Frances England is a children’s musician with one of the sweetest, warmest voices in the genre. Her songs evoke memories of lying on the grass on a warm day, gazing up at the clouds as time passes by.
Her new CD, Blink of an Eye, was released on August 6. Aimed at slightly older children, the songs on her fourth album have a wistful, folk feel and reflect on themes of nature and childhood. Frances England spoke to Nerdy With Children about songwriting, her struggle with shyness (which many nerds can strongly identify with), and her new album.
Nerdy With Children: Did you write or perform music before becoming a parent yourself?
Frances England: I played violin growing up so I had performed with little ensembles but never singing or playing guitar. I started playing guitar when I was in high school and I wrote some songs in college but never shared them with anyone.
NWC: In a 2008 interview you mentioned that you composed the songs for your first album while your son was in the bath. What’s the process like now?
FE: Oh, it’s all over the place. As most parents will probably relate to, I have so few windows of time to sit down and write so I take whatever I get.
There’s a song called “Place in the Sun” on my new album that I actually wrote while I was cooking dinner. My kids and husband were watching game 2 of the World Series on TV and I was in the kitchen making pasta. I had the guitar strapped around me and as I was waiting for the water to boil that song came to me.
I wrote another song on this new album as I was sitting in the car waiting for my kids to finish a martial arts class (I had my omnichord with me). I think I do most of my writing while I’m waiting for other things to happen.
NWC: How did your shyness affect getting started as a musician? How have you overcome it?
FE: I always wanted to be in a band growing up but the thought of getting up in front of people terrified me. I’m definitely most comfortable as a behind the scenes kind of person so standing in front of a crowd and singing is really something I have to push myself to do. And to be honest, I wouldn’t have pushed myself to that place if it were not for all the preschoolers at my son’s co-op begging me to play for them every week. I couldn’t say no. So I started playing for them at music time and gradually felt more and more comfortable performing.
And yes, it has gotten easier for me over the years, probably because of how incredibly wonderful my audiences always are. When I look out and see families singing and dancing together, it’s hard not to relax and love being part of that scene.
NWC: Who are your musical inspirations?
FE: There are too many bands/artists to name.
But after recording two albums this year, I’d say I’m especially inspired by musicians who can walk into a room (sometimes never having heard a track) and add beautiful, interesting parts that take a song to a place you never thought it would go. Musicians that really listen, pick up on a vibe and add something that really enhances a piece of music. It’s such a profoundly generous act and the most magical kind of collaboration — those people inspire me.
NWC: How do your collaborations with Elizabeth Mitchell, Chris Ballew, and others come about? Is there an “amazing children’s musicians secret club” we don’t know about?
FE: I’m so lucky to have them (and Dean Jones, Molly Ledford, and Morgan Taylor) on this new album of mine. We are all good friends and collaborating with each other is really fun and pretty easy to do. Morgan and Elizabeth live close to Dean so they came to the studio and recorded with us, and Molly and Chris just sent vocal tracks in. I’m really attached and proud of this new record because of all the incredible friends I got to work with on it.
NWC: You have a new album for adults coming later this year. Do you find it easier to write songs for children or adults?
FE: Hmm, I’m not sure. When I sit down to write a song, I don’t think, “Now I’m going to write a song for kids or this one will be for grown ups.”
I usually just start strumming on my guitar, find a melody line and then go from there based on chords, the mood of the melody, etc. They are equally satisfying.
NWC: Do you have any advice for kids who want to learn how to play music?
FE: Play what you love.
NWC: How would you describe your music in three words?
FE: Well, my hope is always to make something heartfelt, honest, and interesting.
Photos Credit: Lea Bruno, used with permission.