A New Climate For Indie Rockers
Can “kindie” music—an emerging genre tailored to kids and their Gen X parents—help save the planet?
Last fall, on an unseasonably warm day in Morningside Heights, I noticed a few dozen onlookers gathered around a makeshift stage in the middle of Amsterdam Avenue, bobbing their heads to a band fronted by a woman in a lantern fly costume.
She sounded sort of like a cross between Courtney Love and Raffi, singing clever children’s songs with a twinge of grunge—and an environmental message. My wife and baby, then four months old, were immediately hooked by the songs, from the sustainability anthem “It’s So Easy Being Green” to “Johnny the Cat,” an ode to a legendary local pet store feline. I was, too.
Turns out the singer, Esther Crow, is a prominent name in the up-and-coming genre of “kindie” music, which is sweeping the nation from South Brooklyn to Santa Monica. The idea: why should becoming a parent mean listening exclusively to “Baby Shark” until one’s ears melt? Music can delight both kids and parents, like watching Sesame Street or eating string cheese.
Lately, I’ve been writing more about the intersection of climate and music, and Crow’s brand of environmentally-conscious jams piqued my interest. So, in honor of Earth Day, I interviewed Crow about her journey from garage rock to kindie music—and how it can help fight climate change. Our Q&A below has been lightly edited for length and clarity. Enjoy!
ZOG: Take me through your process of songwriting—like “It’s So Easy Being Green”—how does the inspiration arise for a song like that?
EC: I write music for families. That’s a way for me to try to get the climate message out—through music. It's difficult subject matter, but I feel like you're never too young to learn about it.
“It's So Easy Being Green” is probably the very first climate song I wrote for children. And it's about how making small changes in your everyday habits can have an impact. That song now seems a little quaint. Because, while I do still strongly believe that everybody should do what they can—recycle, compost, go on marches, all of that—we've also been hoodwinked into feeling a greater personal responsibility for climate change by the powers that be.
If the powers that be shifted to greener energy instead of funding fossil fuels, then we could really make a change. And that's really our only hope, to influence the people with the power and the money. It's great to be conscious of your everyday habits, but it would be more impactful if people could focus their energy toward trying to influence politicians and companies like BlackRock and Vanguard that manage assets.
ZOG: Tell me about your experience growing up in New York. What was the climate of your youth, in every sense of the word?
EC: I was born and raised right here on 107th Street and Broadway. These days, it seems like fall doesn't really kick in until November. I played a show last October 30th, it was like 70 degrees. Sadly, it barely snowed at all this winter. But I remember when I was growing up. My mother, who was originally from Ohio, she would take me to Riverside Park on one of those old-fashioned wooden sleds and I’d fly down the hills. I definitely have noticed much less snowfall over the years.
In terms of pollution, I guess we've gotten a little bit better, though there are definitely areas of the Bronx and elsewhere that aren’t so fortunate. Environmental racism is a big issue that we constantly need to fight. Too many of our communities of color are pushed into these polluted zones with unclean water, polluted air—asthma in those communities is off the charts.
ZOG: New York is a big enough market that we could force the issue for some of these problems on the policy front, like California does.
EC: New York City should be a leader of the climate movement. First of all, there's so much money here. I've been working with a group, for about a year now, called ClimateFamiliesNYC.org. Check out their website! We do actions as families. It's mostly moms—moms with their children.
We do creative actions as families with our children. The group has gone to BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s house in Westchester. And he's been receptive. He will talk to us. But it's about keeping that pressure on. Same with the legislators. We've been in front of Kathy Hochul’s office, we did a letter-writing campaign. We delivered a bunch of letters, mostly written by kids, just asking her to please pass climate legislation in New York. That's significant.
ZOG: When you make art about climate, I'm just curious—do you find that it resonates more or less with your audience than the average song?
EC: I sort of try to have this big umbrella that a lot of things thematically can fit under in the natural world. A lot of people don't realize how important bees and bats are for biodiversity and the environment. Without bees, we have no apples. They help apples. So I have songs that may cater more to the younger audiences. Then I have some that are coming out on my new album that I think are gonna appeal to those as old as maybe even 12. But usually the sweet spot is about zero to six or eight.
ZOG: Tell me about your musical evolution from touring with your garage rock band in Europe to making kids’ music.
EC: It’s a cliché story that I think a lot of musicians have, and I didn't even realize this until I started meeting these other musicians, but when you have a child, a lot changes in your life. My husband and I were able to keep up our garage rock band [Electric Mess] for a while, but right now it's just too much. My focus really now is on making music for children. But I coined a new term for myself: I can be a climate rocker, so it's “kindie climate rock.” And it's still rock and roll.
I can't wait for you to hear my album—it's gonna be out on Earth Day, to reach the very young and make climate issues palpable for them to understand. We're constantly trying to figure out how to approach kids and families, let them know how important this is by using art to sort of create some levity and comedy. I think that's also a good way to approach most adults as well. If you clobber them over the head with it, or scare them, they’ll probably sneak back into denial.
You can find Esther Crow’s music—including her new album, Listen Lead Love—here. She’ll be playing live shows on the Upper West Side’s Open Streets festival this weekend in honor of Earth Day: 3pm Saturday 4/22 at 109th & Amsterdam and 3pm Sunday 4/23 at 103rd & Broadway.
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