Interview: Nerissa Nields (The Nields)

nknields_sh2_sm.jpgThe Massachusetts-based sisters Nerissa and Katryna Nields, the driving force behind the band named after the them, have been making music for a living for about two decades now, but have been singing for most of their lives. The centrality of music to their lives growing up is obvious on their two fine albums for families, All Together Singing in the Kitchen and Rock All Day Rock All Night. They also lead HooteNanny, a music class for preschoolers and their parents and have just released their first DVD, Organic Farm.

Nerissa answered a few questions in the not-too-distant past about some of her musical memories, the good and bad parts about recording music with your relatives, and suggestions for raising a musical household...

Zooglobble: I realize you've discussed this a little more than most folks (since you did an entire album with your father), but what are your musical memories growing up?
Nerissa Nields: SO many wonderful memories, but I'll share this one. I was sick with the chicken pox, and it was the worst day of the itching, fever, etc. I was seven years old, lying in bed, moaning. My father came in with his guitar to cheer me up and started playing "The Streets of Laredo," which is a very sad song and involves a dying cowboy. When he got to the end of it, I moaned, "No! That's too sad!" So he said, "OK. How's this?" and made up these words on the spot:
I can see by your outfit that you are a cowboy
You can see by my outfit that I'm a cowboy too
You can see by our outfits that we are both cowboys
Get yourself an outfit and be a cowboy too!

When did you decide you wanted to become a musician?
When I was seven years old I learned "I Know A Heartache When I See One" off the AM Country radio station my parents listened to, and my mother was so impressed with my singing that she commented on it. I decided then and there to be a singer.

What are the good parts about recording music with family members? What are the not-so-good parts?

The good parts: you're able to be honest with each other and say, "You can do that better."
The bad parts: to get told by bandmates, "you can do it better" even when you don't think you can!

What is your favorite thing about doing HooteNanny?
Watching kids and parents sing together, cuddle together, and generally bond around music

If you could only do one or the other, would you rather making music in a HooteNanny class or playing for a big crowd with the full band?
I can't answer this. They're completely different experiences, like apples and oranges. Both are wonderful.

OrganicFarm.jpgWas there anything in particular you were trying to convey with the new DVD (e.g., were you trying to capture a live show)?
I wanted kids to see what it looks like to make music. As a child, I loved LPs, but I really wanted to see "how are they doing that?" With a DVD, the kids get to see all the different instruments being played.

What songs do you go back to over and over singing with your own family?
"Over the Rainbow" and "Sidewalks of New York." Also, inexplicably, "Six Yellow Chicks" and "Time to Take a Bath" from HooteNanny.

What's one suggestion you have for keeping a musical household (besides the obvious, like "singing a lot")?
Have easy percussion instruments and small hand drums at the ready for kids to play with; we have our toy/playroom in the same room as our music room, so those concepts are intertwined. Music is play and play is music.

Besides the DVD, what else is on your horizon?
A new book with a publication date of Fall 2011 called All Together Singing in the Kitchen: The Musical Family on Trumpeter Press (Shambhala). Also, a new "grown up" CD If Not For This (much of the material is about motherhood!)

Photo credit: Jeff Wasilko