The Relative Minors
The Relative Minors is a rock band for kids.
The project was the first-born child of Matt and Kiersten Robertshaw—a couple of fun-loving musicians and educators. Kiersten is a classically trained pianist and elementary music teacher. Matt played the drums in various ska, indie and folk-rock bands for many years before pursuing a career in academia. Matt and Kiersten began writing creative and catchy children’s songs in 2011 for their niece and went on to stage numerous performances at libraries, schools, summer camps, birthday parties, music festivals and other community events in their hometown of Cambridge, Ontario and the surrounding area.
In its current format, The Relative Minors is a six-piece, electric guitar- and piano-driven rock n’ roll band which performs energetic and witty songs for kids of all ages.
Their newest album Minor Third is a work of art. There is no doubt that the songs were written by professionals who know what they are doing. The album checks off all the boxes for me. It's fun, catchy, and authentic. Their sound is mature and professional while staying true to the story telling and imagery that appeals to little listeners.
The first song (Today's My Day) has some serious Jonathan Larson vibes. I can visualize the entire song as a scene in a rock musical. It's epic. The album just gets better and better the more you listen. The production, layering, and overall quality are fantastic. Don't believe me? Go have a listen!
Congratulations on the release of your new album, Minor Third! Love the clever name! This is your third full-length album. How long did it take you to write and record this one? Did you write all of the songs together?
Kier: Thanks! And same to you—you’re up to five now! As you know, every time you make an album it’s a unique experience. That was definitely the case with Minor Third.
Matt: They say you have your whole life to make your first album; you have material that you’ve built up over years. That was the case for of our first two albums. We started writing children’s music when we were newly married in 2011 and we didn’t start recording our first album, Play Music, until 2019, so we had a whole back catalogue to draw from for our first two albums.
Kier: When we started working on Minor Third, we were pretty much starting from scratch, which was really exciting. Matt and I are always casually writing songs, so by the time we released Full Circle we had half a dozen new demos.
Matt: Yeah, Kier and I don’t have a formula for writing our songs, it’s more organic. Sometimes Kier will write a song and then she’ll bring it to me for feedback (What Goes Around, Today’s My Day, Tomorrow). We do the same thing when I write songs (Third Time’s a Charm, Pencil Sharpener, Broken Dictionary). Other times we write collaboratively (Favourite Hat, What’s Your Favourite Season, Butterfly, Kings of Swing, Contrary Mary).
Kier: It’s really freeing to be able to write in so many different ways. It helps keep the creativity flowing. It can be a little competitive too.
Matt: We’re each other’s worst critics, and we’re ruthless. Ha ha.
Kier: No, it’s true! But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Our songs are way better for it.
Matt: You also asked how long it took us to record this album. We did most of it in two sets of about two weeks. We recorded four songs in the spring and five in the summer. We also had a few extra days here and there to bring in sessional musicians, and we even booked the local symphony orchestra’s rehearsal space to record celesta.
Kier: It can be really challenging to coordinate everyone’s schedules when you’re dealing with so many musicians. We had 18 musicians on this album! As a band, we play and record all our own parts, and then we had a more orchestral elements on this one and a choir so that meant more studio musicians.
Matt: After the last two years, it was a real joy to be able to bring a lot of friends along into the studio this time around for group vocals and session player for other contributions, plus we had our kids there a bunch of times. We hope that joy comes across in the tunes.
What are some of the pros and cons of working in the children's music industry with a six-person band?
Kier: That’s a good question! Really, we’re just as much a six-piece band as we are a duo. From day one, we intended our music to be written for a band. When we started out, we had family play back up for us whenever they could. We started off as a family band and that’s partly where the name originated.
Matt: Then when we started getting a bit more serious in 2019, we put a more consistent group together. As a kid I always really liked the idea of being in a band. And I think that’s part of our appeal for our young listeners. They can tell that our sound is the product of a group of friends having fun and making art together. We both grew up playing in garage bands, and we want to inspire young ones to start jamming with their friends.
Kier: The neat thing about playing with so many is the flexibility we have when playing live. Matt and I can play guitar and keys as a duo to our tracks, we can play as a trio with Laura who sings amazing back-up, or any combination of people that are available. The biggest con is that it’s really hard to coordinate all our schedules to do videos or big performances where we need to book lots of rehearsals.
Where do the ideas for your songs come from?
Matt: It depends on the song. Kier is really good at just sitting down at the piano and generating ideas on demand. For me, I have to be inspired. I have to think of some sort of clever concept or musical idea and then I run with it. I always try to include some comedic twist as well. My favourite albums growing up were all comedy music. Sometimes I’ll try to think about two ideas that don’t really fit together like a dog with a job or an aardvark prime minister or robots drinking tea and that conflict will lead to a lot of funny lyrics.
Kier: I write in a few ways, sometimes inspiration will hit, and I’ll quickly make a voice note and return to it later. Sometimes, like Matt said, I’ll sit down at the piano and play around with different musical prompts. For example, writing a song with longer musical phrases or in a different mode or form. Other times I’ll have a lyrical idea that I use a starting point and brainstorm how to capture that idea musically, without words.
Matt: The three songs I wrote for Minor Third each had a different process. For “Pencil Sharpener,” it came out of a situation with our son JJ. He was trying to sharpen a pencil and it was taking a while and he was getting a bit frustrated, so I cheekily said “You’ve gotta sharpen a pencil for a long time before you see the point.” And then I branched off from there. “Third Time’s a Charm” really started with a musical idea, a particular melody that climbed through a particular chord progression in 3/4 time. “Broken Dictionary” was a musical riff that Kier and I had worked out together, and then I separately wrote some silly lyrics about words that don’t make sense. Then I just mashed the two together.
Kier: The concept behind Minor Third was an overarching inspiration in a lot of ways. Since we started this one from scratch, we were able to plan our songs around a loose theme. The album centres around a day that didn’t go as planned. We wrote a lot of these songs during the pandemic, and we wanted to have some emotion there. Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned and it’s not always about staying positive but embracing the emotion and allowing some of this sadness to move alongside us. It’s okay for all of us to feel big emotions. We wanted to recognize that. In “Today’s My Day” we plant this seed when we talk about the sun not shining all day. Even though the album sounds quite joyful overall, most of these songs touch on disappointment in subtle ways. Mary’s in her garden feeling blue. The characters in Third Time’s a Charm struggle, same with the characters in Pencil Sharpener. The message, if there is one, is that we all struggle, we all feel disappointment, and there’s no one solution to change our state, (“yeah, the rain is gonna fall”) but maybe music can be a part of healing. And that’s what we’re doing with this entire album.
Matt: We’ve actually had people tell us that our music has helped them through difficult times, so that makes everything worth it. We end with the song “Tomorrow,” and leave listeners with the hope that “tomorrow is another day.”
Kier: There’s a lot of hope and joy in this album too. A lot of emotion.
Are you planning a tour to promote the new album? If so, when and where can we see you perform live?
Matt: Kier is an elementary teacher, and I am a history professor so we’re not really able to tour in the fall, unfortunately. Right now, we play a lot of shows in the summer and weekends through the rest of the year.
Kier: We post all our show info on Instagram and Facebook, so stay connected if you’d like updates on where and when we’re playing!
Do The Relative Minors hang out together when they aren't making music? (If yes, what do you do for 'F-U-N Spells Fun'?)
Kier: We are all friends and family first. James, the drummer is our brother-in-law. Laura and I taught together before she joined the band, and our kids are friends.
Matt: We’ve played on an ultimate frisbee team with Mark, the acoustic guitar/tuba/bass player, for about a decade.
Kier: Andy, our trumpet player and baritone singer, has been a close friend for almost twenty years.
Matt: Yeah, we’ve played in various bands with him, made all kinds of crazy videos and we’ve even lived with the guy. He’s basically family too.
Kier: We hang out with the members in many different contexts. When we’re all together as a group, we’re almost always making music or videos. Always having fun!
What do you do to Dance the Clouds Away when you're feeling low or sad?
Kier: When I’m feeling blue, I like to have a cup of tea, hug my kids and put on a jazz record.
Matt: I like to take the dog for a walk and listen to an audiobook or the latest Beppie! Wink.
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Beppie is a 2X JUNO nominated recording artist and an award winning music educator based out of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.