They may have songs about fanny packs, dinosaurs and pizza, but don’t dismiss Koo Koo Kanga Roo as a mere “kids band.” The rising local rap duo — known for its hyperactive dance party of a stage show — is getting props not just from parents and tots, but also from international indie musicians and hipster magazines.
Koo Koo’s résumé is bizarrely diverse, having toured with kiddie sensation Yo Gabba Gabba, veteran ska act Reel Big Fish and U.K. folk-punk singer Frank Turner. This month, California punk label Asian Man Records — home to Alkaline Trio and the Queers — and its family-geared offshoot Fun Fun Records are co-releasing the band’s third album, “Whoopty Whoop.” And then there’s the handful of enthusiastic write-ups from Vice Media music blog Noisey, in which writer Dan Ozzi dubbed theirs “the weirdest show I’ve ever been to.”
“It started as an experiment,” Koo Koo’s Neil Olstad said from Orlando last week while on tour with the Aquabats. Inspired by high-energy, keyboard-oriented Minneapolis bands like Dance Band and ZibraZibra, Olstad and his cohort Bryan Atchison set out to create an “over-the-top, intense live experience” while attending St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minn., in the mid 2000s.
Koo Koo’s kid-friendly song topics range from food fights to letters of the alphabet. That formula eventually earned them popularity among teachers and young students across the Midwest, thanks to a series of hit YouTube videos.
“We made these one-take videos of us dancing along to our songs with dance moves we made up because we were worried about people getting bored at shows,” Atchison said ahead of the “Whoopty Whoop” release party Sunday in St. Paul. “We found out some kindergarten teachers were using them in their classrooms.”
Koo Koo began to receive requests to perform at schools — and for more wacky dance videos. So, earlier this year, they re-recorded their dance routines in front of a green screen, releasing it as a dance-along DVD called “House Party.”
But the playfully rapping friends attest that they’re more than just a kids’ band — “we’re an everybody band,” Atchison said.
Case in point: the Vice coverage.
“It was an animal costume party,” Atchison recalled of the show, which took place in a New York City basement last November while on tour with Frank Turner. “There was a lot of weird experimental art stuff, and then we played. We’re like 6-foot-4 and the ceiling was like 6-foot-8 — we broke all the lights in the ceiling out.”
“It was kind of random,” Olstad added. “We invited Frank to come to the show, and he invited Dan [Ozzi]. Being with Frank was great, because he talked to so many media people about us, and that’s huge.”
With Koo Koo’s new album, they’re poised to go even further. Minneapolis rap star P.O.S. even lent a verse to the song “Shake It Well.”
“We’ve been huge fans and we reached out to him on Twitter,” Atchison said of P.O.S. “We sent him the track and he thought it was great. And he has some kids, so I think that was part of it, too.”
Though past releases have had set themes, such as last year’s “Songs About Cats and Stuff” and 2012’s animal-packed “Critters,” on “Whoopty Whoop,” Koo Koo went with a grab-bag of topics, from cake to unibrows, while emphasizing the hooks.
“Our goal is to make the catchiest thing you’ve ever heard,” Atchison said. “We want to make pop gems that are earworms forever.”