If Dr. Seuss and Dr. Dre had a baby, it would be the music of Secret Agent 23 Skidoo. Today, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo shares his story with Kidorable Parenting.
Jonathan: Hello, and welcome to Kidorable Parenting’s interview with Grammy-Award winning artist, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo. I’m Jonathan Domsky, blogger, parenting coach and co-founder of Kidorable. My son and I have been big fans of Secret Agent 23 Skidoo for years. It’s such a joy to find music that we both really like to listen to together. Let’s get started. 23, tell me a little bit about who you are, what you do, and what you’re passionate about.
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: Sure, man. Well, let’s see. My name is Cactus. That’s what my friends call me. My touring name is Secret Agent 23 Skidoo. Let’s see, I’ve been a professional musician for about two decades, a little bit more. And I’m a proud father of a daughter who is 16 years old now, and learning how to drive. You know, being a parent is one of my favorite things. Being a musician is one of my favorite things. So I’ve been lucky enough to been able to find a way to combine them. And when my daughter was five, my band that I was in sort of took a dive, and I was trying to figure out how to take my next step. You know, the problem with being in a band is when it’s doing well, that means that you’re away from home a lot, and, you know, I kind of felt like I was missing a lot of her time growing up. So, I kind of did a Hail Mary and taught my daughter how to rap, and made an album for her and with her, and we got real lucky. That went over really well. And, you know, within a few months, one of the songs was number one on Sirius XM. And so for the past decade, we’ve got to travel all over the place together. We’ve played Lollapalooza, Legoland, the Smithsonian. We’ve played up in Canada. And this last year, we got to go down and accept the Grammy Award together. So, it’s pretty mind-blowing, and my dreams just to continue to come true and, you know, it barely leaves me enough time to have new dreams for those to come true. I’m a lucky guy.
Jonathan: Understood. Well, what’s something you wish you had more courage or imagination to do when you were younger?
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: Well, that’s kind of a trick question because the things that I wasn’t able to do and the things that, you know, maybe I could say that I did wrong have been the stages of me becoming who I am right now. Right? So, to have any kind of regrets about the past, to have any kind of feelings like you wish you had done something different, is sort of to invalidate who you’ve become because of that. I was talking to my wife about that just the other day, because we both had an interesting and the crooked path that leads to the happy ending type situation growing up, and you get older, you get some perspective and you say, “Well, man, I wish I could’ve done this thing differently when I was younger.” But that thing is exactly what led you to have the perspective that you have right now, you know?
So, really, I would say that I’m really glad about how everything went. I’m really glad of all the things that I had the courage to do. I’m glad of the things that I didn’t have the courage to do, so that when I fell down, I could, you know, learn how to get back up and have that courage next time.
Jonathan: Makes sense. It’s one of those things in my own life I’d say I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but I wouldn’t wish it on anybody else.
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: Exactly.
Jonathan: What do you do to give children you love the courage and imagination to seize possibilities within themselves and the world?
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: I mean, a lot of it is kind of getting down on their level and I mean that both physically, where if you have a young kid and they feel overwhelmed by the presence of a grown up, the best thing to do is kind of to get down eye level with them and talk to them like that, right? Well, it’s the exact same when you’re trying to teach them about life. Like, you come down and start to talk with them on their level, and then you let them know that you used to be just like them. You used to be that size, you used to be overwhelmed by the world, you used to be scared of things. And, you know, I mean, we’re all still scared of things, but scared of the same things that they’re scared of. And then give them the steps to kind of see how through making a lot of mistakes and learning how to try again, and learning how to practice things that you love, you can eventually grow to this great thing that this person has a great life or something that they enjoy and a life that is full of love, essentially.
You know, I don’t think kids always see that. I think kids see this huge gap between who they are and who, somebody who is kind of like this big, shiny thing is, and they don’t see that there’s a path in between the two. But both from teaching kids how to write rhymes in the workshops that I do, but also talking to them one on one about, you know, I have loads of notebooks full of rhymes that I wrote that I think are just terrible. And that I knew at the time were terrible while I was writing them, because you have to write your way through the terrible stuff to get to the good stuff. And, you know, when I tell them that, whether it’s my daughter or other kids, that gives them the hope that, you know, they can actually take those steps and end up being better than they could possibly imagine at what they love to do.
Jonathan: Nice. Tell me more about that. You said you have to write through the bad stuff to get to the good stuff. What’s an example in your work?
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: Well, I mean, you know, luckily I’ve always, I guess, liked the idea of me being a writer enough that I could kind of keep hope through that. But, you know, I tell my daughter that sometimes when she gets discouraged, I’m like, “Do you wanna see my first few notebooks, because I kept them?” And we can go back and just be like, “Oh, God, these rhymes are just terrible.” You know? And, you know, you can kind of tell when you’re doing it, because you’re comparing yourself to the people who inspire you and your work is nowhere near as good, nowhere near as, you know, colorful, or precise, or stylish, or whatever it is that you’re trying to be, as though to inspire you. But you can start to, you know, see the steps. I mean, a lot of times you start by, you have a dream, and you have to chip away everything that’s not that dream, to get to it. You know, it’s like when they say, sculptors, you know, see inside of a marble block and can see the sculpture, and then they chip away at everything that’s not that. I think it’s the same thing with life, right? You have a dream, and then you have to remove everything that’s not the dream, and then you end up with the dream.
Jonathan: Nice. Describe something in your family life that you’ve consciously made more fun, easy, meaningful, or joyous.
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: Let’s see. I would say, you know, we love words in my family. That’s something that has come down from, my mom was an English teacher, so she also had that. But, you know, the fact that we’ve been able to write songs together, the fact that we’ve been able to spend a lot of time reading together, that’s just a really good thing with us, is like, we enjoy vocabulary. We enjoy, you know, the turn of phrase. We enjoy jokes on that level. So, especially as my daughter gets old enough to really come up with those type of more cerebral jokes, that’s something that’s really, really fun for me. Like, we, you know, have a lot of respect and really elevate the moments when somebody has, like, a turn of phrase, or something witty to say. You know, and I know that that all comes from filling our heads with books, filling our heads with songs and poetry, and just, you know, ideas and conversations. So, yeah, that cerebral aspect is something that brings a lot of joy to my family. We really…we dig it.
Jonathan: Great. Well, what’s something about your current family life that you wish was more fun, easy, meaningful, or joyous?
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: I mean, you know, it basically comes down to, as a parent, I think if you’ve done it right, I mean, there’s really no right or wrong, I guess, but, if you’re the type of person that really loves hanging out with your kid, then you’ll always kind of wish that you had hung out with your kid more. I hung out with my kid a lot more than a lot of people, but I still somehow miss the seven-year-old, you know, when I look at the 16 year old. I don’t think there’s any way around that, you know. I think that, you know, the only thing that really makes it okay is that I love the 16-year-old so much, you know? Like, every stage is so beautiful and, you know, she gets so much deeper and so much more cool, that it’s all right that I miss the seven-year-old. But, I mean, that’s about it, really, is like, I also wish that, you know, like every parent, I probably, I wish that, you know, my 16-year-old wanted to spend more time with me. But, I also remember what it’s like to be a 16-year-old, and, you know, by that metric I’m doing fine.
Jonathan: These days, how many days a year are you on the road away from your family?
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: Let’s see. Some months I’m on the road more than half a month, some months I’m on the road a week. But most months I’m on the road at some point. So it’s definitely a pattern of being gone a lot, and then also my wife is a yoga teacher who leads retreats to India, Ireland, a few other places. So, she’ll leave sometimes for a month, as well. We definitely have that sort of rhythm where we each have our life that we go out and leave, and then come back with stories. And, I don’t know. People say, “Oh, you know, that must be hard on the family,” but honestly, what’s hard on our family is when we’re all together for too long. Like, we need that kind of space. We need the space to go be ourselves, come back with stories, come back fresh. As a matter of fact, we talk a lot about the idea of, you know, romanticizing something, right? Like, romance not as in, like, you know, kissy kissy, hug hug, all that. But like, romance in the sense of how do you romanticize something? Well, you have to have enough space apart from that thing to be able to imbue it with your thoughts and your imagination, you know? It’s a perspective. So, when I go on the road and think about my wife and start to miss her, then that makes it that much more beautiful when I come back. And same thing, when she is out there missing me and then coming back. So, it’s pretty beautiful, actually.
Jonathan: Do you have any kind of ritual or routine to stay in touch, to stay close when you are on the road?
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: I wouldn’t say we have any, you know, defined ritual. But, you know, these things breathe, right? Like, it’s kind of…I find that you miss people the most either right when you leave or right before you’re about to come back. Sometimes that space in the middle, you let that space happen. But then as you’re starting to come back into each other’s orbit, that’s when you really start to feel each other, and that’s when you start to talk more and more. So I think it kind of has the natural rhythm like that. It’s not really something we’ve defined, but something that I think sort of exists naturally, that we respect and adapt to.
Jonathan: Interesting. What’s something that you treasure from your childhood that you’ve tried to recreate with your own children?
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: Let’s see. I would say playing, you know? Just lots of playing. Like, my parents were pretty goofy in that sense, and I don’t know. I think that you don’t really ever have to grow out being playful. I certainly haven’t grown out of being playful, and, like, I’d say even though my kid is a teenager, the fact is she’s never made that distinct turn of a corner to being somebody who’s not playful. My wife also has that feel to her. So, you know, we’re pretty goofy, man. We just, like, joke around a lot, and I make dumb dad jokes, and, you know, we encourage that type of thing.
Jonathan: Yeah. What’s something from your childhood that you’ve consciously changed in raising your own children?
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: I mean, there’s a lot of generational differences between when my parents were raising me. I think, generally, people of my generation hang out with their kids on a more open, transparent level. We’ve talked to her just about everything under the sun, and honestly, even from the time that she was really young, we talked pretty openly with her about things. And, you know, I’d rather talk in a somewhat complex way and give my kid something to reach out towards, or, you know, the opportunity to ask questions, rather than just try to dumb something down. And I mean, I think, you know, the world we live in, you know, it’s a pretty crazy place. And there are certain things that, you know, we have theories about them. We have our ways of dealing with the mysteries that life holds. But I don’t think there’s any one answer for a lot of things.
So, that’s a big difference, is I don’t raise my kid expecting her to take my answers or my truths as her own. I just give her as much information as I possibly can, and allow her to make her own decisions. Because, you know, I think, really, your truth is only your truth if you’re the one who, who grasps it, or who came up with it, or chose it. You know, I had certain truths that were passed down to me as if, you know, they were the only truth and I was expected to believe them. And, you know, I have different beliefs in that now because I went out and found information on my own, and constructed my own beliefs. And I absolutely embrace my daughter doing that. So, that’s a big difference.
Jonathan: Nice. What’s the best thing about being a parent?
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: Man, when you become a parent, it’s like you become reborn, right? It’s, from the level of dealing with a baby and starting to think about the fact that they’re not even thinking in words yet, they’re not even thinking in concepts yet, they’re thinking in, you know, just color and sensation and wonder. When you do that, it’s almost a contagious mind state. You start to see things more like that, and as they grow up, as they start to, you know, be able to fit those very broad stroke ideas into more and more complicated boxes, you kind of go on that trip with them. And so, you know, anything from believing that magic is real, to being able to believe two opposing things at the same time, to, you know, talking to a tree. To, you know, becoming so locked in a story that you become one of the characters. Like, it’s just really fun to hang out with kids because their mentality is a little bit more porous when it comes to that. And so, as a grown up, you become so sort of calcified into these ideas that to have a kid and to hang out with a kid who’s developing, that sort of breaks open that concrete calcification a little bit more, and allows you to evolve. It’s one of the most beautiful things is, you know, you give them life and they give you life.
Jonathan: Nice. So talking with you and seeing you on stage, I hear this fun, hip guy full of delightful weirdness. Is that the same person your wife and daughter see when you’re at home as a family?
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: You know, in family, you see every side of somebody, right? So, what you just described is me at my most free, and me at my most confident, and me at my most, you know, the peaks of having fun and it being creative and doing all the things that I love to do. So, they see that side and, you know, that’s what they see as probably the truest me. Of course, they also see the guy that has to pay the mortgage, and they see the guy that has to get up early to drive them places and, you know, all that other things. We all go through that stuff. So they see all the sides just like I see all the sides of them. But, you know, what you just said, yeah, that’s, that’s the heart of me and that’s the heart of, like, you know, that’s kind of, like, what we share. We have this thing, the vesica piscis, you know, like, or the Venn diagram. Like, my wife has beliefs and ideas and moods that I don’t have. I have beliefs and ideas and moods that she doesn’t have. But what is it that we share? It’s kind of exactly what you said, the quirky, creative, joyful, playful feeling. That’s kind of at the heart of our family period.
Jonathan: Yeah. So, I heard you say that the truest, the most genuine, best side of you is the persona that you share with world on stage. Is that right?
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: Yeah, I’d say so. I’d say, you know, it’s fun to create a character that you can express yourself through, especially one that’s kind of modeled after what your, you know, highest hopes for yourself is. So, when I put on the purple tuxedo and the top hat, and I put on the gold glasses and get up on stage and just kind of become a more, a cartoonish, vivid version of that. It’s great because that becomes a touchstone for me, too, you know. It’s like being able to be out on stage and channel the energy of the whole crowd through what I consider to be the highest version of myself. Like, that’s a very lucky thing and that kind of keeps those specific batteries pretty charged up.
Jonathan: Yeah. What’s the relationship between Secret Agent 23 Skidoo and the guy who has to pay the bills after he comes home from a few weeks on tour?
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: That’s a great question. I come home, I take the top hat and, you know, hang it up where it goes, and then, I guess it’d be like this. Like, 23 Skidoo is a pirate, and he goes out and, you know, plunders, and then comes home with the treasure. And then, you know, gives the treasure to the accountant, and then the accountant has to go pay the bills. So when I get home, I have to become the accountant, and often the transition between the two takes a couple of days, you know?
Jonathan: Yeah. Tell me about your current project? Or something else you think I should know about your work?
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: Well, let’s see. The most recent project I did that I’m really happy with is called Mozartistic, and it’s a collaboration with the Ashville Symphony. So, this is something where we’re combing the worlds of hip-hop and symphonic music. And, you know, we had such a blast doing this, because of the producer. You know, I just love different sounds, everything from brass sections, to percussion, to what drum machines can do. But, the idea of taking an entire orchestra like, you know, almost 50 people, and thinking in those terms when coming up with music is at once both daunting and very, very satisfying. So, getting my head wrapped around making that project was beautiful.
We started with the work of Mozart and found ways to sort of sample Mozart, loop Mozart. We found a way to make a string section sound like record scratching. And so the first song, the main song is called Mozartistic, and it’s about, you know, Mozart’s young life as a child prodigy, you know, doing tour around Europe with his dad when he was, like, seven or eight or nine years old. So, you know, that’s something we’re obviously pretty familiar with. But the idea being, using it as an inspiration for kids of, you know, how would you even know if you were a prodigy at something if you didn’t try to identify what you could fall in love with, and then try very hard and practice very hard at it. And it’s a little bit of, you know, a nudge to the parents of like, yo, if you’ve got something that your kid is really in love with, you should be there for them to help them practice it a lot. Because, I mean, clearly, Mozart’s dad was very instrumental in his life, it was pun intended, I guess. You know, it just goes to show that something like Mozart, which effects the whole world, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And it doesn’t happen without effort on a number of people’s parts. So, you know, to make a lesson like that sound fun, and then it’s the exact same thing as taking something which is classical music, which some people would consider to be sort of stuffy, and make it sound like a party track. You know. It’s taking something serious and making it fun, but maintaining both sides of it at the same time.
Jonathan: Where can I find out more?
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: Www.secretagent23skidoo, that’s S-K-I-D-O-O dot com. That’s the best place to find out about, you know, where we are on tour, what projects we have coming up, all that kind of thing. But also, if you wanna see a great video for Mozartistic, just go on YouTube and check out Mozartistic. So, that’s Mozart, spelled like his name, and then I-S-T-I-C at the end, all one word. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo Mozartistic, that’ll give you a pretty good idea of what we’re up to.
Jonathan: Excellent. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, this has been such a treat. I am grateful for your time, your wisdom, and the gift your music has been for my family, and for thousands of families around the world.
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: Well, thanks, man. I really appreciate it. You know, it’s great to be asked questions and then have to rethink about your world in a whole different way. So, thanks for the opportunity to do that, and it’s been a pleasure.
You can see videos, including “Mozartistic” by searching for Secret Agent 23 Skidoo on YouTube, and you can also see videos, hear songs, buy albums, books and more, plus see where I’ll be touring soon, at www.secretagent23skidoo.com. And on that website, it’s easy to get in touch with me, so if anyone out there has any questions or would like us to come and perform, drop me a line! Thanks!
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