For his 14th album for the children's folk music group Hullabaloo, Steve Denyes took up a challenge in February to write and record 20 songs in 20 days.
He decided to make his test a little harder to raise money for the Encinitas-based nonprofit Happy Star Melodies, which brings musical experiences and instruments to children facing long hospital stays. To do this, Denyes accepted donations and only wrote tunes based off random, submitted responses. What resulted were songs in topics ranging from a family dog to a penguin in someone's bed.
The album, with an official release date of April 27, raised about $400 for Happy Star Melodies from the title submissions alone. Denyes plans to donate all proceeds from streaming royalties from outlets like Spotify and download purchases to the organization.
Denyes recently discussed the process of writing the album and the importance of Happy Star Melodies.
What can you tell us about your '20 Songs in 20 Days' project?
It started with the idea that I would write a song every day for 20 days. I did something similar in the past but this time I added the fact that I would have other people choose the song titles. What I did was I put out word to the Hullabaloo fan base and, for a small donation, they could submit a song title and I'd pull a song title out of a hat every morning. I'd post a song with that title by 5 p.m. that day. That's how we raised money for Happy Star Melodies. I didn't have any intentions with it beyond that, but after about a week, I realized I liked the songs and released them as an album digitally.
Were there any challenges in this project with people submitting song titles and you having to write at random?
In total, there were about 30 submissions. There were definitely one or two that I hoped to not pull out of the hat. One of them was about gross bodily functions, and I was like, “Ah, I don't want to write about that.” In Hullabaloo, I kind of steer away from the potty humor. But there were also titles that I was dreading, and when they came up, I struggled at first but then ended up liking the songs.
How long did it take you to write these songs?
It ranged. The quickest ones came to me while I was surfing and I just went home an hour later and recorded them. But there was another one called “Carrie the One” that I had no clue what I would do with. I labored over that thing for six or eight hours, finally got it recorded and in the end, I like it. It's an OK little song, but it was a head-scratcher.
What was it about Happy Star that made you want to work with them?
I know the founders and their inspiration very well. Their son, Kelptyn, would come to my shows when he was able, and he had some medical difficulties from birth. He was just a sweet kid and stole my heart. When he passed in 2015 (at age 4), his parents started Happy Star Melodies with the sole purpose of bringing musical experiences to kids facing long hospital stays and life-threatening illnesses. [They started it] because of their experience of being in the hospital with Kelptyn and seeing the challenges of keeping a young kid entertained They also bring the kids instruments. I love the charity because it's very direct. I know for a fact that every penny that goes to Happy Star goes directly to helping kids. That was a no-brainer for me.
What got you into writing children's music?
Before I was doing kids music, I had somewhat of a career doing grown-up music and being a singer/songwriter. For about eight years, I taught in the public schools as sort of an in-between where I was still doing my grown-up music and teaching kids during the day. When my sisters had kids, I started making music for them. I just realized how fun it was. Making music for adults is fun but the kids are way more fun. They're so excited to have any kind of music that's fit for them, and they're just so enthusiastic.