GLOUCESTER, Mass. – Clark native Ilene “Leeny” Altman started writing kids music for an audience of one – her nephew Zak.
Altman’s first songs were written to entertain and educate Zak about the important things in life – fruit, clouds, and stinky diapers. Then Zak said, “Leeny, can you write me more songs?” To which Altman replied, “Uhhhh… sure, buddy!”
Altman called her longtime friend, Steve Equi. They had met in 1990 at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass., but in all the years they had known each other, they had never collaborated. Equi had recently released a solo EP that he independently produced. Altman was impressed with how he had grown as a songwriter and musician, and with the production quality he was able to achieve at his home studio. She also remembered his fondness for Schoolhouse Rock and the Muppets.
Altman was living in the Bay Area at the time and flew to Equi’s place in Houston for five days to write and record five songs. “We talked about the music we loved when we were kids and why we still loved it,” she said.
“The songs were well-crafted with catchy hooks and featured outstanding musicianship. The lyrics were clever, funny, sweet, and educational… often simultaneously. The music was written for and directed specifically to kids without ever talking down to them, while also appealing to adults. Good songs are good songs, no matter the musical genre or lyrical content.
“We just tried to write the best music we could with kid-oriented subject matter. Lyrics that could help you learn something without realizing that you’re learning something – Kids’ music that’s funducational! We wanted kids to have songs for dancing and for quiet time, and parents really wanted songs about good behavior.
“The process was so much fun and just happened so quickly. We sent the first five songs around to family and friends with and without children and the positive response was overwhelming. We got together two more times for five days each to write and record another 11 tracks for the album. We enjoy so many different styles of music – rock, country, R&B, reggae, opera – we wanted to leave ourselves open to whatever style felt right for each song.”
All the songs on the album, titled “Be Nice,” were written, produced, and performed by Altman and Equi, including his super spoon solo on “What CAN I Do?!” Equi recorded and mixed the album at his home studio.
“Writing kids’ music is more fun than any other music I’ve written, and it just feels so much more worthwhile and fulfilling. Plus I’m getting to relearn everything I’ve forgotten from my youth,” Altman said.
She grew up in Clark, just down the street from Rotundo’s Deli, with three older brothers, a younger sister, and parents who were very active in the community. “I even delivered the Atom Tabloid when I was a kid! I think I earned three cents a paper,” she said. “Though I haven’t been back to Clark for many years, it still feels like my hometown, and you will hear my NJ pride showing through in the CD’s first track, ‘I Like Fruit’.”
Altman currently lives in Gloucester, Mass. with her husband Nick. She enjoys playing Frisbee, eating strawberries, and reciting the states alphabetically in 19 seconds.