Friday, February 15, 2008

Hot Lava: Power chords for pre-schoolers


The first sound is the electric crackle from the stack of Marshall amps as the guitarist plugs in his instrument. A paint-melting roar erupts from the crowd. The drummer throws down a hard-rock stomp and the singer begins to belt over the chunky, palm-muted power chords.
The song is “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
This is Hot Lava, a quartet from Santa Barbara that plays hard rock music for kids.

The band formed in 2006, when a group of parents played a set at the Oaks Parent-Child Workshop. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and the group kept jamming. Hot Lava’s lineup featured guitarist Jean Paul Romero, bassist Ivan Pelly, and drummer Josh Fischer. One year after that first show, singer Lisa Lamb came aboard.
“I have to say that this band, out of all the bands I’ve been in, and I’ve been in a lot of bands, this is the most fun I’ve ever had,” said Lamb, whose former UK group Peach Union enjoyed significant success in the ‘90s.
“It was mostly about just getting together and jamming, you know, and having fun,” said John, who also drums for local punk band Silent Miaow.
Though the band often takes their lyrics from nursery rhymes, their sound borrows much more from the Rolling Stones than Raffi. The riffs, guitar solos, and drum-beats take their cues from every artist from AC/DC to the Beatles.
“And there’s no shortage of [Iron] Maiden,” added Fischer.
Parents and children alike have welcomed the rock-and-roll treatment that Hot Lava brings to kids’ music as a break from the norm.
“It’s like there’s kind of a rule that if you listen to kid’s music, it’s going to drive the parents crazy. And we’re trying to kind of buck that trend,” said Romero, whose guitar work often reflects the edgy, melodic sound of UFO.
“The audience is definitely not just four-year-olds, but actually just whole families. And the four-year-old music is still there but there’s stuff for older people,” Romero added.
“I think kids just like that kind of music,” said Lamb. “You know, they can follow the structure, they can follow the melody, it’s loud and they can jump up and down to it … I think the parents are relieved that they’re not forced to listen to some horrendous stuff like Barney.”
The kids in the audience recognize the covers of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “You are My Sunshine” and they sing along as loud as they want. In addition, the children who regularly attend the concert learn the words to the band’s original songs, like the blues-rock-infused “Superhero.”
This song, along with four others, is available for listening on the band’s website and on the demo CD they distribute to fans. There is talk of Hot Lava making a full-length album this summer.
All the band members have families with children, and the kids seem to have responded well to their parents’ musical endeavors.
“My kids are seven and four, and I didn’t put them up to it, but they both started taking music lessons,” said Pelly. “I can’t credit Hot Lava necessarily, but our kids definitely love that music … I’d say they’re our biggest fans.”
“My kid has our T-shirt,” Pelly added, “and he’ll insist on wearing it for a week and the other kids are like, ‘Uh, your dad made you wear that, right?’ And it’s just the opposite. I can’t get them to stop.”


Though all four band members have jobs other than playing music and spend as much time as possible hanging out with their families, Hot Lava manages to play plenty of gigs every year. They regularly play at Stow House, Solstice, and various preschools and fund-raisers.
When I asked what was the hardest gig they ever played, the band unanimously cited the Stow House Christmas gig.
“We had to compete with Santa,” said Pelly. “And Santa was having a hard time hearing the kids’ wishes because our rock band was playing so loud.”
“But we’re a rock band!” added Lamb. “Being loud is the whole point.”The band still laughs about that show, and they have played other shows at Stow House that with much greater success. Laughing at themselves is something the members of Hot Lava do all the time.
“There’s nothing cool about [these shows],” said Lamb, “You’re playing for a bunch of children. You’re making a fool of yourself. That’s your job, is making a fool of yourself!”
Hot Lava is currently looking to expand out of the Santa Barbara local scene by playing at Kidsapalooza, a sub-set of Lollapalooza, the famous two-day music festival in Chicago.
Their next gig will be the fundraiser for Oaks Parent-Child Workshop on March 1st. The event will take place at the Santa Barbara Woman’s Club (Rockwood) and tickets will be sold at the door.
Hot Lava’s dynamic and positive music is reflected by their sense of humor and their fun-loving attitude.
“I mean, when the kids are out there, you know, yelling for your favorite song, and their moms are there behind them shaking back and forth, you know something good is happening,” said Fischer, “That’s what makes it so much fun.”Music samples from Hot Lava are available at

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