St. Olaf College | News

The new meaning of “Dad Rock”

When Louis Epstein earned his Ph.D. in historical musicology, he knew he wanted to work at a small teaching college. Ideally, one with a welcoming community where he and his wife could raise their growing family.

“My wife Maggie is a Carleton alum, so we already knew Northfield really well,” Epstein says. “This was actually a top destination among the places where we could have landed.”

He joined the faculty of the Department of Music at St. Olaf College in 2014 and began to meet others living in the Way Park neighborhood — including at a fateful barbeque where he first met Carleton College Associate Professor of Philosophy Daniel Groll.

Louis and Dan (and the Invisible Band)
Louis and Dan (and the Invisible Band) showcase their first self-titled album, released February 2019.

Epstein and Groll connected immediately on their musical interests, wry sense of humor, takes on fatherhood, and the one thing that irked them both: children’s music. As indie music fans, they had trouble finding artists they felt good about listening to with their kids. Everyone, it seemed, could agree on Raffi, but after that not much could satisfy the tastes of the whole family.

So, to fill a void in the greater catalogue of children’s music, they started writing their own songs. In 2018, the best friends, dads, and seasoned musician/performers teamed up to form Louis and Dan and the Invisible Band. By February 2019 they had released their first self-titled album.

“One big reason we started doing it is because we both had songs we were singing to our kids,” says Groll. “I really liked the idea of my kids having a record of those songs — and in this case now literally having a record. I sort of get warm and fuzzy when I think about them having it when they’re old and when I’m old and then for their kids.”

Their first record is peppered with humorous songs like “Underwear Spaghetti” and “Hot Dog”; narrative fiction like “10m Diving Board” and “What Do Princesses Do?”; educational songs like “Rodents” and “Have You Got a Word?”; and comforting tunes like “Big Eared Boy” and “Cry My Baby.”

“I’m pretty influenced by musical theater so a lot of what I end up writing comes out sounding like musical theater,” says Epstein. “And then we tinker with it so that it doesn’t sound quite as much like musical theater anymore.”

They began performing regularly following their album’s release and so far they’ve played locally at Imminent Brewing and the Cannon River Art and Water Festival. In the Twin Cities they’ve played solo shows at Glam Doll Donuts and co-headlined at The Parkway Theater.

To close out the summer, they’re playing a show on August 23 at 10 a.m. at the Lake Harriet Bandshell, and they’ll join the lineup of bands playing at Camp du Nord Family Music Festival in Ely, Minnesota, August 30–September 1.

“We feel super lucky, my wife and I, to have ended up in Northfield because it’s a fabulous community,” says Groll. “One thing about living in a small town is that it makes the kind of thing we’re doing easier. Part of that is geographical. It doesn’t take us long to get places so we can literally come from our offices, do something that needs to be done, then go back to our offices in a way that’s just not possible in a big city.”

“Northfield also has a disproportionate number of creative people,” says Epstein. “We have musicians, visual artists, printmakers — there’s just a really lively arts community. And then there’s a lot of support here from the Northfield Arts Guild and the colleges.”

Musicians performing live for children.
Louis and Dan performing with Mike Fuerstein, Associate Professor of Philosophy at St. Olaf, at Glam Doll Donuts in Northeast Minneapolis.

So, if on any given Tuesday, you hear a quirky refrain like “I like to keep spaghetti in my underwear” wafting from a house on St. Olaf Ave., rest assured it’s probably not President David Anderson ‘74. It might just be two musical professors (who happen to be dads) getting ready for their next family-friendly performance.

You can help fund the next album of songs from Louis and Dan, called “Let’s Imagine,” on IndieGoGo now through August 15, buy their first album Louis and Dan and the Invisible Band on Bandcamp, or keep up with their news and tour dates on Facebook.