numbers, and Jaret has a recurring role as the lead singer for an '80s band called Love Händel.
Jaret Reddick: Well, it was actually a pretty cool thing. I got a really random call from some folks at Disney and they were developing this show, and the two creators were Dan Povenmire and Swampy Marsh, who had both worked on The Simpsons together; Dan went on to work on Family Guy amongst other things, and Swampy went on to create a show called Rocko's Modern Life. They came together at a restaurant over dinner and Dan drew some pictures on a napkin and said, "I'm thinking about doing this cartoon, but I won't do it without you." So the idea was born.
And luckily enough for me, they were both big Bowling for Soup fans. And so as they were developing this they had the first 13 episodes drawn and voiced and stuff, but incomplete. They had this theme song that was about 25 seconds, 30 seconds long, and they wanted to turn it into an actual radio single. And so they contacted me directly and said, "Would you be interested in performing a theme song, but also writing a song around it to try to make it into a 3 and a half minute song that we can play on the radio?"
So I was like, "Sure, yeah, I'd love to do that." And I was headed out to L.A. anyway, I was actually working on an album that we were doing. I went in and I had this meeting with the head of music and animation there at Disney, and it was just a really cool experience. They gave me a tour of the Disney lot. And as many songs as I've done for Disney movies in the past, I've never actually been on the campus.
So we went to lunch, and then after lunch they were like, "Hey, do you want to see some of the episodes?" So I walk into this conference room and there's my name and the Phineas and Ferb guys up on this big screen, and they showed me the first 13 episodes, unfinished. I took notes and I flew home the next day and I wrote "Today is Gonna Be A Great Day" around the original theme song, and it took me about 20 minutes. I sent them an acoustic demo, and they were just like, "We love this!" We went in the studio, I think just a few days after that, and recorded the song with my guys in Bowling for Soup. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Songfacts: Do you have Phineas and Ferb on a lot in your household?
Reddick: It does come on a bit. My kids really like it. But my kids don't watch a ton of television. My kids are 7 and 4, but they're fairly active kids. My son, Jack, is 4, and he's really into sports and just wants to be outside no matter the temperature. And my little girl is really artsy and she wants to dance and sing and stuff. One of the things that draws them to that show is the musical aspect, which is just genius.
Songfacts: And you appear in some of those musical numbers.
Songfacts: Is it Dan and Swampy that are writing a lot of the songs on that show?
Reddick: They write predominantly all the music. Martin Olson is the head writer and usually it's those three sitting in a room. So when I'm lucky enough to be in L.A. and be invited into that room, it's always great, because they're super open to my ideas. And I write from a completely different world. Dan was in a band forever and Swampy's really musical and Martin's musical, they're all musical guys. But I'm a little bit younger and I write all different kinds of music. So it's a fun experience, because they'll just be like, "We would have never thought of that." And Dan tells people, "Jaret taught me how to make this chord" and whatever. So that makes you feel really, really good, whereas these guys are just uber successful now. And they don't forget where it all comes from. They're great people. It's an amazing, amazing organization.
Songfacts: Well, they clearly like you and Bowling for Soup, because they keep writing you in. Love Händel, I thought that was going to be a one-off thing, and then they start showing up again.
Reddick: Well, it was their most popular episode up until that point. And yeah, they keep writing us in. It's pretty nuts, because we had the "Summer Belongs To You" special that came out with an album that was out on iTunes this summer and we just did the Christmas album. And it's really funny, because stuff that I'm singing on, sometimes it's Bowling for Soup and sometimes it's Love Händel, and when it's Love Händel, it doesn't say anything about me. It doesn't say "Jaret Reddick" or anything like that. It's just "This is Love Händel." But yeah, they're great. We've really hit it off, and they come see us every time we play L.A.
Songfacts: That is excellent. It's like how people are so proud when they get on The Simpsons or Sesame Street. Phineas and Ferb is going to be the same thing.
Reddick: Yeah, it's most definitely already like that. And then as we add to things, I get more and more opportunities there. The last time I was there, they were writing – there's a feature film that's going to come out, and it remains to be seen whether or not it'll actually happen in theatres or if it'll be just a television thing. But they were like, "We want you to help us write the climactic fight scene." And it was just great. I'm sitting there in this room with them and we hash out this song called "Robot Riot" and it's like, man, this is gonna be up on the big screen. I've had a thousand songs on the big screen, but for some reason this one means the most.
Songfacts: So at this point do some of your songs get Disney-fied? Meaning, are you writing songs for Disney or turning Bowling for Soup songs into Disney?
Reddick: Bowling for Soup is its own thing. When "Punk Rock 101" and "1985" were on Radio Disney, we were in their top 3 for the better part of about three years. Our audience did get young, but we pretty much stayed true to who we were. Going from being a bar band to a band that's got a hit and on Radio Disney, the audience got a little bit younger, and our live show changed a little bit in that it wasn't rated R or NC17 anymore. Our big thing is, look, we can do PG13. And if it's a fair or something like that, we can do PG. But it's impossible for Bowling for Soup to do a G-rated show, because lyrically you just can't get around it. We've only done one G-rated show ever, and it was for Radio Disney's tenth anniversary. And I had to sing all of the edited lyrics. That was a great challenge for me, trying to sing the songs the way they don't go.
So I write Bowling for Soup songs, but they have been nice enough to allow me to do more stuff with Phineas and Ferb creatively, so it's fun. I go in and write songs with Dan and Swampy and with Martin Olson, who's the head writer there. We sit in a room and they'll be like, "Okay, here's what's going on in this episode, and we're thinking this for the vibe," and we just rock a song. So it's been a really, really fun experience, and I'm really looking forward to doing much, much more.
Songfacts: You said that you cranked out the full length theme song in 20 minutes. Are there other examples of songs that you wrote really quickly like that?
Reddick: Yeah. It's crazy how the really, really good ones just come out. There are exceptions. I mean, "High School Never Ends" was a two-day process, because it was me and Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne sitting in a room trying to combine two ideas into one. He really wanted to do a song about tabloids and stuff like that, and I really wanted it to be more. I had the "high school never ends" line for a couple of years, and I wanted it to be more about life. And so the idea was, Okay, let's combine those things. And I think we were successful at it. But again, his mind works completely different than mine, so it took a couple of days.
But "Girl All The Bad Guys Want" was my very first co-write ever, and me and Butch Walker sat in a room and literally wrote that song in 30 minutes. I mean, it was done. And then we turned around and did that same thing with "Almost" and "When We Die." Both those songs were written in one evening over the span of about 2 hours. So when an idea is there and you've got a great concept and a line sort of appears there, sometimes it just flows out of you and sometimes it's a beating. It definitely varies. But more often than not, whenever one just comes out of you, it's going to be one of the stronger ones.
Songfacts: Are these coming from personal experiences?
Reddick: Do you mean Bowling for Soup songs?
Reddick: Bowling for Soup songs are definitely personal experience. But sometimes they're observations. So sometimes it might not be me that I'm talking about. And sometimes I combine ideas. So for example, on the newest record Sorry for Partying, I have a song called "BFFF." It's basically a song about my best friend, but people are like, "Well, okay, did all that stuff really happen?" Yeah, everything in the song happened, but they're all different guys. I mean, I have a lot of super close friends, I'm a lucky guy. So yeah, it's all real. And sometimes I exaggerate things a little bit.
The one I get asked about the most about is a song called "Running From Your Dad," and that is a real story, but it didn't actually happen to me. I was there, and I did see a guy get chased away by a girl's father with a shovel.
Songfacts: What's one of the more personal songs that you've written?
Reddick: Man, for me, the first several Bowling for Soup records, I was really super self-conscious about writing anything that was emotional and personal, and even if I was writing a song that was real - say, "Surf Colorado" or something like that, I would always try to make it funny, because laughing is my defense mechanism. I mean, that's sort of how I get past anything that's super heavy, you know, make a joke. Even if it's just to myself, that's how I deal with stuff. So I didn't really know if people would want to know what I was really thinking about something, or that I was an emotional person or whatever. So I guess one of the first ones was probably a song called "You and Me" that ended up being on Let's Do It For Johnny. It was the first sort of ballad-y song that I wrote where I actually mean this; this is real.
So I started doing about one of those an album. And then by a couple of albums ago I was super comfortable with, Now I'll pretty much put anything I'm thinking out there and keep it real. So now you've got songs like "When We Die," or "Me With No You." Especially "Goodbye Friend," which was a b-side on the last record. That is as real as it gets. Right from the heart. So if people don't like that song, it hurts a little bit more, you know?
Songfacts: What are some of the topics and the subjects that are important to you?
Reddick: I'm a relationship guy - even on the funny songs. I mean, it's hard for me to write about things that aren't relationship-based, and it doesn't necessarily have to be girl/guy. It could be mom/dad. I think that's one of the cooler things about "When We Die" is that the verses, Butch wrote one and I wrote one, and his is more about waking up the next day after a big fight with the person that you love, and mine is more about going home for the first time in ten years after not seeing your parents. And how both of those things, as much as the first one happens and is as unique to anybody's situation as the second one, is sort of all the same in that song - that every minute you've got to make it count, as cheesy as that sounds. Because even since I've been talking to you, these minutes are gone. That's it.
I forgot what the question was [laughs]. I got on a tangent there. Sorry about that.
Songfacts: We were just trying to find out what it is that motivates you and your values that go into your songs.
Reddick: Whenever I sit down to write, my objective is to make someone feel good, or to make them smile. And that is the way that I've always been. Especially in Bowling for Soup, that is full-on my absolute goal – I want to make people happy. And sometimes I make people sad, but I get more emails about the sad songs than I do the funny songs, because they're the ones where people are going, "Man, thank you for doing that, for putting that out there, because I really feel like that, and now I know I'm not alone." I had a really hard time with that, as Bowling for Soup started to get a little bit bigger.
Around the same time as we had a big hit, the Internet made it so people had better access to you with emails and with social networking and stuff like that. Now, if a kid wants to say something to me, they can say it right now and I read it. Of course, it wasn't like that back in the day. The first of this whole wave of communication was something that was a little bit difficult for me to understand, like how when I would get the "your song saved my life, I was gonna kill myself," it's like, Man, that is way too heavy. You need to lighten up and go talk to somebody. Now, the first thing I say is, Man, you really need to talk to your parents, and if it's your parents that are the problem, you need to go see somebody at school or something. I've gotten a lot better at being able to deal with that and I'm better with my responses, I think, these days.
Songfacts: What are some of the songs that get these kind of responses?
Reddick: "Much More Beautiful Person" gets that a lot, "When We Die" gets that a lot. You'd be surprised; sometimes it can be a funny song that just hits some sort of a chord with somebody. I had a song called "Andrew" on Let's Do It For Johnny. It's a song about being bullied at school and you having the upper hand at the end of the day. It can be really anything, but most definitely the ones when I write about being young. Even "High School Never Ends," for example. I'll get kids that are like, "I just want to get out of here!" I understand what you're saying.
Yeah, it sort of runs the gamut. I'm surprised sometimes when I get an email that's like, "This particular song saved my life!" and I'm like, well, I was sort of just kidding on that song, but I'm really glad you found something. I just listened to Sorry For Partying at the gym today, because I forgot my iPod and it was on my phone. And the song "Wake Up America," people are like, "Is that about a girl? Or is that about our country?" And I'm like, "Well, it's about whichever one of those you want it to be." I know what it's about for me. I know whether it's about a girl that I grew up with in high school, or whether it's about the state that America is in. I know exactly what I mean by it. But you need to translate that and make it mean something to yourself. So it's a little game that I like to play of double meanings, sometimes triple.
Songfacts: Well, I guess "I'm Gay" is a good example of that.
Reddick: [laughing] Well, "I'm Gay" really isn't like that. It's just sort of taken that way. With "I'm Gay," I was watching Mary Poppins with my daughter - Emma was super into Mary Poppins. That was her treat after we would get ready for bed, she'd get to watch a few minutes of it, then it would be continued the next night, and then go read books and go to bed. But I think Mary Poppins is talking about how "gay" the robin is, and she means the robin that's feathering its nest is gay, because it's really happy. And I was like, it's so funny, because I remember being in third and fourth grade and the songs that you would sing in the school back then in music class were super old songs that had been in the school system for 20, 30 years, and they would use words like that. It was like, wonder why that word just sort of went away in its original meaning. I mean, I'm a happy guy, I'm taking it back.
Songfacts: It was interesting when you were talking about writing your songs, how you use exaggeration a lot, where I think many writers start shrouding everything in metaphor to make their point. Do you do that consciously?
Reddick: The exaggeration thing?
Songfacts: The intentional lack of metaphor.
Reddick: Well, sort of. That's a two-fold question, because it gets into the whole exaggeration thing. I wasn't a songwriter when I started writing songs. I was just in a band and no one else would write. I didn't even know how to play the guitar, I'm self taught. I was a drummer that sang later on, because we could never find a singer, and who picked up the guitar because nobody would write songs. And I've just always been a driving force of like, Well, if this needs to get done, this'll get done. And that bites me in the ass daily, because I still am such a micro-manager, I still approve every single Bowling for Soup photo and everything that is in existence.
That said, as I started writing, I was really uncomfortable with being too poetic. I mean, the whole metaphor thing or certain sorts of imagery, I was uncomfortable putting that out there for other people to hear, because I thought getting that from me would be like, "What are you talking about? That doesn't make any sense." And probably looking back on it, I wouldn't have got that reaction, but to me, I would have. And so I just wrote very, very literal.
My first band where I was actually writing was a band called Cool Fork, that was two years before BFS, and was basically the launching pad for Bowling for Soup. Everything was super literal. There was no metaphor, any of this is the way that it is. And then on Bowling for Soup's first album I tried to branch out from that. I wrote a song called "London" and a song called "Pesticide," that actually, when I hear them now, I'm like, that doesn't make any sense. That was me trying to be poetically awesome, but it doesn't work. Maybe it does to some people that are lucky enough or unlucky enough to have that album. So again, I just stuck with what I knew, and that is essentially telling stories. I credit country music with teaching me how to write songs, because you tell a story, and then you can stick a fart joke in it or talk about something, and then people are just like, "Okay, well, that makes me smile."
Songfacts: Do you know how to write music?
Reddick: I do. Now I can write on guitar and I can piddle away on piano. I can read music, slowly, because I was in school band and you had to learn some of those things. So I'm a little slow at certain things, but my best friend, Linus, we've been producing the last couple of Bowling for Soup records together and we write songs a lot. He's really, really, mythically educated. He's self taught, but he got into theory and all that sort of stuff, so he knows all of these modes and just all this crazy stuff, where I'll sing something and he'll say, "Well, no we can't do that, because in relation to this, that is wrong." And I say, "Yeah, but it sounds good." And even with Erik (Chandler, bass player), early in Bowling for Soup days, you'd see him with a really confused look on his face, and I'm like, "What's your problem?" "Well, what you're doing doesn't make any sense. But it sounds amazing." So he tells people all the time, You just got to open your mind to it and realize that sometimes you can break rules.
And so Linus and Erik, and now many musicians tell me all the time that they wish they could put some of that aside sometimes. And I wish I had a little bit more of their sense of what's right and wrong, and they wish that they didn't know some of the things so that they could experiment a little bit more.
Songfacts: You mentioned that "Girl All The Bad Guys Want" was your first co-write, which was very successful. Was Butch kind of the antithesis of you being the guy that would structure things, or was he more like you?
Reddick: Butch can be loose when Butch wants to be loose. I mean, as musicians go and as creative minds go, I can't really say enough about how great Butch Walker is, and I think that goes to show why so many musicians are such huge Butch Walker fans. There's no rules with him, and you can see that even on his albums. I mean, every album can be completely different and he can change himself constantly and it always makes sense. But at the same time, Butch was the first real outside producer that we had worked with. We had guys that came in and co-produced it with me, but I'd never really said, "Okay, let's change these songs to be better." And it was really cool, because the biggest thing that I learned from Butch was a production thing in that you don't have to go in a room with a band and get your stamp on their songs just for the sake of changing something. Because all of the changes that he made were very, very subtle. For example, the song "Emily" on Drunk Enough To Dance actually had a little intro, and we all played together. When we started chopping, the only thing he changed in that song, he said, "You should just start that with guitar and then have the music kick in on the second half of the verse." We did it, and everybody's eyes just lit up. Just one thing, one little subtle thing that guy heard in his brain, and it made that song the second single in the U.K.
But as far as writing, he's able to get in that mode of where the band is. So here we are, a band doing power chords and good harmonies. And he's very much able to dumb himself down to that and then add things to it. I pride myself on thinking that I have that ability now, too. But at that point, I would have never understood what that was all about.
Songfacts: Now, you mentioned "Emily." Was that a real girl?
Songfacts: Is she the same girl from "Ohio"?
Reddick: No, actually – and so I did sort of get my heart broken twice, but the second one was my fault. But, interestingly enough trivia-wise, the girl in "Ohio" is the same girl from "Surf Colorado." She actually did go to Colorado, so I couldn't go back there again, and I wanted to name-check my theatre arts teacher, and his name was Leland. So Leland rhymed with Cleveland, and so as that verse was getting written, the next line became, "She said she needed a break, a little time to think, then she went to Cleveland with some guy named Leland that she met at the bank." I was writing that song with my friend Zac Maloy and we just sort of sat there for a second, and then almost at exactly the same time, we go, "There's nothing wrong with Ohio." And that song was born.
Songfacts: All right. So you talk about – not as literally as you were just saying – sitting down to write. Do you actually think, Okay, I'm going to write from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. today, or do you just wait for the stuff to hit?
Reddick: Up until about three years ago, I would sit down and make myself write. And the good thing about whenever I got into doing more co-writes is that's the way it is. It's like, Okay, I'll meet you here, and this is how much time I have, and this is it. So it's those songs that I write on my own that got a little bit tricky. I had writer's block for the first time ever and it lasted a few months, because I didn't really know how to make myself sit down and do it anymore. And so many distractions with the Internet and all that. I mean, the whole Drunk Enough To Dance album was written on tour in the back of the van. I had a little distortion pedal and a guitar and a spiral notebook and wrote the whole record. After that it was like, Okay, we gotta get a practice place and we've got to figure this out. So I really had to figure out how to do it. So it was a bit of a challenge, it was really sporadic, until about three years ago when I moved into my house and now I have a little studio here where I can record demos. All the Phineas and Ferb stuff that I sing for the show I do here at my house. So now I have to do that. I have to take the laptop, stick it in the other room and be like, "Look, I'm gonna write." If it's not for Bowling for Soup it's for something else – I'm writing a Kelly Clarkson pitch or I'm writing for a girl who's gonna come in and write with me, try to have some ideas for her, whatever. So I don't make myself work on any one particular thing. But I definitely have to put the computer and the cell phone in the other room and just be like, Dude, you gotta focus here.
Songfacts: How did you end up doing "1985"?
Reddick: "1985" was interesting because we were coming off our biggest record, which was Drunk Enough To Dance. And we went in thinking that we had a complete album, and we recorded a complete album. We did Hangover You Don't Deserve, and it was pretty much done. Butch produced three songs on that album, and we recorded the whole record at his place. And his manager called and said, "Hey, a song came across my desk. You know Mitch Allan, right?" I'm like, "Yeah." "Well, he wants you to call him." So I call Mitch Allan from SR-71, he's like, "Dude, I've got this song. It's a freakin' hit for you guys. It sounds like you." And evidently that whole conversation happened because Mitch was pitching his band to Jonathan Daniel, who is Butch's manager, trying to get this record that they had put out in Japan released here in the United States. And JD said, "Dude, that sounds like a Bowling for Soup song." And Mitch said, "You know what? You're right."
So my thing to Mitch was, Look, there's some lines in here that definitely don't sound like something I would say. Like, I would never say, "The rubber broke." Or any of those kind of things. So I was like, I definitely think it needs a different bridge, I think it's gotta have more of a catchy intro. So basically I said, If you'll let me have my way with it and make it a Bowling for Soup song, then I think it'll work. And history shows that it did indeed work.
Songfacts: You mentioned how you are a micro-manager. Does that extend to the videos?
Reddick: Yeah, it does. It extends to everything. Honestly, you really can't name anything that I don't have my hand in with this band or any other thing that I'm with. We were even self-managed for the first 13 years, so our management that we're with now we signed with three or four years ago. And up until that point I was doing everything with a friend. And now I've gotten to where I can at least throw a few things their way. But even they have a hard time keeping me updated as much as I want to be. Or in the loop on things. I'll tend to get a little bit upset from time to time, like, "Look, why am I just now finding out about this?"
Man, it's like that for everything. My crew guys, same thing. They lose a drum stool, it's like, Why am I finding out three days later? I could have tracked that down. Now you guys are scrambling around trying to figure out where it is. I could have found it in ten minutes. Now we're five states away. So unfortunately, business-wise, that's just who I am. My band deals with it amazingly. They just sit back and let me do my thing and I take care of everything. And they know that they're going to get their paycheck when they get it and everything's done.
Songfacts: Does that mean you direct the videos?
Reddick: I do not direct the videos, per se. All the treatments, if I don't write them, I definitely fine tune them. The last few, though, I've actually written. But I had my hand in everything and I picked the director. And I am not scared to go up to a director and say, I don't like the way Chris looks or Gary looks or whatever. I mean, I take care of my boys and I take care of our songs. It's just the way that I am.
We spoke with Jaret on November 16, 2010. Get more at bowlingforsoup.com.
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