Roll Along With the Rolleos


Sat March 22, 2014 11:00am

RolleoMeet The Rolleos: Chris Molla, his wife, Jessica, and their toddler daughter, Rosie, who comprise a musical band of the same name. The family friendly, folk-rock group performs at the Bay Area Discovery Museum Saturday morning, March 22.

Whether 2 1/2-year-old Rosie will join her parents onstage to dance and play the drums during the 45-minute concert — no intermission — is uncertain, confirmed her Dad, a co-founder of the alternative rock group Camper Van Beethoven. "It's certainly not something we insist on," said Molla, in a telephone interview from the family's Santa Cruz home — a 36-foot Airstream trailer. "It's an adventure for her. She does get a kick out of being in front of people and at this age she's overcome natural shyness. But this Saturday we'll have to see."

The Rolleo family band is part of the Bay Area Discovery Museum's Spring Kids Concert Series lineup of five performances that involve music for children age six months old and up. The performance series culminates on Earth Day, April 19, with the group The Corner Laughers.

This Saturday, with or without Rosie, audiences of all ages are in for a treat with the Rolleos, according to Molla. He calls the group an all-ages Americana band. Its repertoire includes traditional and classic tunes, a little country, and a little folk mixed with original songs composed with children in mind, he said. The group performs acoustically with ukuleles, accordion, and vocals. Their recordings, by contrast, often layer in a full band with guitars and drums. "Our music is definitely geared toward something that appeals to a kid but it can appeal to adults as well," Molla said.

An earlier album for children called Roll Along and the family's frequent tours in the American West led to the band calling itself the Rolleos. "We're just a family traveling on the road," explained Molla. The trailer in which they reside accommodates a king-size bed, a nook for Rosie, living space, the couple's collection of instruments and their 120-pound dog. The family rehearses their acoustic music in the Airstream without much fanfare from their neighbors in the trailer park, according to Molla. "Most of them are fine with it," he said. "We certainly don't get complaints.

Molla met his wife, Jessica Hayden Molla, an artist and an educator, when both were M.F.A. students in the Digital Arts and New Media program at UC Santa Cruz, from which they graduated in 2010. It was Molla's second time around as a student at the university, where he earned a bachelors of arts degree in music and co-founded Camper Van Beethoven many years earlier. He recorded and toured extensively with the indy cult band from 1983 to 1986.

"I was really a jack-of-all-trades," said Molla, noting his many roles with Camper Van Beethoven that included playing guitar, back-up singing, and filling in between drummers. He also learned the tricks of the touring musical band trade — public relations, ticket sales, negotiating with venues — while with the cult group. It's music business savvy that he puts to use for the Rolleos, he said.

After leaving Camper Van Beethoven, Molla earned a masters degree in music composition at Mills College, where he studied with Anthony Braxton, Robert Ashley and David Rosenboom. Shortly after finishing his studies at Mills, Molla became an elementary school music teacher, where he discovered that making music for, and with children and families was something he enjoyed doing. A certified Orff-Schulwerk instructor, he remains active as a performer, composer and sound artist. The couple is in the middle of forming a nonprofit organization under a 501(c)3 called Jump Up Music and and Arts. The nonprofit will be dedicated to providing universal access to music and performing arts education to families with children ages newborn through ten.

Molla hopes this Saturday's concert will attract both children and adults. "It's really for whole families ... that's not just lip service," he said. "It'll be lively with music that's fun to move to and fun to sing. It should be good for everybody."

Journalist Molly Colin writes about the arts and cultural trends.

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