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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

Being A Dad Gave Me The Best Creative Fuel To Launch A "Space Cadet"

Guest Post by Justin Roberts

Eli's Daddy and Four-time GRAMMY-Nominated Musician

PHOTO CREDIT: Todd Rosenberg

EDITOR'S NOTE: Justin Roberts recently sent a version of the following message to his fans on Patreon. It's reprinted here with added images and links with his permission. We couldn't think of a better lead-in to the inaugural KIDS FIRST! Daddying Film Festival (KFDFF), which kicks off next week, June 13-20. For the KFDFF, Justin provides a welcome message to attendees and three dad-related music videos from his vast playlist of hits. We think you'll agree that his music is the perfect complement to the KFDFF's wide variety of student and indie films that convey the important impact we dads have in our kids’ lives (and vice versa), both in our presence and in our absence.

My new album, Space Cadet, is landing on July 15th but advance singles will start dropping soon. Thought you might like to hear a bit about my process for this record.

My last record, Wild Life, was about the journey of becoming a new father. I’d been making kids' music for more than 20 years with no kids in the house, and that all changed with the arrival of Eli. As I was writing that record, I was really trying to make a big, pop-rock record for kids after my entirely acoustic and live-in-the-studio album Lemonade. But, I find you can’t really plan for creativity, and instead of writing big, rock songs, I started writing all these quiet songs about anticipation, wonder, and love.

Those songs became the album Wild Life.

That idea of writing some big, rock songs again sat on the back burner until now. This was the first time in my career that I was writing songs with an actual kid in my house. While I still relied on my imagination and memories, now I had my current experience to draw on. Songs like "Dance Party," inspired by our nightly living room dancing sessions listening to Prince, Laurie Berkner, mid-70s Donald Byrd, and reluctantly sometimes my own music, are taken directly from life during the pandemic.

The song "Gimme a Firetruck" was inspired by a family walk around the block when Eli was in a bad mood and the sudden appearance of a fire truck (we live right by a fire station) changed his face from a frown to a giant smile of wonder. I started thinking about all the “fire trucks” we have in our lives from teachers to parents to friends who call us away from being stuck in our own heads, and I wrote this song about that.

I don’t usually have a concept planned out when I start making an album, I just start writing songs and later see the themes and connections that tie them together. On this record, I see messages about inclusion ("Everybody Get On Board"), the importance of being yourself and embracing difference ("I have been a Unicorn," "Truman Was A Tornado," and "Space Cadet"), and self-discovery ("If you Should Dig" and "Little Red Wagon").

I think the experience of isolation during the pandemic and my father’s death in 2020 also contributed to some of the healing songs on the album, like "Little Red Wagon," "Whole Lotta Love In This World," and "Everybody Get On Board" (the last of which is dedicated to my dad).

The goal when making this record was to return to the studio with my band, the Not Ready for Naptime Players, and record a big pop-rock record, but I also let the songs dictate the arrangements. So, while many of them have my whole band – Jackie Schimmel on Bass, Gerald Dowd on Drums, Liam Davis playing Electric Guitar, and David Winer on Trumpet – others have different players:

  • 80s Synthesizers (Christian Matthew Cullen)

  • Barroom piano (Michael Mahler)

  • Upright bass (John Abbey)

  • Harp (Ben Melsky)

  • Vibes (Jazz player Jason Adasiewicz)

  • Scat singing (Meagan McNeal)

  • A duet (with Nora O’Connor)

  • Whimsical Toy Piano (Lisa Kaplan - Eighth Blackbird)

  • A string quartet (Anna Steinhoff, Liz Hagen, Pascal Innocenti, and Marty Davids); and

  • Free jazz horns (Chris Greene, Nick Broste, and David Winer).

I know it's a world of short attention spans, singles, and background “mood” playlists, but I really value the journey an album can still take you on. And just like the father and son in "Dance Party," I encourage everyone to turn off their personal electronic devices, shut down the internet, throw the cushions on the floor, and dance.

Be sure to visit the KFDFF Eventive page to reserve your FREE all-access passes for next week's Festival (June 13-20), remember to vote for your favorites, and, as always, Daddy on!

Justin with son Eli and wife Anna Steinhoff

Four-time GRAMMY® Nominee Justin Roberts is truly one of the “all-stars” of the indie family music scene. For more than 20 years, Roberts, along with his band, The Not Ready for Naptime Players, has been creating the soundtrack to families’ lives, helping kids navigate the joys and sorrows of growing up while allowing parents to remember their own childhoods. Roberts began his musical career in the 1990s, performing in the Minneapolis-based, indie-rock band Pimentos for Gus. He decided to “moonlight” as a Montessori preschool teacher, and it wasn’t long before he started writing and singing songs for his students. He released his first album for families, Great Big Sun in 1997. Since then, Justin has played in top venues around the country and worldwide, including NYC’s New Victory Theater, DC’s Wolf Trap, LA’s Getty Museum, Seattle’s Moore Theater, Austin City Limits, and Chicago’s Ravinia. He has also performed in front of millions of people on The Today Show and been featured on Nick Jr. TV. Justin’s 14th and most recent GRAMMY-nominated album, Wild Life (2020), was inspired by the birth of his first child. In addition to Wild Life, he’s received GRAMMY nominations for Jungle Gym (2010), Recess (2013), and Lemonade (2017). Justin is also an accomplished picture book author for Putnam Press. The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade (illustrated by Christian Robinson) received the Horace Mann Upstander Award and was a finalist for the E.B. White Read-A-Loud Award. He released his second book, The Great Henry Hopendower (illustrated by Deborah Hocking), in 2017. His next book, I'll Be Your Polar Bear (illustrated by Chuck Groenink), about the lengths a father will go to in order to comfort and protect his child, is available to preorder and will release in October 2022. His new album for families, Space Cadet, releases on July 15. To support Justin's work, consider becoming a patron by visiting his Patreon site at


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