Q&A with the Banana Slugs

After rocking the tide pools at Birch Aquarium at Scripps last week, Doug “Dirt” Greenfield of the Banana Slug String Band answered some of our questions about the band and their mission to educate listeners about the environment.

Q. Let’s start with one of the most recognizable elements of your band – your name! How did the string band become the Banana Slug String Band, and for us Southern Californians, what exactly is a Banana Slug?

The Banana Slug String Band was born about 26 years when we were teaching in an outdoor school for 5th graders in the middle of the redwoods in California. We taught marine biology, oceanography, stream ecology, riparian ecology – really all the ologies – and, of course, hands-on science.

The redwoods are the primary habitat of the banana slugs. These animals are very noticeable because they are slimy, up to a foot long, and very yellow! Most students and teachers who came to camp thought they were gross, but it was our goal to help them understand the web of life, and the slugs’ spectacular spot in that web. Banana slugs are the primary decomposer and the key to the magic of the redwoods.

We wanted to take the underdog of the animal world and lift them to hero status. We were, after all, teaching in their home, their habitat. When the kids left camp they loved the slugs. After that, the name kind of stuck.

Q. Do you consider yourselves educators or musicians or both?

We are blessed with having opportunity to be both. We all come from an entertainment/performer background, and we had an opportunity to channel that for a greater purpose. Our focus is to share the knowledge, excitement and magic of the natural world. This has kept us together for so long; the mission of the band has always kept the rudder in the water.

Q. On your new album, “Only One Ocean,” you collaborate with many prominent artists such as Brett Dennen, who recently played at Birch Aquarium’s Green Flash concert. How did these collaborations come about?

We’ve had artists approach us, especially those who have a heart for the earth or are parents and understand our mission. We knew it was a good way to bring in a new audience and to enrich our music and us.

Brett is a wonderful story because he is a huge Slug fan! When we met, he told me how he was raised listening to our CDs, which was just such a huge compliment. When we asked Brett to be on the album, he said yes immediately and really did such a magical job.

Q. Songs on “Only One Ocean” are tied to the Ocean Literacy Principles and to many of the topics that Birch Aquarium educators teach every day, from erosion to climate change. If a parent were to ask you the best way to ensure their child is ocean literate, what would you tell them?

Get out and get in it! Get to the beach, get to the marshes, get to the tide pools! You don’t need to know all of the natural history information or facts. It is really more about experiencing nature, like seeing a huge flock of birds take off in flight from a marsh – being touched by the emotion of it all.

I also think beach cleanups or other service activities can help create ownership, stewardship and pride. It is great for kids to help a huge beach where animals and people coexist – and, of course, listen to a little Slug music while they’re at it!

To find out when the Banana Slug String Band will be slugging at a concert near you, visit bananaslugstringband.com