HotStar: Imagination Movers

When the Imagination Movers need to know whether they have a hit on their hands, the Disney Channel stars take their latest tunes to their team of 11 experts.

Scott “Smitty” Smith told Pollstar the Movers’ test audience is made up of his niece and nephew and his bandmates’ nine children, ranging in age from 1 to 10.

“You know right away if a kid doesn’t like a song. They’re not prone to fib or anything and say, ‘Oh yeah, it’s pretty cool, Uncle Scott.’ More like, ‘I don’t like that, Uncle Scott.’ Children don’t pull punches and they usually don’t lie about stuff they don’t like,” Smith said. “Your kids are not going to be yes-men.”

Smith on guitar, along with Dave Poche on bass, Scott Durbin on mandolin and melodica and Rich Collins on drums/guitar/bass, make up the blue jumpsuit-sporting Imagination Movers. The guys can be found in the mornings on the Disney Channel’s Playhouse Disney show of the same name. Since the show premiered last September, the Movers have sung, danced and bounced their way to a spot among TV’s top five programs targeting preschoolers age 2-5.

The guys’ music is popular with an older crowd too, having made its way onto a number of college radio charts.

“This is a testament to just how great their music is,” Monterey International’s Brian Swanson told Pollstar. “I think this will continue to happen as their popularity grows and more people are turned on to their music. And the fact that they are a real band doesn’t hurt. These guys all played in bands before and it shows. Most of their songs could easily be on college or contemporary radio were it not for the lyrics being more kid-oriented.”

Smith explained that the New Orleans-based music group and TV show were dreamed up in Durbin’s back yard at his son’s birthday party back in 2002.

“Scott had been scheming this idea about a live-action kids TV show because he had recently been lamenting the lack of it on TV – everything was animated or something like that.

“He kind of threw [the idea] out at us … and we just started brainstorming,” Smith said. “It was going to be four guys, working in an idea warehouse and we were going to solve problems. And the music came when we were writing our first script for the show. We were like, ‘Hey man, we need some music.’ … The first four songs we wrote were about eating healthy food like ‘My Favorite Snack’ and ‘Snacking ABCs.’”

The Movers cite Fred Rogers and Captain Kangaroo as role models and list ska, reggae, New Orleans’ funk, Elvis Costello, The Clash, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys and Bruce Springsteen as musical influences.

The guys made three independent CDs, an independent DVD and shopped their concept to local public TV and “just anyone who would listen with the idea of trying to get this made into a television show.”

While holding down full-time jobs, the Movers started playing birthday parties and local festivals, in additional to booking some gigs in the Northeast and Southeast.

“Somehow someone at Disney got a hold of [the Movers’ DVD] and they came to Jazz Fest 2005 in New Orleans,” Smith said. “We were playing in the kids tent and we play a pretty rockin’ concert. … And we just had that tent packed to the gills and everybody was just bouncing and dancing and loving it. And that’s really when our dalliance with Disney started.”

The show, which kicked off its second season in early September, centers on Smitty, Scott, Dave and Rich solving idea emergencies with the help of trusty tools such as Scott’s “wobble goggles” that enable him to see through walls, spot sound waves or see the trail a butterfly leaves in the air.

Each 30-minute episode features two new songs and three reoccurring tunes. The guys, who are executive producers on the show, write all the music and are also responsible for generating ideas for scripts.

When Pollstar spoke with Smith, the Movers were working 12-14 hour days, filming season two while reading scripts and writing new songs. After wrapping filming Sept. 18, the guys began rehearsals for the “Live From The Idea Warehouse Tour,” which hits theatres across the U.S. from early October through mid-December.

“More than anything I would say [the live show] is a celebration of music and movement and a kid’s ability to think,” Swanson said. “The band gets the kids up and out of their seats and moving, but they also challenge the kids between songs to think and use their imagination to solve problems. It’s really about not only entertaining them, but empowering them and reinforcing the message that all ideas are worthy of consideration, no problem is too big and you can have fun while using your brain.”

Smith explained that the group recently started blending some narrative from the TV show into the live concert but that it’s really still about the music and putting on a show for kids and their parents.

“One of our themes from the get-go was that we were going to be entertainment for the whole family,” Smith said. “Our songs are upbeat and they have enough complexity that mom and dad are going to enjoy them too and that’s important because we feel like as a family, they should enjoy it together.”

“Imagination Movers” now airs in more than 55 countries / territories and in 12 languages. Sounds like a good opportunity for an international tour.

Swanson agrees.

“In 2010 I expect they will be hitting larger and larger theatres,” he said. “First the United States. Tomorrow the world!”