By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published May 06, 2006 at 5:41 AM

Any parent will tell you that one of their youngster's favorite words is "again!" For Dan Zanes, "again" has gotta be at the top of his list of favorites, too.

The former frontman of the '80s band the Del Fuegos -- named 1984's best new band by Rolling Stone magazine -- enjoyed a fair share of success before the band broke up in 1990. Following el fin Del Fuegos, Zanes continued to play his banjo and mandolin, but mostly with friends and neighbors. Then, after the birth of his daughter, Zanes had a new muse -- and new vision for the kind of music he wanted to make.

His thoughts on kids' music were on-target with with what a handful of other music makers were doing: Creating tunes for tots that didn't revolve around themes like wearing pajamas with feet or hating the taste of vegetables, but instead, making records that appealed to all-ages, from child to parent to grandparent. Zanes likes to take the old and make it new, with a lot of his music coming from the Anglo-American, folk-bluegrass tradition, including "A Bushel and a Peck," "Froggy Went A-Courtin'" and the "Wabash Cannonball."

Zanes and friends are currently on tour promoting his new disc, "Catch That Train," set for co-release on May 16 by Zanes' label Festival Five and Starbucks. It is his first CD since 2004's Grammy-nominated "House Party." The group comes to Alverno College's Pitman Theater on Sunday, May 7, to perform a concert at 11:30 a.m.

Perfect timing for hardcore rockers who have to squeeze in an afternoon nap.

OMC: So, what are you doing this morning?

Dan Zanes: My Spanish homework. I am determined to really get (my Spanish) going so I can live in America and be comfortably free floating. I just marched in the immigration parade this week ...

OMC: You have a real interest in Spanish culture and language, and my family has appreciated that some of your songs are sung in Spanish. Where does this appreciation stem from?

DZ: I love so much of the Spanish music that I've heard and I know there's a whole 'nother level of experience available if I speak Spanish. I also have this feeling that we're here living in America and there are so many people among us who don't feel welcome, so I guess I'm making an effort to meet them halfway because this is a great way of life and anyone with us should feel welcome.

OMC: How is your tour going so far?
DZ: Great. We're really loosening up and getting deeper into the tunes. We always want it to be (more spontaneous) like a mini Grateful Dead concert, but sometimes we get stuck in greatest hits' mode. We're breaking out of that, though.

OMC: I've read your music described as "family music" or "social music." What does this mean?

DZ: I'm really just updating a lot of existing music for the 21st century. It's an ancient concept: Making music that all ages can listen to together and connect to emotionally. It's really only been in the last few generations that music has become very divided, and that most of the music directed towards children is about their experience as a child. This is great, but it limits the possibilities.

OMC: How did the birth of your daughter influence you musically?

DZ: When my daughter was born, I didn't know anything about anything that related to kids. I didn't have friends with them so I just assumed "family music" would be updated versions of the folk music that I listened to as a kid -- the kind of music that sounded like it was being performed right in somebody's kitchen. But this isn't what I found at Tower Records. Instead, everything was tied into TV or movies, so I looked harder. And I eventually found a lot of great music, and I started making the kind of music I wanted to hear with my family. I didn't do it because these wasn't any good stuff out there, because there is, but I didn't find what I heard in my head which was an updated version of these old folk records I loved as a kid ... I really wanted to make music that could be a shared experience.

OMC: You've had some incredible guests on you records: Aimee Mann, Nick Cave, Natalie Merchant, Suzanne Vega, just to name a few. Are most musicians really that into playing for kids?
DZ: A lot of times, when I first describe what I was doing, I think they felt a little sorry for me. No, I know they did. They would roll their eyes and think I was asking them to work on songs about learning to brush your teeth or putting on a pair of trousers, but once they understood what I was doing, and the way family music has changed, they were really into it.

OMC: What are your thoughts on Laurie Berkner, who -- like you -- is pioneering this smarter, more "all-ages" music genre?

DZ: Laurie has been doing this longer than I have. I've watched her work really hard over the years, in New York and all over, and it's really gratifying to see her get the success she really deserves.

OMC: Do you think kids have taste in music?

DZ: I think kids are open-minded in a way that most of us cannot understand anymore because we're so used to trying to figure out where something fits into our organized minds that we forget to listen to what we're listening to. Kids are drawn to a much wider-and able to enjoy -- a much wider spectrum musically then most people give them credit for.

OMC: So, when you are choosing or writing songs, do you think specifically about kids and what they might like or not like?

DZ: I don't spend a lot of time thinking these days whether kids will understand the lyrics of the songs I want to play. The only thing I'm really aware of is that if I sing a song about learning to eat with a fork, it's going to be difficult for grownups to get emotionally engaged with that. But if I sing songs about old girlfriends with themes of romantic love or sexual love, 3- or 4-year-olds are not going to be emotionally attached to that. So I'm interested in the place between, where there's this incredibly rich world. Kids' imaginations are on fire, and if you serve up something with emotional density, no matter what age, they'll take what they want and it will feed into what's already going on in their minds, which is beyond our comprehension. But I try not to think about this stuff too much, because then I'm not practicing my mandolin.

For tickets to see Dan Zanes & Friends at Alverno's Pitman Theater, 3400 S. 43rd St., on Sunday, May 7, at 11:30 a.m, call (414) 382-6044. Tickets are $10 for adults and kids.

Dan Zanes' Web site is

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.