Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Interview: Rebecca Frezza

Rebecca Frezza performs pop/rock children's concerts with her 8-piece band, Big Truck. You've probably seen her videos on Noggin & PBS Kids, or heard her songs on XM & Sirius Satellite Radio. She has released her third award-winning CD, Tall & Small, in the summer of 2006. We've met over a year ago at one of her amazing concerts & have been friends since.
1) I know that you, like many children's artists, started with a background in the arts & when you had kids you started writing & performing kid's music. Does children's music feel like a natural fit for you? Do your friends and family feel likewise?

Yes, it definitely feels like a natural fit. This was not something that I planned and thought out in advance. It all just evolved out of the work that I was doing. I started teaching, which lead to writing, which lead to recording and then ultimately to performing. There was so much support and positive energy along the way for the work that I was doing, I never questioned it. Everything just felt right.

2) You perform with an eight-piece band. How do you manage so many band mates & coordinate the shows?

It’s not easy….but it’s what I do. Sometimes the band feels like another family, with all of the personality issues and different needs and even occasional conflicts that go along with a "family" dynamic. However, having a full band playing real music is the core of what I do. Early on in my children’s music career people told me to ditch the band and play to pre-recorded tracks or at the very least trim down my numbers. I never felt comfortable with those options. Each of the elements of the band is important to the quality and vibe of the show. We’re a "rock" band, so you have to have guitar, bass and drums. There is a whole visual element to the show with choreography as well as lots of three part harmony that wouldn’t work without my two backing vocalists. We explore various different musical genres and the additional instrumentation i.e. flute, harmonica, percussion, fiddle etc. adds to our ability to do that effectively.

3) Last Spring we were talking about "Tall & Small" just before its release. You felt some uncertainty about the risks you were taking with your songs. Do you still feel that way? Are you happy with the risks you took?

Yeah, I knew I was testing the limits of what was considered "kids music." The interesting thing to me is that everyone who has heard the album and reviewed it or talked to me about it seems to respond to a different aspect of it. Some people have really enjoyed the more quirky acoustic stuff, while others have liked the most straight forward "rock" stuff. Songs that I considered leaving off the album have often been those that reviewers have loved. I try not to put too much stock in reviews, good or bad, but I do look to them to get an overall sense of what’s working, and this time around, it’s been difficult to do that. The other interesting thing to me is that the songs that the kids LOVE at our live shows are not necessarily the ones that are getting radio airplay or being picked out by the reviewers as highlights of the album. The other thing about "Tall and Small" is that it’s targeted at 4-8 year olds and their parents. It’s not necessarily playing to the 2 & 3 year olds (although I think many will enjoy it anyway) in the same way that many of the other artists in the kids genre are. The music is a bit more sophisticated than people usually expect for a kids album. My theory is that those 4-8 year olds are being left out and need music that speaks to them, music that doesn’t talk down to them or underestimate them. Many of these kids are making a transition into listening to adult (or teeny bopper) pop at this age and I’m not sure that they are ready for the themes of many of those songs. I’m trying to offer these kids and their parents an alternative.

4) What kind of music do you enjoy most when on your own?

Because my oldest child is 11, we often listen to pop/rock in the car. When I have the stereo to myself I listen to a lot of acoustic music – contemporary folk and alt. country (much of which my kids enjoy too). I go in and out of phases where I’m listening to CD’s and then just switching on XM CafĂ© and seeing what they have to offer. Like the music that I play, I have pretty eclectic tastes in what I listen to.

5) You've had videos on Noggin's Jack's Big Music Show & recently on PBS Kids. It looks like you're having fun. Is it fun? Do they take a long time?

I loved working on the videos for both Noggin and PBS Kids. Being able to make music and then have all these other creative minds get together and make all of this amazing visual stuff happen was such a cool thing for me. I’d love to do more! The videos don’t take long to film – we did two in one day for Noggin and four each day for PBS. The hard thing about the PBS job was the fact that I was only given a couple of weeks to write eight brand new songs that fit with the themes of each day of the programming block. It was quite a challenge, but one that I really enjoyed. My producer Chris Putnam and I worked together really well. There was no time for second guessing, we had to just trust each other and go for it. We were both really pleased with the way things came out.

6) Have you noticed growth in your popularity or new opportunities due to your TV appearances?

Absolutely. We are traveling to Dallas and Maine and getting inquiries from people in Chicago and Florida. These things would probably not be happening without the TV exposure. The kids’ music industry is booming with new artists throwing their hats in the ring every day. I think that the TV exposure has helped us not get swallowed up by the competition.

7) Do you like being an indie artist, or would you want to be signed to a record company?

That’s a question that I struggle with. I love being an indie artist, but the financial pressure that it puts on us can be difficult. I love that I can write and record the music that I want and be free to take risks and not have to follow a "formula" or have my music fit in a box. It’s hard because we don’t always have the money to do as much pr and marketing work as we’d like and I often have to wear many hats i.e. booking agent, publicist, band manager, distribution coordinator, sales rep. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that, if I were signed with a label, they would handle. That would free me up to focus more energy on the artistic side of things.

8) How do you write your songs? Where do the ideas come from? What kind of process do you use?

My songs come to me in various ways. Usually, I think of a theme that I want to explore and sit down and write as many ideas as I can about that theme. Sometimes I’ll just write single words or images and sometimes I’ll start with rhymes and phrases that work together and create a rhythm. Then I take out my guitar and figure out a chord progression that I like and the melody flows from there. Sometimes I’ll pick a specific genre of music and come up with the chord progression first and then build a theme from there. Occasionally, I come up with an idea of lyrics and vocal melody, but I can’t find exactly the chords that I want to support it, so I’ll just put the song on tape a cappella and bring it into the studio that way. The ideas and images come from my kids and from my own childhood and also from my experiences as a parent and as a teacher.

9) How about those great Andrews Sisters-type harmonies. Do the backup singers develop those with you, or do you have them pre-written?

When I recorded my first album, I didn’t even have a band in place until it was almost finished. Most of the harmonies were written by me. I would record the melody on my four track recorder and then I would work out the harmony parts by ear and lay them down on the other tracks. I still work that way a lot, although I do tend to rely on the help of my back-up singers more now. It’s always more efficient to work with three voices rather than trying to hear all three parts at the same time. Still, on many of the songs on all three albums I am singing all of the parts. That happens to be one of my absolute favorite things to do – singing harmony, so when there is a song that doesn’t cry out for distinctly different voices on the harmonies, I will just sing them myself.

10) What's next for you?

Hmmmmmmm….that’s the million dollar question. I’d love to make a DVD, but we’ve got to sell a lot more CD’s before we can afford to do that. I’d love to do more television work (wouldn’t we all!). I just plan on keeping things moving forward. Keeping my band happy and working on new material. I love where things are right now. I feel really fortunate to be doing this job that I love and feeling the impact that the music has on the families that we meet along the way. There’s always more to achieve, more mountains to climb, but for now, I want to try to just enjoy the moment.

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