Arts & Culture

Cameo: Lisa Matthews

We talk to the lead singer for kids' band Milkshake.

You recently started Young at Heart, a kids’ radio show that airs Saturday mornings at 7 on WTMD.
My goal for the show is to offer music that is family-friendly but—and this is an important thing to me—music that anyone can enjoy. I’d like to think we’re at our best when we’re young at heart, when we have a youthful outlook on life no matter what our age. I still like to ride the Ferris wheel, jump in rain puddles, and eat ice cream cones, don’t you?

It can be nerve-wracking being natural.
It’s so hard! But I’m getting it. When I got the green light, I reached out to the “kindie” industry, as it’s called, or “kid indie,” and I’ve been barraged by all these bands sending me CDs. But I don’t envision it just being kindie guys. I also want to play adult rockers that have put out kid-friendly music, so we’re doing this standing feature called Adult Kids. I am finding that there are a lot of bands that have done kid records or even just kid songs. Rhett Miller from the Old 97s recorded “Ziggy Stardust” by David Bowie for this compilation that benefits LGBTQ kids.

That’s amazing. So it’s much more prolific than even you would think.
There’s also Lisa Loeb, and Chris Ballew from the President of the United States of America—he’s doing nothing but music for kids! And Danny Weinkauf from They Might Be Giants.

Fifteen years ago, you decided to start your very on side project for kids called Milkshake, after you and your Love Riot bandmate Mikel Gehl each had children. That’s a long side project!
Milkshake started as an experiment. It was very defined, at least in my mind, like, okay, we’re going to put out a CD every couple years reflecting the growth of our children and the experiences we are having with them. And once they’re older, that’s it—no more Milkshake; we’ll just go back to writing songs for adults. That almost happened, but it hasn’t yet.

We thought we’d just go back to playing Love Riot, but I’m having a hard time doing that and it might just be the whole idea of doing a band I’ve done before. I don’t want to repeat myself. I listen to the songs from Love Riot and I’m like, ‘Damn, that’s a good song!’ But that doesn’t mean we just do it all over again. I’m doing a lot of things, all of them still connected to music and kids, and Milkshake continues to plod along without much effort from me [laughs].

It seems like your audience only continues to grow.
Which is a good and scary thing. We’ve had fans grow up with us. We have some of the most amazing stories. We go to children’s hospitals and special needs schools and we always do the Down’s syndrome and autism walks. I think that’s one of the things that makes this important—music can reach these kids. It just makes them so happy. It has become our raison d’être.

The gift you’re able to give these children must make it easy to put on as many shows as you do.
Absolutely. Still, some days, I wake up like, ‘Oh, how can I keep doing this?! I’m old, and I’m wearing a tutu!’ At least Mr. Rogers could still wear a sweater with dignity, you know! How long can I keep wearing this with dignity? But the thing is . . . kids don’t care! I don’t think they see the wrinkles on my face. To them, I’m a princess.

Do you think their happiness and excitement has infused you throughout the years?
I’m definitely young at heart because of that. When we play, I’m out with the kids, dancing and having fun. There’s a huge difference between playing in Milkshake and playing in an adult rock band. When I was in Love Riot, I had my guitar on and there was this invisible wall. I’m the cool band, and you’re the cool audience. I’m going to play, and you’re going to listen, and I’m going to move your hearts, and that’s about it.

You’ve also become a teaching artist with Wolf Trap. I don’t know how you keep up.
I think you have to change and evolve. Milkshake evolved out of love—out of me having a baby. I didn’t want to go into smoky bars anymore, so the music just changed. The palette was totally different than what I used to sing about—not like love and all its different machinations—but, like, counting, and ABCs. There’s so much more to sing about when you’re writing for kids! I’ve always tried to write music that reflected the state of being a kid, about things that they care about, even if sometimes that might seem trite to adults.

But your music transcends age. You’ve carved out a special career.
Oh man, I feel so blessed and I’m not even religious. Let me tell you, we’ve had an amazing 15 years. I had no idea it was going to be successful. It was just Mikel coming over and saying we have to keep making music, while I was like, ‘I’ve got this baby to worry about!’ But we kept doing it. We have stayed together so long because it has been so much fun. It’s been crazy fun, and I have no regrets. Milkshake might never end.