Alexandria Times story

The kids are alright
Neal Learner Takes Children’s Music Just Seriously Enough

By David Sachs

When it comes to music, Del Ray resident Neal Learner doesn’t believe kids should be sold short. So he released “Would You Like to Be A Mermaid?” earlier this year, the first album from Neal Learner and the Del Ray Phantom Orchestra.
It’s eclectic, ambling between bluegrass, rock and lullabies. If you listen to it, like it and you’re over 20, that’s OK, Learner says. Some songs edge close to tracks heard on major labels, but Learner croons about fatherhood and childhood  — not life on the road or lost love — without all the goody gumdrops.
The entire disc is performed, written, recorded and mixed by Learner (making him the sole member of the Phantom Orchestra), and its liner notes are speckled with artwork by his daughters Nadia, 11, and Nina, 10, who make an appearance on a few songs. 
Between his family and his day job as a communications specialist in Old Town, Learner talked with the Times about his new disc. 

ALEXANDRIA TIMES: What’s “Mermaid” all about?

NEAL LEARNER: I kind of describe it as music for and about kids, what it means to be in a good state of mind as a kid and as a parent. When you’re in your 20s you write stories about lost love and being ‘on the hunt’ and as a parent, that changes dramatically.

Is the album more of a personal outlet, or an addition to the kids’ music genre?

It’s mostly an outlet but also for kids’ music. You shouldn’t try to sell them short. They like complex stuff, too. You don’t have to be some guy with a guitar playing cute tunes. There’s actually a lot of kids’ music out there and some of it’s really good and some of it makes you kind of roll your eyes. I wanted to make music both parents and kids can enjoy.

Has living in Del Ray contributed to your creativity?

I would definitely say so. There’s a lot of interesting, eclectic people in Del Ray. We’re kind of a fixture on The Avenue. That vibe definately helps the creative juices.

What kind of musical influences inform ‘Mermaid’?

I love the Talking Heads, a lot of sort of silly songs. Rock ‘n’ roll should be fun and sort of silly. It’s kind of corny now, but I love Billy Joel, whose piano work is amazing. I like a well-crafted song that has a strong melody.

Sum up what this album means to you.

It’s really all about the joy of it — the joy of parenting, the troubles — it’s not always easy. But also the joys of being a child. Fatherhood is kind of as rich as it gets in the course of life. You’re right in it. And hopefully my songs reflect that.

“Would You Like to Be A Mermaid” is available in Del Ray at Contessa’s, The Purple Goose, A Show of Hands and online at

© 2011 |

For the original version, click here:



Leave a comment

Add comment