“Happily Ever Now” is a new album by critically acclaimed musician and composer Raphael Groten (a.k.a “G’Raph”) that is dedicated to the cultivation of kindness, joy, love, living in the present moment, and the art of having fun NOW! “Happily Ever Now” will be released on October 1, 2021.
Raphael Groten has worked as a music educator for two decades and his songs speak of health, humility, and adventure, as well as downright silliness. His style embraces folk, blues, soul, rock, funk, reggae/ska, country, and more. Growing up in a music-loving family in Poughkeepsie, NY, Raphael spent his childhood singing and playing musical instruments. In 1992, he attended the University of Vermont, where he majored in Philosophy and minored in Music. After graduation, he launched a ten-piece Latin/jazz/funk ensemble titled Saudade. In 2015, Raphael released his first album of solo guitar for meditation and healing.
He recently discussed his music and career via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in music and songwriting and did you always gravitate towards the children’s genre?
Raphael Groten (RG): I grew up with music all around me. We sang in the car, while doing the dishes and together at extended family gatherings. Through my father’s vinyl collection, I was exposed to many genres including folk, classical, jazz, Latin and Bossa Nova. At age 13, when I began playing the guitar, I also began writing my own music. Beginning in the folk style, my song writing evolved over the years to include jazz, funk, world, and many of the genres you will hear on Happily Ever Now. Writing music for children and families grew naturally out of my work as a preschool music teacher, which I have been enjoying for the last two decades.
MM: How did you break into the industry and how would you describe your style?
RG: I was blessed to have Will Ackerman produce my first two albums (Journey Home, 2015, Star Lullaby, 2019) of acoustic guitar music and have since been able to reach a global audience. My style as a composer and multi-instrumentalist is unique and diverse, drawing on all of the genres I love from around the world. It ranges from solo guitar to large ensemble and is rooted in healing, consciousness and the natural world. My style as a children’s artist is all of the above with a heaping serving of witty, upbeat life lessons for children and adults.
MM: Why did you decide to focus on kindness and mindfulness as a central theme in this latest album?
RG: Throughout my career as a music educator, I have come to understand the life lessons that are most important for children to learn. These lessons have been my inspiration in songwriting. Among them are basics, such as not to pick one’s nose or how no one is perfect, but at the foundation of these lessons I have always focused on how to become a happy, thoughtful and loving individual. With kindness planted deep in our consciousness, we begin to make beneficial choices for all. With the practice of mindfulness we cultivate greater awareness and a deeper capacity to be present in all we do.
MM: How long did it take you to complete this recent album and what was it like working in quarantine?
RG: While most of the songs for Happily Ever Now were written over the last 20 years, all of the production for the album happened over the course of a year. As the world settled into the lockdown last spring, I found myself inspired to continue offering my students musical adventures. I did so by beginning my G’Raph – Music for Kids YouTube page, where I posted weekly music “sessions”. Soon however, I realized that it was the time to produce the kids album that had been brewing for 10 years! Monster Truck inspired me one day and I began recording in my own studio, Humming Bird Studio. Once I finished the track, missing the children’s voices, I found some old classroom phone recordings of the kids singing with me and cut and pasted them on top. That’s when the magic started to happen! Following the muse I worked alone, sometimes through the night, honing arrangements and grooves as I expanded simple songs that had always been played with just acoustic guitar or ukulele. I utilized dozens of instruments and sound making thingies (this is a technical term) to create the soundscape that you hear throughout the album. In the end, the experience of working in quarantine supported the long hours and deep focus that accompanies my production process.
MM: Out of all songs on the album, do you have any personal favorites? If so, which ones and why?
RG: As the father of all the songs on the album, it would be hard to choose a favorite! I would say the answer varies, based on my mood, the day and whether or not I’d like to freeze dance. Indeed, I love each for their unique sound and special message. That said…the tracks that are currently capturing my attention are: I Love You Baby and No! No!. I Love You Baby will always hold a special place in my heart as I wrote and sang it for my first son when he was a newborn. Oliver is 22 now and assisted me with his computer wizardry in the design and layout for Happily Ever Now. I can no longer bounce him on my shoulder when he hears this song, and it no longer puts him to sleep. Originally an a cappella lullaby, it now features an old time jazz sound. I particularly enjoyed pulling out my first instrument, the saxophone, to record the horn section. No! No! always makes me smile with its sweet catchy melody played on my childhood recorder, and its ska/reggae groove. I had so much fun in the production of this song, breaking out the kazoo, slide whistle, jaw harp and my grandfather’s boat whistle.
MM: What are you thinking music-video-wise for these songs?
RG: Although I did record basic music session videos at my home in the beginning of the lockdown, at this time, video production is not on my horizon. In truth, I believe that children (and adults) spend an unhealthy amount of time on screens and so I am making a conscious decision not to contribute to this medium. Much like old radio programs with sound affects, my music is intended to engage the imagination and inspire the whole family to participate, not just with each song, but with all of life (especially nature…the biggest “screen” of all!)
MM: You have won many awards, so what were those experiences like?
RG: I am currently submitting Happily Ever Now to several awards, but have yet to hear back. Awards and recognition are secondary to sharing my love of music with the world. I win an award each time a child laughs with me!
MM: What’s the best fan feedback you’ve gotten about your music?
RG: After two decades of working as a music teacher/performer both privately and in preschools and libraries, the best feedback is the consistent stories from parents about how much their children love me and look forward to music time and how I have inspired the kids to be musical at home. But the highest praise comes directly from the mouths of babes themselves… among my favorites are…“Thanks for bringing the music!” And “You sing good songs!”
MM: How would you describe your live performances?
RG: My live performances are full of energy, love and silliness. Drawing on my background as an educator, I always engage my audience with fine and gross motor skills, singing, dancing, clapping and acting like animals and other creatures (I love animal songs!). Humor and creativity are at the heart of my performances, as well as a quieting down time at the end. I draw upon my own compositions as well as the dozens of traditional songs kids know and love.
MM: How do you hope your career evolves over the next five years?
RG: Ahh, hope. This question brings out the philosopher in me. I have made a conscious choice to eliminate hope from my vocabulary due to its implication of reaching a desired outcome. It is not that I have no “hope”, rather no desired outcome other than to be here, now, and trust in the process of life. I trust in the world (and my career) to unfold as it will in the next five years. I will continue to work diligently – writing, recording and releasing more music. I am here to offer my gift without seeking status or reward. To shine and share is its own reward. Please understand, this is not to say that prosperity is not welcomed, it is simply not sought after. If my career grows, the greatest reward will not be found in fame or fortune, but in knowing that more ears and hearts have been touched by my music and message.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
RG: The philosophy continues… In following up my last answer, goals, like hopes do not exist in my world. I practice following my intuition and I accept that any goals imposed by me on the world might not actually be what the world has in store for me. As the saying goes, “Man plans, God laughs”! My only intention is to live Happily Ever Now. By being present I contribute to a more beautiful, peaceful, loving and joyful world, whether through music, a conversation, or this interview. You may visit my website to discover my music for adults and to join my mailing list if you would like to stay in touch with my musical adventures! www.raphaelgroten.com
“Happily Ever Now” will be available at www.raphaelgroten.com, iTunes, Amazon, Apple Music, and wherever music is sold online.