Meet the Minds Behind the Music

What would happen if The Beatles met Sesame Street and School House Rock? The answer is magic, and it’s a band called Ants Ants Ants. Ants Ants Ants is an Oregon-based family music band that creates original songs that evoke the best feelings of childhood and stoke the imaginations of both the kids in our lives, and the kid that lives within each of us. We caught up with Dave Gulick and Johnny Clay, two members of the band behind several favorite Vooks sing-along titles, to learn more about the magic behind the music.

Tell us a little bit about your backgrounds and how the band came to be.

Dave: Both Johnny and I have been playing music for what seems like forever.  We both met in Portland, OR, playing in bands and gigging together, Johnny with The Dimes and myself with Derby. We bonded over a love of The Beatles and started recording music together. Ants Ants Ants has been such a wonderful collaboration with all of our Portland music friends. The idea was to make truly special family music that all ages could enjoy. I can’t tell you how proud I am of the music we are creating.

What inspires your music creation process?

Johnny: Well, certainly with Ants Ants Ants, it’s hearing things my daughters say, that wonderful childhood imagination. I love to hear about their perspective of the world around them—kids notice everything! Take a song like “Helicopter Leaves”—I didn’t grow up around maple trees and had never heard the term “helicopter leaves” before. I just loved it. And that song practically wrote itself after walking my daughter to school under the spinning helicopter leaves.

Do you have a favorite style of music to play?

Dave: We both are such huge Beatles fans, so any excuse to play and sing those songs is fantastic. Singing together and picking out harmonies is just the best.

Johnny: I think we’re both just huge fans of songs and the craft of songwriting, and The Beatles are a master class in songwriting. It’s always fun to play those songs and be reminded why they are so beloved.

You’ve created the music for Why Why Why?6 Pickup SticksPinwheelHelicopter Leaves, and Blue. Can you tell us a little about what inspired those?

Johnny: This goes back to those conversations with the kids. Certainly “Helicopter Leaves” and “Blue” were just talking with my oldest daughter on the way to school. She was probably about 6 or 7 and we were talking about the biggest animals on earth. I think a friend had her convinced that the biggest animal was an elephant and she didn’t believe me that it was actually a blue whale until we looked it up later that day. We found out that not only is a blue whale the biggest animal on earth today, it’s actually the biggest animal ever to live on earth. She thought that was pretty cool.

What was it like seeing your songs come to life as animated song books on Vooks?

Dave: We were so fortunate to work with Chris Purdin, who is a wonderful Portland-based illustrator/animator. He animated all these videos and came up with the concepts for each of them. It was such a blast seeing him bring all these characters to life. Hopefully the stars align and we get the chance to make more videos for future songs!

Johnny: I was so blown away by the world Chris created with these songs. I still am. It’s definitely inspiring to see the characters come to life.

Everyone enjoys music, but kids in particular seem to really connect with it from an early age. Why do you think that is?

Johnny: I think music is wired into us and part of the human experience. It’s amazing the way music can change the energy in the room. From the time my daughters were babies, we could put music on to calm them down if they were upset, or we’d sing to them and the looks on their faces were just amazing. Music speaks to us in a way that nothing else does.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, whether about music or otherwise?

Dave: The best advice I ever received was about preforming and being nervous. People always want to see you do well when you preform. Knowing that the audience is on your side and rooting for you can be so helpful. Also, it’s normal to be nervous before you perform.

Photos by Dylan VanWeelden