Hunched over a computer in the Prytania Street coffee shop ManhattanJack recently, Rich Collins grudgingly navigated the Twitter-verse. As one-fourth of kids music quartet the Imagination Movers, he would normally, and gladly, leave such chores to fellow Mover Dave Poche. Poche “enjoys it and is good at it,” Collins said. “I’m genetically wired to not make small talk.”
But his recent social media session wasn’t for the Imagination Movers. Collins was out to promote “Golden Pick,” his new, second album as a solo artist. And so he was on his own.
Collins, who is still very much a Mover, will debut his new “Golden Pick” band with a 3 p.m. show on Saturday at the Audubon Zoo’s Earth Fest. That band consists of drummer Eric Bolivar — a veteran of several Imagination Movers tours — keyboardist Shea Pierre and bassist Steve Panacek.
Collins’ previous solo album, 2013’s “That Escalated Quickly,” alternated pop songs with heavier, guitar-centric rock songs. “The stuff I enjoyed playing the most was the stuff that had a groove,” he said. “The New Orleans part of me wants to be the Hot 8 Brass Band, but with an acoustic pop sensibility.”
The “Golden Pick” title track is breezy, light on its feet, and relentlessly optimistic; the accompanying video features Collins singing along to the song at sunset on the Mississippi riverfront. The Caribbean lilt throughout the album “came out accidentally. What I was going for was acoustic pop that had a groove,” he said.
He wrote, performed, arranged and produced just about every sound on the new album, with assists from pedal steel guitarist Ed Williams, of the Revivalists, vocalists Amy Trail and Tiff Lamson, and Dash Rip Rock and Imagination Movers drummer Kyle Melancon.
“My obsession with creating music began at 14 years old, trying to record pop songs from the radio on a cassette recorder,” Collins said. “My obsession with making pop songs continues to this day.
“This record reflects all the creative lessons I’ve learned and that I’m older and wiser and have more experiences, good and bad, success and failure. I have more to say than when I was a kid.”
A native of the Washington, D.C., area, Collins worked for years as a journalist in New Orleans, including a stint as the entertainment editor at Gambit Weekly. He and three friends — Poche, Scott Durbin and Scott “Smitty” Smith — conceived of the Imagination Movers as a band that could entertain kids and grown-ups alike. Their independent act went international when the Disney Channel signed them up to star in a self-titled, live-action TV show. They spent months at a time shooting three seasons of “Imagination Movers” at a soundstage in Harahan. Each of the 75 episodes contained some slapstick, some “idea emergencies,” some brainstorming and lots of original music composed on very tight deadlines.
“Imagination Movers” premiered in September 2008. By spring 2010, it was airing in more than 55 countries and territories, translated into 12 languages. The Movers performed at the White House, hung out with Chris Rock, Conan O’Brien and their kids, and sold about 140,000 tickets to 101 performances on a long tour in early 2011.
But later that year, they learned Disney wouldn’t renew their show for a fourth season. The loss of that consistent, high-profile, worldwide exposure meant demand for long Movers tours went away.
Collins and his bandmates are back to doing what they did before the Disney deal — releasing new material independently. In 2015, they put out “Licensed to Move,” a combination DVD/CD with artwork — and a title — inspired by the Beastie Boys’ “Licensed to Ill.” The concert DVD was shot at the Civic Theatre in November 2014.
These days, the Movers mostly perform on weekends at theaters, theme parks, festivals and special events across North America. Two gigs in New York last weekend reminded Collins how much fun it is to be a Mover.
On March 12, they performed in the Concert Hall at the Society for Ethical Culture on West 64th Street in Manhattan; the dressing room overlooked Central Park. On March 13, they headlined the Paramount, a sumptuous, recently renovated, 1,500-capacity former vaudeville theater in Huntington, Long Island, which comedian Tracy Morgan played the night before the Movers.
“The actual performance was one of the best we’ve ever done,” Collins said. “We had our whole spectacle, with the smoking trash cans and giant balloons and flying toilet paper. It’s this rock ’n’ roll show appropriate for 3-year-olds and 33-year-olds.”
The band and the Toronto-based 9 Story Entertainment are still working to develop an animated version of the Imagination Movers. They’ve created a two-minute trailer and written a theme song.
Collins hopes the Imagination Movers continue indefinitely. “We put our blood, sweat and tears into making it really good. It’s a unique piece of entertainment, something that we’ve perfected. It’s a special thing.”
However, he will not wear the Movers’ signature blue jumpsuit for Saturday’s show at the Audubon Zoo. Instead, he’ll likely rock “one of the three gray T-shirts that I own.”
Building his parallel career as a composer of music for adults is very much a priority. He’s signed with a new agent to pitch his music to TV shows, movies and commercials. He’s submitted potential theme music for two projects — one recording features vocalist Alexis Marceaux of Sweet Crude and Alexis & the Samurai — and is now in the fingers-crossed phase, hoping his songs are selected.
“I should have been learning about this sooner,” he said. “It’s this whole other world but super-competitive.
“The more I can make music in a productive way, the better. It’s all another piece of the puzzle of putting together a creative life.”
Follow Keith Spera on Twitter, @KeithSpera.