Koo Koo Kanga Roo hop up to the big time

Koo Koo Kanga Roo hop up to the big time
Youa Vang

Koo Koo Kanga Roo have no dirty laundry. Sure, a couple of guys who make kid-friendly indie pop should try to maintain a clean image, but in this case they've arrived at Suds America in St. Paul with literally no clothes to wash.


Initially, the plan was to combine a laundry session with an interview before they hit the road with California ska-wave superheroes the Aquabats. But they're packed and the van leaves in just a couple of hours. With no other spots open nearby, the duo — who behave like best friends — are comfortable pretending to do laundry.

Neil Olstad is the bespectacled, mustachioed one, but otherwise it's hard to distinguish him from bandmate Bryan Atchison. They're wearing matching black tees emblazoned with gold "KOO" lettering on the chests, black sweatpants, and Nikes spray-painted gold.

Olstad pulls a T-shirt out of a random basket, and Atchison asks, "Is that your Gabe Douglas shirt?" before handing him some more pieces to pretend-throw into the washer.

"I wish I had that childlike mentality where you're not conscious of what people think of you," Atchison ruminates pensively, as he leans against a dryer. "We lose that somewhere along the way growing up. When I'm at shows where I'm not performing, I'm that guy in the back of the room."

When Koo Koo Kanga Roo are aerobically bouncing through the "Dinosaur Stomp" onstage, they command a crowd and get almost everyone on their feet and dancing. You'd never know them as anything other than tall, adult children.

Off-stage, the pair are more physically sedate, but remain utterly compatible, filling in the spaces where the other leaves off. Olstad is the more talkative of the two, and the random thoughts that flow from his mouth have a lot of weight. Atchison interjects only when necessary. They're recalling how they hooked up with one of the U.K.'s biggest current rock stars, Frank Turner.

Olstad and Atchison met Turner a few years ago at the Lowertown Music Festival when they were on the same bill. The English folk-punk singer immediately took a shine to them and promised to take them on tour with him, despite very little overlap between their music styles.

"Frank was so into what we were doing and would go out of his way to talk about us in interviews, and that got people curious," Olstad recalls. "It opened us up to this new fanbase; it was great."

"Except Winnipeg," Atchison chimes in. "There was a guy that walked up to me at the merch table, shook my hand, and said, 'Hey, man, I really hate what you're doing,' the whole time he was shaking my hand. I hated that day."

Even if you don't understand what Koo Koo Kanga Roo are doing, it's hard to not get pulled in by their charm. Initially members of indie-rock bands, the guys decided to do something that set them apart. The music explores comical, youthful themes — cake, cats, and unicorns — but in a way that adults can appreciate too.

Out on seminal punk label Asian Man, new album Whoopty Whoop contains songs that are joyous re-imaginings of everyday happenings, a la They Might Be Giants meets the "Cha Cha Slide." Dinosaur-themed material and a frenetic workout DVD have gotten them many school gigs around the country, even if they're not strictly educational. Koo Koo Kanga Roo's main goal is to have fun — but with a dose of hyperbole.

Case in point, the slice of infectious Matt & Kim-style synth pop of Whoopty Whoop's opening track, "All I Eat is Pizza." "I was trying to think of a band that has a statement," Atchison says. "Ours is to have fun and eat pizza, but I'm waiting for a teacher to tell us, 'We can't have you play at our school. It's all about nutrition.'"

This style of storytelling came from Atchison's love of musical theater and was inspired by Disney songs. "We're trying to do Broadway music, but we still try to incorporate being in a punk-rock band," he says.

"For us, it doesn't matter if we're good musicians," Olstad adds. "We were in a band before, and we did play instruments, but it wasn't like we were very good at them. Our band wasn't a great sounding band, so we switched it up. We wanted to be in a band where it was easy to write songs, so we could get right to the show."

This is modesty talking. Whoopty Whoop's fresh combination of ringtone hip-hop, the bass bounce of EDM, and all the catchy hooks a three-minute pop song can fit is turning heads. Rhymesayers rap star P.O.S. wasn't ashamed to drop a guest verse on Whoopty Whoop's bangin' ode to orange juice "Shake It Well." Last year, the Minnesota State Fair was impressed enough to invite the guys to pen and perform five pieces at the Walker's International Cat Film Festival. Olstad claims it was the highlight of his life.

"Either people love us or they hate us," Atchison says. "People will stand in the middle of the crowd and flip us off the whole time — even when we jump in the crowd. We've done 'Shake Yo Foot,' and they won't turn around. They'll still stand there and hold their spot. It's so awesome. It's fun; you need the people who hate us, because the other people will love us more."

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