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he Shazzbots will celebrate the release of their second album February 23rd at the Gateway Film Center. (Credit: Clinton Reno)

Space Cowboy

Beloved kids band release second album

By Kate Liebers

Published February 1, 2013

Who knew that a Columbus hillbilly comedy band called Poop House Riley could lay the foundation for one of Ohio’s beloved children’s music groups?

Such is the story of the Shazzbots: a band for kids – by adults – who are blowing away the competition one outer space lullaby and zoo animal jam at a time. 

“I had reached a point in the (hillbilly band) project where it had just gotten filthy, and asked myself, ‘What would be the exact opposite of this?’” said Ian Hummel, Shazzbots founder. “I thought, ‘Can I write a kids’ song?’ I sat down and wrote a song called ‘Tugboat Parade,’ which I thought was a pretty good song, then wrote ‘My Cat’s Name is Peanutbutter.’ Before you know it, I had all these kids songs.”

Those songs launched Hummel into an entire Shazzbot universe. After drumming up a few melodies, he began inventing personas for prospective band members, a musically talented unit who would pilot a pedal-powered cardboard spacecraft from one intergalactic concert destination to the next. 

Hummel is Captain Captain, lead vocalist and guitarist. Bass player Mike Heslop becomes Navigator Scopes, an earthling orphan making a living as a daredevil for hire. Lead guitarist and percussionist Josh Tully wears a lab coat while he plays Professor Swiss Vanderburton, who was born in a library and has a penchant for orange marmalade. Molly Winters, a champion space-surfer named Aurora Borealis, is on the keyboard, while Steve Frye, the engineer Watts Watson, is on the drums. 

And there is a space chicken that plays the “bawk ba-wak.” 

The crew released their first album in 2009, to the delight of Columbus families. Hummel said the children relished the whimsical original lyrics while parents thanked the band for creating music that “didn’t drive them insane.” 

Finding a venue for the Shazzbots was initially challenging, Hummel said, as the audience had shifted from bar-dwelling adults to Columbus’s youth. Yet where they played, they were generally asked to return. The Shazzbots have been part of Columbus Library’s summer reading program for the past three years. They have also made appearances at Comfest, Nelsonville Music Festival, Red White and Boom, The Ohio State Fair, COSI and more. 

About four years and 150 shows later, the Shazzbots plan to release their latest album, “Blast Off” this month. A release party is scheduled for Feb. 23 at the Gateway Film Center.

“What I was worried about was this was taking so long with the second album – a lot of kids who were huge fans have grown out of the Shazzbots,” said Hummel as he pondered other contrasts between performing for children rather than adults. “But guess what – there are more kids coming up!”

This second album – and Columbus – is only the beginning, Hummel said. 

“It started out as a lark, to see if I could do this, and now that we’ve put all this time and effort into creating this world of the Shazzbots, I feel like we’re still just getting started with it,” he said. 

He hopes to develop the Shazzbots storyline even further, and is working with the band members to write television show scripts. The episodes would feature music videos and basic instrumental tutorials as the crew embarks on their quirky, gravity-defying adventures. The goal is to eventually break into mainstream children’s entertainment – to fill a void Hummel said is left by many modern shows catering to kids. 

“Kids are way more intelligent than people are giving them credit for,” Hummel said. “(Children’s music) doesn’t have to always be, ‘I love you and you love me’ and hugs and giggles and all that.” 

The Shazzbots were inspired by ’70s classics, such as the Muppets and SchoolHouse Rock. Hummel, who himself will don a blue jumpsuit and captain’s cap, cringed at the thought of wearing a silly costume only to sing the SpongeBob SquarePant’s theme song on stage. He said audiences crave the locally produced music Shazzbots have been offering. They sold out of their first album, despite offering them only at concerts. 

“I’ve never been part of a band where we’ve sold out of one thousand CDs,” Hummel said. “In the big scheme of things, it’s not a lot, but for a local band, that’s pretty good.” 

He offered a deal on the cases of Poop House Riley disks he has stored in his basement, relics of the fertilizer that bore Shazzbots. 

Another perk of entertaining an audience of children: the heckling is adorable. 

Hummel recalled a concert in which a boy requested a song about a platypus – an animal about which the Shazzbots had no song. Required to think quick, Captain Captain invited the boy to start singing the song he had in mind. He did, with the Shazzbots harmonizing.

A musician at heart, Hummel’s lyrical creativity spills into two other local bands. One is a six- to eight-person old-timey country band called Apple Bottom Gang. The other is a two-man country group called Me and Lil’ Brother (aka Brothers), featuring Zach Whitney.

The multiple projects provide many directions for Hummel to steer a developing song whenever inspiration strikes. A song about facial hair first performed by Brothers in the spirit of Movember, was later transformed into a Shazzbots song about a third-grader with a handlebar mustache. 

“It’s kind of cool to be able to write for different projects. For me, it’s fun to put on different hats,” Hummel said. “Yeah, that is a good way to put it because I do like to wear hats – a cowboy hat there, a captain’s hat there, a baseball cap over here.”

And in the end, Hummel thought the Shazzbots were not so different from his other projects – including Poop House, the band meant to be its antitheses. 

“The other band and this band are about being able to write about anything, and the whole idea of just being creative,” he said. “[The Shazzbots] show kids that you can write about anything, from a tugboat parade to a fat cat to milkshakes.”

All while blasting through the galaxy with a chicken in your spaceship.

The Shazzbots will celebrate the release of their second album February 23rd at the Gateway Film Center. Children’s activities begin at 10 a.m., followed by a one-hour Shazzbots special beginning at 11 a.m. The show is free with a canned good for the Mid-Ohio Food Bank. For more, visit www.theshazzbots.com.