Ants Ants Ants is an emerging Portland band that’s challenging music genres in their own way. Channeling the likes of The Beatles with psychedelic ‘70s vintage rock sprinkled on top, the musical group sets themselves apart in how their content is designed — keeping both kids and adults in mind. It’s a mergence that doesn’t happen often in the music world where content can be both appreciated by kindergarteners as well as their parents.
Comprised of Johnny Clay, who played with The Dimes for over 10 years and Dave Gulick of Derby, Ants Ants Ants became a new venture for the two artists. The creative project became an opportunity to craft music for a completely new kind of audience altogether.
“I think the best part about writing these songs was that there weren’t really any constraints,” says Gulick. “You could write about anything; that was really liberating and a blast to do. I think it’s easy to overthink things while you’re writing music, so simplifying things was such a breath of fresh air.”
With the freedom to begin exploring new creative territory, Ants Ants Ants became a liberating chapter in Clay’s and Gulick’s lives. The duo found themselves returning to “the basics,” embracing a new songwriting process by welcoming input from Clay’s kids. The idea was to step back and allow the content to develop more organically, preserving its genuine and relatable qualities.
“I think we both approach the songwriting process like we do in our other bands,” says Clay. “Kids are smart and they know when something isn’t authentic. We really want to write great songs that they can relate to lyrically without sacrificing the production or the music. That’s what our favorite songs from our childhood did.”
The inspiration for the band’s premise came from Gulick’s and Derby’s own childhood influences, recalling how the songs from The Point by Harry Nilsson and Schoolhouse Rock made such an impression on them as children. Alongside the material they were inspired by when growing up, Ants Ants Ants taps into the pressing questions that kids can’t help but be intrigued by.
“For me, most of these songs were inspired by the things my kids say or questions they ask,” says Clay. “I’ll never forget when my oldest asked what the biggest animal in the world is — when I told her it was a blue whale she didn’t believe me. So we looked it up together and that inspired the song “Blue.”
With an unlimited source of inspiration living under the same roof as Clay, Gulick notes how the ideas are useful jumping off points for their project. Clay’s oldest daughter even inspired one of Gulick’s latest works, a song that’s about a giant eating an ice cream cone.
This sort of imaginative world that Ants Ants Ants brings to life paints a clear mental picture as each song unfolds. But for listeners needing more of a clear guiding visual, the duo work closely with Chris Purdin, an animator who’s collaborated with Laika and Cartoon Network. Through Purdin’s illustrating expertise, he brings to life the cheeky and incredibly imaginative world of Ants Ants Ants. The animated videos are filled with pops of color and an array of characters, it’s work that would fit right into a segment on Sesame Street or Nickelodeon.
Ants Ants Ants proves an artist can have a creative mission to mix up genres while remaining true to their listeners. When it comes to putting their material to the test, both Clay and Gulick can rely on the kids in their lives to bring on the honest feedback.
“If I catch my eight year old singing the song to herself later, that’s usually a good indicator,” says Clay. “Or if we’ve recorded a demo and they keep asking to hear it. When Dave first sent me the demo for “Morning Song,” my five year old wanted to hear it every morning before school. We knew that was a good sign!”
The age range that Ants Ants Ants’ music taps into varies, allowing the artists to explore a variety of subjects and storytelling formulas. An example of this are the songs “Why Why Why” and “Helicopter Leaves” — older kids and parents can more easily identify the well-constructed hooks incorporated into the songs. Songs like “Six Pickup Sticks” vibe a bit better for younger listeners, the rhythmic and repetitive nature designed for learning purposes.
For new listeners of Ants Ants Ants, we recommend beginning with “Are We There Yet?” The song exudes a touch of CCR and ‘50s vintage rock while painting a picture of an endless adventure. Energetic, playful, and still educational, it’s a song that touches on every youthful person’s memory of family road trips.
Ants Ants Ants has debuted their new album Why Why Why this year. The band is currently working on writing new music for their next album — listeners can expect a bit of funk with their upcoming work.