It’s nearly lunchtime, and Alex Wolff is antsy—jumping, climbing on the back of the sofa in his parents’ Manhattan apartment. Typical stuff for an energetic 10-year-old. Except, as he does it, he sings a note-perfect a cappella rendition of the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” including the trumpet lines: “Wah, wah, wah-wah-wah….” Brother Nat, 12, rolls his eyes. “I’ve always been the biggest Beatles fan,” says Nat. “I just got really into Nirvana and the Doors.” Alex attempts to one-up his big brother: “I just became the biggest fan of Bob Marley!”
Credit their precocious musical savvy to cool parenting: Their mom, former thirtysomething star Polly Draper, and jazz-musician dad, Michael Wolff (see box), never restricted their kids’ listening to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Now the Wolff brothers are stars themselves as kid rockers the Naked Brothers Band. The launch of their Nickelodeon “mockumentary” series—think Spinal Tap meets The Little Rascals—last February was the network’s highest-rated premiere in seven years, and their first studio album hit stores Oct. 9. A signing in a New York City record store drew 1,500 screaming young fans—some of whom camped out overnight. Nat and Alex, who write all their own music and lyrics, wow even grown-up musicians. “They actually write great pop melodies, like a young Beatles kind of thing,” says Good Charlotte frontman Joel Madden, who taped a guest spot with the band for a show to air in 2008. “Kids can tune in to a TV show and watch other kids write songs? There’s never been anything like that.”
The Naked Brothers Band (a name Alex and Nat shouted one day as they hopped out of the tub) phenomenon started as a creative experiment for mom Draper, 52. The naturally gifted Nat had been playing in his own band since he was 5, with remarkable success: After 9/11 he put together a benefit show (with help from Mom) for New York City firefighters that raised more than $46,000. But when Alex was old enough to show an affinity for drumming (neither took lessons—they picked up their instruments by “osmosis,” their father says), Draper came up with the idea to make a film, pretending that their group was superfamous. “I enlisted some friends for it—Uma Thurman, Julianne Moore and the thirtysomething cast—to make it real,” she recalls. “We took it to the Hamptons Film Festival, and it won Best Family Film.” Former Nickelodeon chief Albie Hecht was there and a series was born: “I could see there was an audience for this,” Hecht says. “They’re real kids, real brothers, making real music.”
Mom and Dad are both producers on the show, now shooting 17 new episodes (a Halloween special debuted Oct. 20, and the rest will air next year). “We’re all together as a family,” Draper says. But it has meant some big changes: “Polly’s had to turn down roles on TV and a Broadway lead,” notes Michael, 55, because her writing and often directing the show are more than a full-time job. “But,” says Draper, “this uses my creativity more—so in a way it’s better than anything I’ve ever done.”
Plus, it’s hard to ignore the giddy feeling the whole family gets when they hear someone’s cell phone ring with the boys’ song “Crazy Car.” Or when 5,000 fans showed up for an unannounced concert in Rye, N.Y., earlier this summer. “Girls were crying. Crying!” Nat says. And how does that feel to a 12-year-old? “It’s awesome!”
Of course, Michael and Polly also have fears that their kids could suffer child-star syndrome. “I have all the Britney Spears-ish anxieties,” Polly notes. “But the fact is, they’re both really talented. Whatever happens, it’s not like they’re …”
“Paris Hilton,” Nat interrupts.
“They weren’t manufactured,” their dad says proudly. “It came out of them—this whole thing.”