Interview: Sara Hickman

Sara_blue_guitar_thumb.jpgThe question I wanted to ask Sara Hickman but didn't was, "So when do you sleep?" Because with all things Hickman does on a regular basis, it seems like the answer might be, "Every other Thursday between 2 and 3 AM in months with the letter 'e'." It starts out with the music -- she's been recording and touring for nearly a quarter-century (I always loved her debut Equal Scary People) and making music for families, starting with the release of Newborn in 1999, followed by Toddler and Big Kid. But in addition to that she paints, advocates, and for those of us who've met her, even briefly, is a force of nature for positivity.

Now she'll be spending the next year as the Official Texas State Musician, using her musical bully pulpit to promote, among other things, making music as families through her Family Time Rocks.

Aaaaaannnd, she found time to answer a few questions. Read on for more details on Family Time Rocks, her musical upbringing, and teaching her kids to sing in three-part harmony.

Zooglobble: What were your first musical memories?
Sara Hickman: My mom says I was singing before I was talking, humming little notes and melodies. But I distinctly remember sitting with my tape recorder, around age 6 or 7, and writing songs, making up commercials, creating skits a la Carol Burnett, recording and laughing myself silly. I also remember getting on stage at 7 or 8 and singing, for the first time, on a microphone (wow! -- it was an epiphany to be amplified!) and on stage, singing in a school contest and winning first place for the poem about the bald eagle (I was the only one to sing their entry). I recently found a RECORDING of me singing the song as a child on an old cassette!!!

When did you decide that you wanted to make making music your career?
I just always knew. I never thought about doing anything else, although I did have a huge interest in paleontology and becoming an underwater architect!

What prompted you record (and more importantly, release) your first kids' CD, Newborn?
The birth of my first daughter. I was always singing to her, and friends encouraged me to record the songs so they could share them with their children. There is a lot of love on that CD. I was in true awe that my daughter was someone in my life; a love like I'd never experienced.

What changes have you noticed in the kids' music "scene" (as it were) since its release?
Well, I guess I felt like I was sort of ahead of the deluge of music that came after my release. I mean, there had been others, of course, like Raffi and Mr. Rogers, people from the sixties on making music for newborns, and the Mozart music, of course, but I felt like my recording was an intimate creation for Lily (and friends)...then...Everyone in my age group started having children, and suddenly, it was the hip, fun thing to do.

I think what's changed is that there is a lot more choice and more respect in wanting to create innovative, intelligent music for kids and their families, and that's a terrific thing. It's also led to a revolution in more and more kids creating their own bands/recordings.

How did becoming the Official State Musician of Texas come about -- was it a total surprise?
I knew I had been nominated, but I was floored, and, yes, thrilled to receive such an amazing honor. When the Texas Commission on the Arts called to let me know I'd won, I laughed out loud when they stated, "Oh, and there's no money or a tiara, but you'll be in the history books..."

I was just stoked to be a recepient, especially since I'm following 2009-2010's winner, Willie Nelson.

ftrbanner-wlogo.gifWhat are your goals in your year as Official State Musician -- how does Family Time Rocks play a part?
My term starts in May 2010, so I've been prepping for it since last year when they first called. As a recepient, the State Legislature and the Texas Commission on the Arts don't expect us to do anything, but I wanted to be pro-active with the title and create awareness funding for non-profits that help bring art, music, theatre and creative writing into public schools, since our Legislature has drastically cut funding for those classes.

Thus, I thought it would be cool to create a few agendas for myself, one being Family Time Rocks!, a band with the branding "families who create together do great together." We are in the process of recording an album with songs and ideas from kids and parents interspersed throughout sharing what they like to do together creatively. We'll also be performing live shows, like the Houston International Festival and libraries, etc. We want to have creativity stations where families can fill up their Family Time Rocks! Box with things they create at our shows. When they aren't dancing or on stage -- singing with us! :) The band includes me, Jason Molin and Gray Parsons, two super enthusiastic and multiply-talented guys!!!

I'd also like to have the CD placed in kids' backpacks to take home and share with their families. My goal is to have the CD in schools' hands for dispersing beginning the fall 2010 school year.

Also, one other thing I am doing is a compilation cd of my songs performed by other Texas great musicians, and the sale of that CD is what will benefit Theatre Action Project and Big Thought, non-profits that fill the gap in schools with art, music, theatre, etc. Some of the artists recording are Ruthie Foster, Shawn Colvin, Joe McDermott, Marcia Ball, and, hopefully, Willie Nelson.

What things did you do with your daughter to encourage her musically? What musical things did you do with your daughter to encourage her in other, non-musical areas?
I always had musical instruments around for her to touch, bang on, experiment with, and sang sang sang ALL the time, even if just to announce I was choppin' cantaloupe. She and her sister (they are 13 and 9) can sing in harmony because I started out quietly singing in unison with them as children, and eventually, splitting off into a harmony. They got accustomed to the fact we were splitting apart, but still sounding harmonious, now we can do three part harmonies. I keep meaning to record us singing an a capella version of "Let It Be". We play a lot of music from around the world, too.

We like to go to museums and discuss what all was happening during the the period a certain work was created, what was in fashion or going on in politics or world history and also the symbolism of what is apparent and hidden symbolically. We paint our sidewalks, do chalk poetry on other people's driveways. Basically, we try as a family to share as much quality creative time as possible, from game night to the sort of messages we leave on our answering machine. Everything is a chance to leave your creative mark on this amazing world!

Sara_face-thumb.jpgYou've got a DVD in the works -- can you tell us a little bit about it?
It's animated shorts for Newborn, along with interstitials of my sharing parenting thoughts and ideas. I'm so thrilled because I had the opportunity to draw out frames for one of the songs, so it's my first time to create animation, too! Yee-ha!

What else is next for you?
I just finished my next adult CD Absence of Blame that will be out in the next few months, and I am finishing up producing 9 female Austn musician moms on a CD for wee ones called "Sweet Songs."

Then I plan to tour some more, and prep for a painting exhibit in Oct. 'tis all!!!

Photo credits: Todd Wolfson