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As Marko Polo, kid favorite Mark Pagano launches a solo act

052121_provided_MarkPagano Mark Pagano of FIRE DOG is hosting a free virtual live stream concert this Friday to commemorate the 16th annual Endangered Species Day.
Danny Wicentowski
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis musician Mark Pagano, best known for FIRE DOG, has released his debut solo album under a new name: Marko Polo.

For the last four years, St. Louis’ coolest parents have turned their kids onto a band they themselves have spent more than a decade jamming to. FIRE DOG began in 2006 as a rock ‘n’ roll trio, but after frontman Mark Pagano had children of his own, the band’s pop music increasingly took on a kid-friendly feel — and by 2018, FIRE DOG was owning it, with albums written specifically for the junior set.

Now Pagano is moving even further in that direction. His debut solo album brands him as Marko Polo, a “kindie rock artist.” Its press materials promise that the album, “Mammal Music,” offers “hints of Jonathan Richman, the Beatles and the Muppets.”

Listen to Marko Pagano on St. Louis on the Air

On Thursday, Pagano told St. Louis on the Air that FIRE DOG isn’t going away. “FIRE DOG is still a band,” he said. “We’ve got some shows coming up.”

But he wanted to see what he could do on his own. He’s been using the Marko Polo moniker for kids’ shows for awhile now; he likes to use the classic call-and-answer game in his concerts. Recording his solo album under that name just made sense.

Pagano said he’s not sure why kids connect so well with his music.

“I think there's a sense of humor and just fun that FIRE DOG has always sought to embody, and kids really respond to it,” he suggested. “My music tends to be somewhat simple to connect with, and also fun to move to. That's one of my favorite things about playing for young audiences. They are ready to engage and play and have a good time.”

For “Mammal Music,” Pagano teamed up with Grammy award-winning children’s producer Dean Jones, working remotely and using Jones’ stable of musicians instead of the usual drum tracks or software instrumentations. Pagano contributed the ukulele and charango (a sort of Andean lute) on top of his usual guitar.

But the stagrophone, shown briefly being played by a stag in the music video for the title track of “Mammal Music,” is not actually a thing, Pagano hastened to add. “It’s all just fun and goofy,” he said.

Pagano noted that the genre of “kindie” music has really taken off in other cities. So far, he and FIRE DOG are largely alone in anchoring it in St. Louis — but he’s OK with leading the way locally.

“We’re making it happen,” he said.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.