Tiny Masters of Today took their name from a band in the Blake Nelson book Rockstar Superstar, a young adult novel about the trials and tribulations of being in a rock band. The Tiny Masters -- Ivan, 13, guitar and vocals, and his sister Ada, 11, bass and vocals -- have had far fewer troubles than Nelson did in his fictional band. The duo began writing songs before they had any idea of starting a band. Ivan (no last names, a wise parental decision, one thinks) was jamming with some friends when Ada started singing about how much she disliked George W. Bush. The result was "Bushy," which appears on their debut album Bang Bang Boom Cake. They're not expert musicians, but not being competent musically has never been an issue in rock & roll. They make up for their lack of chops with an exhilarating power and their innocent impudence. Singing may be beyond them yet, but again, it never stopped Johnny Rotten or Handsome Dick Manitoba. Ivan and Ada are fairly normal kids. You don't get the feeling that they have overbearing parents egging them on, and their music isn't cutesy, it's real punk rock, if a bit derivative.
Their parents curtailed their TV watching on school nights, so the duo and a few of Ivan's friends took refuge in the family basement where their parents supplied then with a cheap drum kit and a few old amps. Ivan was ten when he picked up the guitar and Ada followed him on bass at 8-years-old. They created a MySpace site and started putting up demos they made using the drum programs on Garageband, the user-friendly MacIntosh program. Andrew Romano, a reporter for Newsweek magazine, found them on MySpace where they'd racked up 13,000 spins in a little more than seven months, with no promo or marketing plan. He wrote them up in a piece called "Middle School of Rock," noting that a British indie label called Tiger Trap had snapped up their demos and put them out as an EP called Big Noise. Romano called them remarkable for their bratty hard rock tunes and gave them their first interview. When Romano asked Ivan if his classmates like Tiny Masters better than Disney's glossy High School Musical, he responded like a real rock star: "A bunch of kids in my class formed a fan club for us," he said. "They, like, worship me." The tunes on Big Noise -- " "Bushy," "Stickin' It to the Man" and "Tooty Frooty" (not the Little Richard song) -- got rave reviews in the British press, and airplay on the BBC and XFM radio. The U.K. mag Artrocker put them on their cover and David Bowie weighed in with a rave review, calling their music "genius" in an interview in the London Times. Not bad for a bunch of homemade demos.
Next to appear was Russell Simins, drummer for the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, who also found the band on MySpace. He sent an email and asked if they'd like to jam with him. After meeting their parents to convince them he wasn't an oddball, Simins became their drummer and the only adult in the band. Gigs at CBGB's and the McCarren Park Pool in Brooklyn started building a stateside buzz. K.I.D.S., another EP of home demos, came out in the U.K. and sold out while Simins took the kids into a real studio and started laying down tracks for their debut Bang Bang Boom Cake. Chris Maxwell and Phil Hernandez (aka the Elegant Too of Brave Combo, Shivaree, They Might Be Giants, John Cale) co-produced the sides with Simins. Most tracks just add a bit of polish to the band's raw squall, but a few older folks dropped by the sessions to add their two cents. "Disco Bomb" features the B-52's Fred Schneider on background vocals and Ramones-like lyrics "Disco bomb, we got it goin' on." "Trendsetter" has anti-folk star Kimya Dawson performing one of her unhinged outbursts about the corporate indoctrination of tween consumers, while her husband Angelo Spencer adds some real lead guitar. "Hologram World" features Nicolas Zinner from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on guitar with Karen O helping out on vocals. Gibby Haynes (Butthole Surfers) and DJ Atsushi also dropped by to help out. The finished album was snapped up by Mute in the U.K.; Great Society, an American indie, put the album out in the U.S. In 2007, Tiny Masters spent their summer vacation on tour, wowing 'em at SXSW (the youngest band to ever play the festival) and selling out smaller venues in London. They were one of the highlights of the Underage Festival in Victoria Park, along with a passel of tween bands from the U.K.. In the fall of 2007, Tiny Masters returned to school in Brooklyn, NY and had to slot in gigs as their schooling and parents permitted. ~ j. poet