The Okee Dokee Brothers have been warming up the kids’ music scene ever since they released their first album Can You Canoe in 2012. Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing both grew up in Denver, and while Justin still resides in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, Joe has moved up north to Minnesota with his wife and almost two-year-old son. Their albums are born from month-long adventures they take together, where they explore and write songs, turning each adventure into Americana folk music that’s fun and playful for the whole family.
The Okee Dokee Brothers’ songs aim to encourage kids to get out and be active and find happiness with fewer material things and more adventures. The two musicians provide a high standard of quality to a genre that they admit often consists of musicians being cheesy and “phoning it in.” Their commitment to quality lyrics and music even earned them a Grammy Award for Can You Canoe and Grammy nominations for their following albums, Through the Woods and Saddle Up.
Earlier in November, Colorado Parent had the honor of hosting Joe and Justin in our LoDo office. The duo stopped by for a quick Q&A followed by an acoustic performance from their new album, Winterland. Check out our very own tiny concert below, featuring their new song “Keep Me Warm.”
Colorado Parent: Your previous albums were inspired by 30-day adventures you two embarked on. What adventure did you go on to write this album?
Joe: We switched it up a little for [Winterland]. Instead of a 30-day adventure in the wild, we took a weeklong trip up north to Minnesota and went dog sledding and winter camping. The other adventure I went on was fatherhood. I’m a new parent, so I didn’t want to be away for 30 days from my son.
CP: How has fatherhood changed how you write and perform music?
Joe: Fatherhood definitely gives a new perspective to the song-writing for sure, it’s brought out a new emotion in me that I didn’t know I had. We have a couple songs about my son Hap, and it does bring out more emotions on stage for me.
Justin: And with touring, we’ve realized it’s OK to not be pushing so hard all the time. It’s nice to just stay at home, write songs, and be with family.
CP: Growing up in Denver, what are your memories surrounding Colorado in the winter?
Joe: The surprising thing about winter here is that a lot of times the sun comes out after a winter storm which was always nice and something I don’t get in Minnesota anymore. The sunny winters in Colorado are really hard to beat.
Justin: Right! Once you realize not every place has the sun and the snow melts the next day like it does here, you realize how amazing that is.
CP: What are the benefits of writing music for kids and families?
Joe: We have an audience that we write for, making suitable songs for families to enjoy and not get annoyed by. That has opened a lot of doors for us; we’ve played a ton of different cities around the country just because it’s family-friendly music. We did the bar scene for a long time, but that got old and now we do 11 a.m. shows instead of 11 p.m. shows.
Justin: That’s the best part; playing at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m. and having the evening to yourself.
CP: Justin, you learned how to do animation for your newest music video?
Justin: Yep, I learned a little animation on a very basic white background with stick “snow” people. That’s our new music video for the song Snowpeople. [The song] is about gender and gender fluidity and questioning the idea of why we put colors on gender. It’s a simple idea and simple video that I learned how to animate for. It was hard, it definitely took longer than we thought.
CP: What do you hope this album inspires families to do out in nature this year?
Joe: It’s easy to complain about the cold, but we’re asking folks to try changing their mentality and celebrate the cold: getting outdoors for little walks, ice skating, snowshoeing, or skiing. Spending time with each other in the cold can be one of the most cozy experiences you can have as a family.
Also, the big message we’re trying to spread here is to protect our winters. There’s an organization in Boulder called Protect Our Winters that we’re donating to that works for climate action. and it’s comprised of a lot of different winter athletes.
The Okee Dokee Brothers new album Winterland is available now.