“Marshmallow Man” is a new song by singer and songwriter Little Miss Ann. Beloved for her work in the children’s music genre, this new song—that has a ‘60s psychedelia vibe—comes with an accompanying video and features harmonies with famed singer Suzi Shelton. “Marshmallow Man” is the first single from Little Miss Ann’s upcoming sixth album of original songs titled “28 Days” which has already won a 2021 National Parenting Publications (NAPPA) Award.
Little Miss Ann (her real name is Ann Torralba) is a Chicago-based Filipina-American artist who teaches at the Old Town School of Folk Music and was recently a featured artist at the virtual Folk Alliance conference. Ann frequently collaborates with other artists such as Latin Grammy winners 123 Andres. She is a co-producer of the Family Music Forward initiative that aims to enhance diversity in children’s music, and she also co-produced the April 2021 Kukuza Fest to amplify Black female performers. Her last album Keep On was released with “Amy D” in 2017.
“Marshmallow Man” was inspired by a small marshmallow toy and all of the songs on the album were written, recorded and produced under quarantine. Ann recently discussed working on this album 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?
Little Miss Ann (LMA): I started playing guitar in college after I traded in my expensive flute from junior high for a cheap acoustic guitar. Throughout college, I played at open mic nights and then played in a “grown-up” band called Jank for fun. When I became a Chicago Public School Special Education teacher, I would regularly bring my guitar into the school to play for my students who were on the spectrum. I was moved by how these kids would respond so positively to the music. When my daughter was young, I started teaching parent/toddler classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music and then made my first family music album. Eventually, music started to take over, and I decided to leave teaching. I feel very blessed to have found something that brings my love of music and children together.
MM: How did you break into the industry and how would you describe your style?
LMA: I made my first album when my daughter was around 3 years old. We had just moved into our first house a couple months before. I took all my savings and asked my husband if he would drum with me the night before going into the studio not exactly knowing what I was going to record. After the album was made, I had no plans with it. I handed it to the owner of the Beat Kitchen where they have a very popular kids music series and he wanted to book me. I didn’t even have band yet! I’ve been busy ever since. Fast forward to my second album. I was invited to a family music industry-only festival in Brooklyn callled “Kindiefest”. At the time, I still considered myself a teacher and not a kids’ musician. The fest was amazing because I got to meet other kids’ musicians from around the country who were doing the same thing as me and were just as passionate. I learned so much at that first festival and realized the need for Asian American Pacific Islander representation for my daughter as well as other kids so they could connect and see themselves in the music. My musical style is quirky, energetic, upbeat and down-to-earth in the genres of folk, bluegrass, rock, punk, world and more!
MM: “Marshmallow Man” was inspired by a toy, so how did you come upon this toy and how did it get your imagination going?
LMA: There was a fundraiser for a mom struggling with cancer who owned an anime toy store. At this fundraiser, we were encouraged to buy items at the store to support this mom. I bought the little Marshmallow Man who now sits on my desk. Sadly, the store owner passed away, and the toy is a reminder for me to appreciate every day and be grateful for simple things in life.
MM: What was the thought process behind the music video like and how long did it take you to actually film the video?
LMA: Making a stop-motion video is a very time-consuming process. During the pandemic, I found myself not traveling anymore since there weren’t any live shows. Suddenly, I was at home more. I started by drawing and cutting out the “Marshmallow Man” and had a little work box that had paper, sharpie pens, felt, and other materials. Whenever I had a free hour here and there, I would grab my little box and my phone and work on the video. After I had gone thru the pieces of cloth that were in my little workbox, I looked around my home, which is an historic Chicago 1927 bungalow. I saw rich textures like wood floors and subway tiles. I also started seeing some of the beautiful handmade Filipino housewares I have, made from shell and coconut. I decided to add these as backgrounds for Marshmallow Man. Slowly, the video came together over time. I always tell kids that creativity sometimes just starts with one little idea.
MM: How long did it take you to complete this recent album, and what was it like working in quarantine?
LMA: The album took just under a year to complete. I couldn’t have done it without the incredible talented Grammy-winning producer, Dean Jones. He plays just about every instrument you can imagine In January of 2020, before the pandemic, I cleared out a tiny utility room to make a mini recording studio, not knowing that I would be spending many hours throughout the pandemic recording mostly ukulele, guitar and vocals in there. After I recorded my tracks, I would send those off to Dean in New York and he would work his magic. Almost all the other musicians on the album, recorded remotely from their homes. I was lucky that my husband is the drummer, so we were able to add drums tracks in together. I even had parents recording their kids on their phones for some parts of my songs as well.
MM: You won a 2021 National Parenting Publications Award, so what was that experience like?
LMA: When I put my time, energy and money into making music, most of the time it’s more about the process than the product. It’s such a personal experience and I never know how people will respond to it. I must admit, it is amazing to have this sort of affirmation especially when I know there is an incredible community of talented family musicians out there. I feel very honored.
MM: Out of all songs on the album, do you have any personal favorites? If so, which ones and why?
LMA: Definitely. “Follow Me” is my most favorite kids’ music album I’ve made, both musically and because of its significance in my life. In 2014, a couple months after finishing radiation from uterine cancer, I launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund this album. The year up to that moment, had been spent either in the hospital or waiting for surgery or treatment. Luckily, a doctor told me some great advice which was not to “identify” with being sick, So, I spent a lot of that time listening and writing music. It brought me so much joy and hope during this challenging time. Since then, I am lucky enough to have gone on to make three more family music albums!
MM: What are you thinking music-video-wise for the other songs?
LMA: I have been working with a talented animator named Pirata y Luna. “We Go Together Very Well” will be a Beatle-esque “Yellow Submarine”-inspired animated video. After playing with my bandmates, I wish everyone could’ve seen their faces when I showed them their animated characters. Another video for the new album, “Tuba,” will be a simple, lyrics-driven vintage feeling music video.
MM: What’s the best fan feedback you’ve gotten about your music?
LMA: I have been doing kids’ music for 15 years. I spent many of those years as the only family band fronted by a woman of color, in many performance lineups and series. Growing up, I never saw anyone on TV who looked like me unless they were a stereotype. Not seeing anyone like you sometimes makes you feel like your voice doesn’t matter. It wasn’t until after I wrote the song about a food from my Filipino culture called “Ube” that Filipino-American families would start coming to my shows and sharing with me their excitement about this song. It was wonderful to meet families with shared backgrounds. Also, parents tell me that their shy child lights up, dances, or sings when one of my songs comes on, and that means so much to me!
MM: How do you hope your career evolves over the next five years?
LMA: I’ve spent the last year during the pandemic, doing four things, 1) writing, collaborating, and releasing new music, 2) doing professional development workshops on using music in early childhood environments 3) doing virtual livestreams and pre-recorded family music videos and 4) working with organizations to build more representation of artists of under-represented communities within family music, I am hoping to continue doing these things for the next five years. I am also looking forward to getting back to playing in-person fests and venues around the country with my band as well as continuing to release and hopefully license some more of my family music.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
LMA: My ultimate goal is to continue to have a career in family music to inspire and empower kids from different communities. In the near term, I would love to turn my song “Stars on the Island” into a children’s board book. I was born in America a year after my parents immigrated from the Philippines. I went to the Philippines for the first time two years ago during the holidays. The song is about “Parols” which are these decorative traditional stars that line the streets as well as other cultural things I observed during the trip. It’s so important to have different perspectives and voices. As a daughter of immigrants, I believe it’s important for me to share this perspective especially during these times where there have been acts of violence towards members of the AAPI community.
There are only two things I’d like to mention. My husband Patrick Milani has been very supportive throughout the years with my career: encouraging me, helping with song writing, drumming on songs and making artwork for many of the covers. The last thing I’d like to mention, or should I say admit, is in the song “Tuba,” it’s actually a Sousaphone! I don’t know any tuba players.
Little Miss Ann is planning several concerts, both virtual and live, for spring and summer 2021. For more information and updates, please visit www.littlemissann.com. She can also be followed on Facebook and Instagram via @LittleMissAnnMusic