What do you do when you were once a punk girl in a band called Delicate Vomit and you’re now mother to a young boy? You decide to write an album of songs for children about robots, pirates and sweets with your friend Kathryn Williams. This is what Anna Spencer did. Cat On The Wall talked with the mums about their new project The Crayonettes…
Cat On The Wall: We’ve been listening to your new album ‘Playing Out – Songs For Children and Robots’ here at Cat On The Wall HQ and it’s certainly won over the inner child in us! It must have been a fun record to make! Apart from the obvious inspiration that you would have, both of you being a mothers and musicians, how did you come to produce of songs for children and why do it together?
Anna Spencer: I’ve known Kathy for years and she was nice enough to come up with the idea of co-writing a kids album. I was flattered as she’s in a different league to me when it comes to writing. My songs are usually very short and a bit strange! We are both singer/songwriters (I was in a girl punk band Delicate Vomit!). I guess we thought it would be fun to get together with our different musical sounds and see what occurred. We’ve both got kids of a similar age so that’s partly why we thought of writing songs for kids. What could be better than writing songs about pirates, robots and sweets!
Kathryn Williams: We just used to hang out with our boys and talk about what would make them laugh. Then one day we started writing things down. From there we would meet up and write and record, the amount of times we had to stop because we were laughing too much. It was great sharing the responsibility, deciding what would make us and our kids laugh, and be interested. We wanted an antidote for all the sugary sweet stuff out there. The music for children was nearly always related to TV or corporate toys.
COTW: What was your creative process: did you discuss themes before writing and recording? Was there a particular message you wanted to convey within the songs context, where you looking for some particular reaction for children listening to your collection?
KW: Our main themes came from listening to our boys (3 and 4) talk. Then we would go and write and have fun with those themes. It’s not meant to be educational. Just good fun.
AS: I think we were probably a bit random in our creative approach in that we have small kids and Kathy was pregnant. Kath would be crawling about in the studio with wires around her and I would be saying ‘are you sure you should be doing that?’!! We would chat and have a laugh about various ideas we’d had and play about in the studio. Once we had some rough ideas we got a bit more organised though we were still in hysterics a lot of the time especially recording the vocals. My throat ached for about a week after recording a bizarre Cornish/cockney pirate voice!
COTW: Although some of the tracks are quite raucous (Pirates On The Bus in particular!) there is still an element of calm throughout the whole album. Was it a conscious decision to avoid the usual over enthusiastic children’s sing-a-long or more a reflection of your own influences?
AS: A bit of both really. A lot of the kids’ songs you hear just don’t sound real to me. Kids enjoy layers of sounds and different styles of music just like the rest of us. We were definitely influenced by music that is special to us like The Velvet Underground, Prince, and Iggy Pop… Squarepusher.
KW: We are both massive fans of Oliver Postgate’s work. A lot of what he does has a thoughtful, calming melancholic feel to it. I think we were inspired by that handmade sort of rough hum and feel. Everything is very slick and shiny and hyper for kids, we didn’t want that for us or for our kids.
COTW: When listening to the album we could envisage some great short animations or perhaps artworks inspired by the songs. Are there any plans to develop a book or videos to accompany the record?
KW: We’ve been talking about animation for videos. It’s something I would love to see with the songs.
AS: Ooh we were thinking of ideas for animations, sort of old fashioned stop frame ones. I have a feeling plasticine and felt could be involved!
COTW: There’s word that you might take The Crayonettes on the road. Will the focus be on child friendly venues? What can audiences expect?
AS: I’d love to do some live stuff; I think a concert in Moomin World would be the best! I kind of imagine lots strange hats and costumes maybe the odd robot knocking about on stage pressing buttons.
KW: Yes we’ve been talking about toy museums and shops and libraries. Although Anna is having a baby in a few weeks.
COTW: Finally, what are your plans for the near future?
AS: Well I’m about to have a baby so I guess baby focused stuff in the near future but eventually some more songwriting and a short tour of the world Crayonettes style i.e. with babies, children and robot/felt-sequined paraphernalia!
KW: To sing to robots, to sing to children, to sing to adults. To keep writing and only doing things that have meaning in my life.