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Meet a Parent: Joe Grady

Today’s Kidoinfo Interviewer: Martha Iachetta

Joe-Grady  on kid o infoNeighborhood: Edgewood (a neighborhood in Cranston, Rhode Island)

Kidoinfo: Joe Grady is not only a cool guy, dad, spouse and long time Kidoinfo fan, but he’s also the founding member of both Joe’s Backyard Band (Read more on Kidoinfo) and his small business, Cultural Logic. Joe, what’s your favorite thing about carving out such a creative way to earn your living?
JG: I guess it’s the relative freedom. Of course you only have so much freedom as a parent anyway! I used to be a linguistics professor, but my wife and I thought it would be nice to have more flexibility with work and where we lived, especially once we had kids. Surprisingly, my time is actually more structured now that I’m self-employed–I work more regular 9-to-5 hours than I ever did before.

Kidoinfo: How did your business get started and evolve?
JG: It started as a part-time freelance thing when I was a professor. My thesis advisor in grad school at UC-Berkeley was George Lakoff. Kidoinfo readers may have heard of him–he’s written lots of books, some of them about politics, and has been very popular especially with Democrats. He started sending a bit of extra consulting work my way and the opportunities began to snowball.

Kidoinfo: Did you start out in Rhode Island?
JG: No, I grew up in Berkeley and Washington, D.C. DC is where I met Emily, while I was working as a professor. I was part-time faculty at Georgetown and then full-time at the University of Maryland. When I started my own business, we knew we didn’t necessarily have to stay in DC so we really had to think about where we wanted to live.

Kidoinfo: Why Rhode Island?
JG: My clients are mostly on the East Coast so it was helpful to be on this side of the country, plus Emily’s from Connecticut and her parents have a summer house in Charlestown, so we knew we’d like this area.

Kidoinfo: What’s your favorite Charlestown beach?
JG: It’s called Central Beach. It’s on the same stretch of beach as East Beach and Blue Shutters and it’s walking distance from Emily’s parent’s place.

Kidoinfo: And why did you choose Edgewood?
JG: Emily’s aunt is a realtor who found us a rental here while we were looking to buy, and it just ended up having so many great features: the water nearby, manageably sized, friendly people, near downtown, the airport. It also has beautiful old homes and a lot of families with children. We ended up deciding to look here when it was time to buy. Our house has an attached office and it is the perfect space for me to work.

Kidoinfo: Do you work alone?
JG: No, my business partner was actually a friend of mine in high school. His background is in anthropology, and our business, Cultural Logic, is based on anthropology plus linguistics. We basically help non-profits explore how to communicate their complex messages to the public in simple and effective ways.

Kidoinfo: Can you give some examples?
JG: Global warming, child abuse, promoting the arts…there’s a wide range. I like variety and being able to work on such interesting topics.

Kidoinfo: That’s quite a day job. And you also lead a double life through “Joe’s Backyard Band.” How long has your band been together?
JG: I started looking for people almost two years ago. I’d always been in bands so I knew I’d be getting something together when we moved here, but the idea for the band really came a couple years ago when Emily and I felt like there weren’t that many fun things for families to do together in the cold months. [**This was before Kidoinfo!] We found ourselves going back and forth between Providence Children’s Museum, the Providence Place Mall, the carousel at the Warwick Mall, and maybe a couple other places. The band evolved as a group that could perform at parties, libraries, and other local venues that the whole family could enjoy. At first I thought we’d just play in each other’s living rooms, but there turned out to be a demand.

Kidoinfo: When do you find the time?
JG: We all have day jobs and almost all of us have young children, so it definitely is tougher to get together and stay up late for gigs and practices. But since many of our shows are for families, it helps that the times are either during the day or early evenings. We also manage to practice every week or so from 8:00 to 10:00 in my living room.

Kidoinfo: Doesn’t that keep your girls awake?
JG: We play pretty softly, basically unplugged, and the drummer might play with brushes instead of drumsticks…we make it work. I grew up with music in my house all the time and I want that for my kids too. Emily and I let Mina (five) stay up a little later on the nights the band practices so she can dance and sing along. Now that Eve, our three-year-old, is out of her crib, she’ll probably be coming out to hear us practice too.

Kidoinfo: “Joe’s Backyard Band” plays feel-good music. Can you think of a song or a group you most turn to when you need a little help feeling good?
JG: It’s hard to think of one particular song or group; I like all kinds of music. If pressed I might say the Beatles, but I really like a little bit of everything. My father has eight brothers, and most of them play guitar, so we used to sing all kinds of songs for hours at family parties. I think of music as something friends and family do when they get together.

Kidoinfo: Your choices also seem to lean toward songs that make a person want to move. Do you have favorite dancing music?
JG: Again, that’s hard to say. Maybe anything that has some of its roots in African music. That covers a wide range from R&B and funk to hip-hop to bluegrass and jazz. One of our goals as a band is to play a wide variety of styles, not kid’s music per se. We’ll play folks songs, we’ll play the Grateful Dead, some sort of funky stuff. I write songs for the band, too, and I try to give them some variety in terms of grooves.

Kidoinfo: I notice your wife, Emily, sings backup and plays tambourine with the band. Does she also have a musician background or did that take a little persuading?
JG: It took a little persuading; she’s never been in a band before. Emily has a great voice and ear and, after not having luck finding a female vocalist who could harmonize the way Emily does, I convinced her that she is exactly who the band needed. She has a background in music and performance, she plays the flute, but being in a band is new to her. She plays percussion and sings–she loves harmony–and really brings the band together.

Kidoinfo: I saw you all play at the Rhodes School recently and I certainly agree. What are some of your favorite places to hang out?
JG: For kids, we love the Village Playground and Pawtuxet Park. Our band has also played at both spots; they’re great places for families to go together. When Emily and I get a chance to go out just the two of us, we like Nick-a-Nees, and the Hi-Hat in Davol Square. It’s not a place you’d see from the street; it’s in the back of a parking lot, but they have great music–rhythm and blues, funk, jazz…it’s a fun place to listen to music and dance.

Kidoinfo: It’s clear you love Rhode Island, but if you could live anywhere, where would you choose?
JG: I really am happy here, but I’m guess I’m a California guy at heart. I have family and old friends there, and the whole family loves it. We’d like to at least spend more time there.

Kidoinfo: What is your current state of mind?
JG: Fatigued but happy. With Eve in a bed for the first time, she’s getting up a lot at night.

Kidoinfo: Oh, I remember what that’s like! Here’s another standard Kidoinfo Meet-a-Parent interview question: “What superpower would you most like to have?”
JG: Definitely time travel. From what I understand, when you time-travel you can also meet whoever you want to meet from the past.

Kidoinfo: Any people in particular?
JG: There are so many musicians I’d love to meet and talk to.

Kidoinfo: And what are you going to do now that you have answered these questions?
JG: I’m going home to record a demo of a new song.

In the interest of community building, we will periodically profile a parent from our Kidoinfo community. If you want to share your ideas or request a questionnaire so that you can be considered for a future “Meet a Parent” column, please contact us!

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  • Wow, what a great interview, Martha, and what a great website. Thanks! I now know more about my nephew Joe than ever before. 🙂
    I guess I may be partly to blame for the Gradys being led down that boogie woogie road, with guitars and such, starting back in 1963.
    Won’t be surprised if Eve and Mina carry on the tradition.
    Rock on, kids!