She was studying for a master’s degree in library science when she made Fascinating Creatures, the debut CD that helped earn her the title, “Queen of Indie-Folk Children’s Music” by 7 x 7 magazine. Somehow, the carefree acoustic tunes made their way from her son’s school fundraiser and into the world at large, where fans of all ages couldn’t get enough. That’s when Frances England decided that singing about tricycles, blueberry pancakes, and fireflies was more up her alley than organizing book catalogs. The San Francisco-based musician just came out with her third CD, Mind of My Own, which has already been named one of the “Top Ten Kids’ CDs of 2010” by Kids Corner and MetroKids Philadelphia magazine.
Frances took some time to chat with Red Tricycle about her new tunes, her love of music, stage fright, and life with the family in San Francisco:
RT: What are the last five songs/albums you downloaded on your iPod/MP3 player?
1. The new Laura Veirs album, July Flame
2. Soundtrack to The Nightmare Before Christmas
3. John Denver’s song “Calypso”
4. The new Arcade Fire cd, The Suburbs
5. Randy Kaplan’s song, “No Nuthin”
RT: Do your kids rock to your albums?
I’ll occasionally find them listening to Family Tree or Fascinating Creatures but generally they are much more likely to be cranking Queen, Justin Roberts, Caspar Babypants, David Bowie, or the Beatles.
RT: Fascinating Creatures took off after the preschool fundraiser you made it for, leading to two follow-up CDs. Prior to this, you weren’t professionally involved in music. What’s the adjustment been like?
The biggest adjustment for me has been around actual performances. I had no aspirations of becoming a performer and when people started asking me to play shows, I couldn’t do it. I was too shy and the thought of getting up in front of a group of people (no matter what their age) just terrified me.
But I realized that my kids were watching me turn down invitations to do something I love – singing – because I was afraid. So I pushed myself way out of my comfort zone and started small, first playing at our cooperative preschool in San Francisco, and then onto branch libraries, and in the past couple of years at Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits festivals, which is just crazy!
I feel like I could have never stepped into this if I wasn’t playing for children and families. The kids always make it so much fun and the performance isn’t really about me. It’s about a community of families coming together to sing and dance and laugh and be. So I’m really grateful for it.
RT: Have your boys been part of the creative process in any way?
My kids inspire so many of the songs and are now at the age where they can also give me some really concrete ideas, feedback and contribute to the songs. It was Liam’s idea to write a song about Jacques Cousteau after we got to meet his son, Jean Michel Cousteau, who is Liam’s biggest hero. And my 4-year-old, Rowan, asked me to write a bicycle song. So they give me lots of inspiration and ideas.
RT: What are your family’s favorite venues for catching live musical performances in the Bay?
Well, I think one of the best venues in the world is the Mill Valley Public Library’s outdoor amphitheater. The stage is in a gorgeous little redwood grove and there is a creek that runs behind it. It’s a really special place and they book all sorts of interesting family events in the summertime. In the city we really like Recess Urban and the Beach Chalet. I know the East Bay has a really vibrant scene too.
RT: Where do you and your husband like to go for date night?
Date night – what’s that? We don’t do that nearly as much as we should but when we do, my ideal night out involves a small, cozy restaurant and a trip to Green Apple books in the Richmond.
RT: What’s the best thing about living in your neighborhood in San Francisco?
We live in the Sunset and love it here. The best thing about our neighborhood is the people. The community is incredible – and there’s also Golden Gate Park, the beach, the Academy of Sciences + De Young, and great restaurants (Outerlands on Judah Street and San Tung on Irving are two of our favorites).
RT: You’ve mentioned walking in the woods and riding bikes with your sons during your spare time. What are your family’s favorite Bay Area trails and
We live a few of blocks from Golden Gate Park so we take advantage of that a lot, especially on Sundays when the streets are closed and perfect for family bike riding. We also love going for hikes in Glen Park Canyon. Now that we are getting into our rainy season, there are a couple of waterfall hikes we like to do too: Carson Falls & Cataract Falls in Marin. It’s the perfect rainy day outing, especially if your kids like bugs. The newts and banana slugs come out and the redwoods feel magical.
RT: Any funny performance moments you’d like to share?
On more than one occasion we have been in the middle of playing a set and my 4-year-old has come up to me – right in the middle of a song – and said, “Mommy, I have to pee. Can you take me to the potty?” Luckily, I’ve always had friends on hand who could help us out.
RT: Anything new on the horizon?
I’ve just started a brand new series called Creative Family Challenges. Basically, these are mini musical “assignments” that are designed for families to take 10-30 minutes a week and do something creative together. You can find them on my website on the “Diary” page and each challenge is accompanied by a fun giveaway from me. Hope you can check them out!