For nearly 20 years, Nick Adams and Taes Leavitt have been entertaining and educating children with their popular songs and television shows as Splash ‘N Boots.
This year marks the duo’s seventh Juno Awards nomination for Children’s Album of the Year, coming after a first time win in 2019 when the awards show was held in London.
Their latest album, “Heart Parade”, has all the necessary tools for another win, especially with the add-on benefit of having guest artists like Alice Cooper, Brett Kissel, Johnny Reid and three-time Juno winners Sharon and Bram.
The duo Zoomed us up to chat about the awards, their history, working with children, and, most importantly, writing a song that was sung by legendary rock star Alice Cooper.
I thought I’d start by asking you guys if you’re married? No, just kidding (everyone laughs) I know that’s one of the questions you get asked all the time. I do, however, want to know about your relationships because it’s been about 20 years now?
Splash – What a journey it has been, from the classes of Queens University to COVID times. I guess we’ve seen a lot. We started before Facebook. How about that!
Boots – Our relationship has gone through many different changes and I feel like the whole time we’re just committed to Splash ‘N Boots and we’ve always just been best friends throughout it all. And we always laugh that we’re here now and it’s still the same.
Splash – I feel exactly the same as we did when started, too.
As a children’s duo and doing a children’s program, you kind of have to be best friends, don’t you?
Splash – Yeah, you do, and we always say this too, that children are the most honest, authentic audience you can get and they pick up our energy just as much as we see them and they would see if we weren’t generally having a good time – not only on stage, but with each other. It would pick up with our fans and I don’t think we would have this long lasting career if that was the case.
You guys are up for another Juno Award, this time for “Heart Parade”. What do the Juno’s mean to you?
Boots – It’s actually quite funny because when we first started our career, and since our second album – and we’ve made 11 of them – we have submitted for a Juno every year. When we actually first started getting nominated, we were very excited. Six years ago was our first nomination, but literally for six years before that we didn’t get nominated, and now we’re kind of on a roll right now. It’s such an honor to be recognized among such amazing artists, and it means a lot to us. We don’t take it like, oh, it’s another Juno nomination. Every year we’re surprised and we’re honored and we’re really grateful. We’re grateful to be able to be among that group of people who really care about kids and making good music for them.
Splash – The Juno’s themselves have done some great things behind the scenes, in the music community, in Canada, and with their MusiCounts charity. We’ve been able to be a part of those as well, so just tapping into the resources of the Canadian music scene, the Juno’s has opened a lot of doors, especially our win, two years ago. It’s a good organization to be a part of as well. It’s not just recognition, but they do a lot of good things. Just being part of that scene is an honor.
Do you guys have a fun Juno memory? I’m assuming it’s probably two years ago when you won.
Splash – That one was pretty wonderful. Also the fact that the Juno’s were in London too, which is my hometown. My parents were there. I love how it travels too.
Boots – This year will be in my backyard.
Splash – That win in London two years ago is something that we’ll never forget. The adrenaline that we had, just everything about it was so fun, it was such a celebratory night. So yeah, that ranks up there for sure.
The after parties are great too. There’s been some amazing scenes that we walked into like the Warner after party, and all of a sudden you’ve seen Billy Talent with Jim Cuddy on stage together and all these amazing collaborations that you would never think of and also we’re there, and it’s not even a proper event, just in a pub. There have been some really cool moments that way.
Yeah. Those after parties, I wish they would record some of those performances because they’re legendary.
Splash – Maybe that’s best to keep them as Canadian Folklore. It’s like that one time Tom Cochrane and Arkells got together; it’s pretty cool. We love them.
Speaking of collaborations, I want to get into some of the ones that you guys did, but we’ll do that next, but first tell me about the album “Heart Parade”?
Boots – It was two years in the making, which is unheard of for us. Usually we’re one year starting to end. This year we wanted to get as many artists as possible on it. It was really important to us. We’ve always written every single song by ourselves and we thought it would just be really interesting. It started on our album with Alan Doyle. It was fun to get people who are talented in their own right to infuse their music with ours; with their unique feelings and heart blended with ours. So we decided to get a whole bunch of amazing artists and have them collaborate with us. It was so fun to do that and just see what people came up with. We didn’t make this whole album ourselves; this has a little bit of all these other people in it, and that to me was such a magical experience. Also we are always combining adult music with kids music, so we’re not just making a children’s album. Doing this, I think really reinforced that as a genre of choice. This is music in its own right.
I think one of the masters of that art form, who never gets credit for it, is somebody that you worked with – Alice Cooper. He has worked with The Muppets and he’s willing to take those chances. And here he is working with you guys. Tell me about the Alice Cooper experience.
Splash – It was one of those surreal moments. Bob Ezrin, who we were working with, has done probably 80% of Alice Cooper’s records. Bob called one random day and said, Hey, I’m with Alice right now. Why don’t you write a song and I’ll see if he wants to put his vocals on it. They were in Arizona, and I said, no problem. “Bob, when do you need the song by?” and he said he needed it today and that he was only with him for two days. Sure enough, by the end of the day, we had sent them a verse and a chorus and that night around 10:00 p.m., Bob said it was a go, but he needed the whole song the next day so Alice could put his vocals on it.
So the next morning we went with our producer and put our quick vocals on it. Everything was so fast and the next day he took a portion of the day and recorded his vocals for our new song “Heart Parade”. It all happened within 48 hours.
Boots – Then we went in the studio and sang with him – just his voice. But I remember it was a weird time. We were in the studio recording with an Alice Cooper track.
Splash – How cool is that? The whole thing was surreal and we can’t really believe it. We are still talking about it. It seems like such a far-fetched concept idea. Just all this happened, so it was pretty magical.
Tell me about the song itself. You had to write it very quickly. What was in your mind when you were composing a song that Alice Cooper was going to sing?
Splash – Well, it was really cool because my buddy who was coming in from Guelph that day was a big Alice fan. I knew Alice Cooper more or less just from the hits and not necessarily his back catalog, but I knew he was a bigger fan, so I called him and he said to listen to the song “Hello Hooray”, so I listened to that song and based it off that – it was kind of an ode to Alice and his record. We wanted to make sure we paid homage to his style, for sure, so it wasn’t going to be a normal Splash ‘N Boots song or a sea shanty or something like that. We wanted to keep it in Alice’s wheelhouse. Luckily I had that influence from my buddy who helped co-wrote the song. We came up with something that wasn’t so stylized, but lyrically, it fits exactly with the album. It’s all about love and helping everybody. It worked out.
It’s funny because it’s somewhat of a stretch for you guys to do a rock song like that, but then it’s actually not really a stretch because you guys kind of do everything.
Splash – We have done some rock songs in the past too. The beauty about children’s music, we’re not pigeonholed into a certain musical genre. We tend to leave it open, even for this album. We have Johnny Reid and Brett Kissel; they’re kind of doing the country thing. We have Alice doing more of the rock thing. With Alan Doyle, we did the Celtic thing. We’re fans of music. It’s fun to just do those different genres and give it a whirl.
You mentioned Brett Kissel and Johnny Reid. So let’s talk about the country end of things and working with those guys.
Splash – I co-wrote that one with Johnny Reid. Brett Kissel came with a song already intact, which was really cool.
Boots – Yeah, that was his writing. He wrote the song and the lyrics and then we sang with him. I don’t think any other artists did it that way. He was just like, I have this in my head and when we heard it, it was different than anything we would have ever written. But I think it’s a really, really, really good song.
Splash – It sounds like it could be on the country radio right now. It’s a very pop, country, modern style song. It was great. It’s kind of fun for us to get zoned into their genres.
You tend to take on that little flare in your own voice, you start to ease into that beat for the country song or for the Alice song, and you just go for it. It’s so fun to sing in those different stylizes. Johnny Reid was great. He was so easy to work with. I’ll text him and he’ll text back within two minutes.
It must feel different or almost special to be able to sing in different genres, to be able to say, that’s it, I’m doing a rock song today.
Boots – We always say we’re not professionally-trained. I took voice in university, but I’ve never considered that I would do this because I’m a superstar singer. I do it because of the kids and we get to do all of these different kinds of vocal things and practice new stuff and learn new ways of singing.
Splash – Our producer Chris Graham is good at bringing in all-star musicians to support each song. For instance, he’ll bring in a full quartet for one of the songs and write all the tracks for that. Then working with Jill Barber, for that song, he brought in slide guitar players and an amazing keyboard player. I love the talent that this country can produce. We feel so honored that we get to use money to employ these amazing musicians to be on our album. It seems ridiculous. There’s so much talent.
A lot of people could not picture working with kids for 20 years. Tell me about that aspect of it. You’ve always got to be “on” when you’re working with kids. That could be stressful and a lot of work.
Boots – I can’t imagine working with anyone else for 20 years. I think that the kids are why we’re here. They’re why we do it. I think that the challenge of knowing that kids, if they’re bored, they’re going to leave. If they’re tired, they’re going to leave. They’re honest. They’re the most honest audience you can ever have. That makes it challenging and it’s one thing that we’re really good at.
How do you take an audience full of kids and their parents and get them so they’re doing exactly what you want them to do. It’s like orchestrating an event, we have to have dancing things, and then we have to have quiet connecting things and the things that they say are amazing.
There are all sorts of factors when you work with kids that you don’t necessarily have, in all honesty, with adults, because adults will sort of clap their way through anything just to not be rude. But, kids just don’t do that.
I’m the person sitting at the kids’ table at family events. I’d rather hang out with kids at most occasions. I think that’s why we started this – we love kids. We also said that if we ever stop loving this, we need to stop, and go find a new job. I believe that in everything with life, we need to make choices around things that we love. I miss kids so much during COVID so this is a challenge for me. I just want to do some meet and greets and get all the hugs.
How cool is it to think that the kids that you were singing to 20 years ago are now at the point where they’re probably listening to Brett Kissel and Alice Cooper or Johnny Reid. It’s almost come full circle where they could go back to you guys.
Splash – It started to happen. It’s cool. It was weird when it first started. With Facebook and stuff, there’s a new generation. It’s really turning over all the time, every year. There are new fans, but often it’s the parents who will stick around and watch our career and chime in. So they’re the fans!
Lets step back about 20 years. Tell me about the creation of the characters.
Boots – We met at Queen’s University and we were both in a drama classroom together. In the children’s theatre there was a project where we had to create a play.
Splash – Just a simple play and then perform it in the Kingston community.
That was the goal. We dressed up in costumes, not like we have now though. You (Boots) were a princess, I think, and I was a frog. It was weird.
Boots – I wish I had it on tape.
Splash – We wrote some songs for that play and the songs we sang before the play started.
The play, nobody really cared about, but the songs, people got up and danced. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we knew that was something; the music was something.
We didn’t know how to be a musician, that wasn’t even on the radar, so we just made an album and the characters of Splash ‘N Boots. We just came up with a name, kind of like Guns N’ Roses.
Boots – We were sitting in our music history class and we were paying no attention to anything. We have it still, it’s in our scrapbook. It’s just a doodle.
I’d write down something and then pass it over to Nick and he’d write down another name. It was just band name possibilities. We came up with Splash ‘N Boots and it stuck. For while I was Splash and he was Boots – it was a weird time for us.
Splash – We had no intention of becoming the names of the group like that. It was a group name, but then kids would ask who’s Splash and who’s Boots?
Boots – For some reason we thought that Boots was the guy character for a year, and then we switched. We didn’t want to be characters – it’s mostly like an extension of ourselves when we go on stage. That’s really important to us because I’ve never wanted to be me onstage and when offstage we’re like blah. We wanted to be the same people on and off stage. Just maybe slightly more animated.
That’s actually one thing I do notice when I see you guys and it is that there’s real people there. It’s not like you’re putting on a fake character. We see real people singing and having fun with kids.
Splash – We always thought that was important because the meet and greets are really the bread and butter of Splash ‘N Boots, and when parents and kids meet us, we didn’t ever want to be like, how come you’re not that big character, now you’re just talking to me normal. We want to be consistent for children.
Tell me about the big yellow boot. What exactly is the concept behind that?
Splash – With Boots literally wearing these big yellow boots and brainstorming for a TV show concept and what we’re going to do with that, it just came together. What if we lived in the big yellow boot? And so that was just a brainstorming idea. It is a safe space for us to call home.
Boots – We wanted it to feel like somewhere that kids could go and make it feel a little bit magical.
Splash – It was a good visual. It worked with the brand. We were not even trying to make it work, it just naturally fit. We shot a pilot – six episodes – and we CG’ed a big boot in the middle of a forest and that was the opening of our pilot. When Treehouse got a hold of the pilot, they loved the idea and gave us free range to do the writing as well.
Boots – The boot went into Treehouse land. It was more of an animated boot, a little more cartoony, but our original pilot looked different.
Splash – Our tagline, “We’ll see you soon in our big yellow boot”. We do that live at the very end of the show. We have a 15 foot inflatable. It’s a very big boot, but it fits in a suitcase. We can fly with the boot.
The Christian rock band Stryper wore yellow and black striped outfits. After their 20th anniversary, I sat down with the singer, Michael Sweet, and asked him about wearing yellow and black all the time. He told me he hated it. So tell me about the blue and the yellow.
Boots – It came about because we had a blue and yellow checkered tablecloth at my house in university and my mom came over and we told her we were going to start this new thing and sing for kids. She said we needed some costumes and literally looked at the tablecloth. She took the tablecloth and made us outfits out of the blue and yellow checkered print.
Splash – It just happened to be Yellow and Blue.
Boots – It is funny though, because once I was going to find a Juno outfit and I was at this store on Queen Street in Toronto. This guy was helping me out and I was like, it needs to be yellow and blue. And he was like, “Hmm, those are not your colors, you do not look good in yellow or blue”.
I wear a lot of yellow and blue. It’s really all my closet is.
Splash – It’s a nice, happy accident though, because we do get pictures all the time with kids. Seeing yellow, blue balloons or yellow and blue shoes and they’ll say Splash ‘N Boots are here. So it really has become an association and we don’t even have to be there.
If they see anything yellow and blue, it has become such a signature of Splash ‘N Boots.
Boots – IKEA really should get in-touch with us.
Splash – Maybe they will after this interview.
Boots – Finally, IKEA where have you been our whole lives?
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