Most adolescent boys would give anything to play a rock star on a hit TV show alongside their little brother and childhood friends.
Twelve-year-old Nat Wolff does it on a regular basis as the star of Nickelodeon’s hot mockumentary series “The Naked Brothers Band.” Along with his 9-year-old brother Alex and their friends (who are also the musicians in the show’s band), the show draws a weekly audience of 2.8 million and has established both Nat and Alex as top child actors.
But Nat is more interested in being seen as a musician instead of a TV star.
“We always thought we were rock stars, everybody else thought we were pretending,” he said while on the Brooklyn, N.Y. set of the show. “I thought I was a rock star, I didn’t think I was an actor.”
With this month’s release of “The Naked Brothers Band” CD, the world may start seeing him and his brother as rock stars too. The brothers provide lyrics, vocals and some instrumentation on the album, which is an extension of the kind of music featured on the Nick series.
The boys’ dad, Michael Wolff, an intensely laid-back jazz musician who’s worked with artists ranging from Nancy Wilson to Frank Sinatra, has also always seen music as his sons’ clear calling.
“If you grow up in a house where they speak French, you speak French,” says Wolff, who serves as music supervisor and co-executive producer of the series (and also moonlights as his son’s drippy, according-playing father on the series). “If you grow up in a house where they speak music, you speak music.”
Perfect tunes for kidsThe Wolff boys’ CD offers poppy two- and three-minute ditties about puppy love, aliens, cars and banana smoothies, perfectly suited for kids their age.
In fact, Nat’s knack for hooks and harmonies is impressive for fans of any age. Clearly inspired by their heroes, the Beatles and Bob Marley, the boys paint a vast musical landscape, ranging from the introspective, Nat-penned ballad “I Indeed Can See” to the whimsical electronic comic relief of “Alien Clones,” courtesy of Alex.
Comfortable assuming the role of free-spirited little brother on and off set, Alex’s admits why he never has a hard time writing songs. “If you are mad at your dad and mom, instead of yelling at them and getting into big trouble,” he jokes, “just make a song about it and it’s like, ‘Na na na!”’
Of course, The Naked Brothers Band isn’t the first successful music series starring the offspring of an established father in the business. The Disney Channel smash “Hannah Montana” stars Miley Cyrus, daughter of country music singer Billy Ray Cyrus. So far that series has spawned two platinum CDs and now a best-selling nationwide tour.
The Naked Brothers Band CD release marked the boys’ first step toward Hannah Montana-like multi-platform stardom, but Wolff would quickly point out that that’s where the similarities end: “The boys have always been natural musicians who just happen to be on TV.”
Although also weary of comparisons, Nat is encouraged by the recent achievements of his Disney channel competitors because, as he sees it, “now kids can actually make their mark.”
The next ‘Hannah Montana’?Geoff Mayfield, director of charts and senior analyst at Billboard magazine, agrees.
“They could really do well,” he reasons. “In the past, Nickelodeon properties had done OK, but they have not really had huge successes like Disney’s ‘Hannah Montana’ or ‘High School Musical,”’ he says, “but the viewership numbers for the Naked Brothers are promising and they could be the ones to break through.”
The CD had a respectable but not blockbuster debut, at the No. 23 spot on Billboard’s top album charts with about 34,000 copies sold.
Future megastars or not, the boys’ mother, former “thirtysomething” star Polly Draper, who created and produces the series, is confident her family is equipped to deal with the pressure.
“Alex has the best way of deflecting the nasty things kids say to him when they recognize him on the street,” she boats. “Whenever kids say ’Gross, your ugly, why do girls like you?’ or ’Man your show sucks!’ he just replies, ’Oh yeah, how’s your show doing?”’
Still, Draper knows she has to prepare the boys for the pitfalls of multilevel stardom. “Fame is weird,” she admits, “because Michael and I have both been there, we have both warned (the boys) what it means and what to expect, when it comes and when it goes.”
From the looks of things, the latter is a lesson the boys may have some time to learn.