Taes Leavitt (Artsci’04) and Nick Adams (Artsci’04 and Ed’05) turned a class project into a career. Twenty years after leaving Queen’s, the musical duo Splash’N Boots has two Juno Awards from seven nominations (including a 2023 nomination for their latest album, I Am Love), 14 albums, four DVDs, and a television show on Treehouse. From humble beginnings on Kingston’s street corners, they’ve toured globally – from the Arctic to Australia – always with the same goal of encouraging parents and children to enjoy music together. Watch for them on tour this summer in various Canadian cities.
You turned a Queen’s University class project into a career. How?
Leavitt: Our class project was to put on a performance in Kingston and we put on a play at the Kingston Public Library. The play had a couple songs in it. At the end, we thought it was so fun, but we really just liked the music part so we started doing singing gigs. Our first was on the street corner as part of the buskers’ festival with between two and five people in the audience.
Adams: The important part was we were hired through Queen’s University for their summer work employment program. Through the drama department, they set up a group called the Barefoot Players and we were hired for two summers. Our job was to create and perform children’s entertainment around Kingston. That gave us insight on how to book a show, build a show. We got work experience that showed us we could take Splash’N Boots and make it a full-time job.
Leavitt: If we hadn’t had that, we probably wouldn’t be doing this. I remember the audition process was tough because everybody wanted this job. It was just a perfect way to learn about what we actually wanted to do and we got paid to do it. It was such a magical Queen’s program.
How did you come to be interested in performing for kids?
Adams: Taes is more classically trained and I was in a couple of bands at Queen’s and we were both in Queen’s Players as well. We both just had a love of performing for children and families. It just felt so natural.
Speaking of love, you were a couple, correct?
Leavitt: Yeah, we got married while we were at Queen’s. And we realized that actually, being business partners and best friends was better. Our calling was to be Splash’N Boots.
Adams: So, now we both have partners and we’re one big, giant, happy family.
You’ve performed all over the world. Can you share a memory of how you’ve reached children and their parents?
Adams: We did a big theatre show in Toronto and we were singing a song called “Bumblebee.” We have a lot of children with special abilities and families who come to our shows and we often give the kids the mic. In this instance, one girl was nonverbal. When Taes gave her the mic, she ended up singing a whole two sentences and her grandpa was crying and everyone started bawling. We get to create moments like that.
Leavitt: It was really beautiful. And that story sums up so much. It’s always about the children and those little moments. It’s not for the accolades.
Why is it important for Canadian children to grow up with Canadian content?
Adams: I think it’s really important [to show kids] that you can be Canadian and do whatever you want to. I think it’s important culturally.
Leavitt: And just to keep this sort of history of Canadian music going is really nice. We have such a rich history of genuine performers who really touch your heart. It’s nice to be part of that.
What has been the key to your success?
Leavitt: We were very naive when we started doing this. We just said, we’re doing this and we’re going to get a television show and this is going to be our full-time job and nobody’s going to stop us. We just worked so hard and never considered that it wasn’t going to happen. On purpose, we never had a backup plan. I remember saying, ‘We can either get side jobs or we can be poor, and commit all of our time to building this business. We can suck it up and eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches for the next couple years. We really did eat a lot of those sandwiches.
Adams: We just had a vision board. We cut out a [picture of a] TV and put it on it.
What are your plans for the coming years?
Leavitt: In 2023, we’ll be back to performing without COVID [precautions] and we have a new album, so we’ll see where that takes us; 2023 is also our 20th year, so it’s nostalgic.
How important has Queen’s been for your careers?
Adams: It was a great place for us to begin. The Queen’s drama department was important and Kingston was the perfect size – large enough to support acts like ours, and it’s also an artist community. It seemed like the perfect breeding ground for this kind of art. Kingston gave us a chance to grow and fail.