When musicians go solo, they often have baggage from their previous band that follows them around for the rest of their careers. Nobody could ever forget Paul McCartney was in The Beatles or that Lauryn Hill was in the Fugees. When it comes to popular music, the thing you did before you went solo is like a ghost that haunts you forever. Except when you’re a former member of the children’s super-group, the Wiggles, and it doesn’t matter at all, because your audience is constantly brand new. Being a former Wiggle, for Sam Moran’s audience, is refreshingly meaningless.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” Moran tells Fatherly. “The curse part is that your audience grows out of you. Every three years, you have to educate the entire industry about what you do and who you are. But, it is also freeing. You’re hampered by your past. Whatever you are doing now in the music is what is on the forefront in the mind of the audience.”
Over 20 years ago, Sam Moran became the understudy of Wiggles lead singer Greg Page. By 2006, Moran had replaced Page as the frontman of the unstoppable kids’ band. But, six years later in 2012, Page was back. By 2010, Sam Moran had already started doing solo material, and in 2013, fully post-Wiggles, Moran hosted the successful Nickelodeon series, Play Along With Sam. And, even though families might not be aware of this — due to the constantly shifting age of his core audience — he’s never quit.
And now, with the release of his latest album, All The Feels, Moran has given parents of kids in the earliest grades, a perfect set of songs that honestly explore social-emotional realities. All The Feels is what it says it is: a kids’ album about all feelings, not just the warm fuzzy ones. Similar to Matthew McConaughey’s new children’s picture book about feelings, Moran’s album encourages kids to be kids and focuses on validating emotions, rather than “fixing” feelings.
Fatherly sat down with Moran to pick his brain about this excellent new album, how he’s filling a gap in children’s music, and what music this musician dad listens to with this 13-year-old kiddo.
The album basically sounds like a kids’ version of indie pop or indie rock. Is that accurate?
That is the one great thing about being a children’s entertainer and doing children’s music. It’s that children’s music is the genre. We get to play in all sorts of musical sandboxes to introduce children to different types of music and different genres and different sounds and explore that because kids haven’t yet established what their favorite type of music is yet.
And yes, because the subject matter is more about emotional development, we’ve moved out of preschool music. We’re getting into some more complex emotions that come with age as you start school. Musically, that has to move as well. I was talking about this with the record label. We find that children are moving from Cocomelon and moving straight to Taylor Swift at the moment. Literally, almost overnight they move there.
Right. And that jump might not always make sense. They need something else in between, right?
That’s right. They’re absolutely drawn to those pop sounds and that pop music mentality of the simple rhythms and the repetitiveness, but lyrically those pop artists are really talking about relationships and heartbreak and things like that that children are not yet dealing with and would not have any concept of. We thought there was a chance to bridge that gap. This album is just straight pop music or indie pop that the whole family can enjoy. But, lyrically, it has a child’s worldview and a point-of-view that represents what children are feeling.
As a parent, I appreciate that the songs are labeled with the specific emotion each song is about. Was the goal of the album to help with big feelings?
The thing that informed this album came out of the lockdowns. I was reading all these reports of children in that early-education age group who are struggling with identifying what emotions they’re feeling. They’ve been locked in a room basically by themselves away from peers and things for so long and the diagnoses of anxiety have skyrocketed. Especially your own emotions thing was something that struck home with me.
I was diagnosed with depression in 2015 and I’ve had my own struggles with that. Part of my own therapy was going through trying to identify at any given moment in the day what I was actually feeling and trying to actually re-label for myself my own emotions. I could really connect with those articles and I thought this is possibly a great opportunity to bring my own understanding of that with my understanding of the children’s music and try and reincorporate those two things together.
So, it’s about giving kids the same kind of emotional catharsis that adult music has?
I don’t try to tell children how to feel or what to feel or how to get through it or anything like that. I often say that with adult music we often listen to music ourselves to help us process our own emotions. When we are going through a breakup, we don’t listen to happy music to make ourselves feel better. We listen to a breakup song to help us process the feelings we’re experiencing. And children are no different I don’t think, in that way. They need hear to from their own point of view be able to process how they’re feeling through music and be able to have their own music.
Kids in the early years, they’re experiencing some of these more complex emotions like anxiety and being nervous, for the first time.
Sometimes it feels like caregivers, teachers, and of course, parents, just want to shut down a “negative” emotion. But, as you say, kids need their painful feelings, right? We’re always trying to “fix” kids.
I think that’s something that even adults do sometimes — try to fix other people’s problems rather than just be there and listen. For kids, when we were creating that bridge between those two worlds, we weren’t really sure where that was musically going to land when we were writing it. At first, there were a lot of songs that were a little bit too preschool-y.
But then, sometimes, I’d be like, “Well, is this really childlike? Does this represent a child’s view anymore or is it more just general life things?” I believe we’ve landed in a good place where it is the bridge that a little touches on both, but sways as well to have a wider base of where the children are on any given day. It’s creating a space for them to find their own emotions within that space. I haven’t cried more on making a children’s album than I have done on this one.
What are you listening to with your own kid?
I just did Lollapalooza — the kid stage at Lollapalooza — and I was able to bring my 13-year-old with me. She certainly was taking me around the other stages and I love listening to Maggie Rogers. My 13-year-old also loves Lana Del Rey. Funny story there. I really wanted to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers at Lollapalooza. But I sacrificed seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers to take my daughter to Lana Del Rey.