Mister G is truly a musical tour de force. Ben Gundersheimer (aka Mister G) takes listeners both young and old on a lyrical adventure all over the world with songs that are meant to inspire and celebrate life. We recently sat down with Ben to talk about how music connects people, and the crazy twists and turns of life that lead you to exactly where you’re supposed to be.
How did you get your musical start?
I wanted to be a musician and a baseball player. So when it came time to learn a language in junior high school, the options were French and Spanish. It was an easy choice because if I were to make the major leagues, I’d be able to talk to my future teammates! [laughs] That was the rationale. And I actually did play baseball through college, but I never used it in that context.
I love the sound of the Spanish language, and then when I started to travel, I loved the culture and the music, too. My honeymoon was in Colombia, and I had just transitioned out of the grown up music world, which I had done forever. I got my Masters in Education, and I brought my mandolin on the beach on that trip and started playing it. Some kids walked by and they were curious about it, and I wrote a song for them in the moment. And I wound up writing several other songs on that trip, too. Then I put them on the Mister G album for kids. It can be a cliché, but music really is a universal language and has a power to unite people.
Do you have a preference for writing in English or in Spanish? I mean, you have a Grammy right here for your Spanish language album, Los Animales.
It’s a good question. Traditionally, I’ve been mixing them, but the album I’m working on now is all in Spanish. But for me, the music dictates where the lyrics go, and that’s sort of how it goes for language, too. It’s great to do both, because as you know, the languages have different emotions. I’ve been writing a lot of ballads lately.
I love your book, Señorita Mariposa. There aren’t a lot of bilingual books that can appeal to multiple audiences.
Thank you. My mother was a children’s book author and illustrator, so I grew up with that. A few years ago, we got a multi-book deal with Penguin Random House.
Señorita Mariposa was originally a song that I wrote that was in appreciation of this butterfly and then it was adapted to a book. We turned it into specifically the migration of the monarch butterfly.
The crazy thing about the kids’ music is the organic evolution of it. I was in the adult rock world for a long time, like I said, and I got burned out. I became disenchanted by it. So when I got my Masters in Education, I thought I was leaving the music business. I was happy to do it, because I wanted to work with kids. I no longer saw a path forward at that time. As a kid, my heroes were people like Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, or Joan Baez, who were not just great artists, but activists as well. I wanted to do that, and I wasn’t seeing that in the hipster indie rock world.
It’s really a culmination of everything you’ve been working towards, whether you realized it or not.
Oh definitely. Everything is working in conjunction together. I have three different album projects going on right now, but it’s nice because it’s all about different moods for me. Sometimes you’re quiet or pensive and different songs are going to come out. I’m working on a more adult album, like a singer/songwriter, so I’m coming back full circle.
And it’s nice because your wife is a part of it.
She’s an amazing artist herself. She just finished a novel for middle school girls. She was a college professor when I started doing this. She would come to the kids’ shows and it was a great scene. We would play at kids’ parties and libraries; very intimate events. Now, we play Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits and Jazz Fest, and these huge stages, but also everything in between, orphanages in India and Mexico. It’s a crazy range of shows. But fundamentally, it’s the same thing; it’s the purity of playing for kids. Their response is very honest and open. It’s very real.
Where do you see it all going, Mister G?
I have ideas, but things have evolved in so many surprising ways. If we had sat together 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have even known there was a Latin Grammy for kids’ music. I can tell you what I think, but I’m sure I’m wrong. But that’s what makes it all so interesting.