The protagonist of Josh Farrar’s novel, Rules to Rock By, is a twelve-year-old rock star named Anabelle Cabrera. Sounds cool already, but Josh is also planning to produce and record a full-length soundtrack to the book. (That’s him pictured above, hard at work with friends in the studio.) The album will feature tunes by the story’s fictional band The Bungles, allowing fans of the novel to hear what the group would actually sound like. Josh hopes that his project will create a whole new category of kid’s music, one “made for young people, and contextualized and strengthened by the power of storytelling.” Pretty neat in our book.
Check out what else Josh had to say below. Support his project here.
What inspired this idea? Do you know a musically ambitious tween?
I had two main inspirations for Rules to Rock By:
The first one was the large number of tween bands and rock ‘n’ roll-themed summer camps that seem to be popping up all over the country. Five years ago, there was a small handful of these School of Rock-style rock camps, and now there are dozens — one for literally ever major U.S metropolitan area. Also, we’ve got fully evolved rock bands like Care Bears on Fire and Smoosh, whose members were very young when they started. I was in bands by age sixteen, but I was nowhere near as professional or gig-ready as these bands are, and their overall awesomeness prompted me to think about what it would be like to live your rock ‘n’ roll dreams at such a young age. Would a twelve-year-old kid playing to a thousand people totally lose it before getting onstage, or would he or she be too young to experience the abject horror that an older person would? Trying to imagine the experience through a tween’s eyes was intriguing, and fueled the writing of the novel from beginning to end.
My second inspiration was the “virtual band,” Gorrilaz. Damon Albarn, the singer of Blur and an awesomely talented musician, apparently needed a break from mega-huge rock-star celebrity (at least in his native UK), so he worked with the illustrator Jamie Hewlett to develop a fictional conceit for a band. Real musicians were producing and performing songs while adolescent avatars literally fronted for them in videos and live shows.
I wanted to try something fun in that vein by writing a novel that brings a fictional band to life. Readers would really get to know the band members as characters in the novel, then would (hopefully!) be curious about what The Bungles, the band from the book, sounded like. So, listeners to the soundtrack will hear real-life singers and instrumentalists (some of the musicians are kids, some are adults) playing the role of the four kids in The Bungles.
Were you a fan of tween-lit growing up? If so — faves?
I liked a lot of tween books that were already classics at the time: Judy Blume’s novels, the Black Stallion books, Where The Red Fern Grows. But the book that resonates most closely with Rules to Rock By is Harriet The Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh. I re-read it in the middle of writing RTRB, and it really hit home. Harriet isn’t really a spy; she’s an observer. She doesn’t really spy on anything extraordinary, but she teaches herself to notice the passing details in life that most people overlook. I read the novel as a story about a girl who is unconsciously teaching herself how to become a writer.
My heroine, Annabelle Cabrera, begins the story as someone who is very consciously trying to follow the “rules” to becoming a rock star. But she quickly learns that rules won’t do her much good in that regard, so she refocuses her goal: she wants to study the craft of songwriting. And to become a good songwriter, she needs to be observant and truthful about her own inner life. So I guess I can say that RTRB is my attempt to write an indie-rock version of Harriet The Spy.
How have people responded to your use of Kickstarter so far?
I, for one, am pretty much in love with Kickstarter right now. Hayley Downs, a filmmaker friend of mine, turned me on to the site a few weeks ago, and I spent a long time sifting through the various projects, pledging humble sums here and there as I went. To me, it’s one of those ideas that is so good that in retrospect it seems incredibly obvious. Online micro-financing for creative innovation — how did this not exist before?!?
I’m still at the point in my project where I personally know 95% of the people who have pledged, so I hear their responses very directly, and they’re completely psyched about it. The rewards are fun, the presentation within the KS interface is clean and elegant, and my friends and family now feel like they’re a part of my project; there’s an emotional investment in Rules to Rock By now that just wasn’t there eight days ago.
Any rewards that have emerged as favorites?
None of the rewards have really emerged as favorites; I think people are simply giving what they can, and if they need to throw in an extra ten dollars to get, in my case, the CD and the book, they’ll do it. But I think the rewards in general are a huge boost to those who have pledged. They add fun and motivation to the whole process, so that people can feel as close to the creative process as possible.
This project has been underway for about two and a half years at this point, and the twists and turns it takes are often surprising. We’re about midway into the recording process — seven songs down, five or so to go — and sometimes I feel like I’m living out scenes from the book. In the studio, my co-producers and I are interacting with some super-talented musicians who are only a couple years older than the kids in my novel. They’re learning a lot from us, and we’re learning a lot from them, too, often in unexpected ways.
A great microcosm of this scenario happened at a recording session last weekend. We were working with a great guitar player named Hunter Lombard. (Hunter is fifteen, goes to high school and lives in the East Village, and plays in Blame the Patient, a great NYC band that also includes Sofie Kapur, one of our singers.) We were doing a cover song called “You’ll Find A Way,” by Santogold, and Hunter and I were both playing guitar, tracking live-in-the-studio with drums and bass. The song isn’t particularly hard to play (on guitar, that is; it’s pretty virtuosic in the rhythm section), but the arrangement is really tricky. I was confused as hell, and after two or three failed takes, I vented, “That’s it! Let’s do the rhythm section by itself and overdub the guitars later,” showing my frustration pretty openly in front of Hunter and the other players.
We decided to give it one more try, and during the following take, Hunter was making eye contact with me and whispering “Okay, now the chorus,” and stuff like that, figuratively holding my hand through the arrangement. She helped me get the arrangement under my belt, and we nailed the take. I was thinking to myself, “I’ve been doing this twenty-something years longer than this girl, and she’s teaching me this arrangement!” It was humbling, but also so awesome to appreciate what an excellent young musician she is, regardless of her age.