Micro-Questionnaire: Apple Brains

Published August 20, 2009 by Graham

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Allen Bleyle is a musical chameleon. Indulging in roaringly noisy punk one minute and crooning beautiful folk melodies the next, Blyle’s versatility and love for the song in all of its forms has lead to an unexpected career as a “nutrition musician” named Apple Brains, performing far and wide at summer camps and farmer’s markets, in elementary school classrooms, and anywhere else where “kids ages 1-98″ might lend their attention to his irresistably fun tunes.

Singing lo-fi odes to the heartbreaking beauty of tomatoes, the little-known first encounter between peanut butter and jelly, and the magnificent nature of H2O, Apple Brains is closer in spirit to the whimsical folk of Jonathan Richman at his narrative best– or early Of Montreal (before they went synth-pop)– than the canned elevator music and frozen smiles packaged by the mainstream children’s music industry. What started as a part-time gig has evolved into a full-length album entitled Get Fruity!!. What’s it like to live the life of a children’s musician? Find out below in our interview with Apple Brains!

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What music did you listen to in your early childhood? Were you into Raffi?
Hmmm…. I don’t remember much about music I listened to in early childhood. I know that the first tape I owned that I chose myself was Weird Al Yankovic… not sure which album, either In 3-D, Dare to Be Stupid or Polka Party. But that was when I was 8 or so. Before that, I don’t remember listening to music, to be honest! I played Suzuki piano, and my Mom was in the choir at church, and I do remember having the Beatles’ Help lying around the house, but my parents were never much for playing music in the house, though they both like music and my Mom is quite musical herself. I didn’t listen to Raffi though at all, didn’t even know who he was til I was an adult. Oh, but I did LOVE The Muppets and all that music!


Does the character Apple Brains have a mythical origin story?
It’s awful really, I don’t remember that either!! I think I gave myself the name, but that could be wrong. I love nicknames, and I collect them. You can never have too many! Apple Brains started as a nickname, when I worked at this summer camp called Farm and Wilderness and I adopted the name Apple Brains as my official name while at camp. Even my boss from there still calls me Apple Brains to this day. It was the perfect place to make such a move because it’s a very open and supportive community. I did it to bring an element of fun and magic to myself for the kids I was working with, and it really worked. It’s amazing how something as simple as a name can make you step out of yourself and play a character or adopt an additude that might otherwise be more of a struggle. Wherever it came from, its stems from my love of fruit, and the deeper that love grew, the more it was inevitable that a name like Apple Brains would fall in my lap.

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How did food become a central theme in your work? Was that interest shaped by your veganism?
This was pure serendipity. I have long had an interest in food and health, spearheaded by a great passion for fruit. I also have always made music, often times silly, playful, childlike music. A roommate of mine from a few years back was working as a nutrition educator and his work was seeking a musician to bring to classrooms to spice things up. He told me about the job opportunity, so I just took some pre existing songs of mine, changed the lyrics to make them more suitable, and went and auditioned!

Through that job I started writing songs for work, and after a while had a collection which form the basis of the songs on Get Fruity!! Budget cuts brought that job to an end, but now I’ve recorded an album and am getting back into children’s music independently. Also, for the record, I’m vegetarian, not vegan– though I respect veganism a lot, it’s not an absolute stance that I feel is personally neccesary for me to take. I try to approach my music from a positive angle, in the sense that Apple Brains is all about promoting the good foods (fruits and veggies) that everyone should eat more of, but I’m not that interested in bad mouthing the other foods, at least not as a primary message.

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What is it like meeting kids as Apple Brains?
It’s really fun. I think I’m really tall with my Apple hat on, so first of all I’m a bit larger that life to many kids, so they often approach me with a bit of hesitation– but once things get going most kids warm right up. Most kids also really love fruit and are excited to talk about their favorite ones and learn about new ones! Also, it’s cool to see kids think about fruits as cool and weird and magical, not just tasty and good for you, which is something I try and do, inject a sense of wonder into something considered so mundane, but that is actually extremely beautiful.

Was Where the Wild Things Are a part of your childhood? What children’s books did you love growing up?
Yes it was. I loved that book. I love hairy monsters, and forests, and fantastical adventures. I always have and I still do. Some other childrens books I loved were all of Roald Dahl’s books, especially The Witches and The Twits. I loved Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, that whole series… um… Garfield comics, OH– John Bellairs! Once i got a little older, then a little older still I discovered Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, which was a true obsession, and I’ve been a book lover ever since.

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