While many kindie musicians found their way to the field as a detour from or second gig in addition to life as making music for adults, San Francisco's Frances England had a much more down-to-earth origin as a kindie musician. She was a mom and recorded an album as a fundraiser for her son's preschool. The result, 2006's Fascinating Creatures, sounded like nothing else that was being released at the time.
England will release her fourth family music CD, Blink of an Eye, in August. In anticipation of that release, I asked her to contribute to the "How I Got Here" series, featuring kindie musicians talking about albums influencing them as musicians.
When I read her piece, my first thought was of a comment musician/producer Dean Jones (who produced Blink of an Eye) made of England, that she was an artist who had a very clear idea of what she wanted her music to sound like and, more so than many artists, would sometimes consider and then decline his suggestions. In that context, her praise for the Wiggles is even more illuminating.
I recorded my first family music CD, Fascinating Creatures, in 2005 and during that time there were two albums in high rotation at my house: The Wiggles' Yummy Yummy and Galaxie 500’s Today. My son Liam was three years old and someone had given him Yummy Yummy as a birthday gift. At the time, I had no idea there was even such a thing as a children’s music genre. I was the first in my circle of friends to have kids and I was still finding my footing with parenting and all that goes along with it.
So the Wiggles were a total revelation. I remember watching Liam’s face light up the first time we popped in the cd and heard songs like “Fruit Salad” and “Crunchy Munchy Honey Cakes.” The melodies were so catchy, the lyrics were so sweetly silly and every song was so obviously written and sung for kids and for kids alone. No winks or ironic nods to parents or older siblings. Nope, it seemed that Greg, Murray, Anthony and Jeff could care less what anyone over the age of 7 thought of them or their songs, and I loved them for that. So we must have played Yummy Yummy hundreds and hundreds of times that year and after a while I started going a little crazy.
My release, when I had a rare moment alone, was to get in my car, roll down the windows and crank Galaxie 500’s Today album. This is one of my favorite albums of all time and it’s lo-fi, dreamy-pop rawness was the perfect antidote to Yummy Yummy. Today is one of the most nostalgic sounding albums I’ve ever heard and songs like “Oblivious” and “Tugboat” and “Parking Lot” can actually make my chest ache, because somehow these songs conjure up vivid memories of days gone by, for me. Arrangements on the album are mostly sparse and fuzzy and, to be honest, it doesn’t really sound like anyone in the band was particularly great at their instruments. But for me, Galaxie 500 had what matters most: heart, a great vibe, and some awesome hooks.
So these two albums probably played the biggest influence in the writing and recording of Fascinating Creatures. I didn’t really know what I was doing then but I did know that I wanted the songs to be, first and foremost, engaging to kids and talk about things they could relate to. And I wanted it to sound fuzzy and lo-fi and nostalgic.
Since then, I’ve recorded 3 more children’s CDs and will be releasing my latest one, Blink of an Eye, which is produced by Dean Jones, on August 6. I’m also releasing my first ever non-kids album later this year called Paths We Have Worn (also produced by Dean). I’ve been doing this for a while now but still feel so truly lucky to be part of this community of indie family music makers. And now a lot of the albums that influence my writing are actually made by my friends who are also part of this community. It’s a really good place to be.