Connecting children with vital lessons through song is nothing new, but it is a pedagogical art form—a delicate balance of combining entertainment and education to create songs, which are catchy but not cliché. They are compelling but not preachy, funny but not flippant. It’s especially impressive when the songs, technically meant for children, carry tunes adults don’t mind singing along with, too.
Singer-songwriter and mandolin player Jason Andre—formerly of The Midatlantic—has accomplished such a feat with “Sea Songs For Little Pirates.” Andre will have a release party on Sunday, Oct. 25 at Palate, wherein he will take on various personas and characters, just as heard throughout his album. His quirky stories include an appearance from “The Captain,” who sings from the perspective of a sad blue crab in “Crab Pot Blues.”
“As I started writing and recording demos of the songs, and singing out loud, some sort of pirate spirit animal came out,” Andre tells. “I found myself growling and taking on a ‘captain’ persona.’”
A surfer his whole life along the Outer Banks (also once home to NC’s most famous pirate, Blackbeard), combined with his marine biology degree from UNCW, Andre’s experience and education informed his work. He worked at the NC Aquarium, UNCW Marine Quest and Wrightsville Beach Surf Camp. In short: The ocean inspires pretty much everything in Andre’s life.
Though he doesn’t have children, he’s known as “Uncle Jason” to many living nearby. They all go fishing and explore the salt marshes to discover all the magic coastal life has to offer. Wearing his trucker hat with “Captain” prominently displayed on it, Andre’s unofficial guided tours feature pirate and shark puppets for storytime. They made appearances throughout the recording process, too.
“When I sat down to start writing the songs, I began reflecting quite a bit on some lessons I used to teach and experiences I’ve had with kids,” he continues. “[I] tried to weave in educational aspects, as well as nautical folklore.”
“The Tidal Swing” was inspired by an old family friend, Leon Swain, who has long since passed. At 8 years old, Andre was enamored by Swain’s Hatteras-brogue accent. “He would yell, ‘There’s a hoigh toide on the soundsoide tonight!’” Andre mimics. “It was the funniest thing. My grandmother especially loved it and used to bring it up at every holiday meal and do her best impression.”
Andre has a few guests featured on the kid’s album as well. DC punk-rock producer Don Zientara sings the part of “Don the Stingray” in “The Stingray Shuffle.” Zientara produced some of Andre’s favorite bands as an angsty youth, such as Minor Threat, Bad Brains and Fugazi. Speaking of which, “No Use For Single Use” is the most punk-rock tune in the mix and evokes a sense of activism about a real issue close to many in our coastal region.
“Punk rock has been and always will be an anti-establishment, anti-status quo, pro-change, pro-justice, protest form of music,” Andre observes. “It was definitely one of my first loves as a young adolescent surfer/skater. . . . So it only felt right to include this song as a lover of the ocean, watching society treat it like a freaking toilet.”
Despite efforts by Wilmington’s Plastic Ocean Project and volunteers like Andre and his friend Bonnie Monteleone, combating single-use plastics is just now beginning to get traction with possible solutions. While it’s been important to infiltrate the consciousness of the masses and heads of state, it’s quite important to educate youth early on.
“They will inherit this mess we leave them with,” Andre says, “but kids are smart and powerful, and can have a lot of influence in their communities and families like my friends at Eco Marines over in Brisbane, Australia. They empower ambassadors to take the conservation education lessons back to their classmates, their schools, their families, and ultimately their communities and countries. . . . Plastics are literally killing the ocean, all the way up the trophic chain, right to our dinner plates, and no one seems to be aware it’s happening.”
“The Ballad of Mary Lee” is about one of the first and largest great white sharks tagged with a GPS tracker off the East Coast. Its female lead is voiced by Chapel Hill-based musician Crystal Bright and her accordion to help realize the moral of the story.
“So the song is kind of a nerdy conservation ballad (if that’s a thing),” Andre quips, “and an ode to one of the most beautiful creatures on earth. The song speaks to the importance of sharks, the need for them, the senseless fear of them, and the fascinating beautiful creatures they are.”
There are other lessons about the ocean and local history and facts floating throughout, too. “The Deep Blue” was mainly written to incite exploration—an anthem to “get out and explore!” “Go far, go deep, and see for yourself how amazing this little planet we live on really is,” Andre specifies.
Former Midatlantic bandmates Ben Sciance (drums, banjo) and Allan Upham (bass) both contributed to the record, too. They will join Andre onstage Sunday.
“I did a lot of instrumentation on the album so to fill that sound in a live performance I called on fellow surfer/multi-instrumentalist and TheaterNOW artistic director Zach Hanner of Da Howlies and The Noseriders to join me,” Andre divulges, “as well as Will Small of Billy Heathen, whom I’ve shared the stage with whilst performing with Justin Lacy.”
There will be “treasures” to discover throughout the day at Palate, too. Andre will have copies of the CD, as well as T-shirts, steel cups and stickers available for purchase. Costumes are encouraged for this day “out at sea.”
“The Captain needs to show some sort of decency and responsibility,” he notes. “I do always feel like I need to dress up when I perform. . . . I don’t want to scare any kids, so it’s not going to be like going to see GWAR or the Teletubbies—which are basically the same thing. I also figured it’s Halloween so maybe parents will want to get as much mileage as they can out of their own costumes. It would be cool to have a little army of fiddler crabs, though!”