Houston children’s music performer Andyroo won’t let MS slow him down
Andrew Karnavas is a singer and songwriter who performs with rock band, Runaway Sun, while also making family music under the name Andyroo.
Photo: Grace Rodriguez
Andrew Karnavas knew something was wrong even before his hands let go after taking the stage at Discovery Green five years ago to play music for hundreds of children.
He had felt numbness in his hands. One day, the nerves in his chest were screaming just because they had been in close contact with a seat belt. When he started playing the show as Andyroo and the Andyrooniverse, his grip for family shows, he grabbed a few chords on the fretboard of his guitar with his left hand and played the way the more impactful possible.
“People have noticed,” he says. “I had friends who asked me if I was okay. I knew there was something going on. I was trying to play and I couldn’t.
Karnavas, 36, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. And this diagnosis caused an immediate reset in his life. His music has also undergone a change, as can be heard on his new family album, “Roocycle”.
The album sounds like an Andyroo recording with thoughtful, playful and catchy songs. But the instrumentation has taken on a fascinating electronic turn.
“This album is the direct result of trying to think of new ways of making music,” he says. “Because at the time, I didn’t think I could play guitar anymore. But I thought when you sum it all up, what is really important to me is the voice. To be able to sing. Writing. To be able to write songs. So I decided that I had to find a new way to continue singing and playing without a guitar if that was to happen.
The Truth About “Get Up”
Details: More information on Andyroo and links to hear “Roocycle” on andyrooniverse.com
The songs on “Roocycle” revolve beautifully around “Get Up”, which was one of the oldest tracks on the album but also one of the last to be recorded. With his refrain “believe in yourself and try your luck”, he talks about Karnavas’ approach to his illness. It also fits the theme of adjustments along the way. Karnavas originally wrote it with the idea of recording with his rock band, Runaway Sun.
“Something about it didn’t work,” he says. “I didn’t want to just be another white man doing a hackneyed version of soul music. I couldn’t understand musically until I tried to make an Andyroo song out of it.
The journey of “Get Up” illustrates the malleability of a good song. Karnavas has been writing and performing in Houston for years with Runaway Sun, as a solo artist (his “Film Noir” is worth a visit if you haven’t heard it), and with cover band Bang Bang Boom. Several years ago, Karnavas became an uncle and wrote songs for his niece and nephew. Andyroo and the Andyrooniverse started there.
Many songs have been specially designed for the Andyrooniverse. But “Get Up” is an example of how time and adjustments can move a song from one region to another: a song he started years ago ended during the pandemic with a some help. His partner, Grace Rodriguez, co-wrote it. And a group of live-in musicians – Tyson Sheth on drums, Matt Serice on trumpet, Matthew Davis Buehrer on bass and euphonium, and Tito Carbonelli Hernandez on saxophone – complemented the music from different locations.
“With everything that has happened over the past few months, it was just like a good fit,” he says. “This idea that life is coming, so you fill in the blanks.”
The song “Tippy Toes” has an almost ambient sound, which Karnavas attributes to expanding his listening habits over the past five years.
“I accepted that almost any sound can be an instrument,” he says. “And this song wanted some kind of ambient sound. A lot of modern hip-hop productions have this ambient and ambiguous instrumentation in the back, usually in the bass. This leaves plenty of room in the mids for vocals.
As befits a project called “Roocycle”, the album also contains tracks such as “Reduce Reuse Recycle” and “Pick It Up”. They are obviously calling on listeners to do a little game to make the planet cleaner and better. But they’re also talking about the changes Karnavas made after his diagnosis as he changed his diet entirely and added more exercise.
He has found himself writing more over the past five months. He ran creative writing workshops with children after Hurricane Harvey and was inspired by how young writers handled such a disruptive event.
“It becomes a kind of survival mechanism,” he says. “And I am more and more grateful to have this mechanism. I don’t know what I would do without.
With dietary changes and anti-inflammatory medication, Karnavas was able to play guitar again. But he also seems creatively recharged, knowing that despite the panic and uncertainty that swept through five years ago, he is able to make music and connect with listeners with or without a guitar.
“It can happen to anyone,” he says. “So I decided to stay positive about it from the start. I consider myself lucky because I can do children’s music. Which is not a bad way to spend time.