“Outta The Books” StorySongs Debuts New Fairy Tale Series
“Outta The Books” is a new fairy tale multi-media series by StorySongs featuring an international team of musicians, producers and actors — including cast members of Broadway hit “Hamilton.” It launched on YouTube and various music platforms this month. Each chapter of “Outta The Books” features new and original songs, which are staples of the StorySongs brand.
Originally set for a theatrical debut at the 2020 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, this series was furloughed by the coronavirus. In response, the StorySongs creative team turned the initiative into an entirely virtual multimedia experience for kids and families. “Outta The Books” harnesses the power of music, which is regarded as the most universal of communicators, to tell simple, time-tested, and meaningful tales. Characters inspired by familiar fairy tales and fables come to life as they keep stories alive through song. The “Outta the Books” cast recording is also available now on all music sites.
StorySongs and “Outta The Books” are the brain children of award-winning composer and producer Brian Banks, who penned the new series first song “If the Shoe Fits, Wear It” which tells the story of Cinderella and just enjoyed an international release. According to the official press statement regarding “Outta the Books,” the following can be expected:
Chapter 1 “A Wicked Competition” sets the scene and narrative arc. In The Land of Once upon a Time, we meet The Librarian of the Treasury of Tales. Her job is to keep her crumbling library safe and alive. Alas, the world has nearly forgotten “Once Upon a Time,” and so the Librarian decides the best way to keep stories alive is to host a talent search. Her call for new songs based on stories brings a motley crew of modern heroes together to perform their original songs based on classic tales Cinderella, The Ugly Duckling, and The Tortoise and the Hare, among others.
Coming up on November 28th will be Chapter 2: “Melody Sings the Blues.” The blue fairy, Melody is the star of today’s talent audition. Melody is a little unsure of herself; she has been bullied into thinking that she is “not blue enough” to hang out with the other fairies. But, she finds her voice and sings a fresh pop-style retelling of “Sleeping Beauty.” It’s a twist on the classic tale, with Aurora declaring, “I can wake up when I please!”
Brian Banks recently discussed this initiative and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in music and songwriting and did you always gravitate towards the family genre?
Brain Banks (BB): Wow, big question! My mother is a fine pianist, so I always saw her playing. When I was about 5, I asked her to show me how to do that thing at the piano and I never looked back. I was trained classically from that age and got my music degree in piano performance at California State University Northridge, which has one of the best music departments in the country.
As to style, although I played classical piano, my parents were into pop music of the 60’s. I remember my dad bringing back the first Beatles album and telling me that this was going to be the future of music. I played in bands all through college. Later, I got exposed to the beauty and art of music for film. From there I started writing for feature films, TV, and commercials. Ultimately, I focused on commercials and have written multi-year campaigns for companies as diverse as Apple and Mattel’s Barbie. What led me to the family genre was my 25-year experience with writing ads for toys with one of my clients. I discovered that I had a skill for writing music for kids that their parents liked too. You have to please both in advertising! So, a couple years ago, I decided I wanted to do something for families that would bring great music into the home.
MM: What led you start StorySongs and how did you get the word out about it?
BB: I discovered that I had a knack for writing music for children and their parents. I also believe in the power of music to communicate and educate, so I decided to write songs based on classic fairy tales. These time-tested stories speak to the heart of the human condition and are designed to communicate these truths to children. When I was a father of young kids, I became hyper-aware of the lack of really good music for children. Of course, there is the Disney/DreamWorks camp and they do wonderful stuff, but beyond that, it was pretty bleak. I started by writing a few things for their elementary schools and that went down well, so I decided that I could bring a whole new genre of music to kids and their families.
MM: How has the company evolved since it launched?
BB: Initially, I was just going to write songs and release them into the world. But as the project grew, it seemed to me — and to many of those around me –that these songs were destined for a multimedia treatment. TV, apps, a Broadway show, (West Enders, please don’t hate me), even books! So, I started working with writers and character designers to find the right creative space to support these songs. Ultimately, I found my co-writer, Erica Ehm through a very talented friend and we started putting the show, “Outta The Books” together. The show was supposed to be performed at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival as a 1 hr. musical, but…Covid. So we turned on a dime and transformed the show into the eight-episode, lockdown, isolation-produced, streaming show that we are debuting this month. So, from simply songs, to TV, to theater, to YouTube, it’s had many transformations…
MM: How did you think up “Outta The Books,” and was it tough to give all these classic fairy tales such modern updates?
BB: Early on in the project, I had decided to set fairy tales and folklore to music. One thing that was important to me was to tell stories that were as faithful to the old original stories as possible. After all, for stories to have survived for hundreds of years, there must be something to them. Sadly, most well-known “re-imaginations” of fairy tales emphasize outdated and unimportant aspects of the stories while missing the morals of the stories entirely. Recent attempts to “modernize” these stories to avoid outdated social norms (racial, sexual, social, economic…) norms that must be rejected today, are largely unnecessary. These stories are not all about girls getting the prince, or slaying dragons, or Golden Eggs. They are about the struggles of daily life and the challenges we all have to face at one time or another. That’s why I’ve gone back as closely as possible to the original tales.
So, because these stories have such unique messages, delving into StorySongs is like a musical box of chocolates -you can’t predict what any one song is going to be like until you hear it. While they’re clearly influenced by Musical Theater and Pop Music, there is no overriding style. So, the “modern update” is simply the fact that I’ve set these time-honored stories into four or five-minute “StorySongs.” The original stories remain largely unchanged.
MM: How did you get the cast of “Hamilton” involved?
BB: Covid! In this case the global pandemic had a silver lining for me. With the West End theaters all shut down, world class actors like Karl Queensborough and Carl Spencer became available for interesting projects. My director, Neil Fisher had a connection to Spencer and suggested I call him. Not only did he agree to do the show, but when I asked him if he had any friends that he thought might also like to be in the show, he suggested Queensborough. Silly me, I hadn’t really done my homework. Since my director had already suggested Spencer, I just went along with it. I figured these guys were in the chorus! I had no idea I was going to be working with the star and one of the lead characters from the West End production of “Hamilton.” And let me just say, that these guys — and frankly all of the cast — have been amazing in their willingness to work on a little show like this for the love of the doing. I also think that the younger actors (and I have several students) were inspired to be working with such amazing talent. Of course, I also have Ryan Heenan who has starred in the West End in his own right, and Annie Kirkman who owns a theatre company in the UK as well. So, the mix of talent and experience was fantastic. I’m the luckiest guy around to have found such a cast.
MM: How did the coronavirus change things for this series?
BB: Originally, this was written as a one-hour musical to be shown at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. But Covid kinda killed that idea at the 11th hour. So, I got with my team and we transformed the show into the current episodic format. Every actor was shot during lockdown, so they used their own iPhone cameras, did their own lights, their own makeup, sound…everything. I supplied green screens and slightly upgraded mics and a bit of lighting, but there was no crew. My production team and I were on a series of Zooms in order to direct each actor for the entire show. Hardly anybody has ever met! I’ve only met a couple of my team in person. I’ve never even met Erica!
MM: In total, how many episodes will there be and do you have any special favorites?
BB: There are eight episodes in the first season. It’s hard to pick favorites as each of the songs is one of my babies. The first episode is so important because it sets up the premise for the rest of the show. Then some episodes are more comedic, some are more poignant. At the end, the last couple of episodes are filled with humor and tension as we get to the finish.
MM: How do you hope StorySongs continues to evolve over the next five years?
BB: “Outta The Books” may be the title of this show, but it’s also the name of the BAND (https://www.outtathebooks.com/meet-the-band). This band will continue to find ways to tell StorySongs not only from Europe, but from around the world. The combination of music and folklore is really powerful and gives me a lot of options. Currently, I’m only really dealing
with European tales. By bringing StorySongs of tales from around the world, we can show just how similar we all are as human beings. Europeans, Asians, Africans, Americans -EVERYBODY deals with the same troubles, fears, and joys -set in their unique locations. I’m really looking forward to doing my part to help to bring the world together by having Outta The Books sing stories from around the world. Then, as we continue to grow the series, I see apps, TV, live theater (when we get back to doing that), books, and merchandise all playing a part.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
BB: Global Children’s Entertainment World Dominance! …Well, actually…this has been a profound learning experience for me. Covid has changed our lives, so much so that getting back to “normal” will be a different normal than we might have envisioned in 2019. Kids and adults alike are under tremendous pressure today due to the upheaval in our daily routines. Mental health issues and education, social interaction and contact with the outside world — have all been severely impacted. But through it all, we will survive and thrive. It will just take a bit of time. Stories like Sleeping Beauty, and Hansel & Gretel teach us about patience, and the importance of family, something we’ve all learned a lot about over the past few months. Changes in society have taught us about resilience and flexibility. Rumpelstiltskin and Thumbelina speak to that. These old stories are as relevant today as they were when they were first told.
I’m looking forward to creating more and more StorySongs, delivered in more and more ways. New media is so powerful and accessible — and it’s changing by the hour! I am hopeful that “Outta The Books” becomes a household name that people trust to bring great family entertainment. It all comes down to the MUSIC. It’s what makes this special. This is how these fairy tales become new without needing to be “re-imagined.” These stories don’t need help, only a new way to reach our children and “Outta The Books” is just the thing!
The next seven upcoming chapters form the first season of “Outta The Books,” set for release in installments every two weeks or so through February 2021. To learn more, visit the official website: OuttatheBooks.com. Also find “Outta the Books” on social media: Instagram.com/outtathebooksband, Facebook.com/outtathebooksband and viz the hashtags #outtathebooks #storysongs and check out “If the Shoe Fits, Wear It” on Spotify. Brain Banks’ personal website is here.