Interview: Koo Koo Kanga Roo’s Neil Olstad

Koo Koo Kanga Roo combines enthusiastic choreography and hip-hop dance beats for an all-out, over-the-top live experience. The duo uses songs (subjects include dinosaurs and PB&J) and props (parachutes, fake mustaches) to create a participatory spectacle that is as much about nostalgia as it is having fun. Koo Koo Kanga Roo wants you to relive the best parts of being a kid, and they want you to do it via interactive dance party. Prior to tomorrow night’s show at The Fire, The Key spoke with Neil Olstad about indie-rock feuds, bad days, and the laws of friendship bracelets.

The Key: How does your onstage persona differ from your actual personality?

Neil Olstad: When we’re onstage it’s more about the persona of a child. Or, like, a really excited teenager. It’s all energy, all the time. I guess off stage I’m a lot different, and Bryan is a little less different. We’re not literally going into character so much as we’re just amping up our energy and smiling all the time, I guess. It’s basically just a burst of energy.

TK: What do you do if you’re playing a show and the crowd isn’t having it or refuses to participate?

NO: That happens all the time, when we play to crowds who don’t know what’s going on and don’t feel comfortable doing the dance moves or singing the response portion of our songs. Which is kind of the vast majority of what we do—it requires you to be able to participate. So when it doesn’t happen, we don’t really change what we do, we just keep going, we just plow through. If we don’t have participation, then we’re just going to dance around like idiots, and that’s fine with us, because we’re having a good time. It’s pretty hard to—some shows are better than others—but it’s pretty hard for us not to have a good time at shows. If no one is dancing, if they think it’s weird, that’s fine, we’ll just put on a show and you can watch.

TK: As a performing artist, do you feel that the audience owes you participation?

NO: I guess it depends on the show, but for most shows we expect that at least some people will participate. If we’re playing at a venue, that means that you have to pay money and you have to want to be there—so, in those situations, people are more prone to go ahead and dance with us. Sometimes when we’re in situations where people are forced to be there, then that’s where you can get into trouble with people not following along. Like when we’re playing in Philly, people who come there are looking to have a good time so they’re more apt to party with us.

TK: Do you think if the audience doesn’t participate, they’re not getting the full experience of your show?

NO: If you’re not doing the dance moves and you’re not singing along with us, then yeah, I’d say you’re not getting the full show. I would say that it’s more of an experience to do it with us. But I guess you could just sit back and watch and laugh, that’s fine with me. I don’t care. That’s probably what I would do, maybe. For us it’s as much kind of a jokey thing as it is a dance party. We’re trying to make you laugh too, doing comedy and stuff. So if you want to sit back and laugh at two goofy guys dancing around, that’s cool with me, but I think for the full-on experience you do need to be up front dancing with us and grooving with us and getting our sweat all over you.

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