Featured Member: Andrea England

Andrea England has a unique ability to work successfully in two different music worlds, placing her pop co-writes such as “Casualty” on Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger’s solo debut album, Killer Love (for which she received a UK Gold album award), and recording and performing as a solo artist herself in a folk/roots/country vein. Her sophomore album, Hope & Other Sins, is the long-awaited follow-up to 2005’s Lemonade, the debut that enabled her to work behind the scenes as a professional songwriter.

“The fact I wrote on a song as pop as pop can be boggles the minds of some people,” Andrea muses.

Her latest album, Hope & Other Sins — produced in Nashville by Colin Linden (Bruce Cockburn, Colin James, Stephen Fearing), and featuring such special guest musicians as Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Liz Rodrigues, Gordie Sampson and Damhnait Doyle — is about resilience, much like Lemonade was, how life can knock you down, but nothing good can come from staying down for the count.

Andrea emerged triumphantly after a serious car accident in 2001, the week her debut EP, Heart Wide Open, came out, and then a hard-to-diagnose heart-related illness in 2006 made it imperative for her to take a few years off from recording, get a job with medical benefits — and get well. While she couldn’t make an album just yet, she didn’t stop writing for it.

“It’s a pattern,” she muses. “Something bad happens and I use my writing to get over it and then my songs really impact people because they’re so honest. I feel like I have this sense of being able to look at a situation or empathize with someone and take their story and put it in a song and reflect it back to them in a way that both musically and lyrically can connect. So that’s my goal. That’s why I made the record.”

“Laundry” is a special song written in an old-school country style at the request of her mother, and is for all the women who picture their dream life and it never does include the ugly, mundane or struggle. ”Picture of You” was inspired by visiting Ground Zero 5 years after 9/11 and seeing the still all too immediate impact of it in people’s faces. “Trying” is Andrea’s autobiography, her ‘Coat of Many Colors’ or “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” her story in one song. And “Learn to Dance” is another Lemonade-type song about not hiding when lightning strikes, rather dance around it.

“A lot of the songs on this album have, at the seed, some kind of conflict or struggle, but in the end they are hopeful.”

What inspires you to create music?

Life. Loss. Love. The urge to connect, to capture a moment or an emotion – mine or someone else’s – and make it digestible or at least tangible …that’s the goal. I can’t not write about things that move or confuse me; I wouldn’t be me without my pen (or, these days, my iPhone notepad).

How did you get your start as a creator in the industry?

I made an EP which garnered radio-play and notice out East. Performing at the first of many SOCAN songwriter circles at ECMAs led me to the producer of my first record, Lemonade. It kind of grew from there….

Do you write for other recording/performing artists?

Yep! For and with. Between my own records, that’s what I focus on creatively. If I don’t have a story to tell, I want to help someone else tell their story.

Do you tend to write for one genre, or do you find your music crosses genre lines?

As an artist, I’m folk-Americana leaning; but as a songwriter, I’ve written for pop, country, blues, hip-hop and more.

Have you faced any major economic, social, or political hurdles as a music creator?

Who hasn’t? Most songwriters – new and established – have to supplement their income at some time or other outside of the craft – especially these days; but I’ve managed to stay afloat over the years by seeking extra income within the music industry rather than outside of it, and that’s been a deliberate choice. Whether I’m writing, teaching, curating, or working on the business side of publishing,  I’m always learning, making connections, and advocating for the craft and for creators.

If you could collaborate with any other music creator, who would that be?

Although I write lyrics, music and melody, I’m most passionate about – and driven to – writing lyrics… If I could write a set of lyrics for anyone I’ve not yet written with, Elton John would be at the top of the list. I almost had the chance to write with Lady Gaga way back before she was Gaga but logistics got in the way… it’d be great to get that chance again. There are so many, but those two come to mind first…

How did you learn your craft – was it “formal” or “informal” music education?

It was a combination of both: I studied Royal Conservatory organ and then piano growing up, but the structured nature of it didn’t inspire me as a child: there was no room for creativity. Also, although my Mom had had me singing in local variety concerts since I was a young child, I was shy and became more so as I entered my teenage years (during that period, music became a very private matter for me). In University, I studied literature and enjoyed writing poetry and stories; but it wasn’t until  I moved to Ottawa and joined an original band that I was really exposed to the craft of songwriting from the inside – however, the two primary songwriters in that band were not interested in co-writing with anyone else in the band, so at first I was an observer. As luck (looking back now) would have it, I went through a heartbreak, at around the same time the original band broke up, and before I knew it, I was writing my own songs. It wasn’t until I wrote my first song that I realized I’d been training to be a songwriter the whole time.

Do you have any advice for upcoming songwriters and creators who are looking to break further into the creative scene?

Record, record, record….and hone your lyrics and melodies until they shine. Don’t give up on your songs, and don’t give up on yourself.

What is your fondest musical memory or favourite piece of music you’ve written?

While it doesn’t come from a fond memory, the song closest to me is the one I’m releasing on October 12th, “I Won’t Forget About You.”

What is the most important “tool” you need when creating, eg. (Garageband, google docs, your cell phone, Pro Tools, or a pad of paper?

An open mind and an empathetic heart 🙂

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