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January 24, 2006

Go Fish is angling for small fry

Pioneer Press (MN):

Two-year-old Mason Statema is jumping around inside the studio as the music plays, unaware he's speaking for toddlers across the country. "We now have a built-in focus group for what we're doing," says Mason's father, Jamie Statema, founder of the St. Paul-based vocal group Go Fish. "I'll bring him up to the studio, and if he's bopping around to the song, we know it's probably going to work."

Everything has been working for Go Fish since a 2003 side project of kids' songs ("Splash") intended as a fun distraction catapulted the vocal trio to national prominence. The past two years have seen Go Fish release two more kids' albums (2004's "Superstar" and 2006's "Snooze"), tour the country to rave reviews, sign a national distribution deal with Warner-owned Word Entertainment and release their first DVD, "Showtime," this month. A kid-friendly radio show is also in the works, along with another DVD.

"It's been really exciting and amazing," Statema says. "The response to 'Splash' was so overwhelming that we just started focusing all our energies on making great music for kids that won't drive their parents bonkers. That's our line, and it really resonates with parents." Fresh off a winter tour that took them from Anaheim, Calif., to Orlando, Fla., Go Fish returns home this weekend for shows Friday, Saturday and next Sunday at Northwestern College in Roseville.

The a cappella group, which Statema founded in his hometown of Roseville in 1993, spent its first decade making a name for itself as a contemporary Christian music act. The group's sweet-as-sugar harmonies, doo-wop style, Christian message and catchy percussion Statema is also a drummer resonated with audiences, especially families.

In December 2001, Go Fish drew more than 14,000 fans to Xcel Energy Center for a Christmas concert. That same year, their album "Infectious" sold more than 100,000 units. "It always felt like we had some measure of success and people liked what we did," Statema said of Go Fish, which also includes vocalists Jason Folkmann and Andy Selness. "But we felt like the shoe fit perfectly when we focused in on kids."

That came about after "Splash" unexpectedly became a huge hit. "It used to be that we never sold any records until people saw us in concert first," Statema said. "But with 'Splash' and then 'Superstar,' the music sold on its own. And the concerts we did for those albums were sold out within hours. It was overwhelming."

Performances at national children's pastors conventions and mothers of preschoolers conferences heightened Go Fish's profile among youth leadership and parents, and the band's humorous, entertaining style has drawn comparisons to popular children's acts like the Wiggles. "I would say you could apply the concept of the Wiggles to us, except that musically we don't dumb down our music for kids whatsoever," Statema says. "And I think that's why parents enjoy the music as much as kids do. Musically, we put a lot of work into what we do. I think if we were doing simple songs without any depth, we'd be frustrated as artists. But we take a lot of pride in what we do."

Since "Splash" was released in 2003, it and "Superstar" have sold more than 150,000 units and are continuing to sell well now that Word Entertainment is placing the albums in Christian and mainstream bookstores around the country, Statema says. "A lot of doors have really started opening up for us," he said. "We're really excited about the DVD, too."

"Showtime" is a Monkees-type production that mixes music videos with comedy bits and skits highlighting the differing personalities of Statema, Selness and Folkmann. Christian radio stations have also approached the group about putting together a half-hour radio show aimed toward younger listeners. Children's pastors and Sunday school teachers have started using Go Fish's songs in lesson plans, Statema says. Through it all, the group has been able to maintain its main mission spreading a Christian message. "Our name comes from the Bible passage about being fishers of men, and we're still doing that," Statema says. "Now we're just going after the little fishes."

Posted by acapnews at January 24, 2006 12:38 AM