Most teenage boys dream of being in a rock band. Ben Rudnick and John Zevos, members of Ben Rudnick & Friends, are doing just that. Friends for many years, the two, along with fellow band mates Arnie Ashford, Jared Steer and Mark Yacovone are creating music for families on their own harmonious terms. Celebrity Parents spoke with Ben and John about cool music for kids, following your passion, and why the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
What were you doing before starting Ben Rudnick & Friends?
Ben: I have a degree in computer science. I always wanted a concertina but my grandfather brought me an accordion, which is a whole other thing! [laughs] I learned how to read music, and later on learned how to play the guitar. I got my degree in computer science, met John, and it’s been trying to get back to playing in the basement ever since.
John: We had both gone to the same school in upstate New York but I was there a year or two before. Is started playing the piano in second grade, but all I wanted to do was play the guitar. I would see the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and thought that was the coolest thing ever. I was a pre-med student, but I didn’t want to do it. It was something that my parents wanted me to do. I finally got the nerve to tell them I didn’t want to do it. So when I went to college, I took half science classes, and the other half music.
How did your music career come to be?
Ben: My daughter, Emily, was 4 years-old and I was still computer sciencing. It was fun when we worked together as a team; it’s like being in a group. But it’s a never-ending grind. You never get to hold anything; you never get to enjoy it. I found that I couldn’t wait to get home to play guitar. I’d hurry home to get Emily to make dinner, to sometimes go back to work, to then play late at night. My wife wanted me to make songs for our 4th birthday party. We had a cassette tape and we would take it to parties.
John: And then we started getting awards!
Ben: We managed to cobble together more tunes. They were more complicated in terms of rhyming. And the second CD got even more awards. I find that there’s an evolution in our music and the material has evolved with it. And then we got to the CD, A Frog Named Sam, and it became a big deal.
How would you describe your music?
Ben: In kindie music, it can feel like everyone has a schtick. And our schtick is that we play music. We’re not the kind of performers who would say, “Okay, kids, clap with us!” We couldn’t do The Wheels on the Bus.
John: We don’t have set lists. We just play as we go.
Ben: But we’re on the same page. Our music is comprised of songs that we play that I’ve written for family world, with songs that we’re going to play no matter where we go. We’ll do a kids’ songs and then play The Walk of Life by Dire Straits.
John: We’re adaptable to whatever the crowd is. We want you to experience it together and have a tighter bond afterwards. I like when the parents thank us for making music that parents can listen to.
Ben: We make music that we like. And we’re happy when other people like it, too. Everything we play, I’m so happy to play it. We care about what we’re doing, and we’re having so much fun doing it. We challenge each other, and therefore we challenge the band.
John: I like looking forward to the gigs. I look and see, “Oh, we’re playing today!” and I’m happy.
Ben: We’re not singing down to the kids; we’re singing up. We sing greater themes.
You spoke about the music evolving. Where do you see the evolution heading?
Ben: We’re sort of already here. We just want to keep going. The A Frog Named Sam album put us on the map, but we’re okay with where we are. For a while, I thought we should do this or that. I don’t feel that we have to do anything anymore. I just want to play my guitar and play at shows. The only thing is that the drive is there to get better at it. I love playing with John and have the whole band get better. When the four of us get going, it locks in. I’m a big proponent that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
John: We can read each other’s minds when we’re playing, but there’s a part that we know we can throw something new out there.
Ooh, you’re the wild card!
Ben: It might catch me off guard, but if I don’t react then, I’ll react the next time! [laughs] Honestly, I love playing with these guys and I have no interest to be play alone.
You’re both dads. What’s it like balancing work with playing in the band and juggling family?
Ben: This is a very healthy outlet for both of us. When we’re working we’re done by the afternoon, so it fits well into our family life. Every now and then we go away for a weekend gig but overall it’s so rewarding and our families support us. This music, this band, fulfills a lot of needs on all levels and makes it all worthwhile.