Jeremy Fisher Plays for The Kids

While you may have been listening to Jeremy Fisher's enchanting music for the past few years, his latest set of fans are younger than his own career. His new record Highway to Spell under the Jeremy Fisher Jr. moniker is a kids record made possible by his daughter. We caught up with Fisher ahead of his album release on March 9 to talk about how simply raising his child made writing easier and how he's avoiding the usual trappings of kids music.

Ottawa Life: What guided you towards a children's album after making such a name for yourself?

Jeremy Fisher: I had a daughter two years ago. I took three months off ahead of her due date in case she arrived early, and I had planned to do a kids record then while I was around the house. I didn't know how write kids' songs though because I wasn't a dad yet. Fast-forward to when she was about a year old, and I took some time off to look after her, and I wrote the songs while I hung out with her and being a full-time dad. It surprised me because when I planned to do the album it didn't work, but when I thought I'd never do it, it kind of found me. I just started writing the songs as silly songs to entertain her, and I turned around one day and had enough to put out a record.

I was also curious especially as an artist who's so established now, why a kid's album would be preferable to writing something that is just inherently accessible to children?

I agree in part with the Karen O sentiment of speaking to children's lives. I think any good pop song is a kids song, it has universal appeal. It can mean something to kids and older people, regardless of the message if it has the right hook. My music has always been hook-focused, and lends itself very well to kids. This album is definitely aimed at kids and I'm doing shows for families, but my aim was something that parents can listen to as well. My analogy is to be the Pixar kind of songwriter, where it's made for children but is engaging for the whole family.

Kids albums also have a bad rap for being grating on parents, so how did you want to keep this friendly to them, especially considering you may be getting crossover fans?

For me as a parent, it definitely comes in the delivery. We listen to a lot of kids music around here, and the stuff we gravitate to, sense we still have dominion over that, it's plain spoken and it's not obviously using an affectation for kids. We talk to our kid like she's a person, we treat her like an adult and don't put on voices. I tried to do that in the delivery of these songs, so you won't find a different affectation on this record than my other records. Like Fred Penner and Raffi, the great stuff doesn't do it and I think it's that kind of voice that grates on parents.

I also understand your song "Peanut Butter Sandwiches" took a bit of tracking down to get cleared from an old counselor of yours?

I heard it around the campfire at YMCA Wanakita and I just thought it was a traditional song that had been around for generations. So that was my go-to kids song before I had kids, so if I ever wanted to entertain children that song was in my back-pocket. It was a no-brainer to put it on the record, but then I thought "This song can't be as old as I thought it was." I put a video out on Facebook, and sure enough a counselor from the camp gave me the name of another counselor named Paul Stock. I couldn't reach him on Facebook or email, so I reached him through the Catholic School Board in London, and he had put it on a record about 20 years ago.

How did Catriona Sturton and Petr Cancura get involved and what did they bring to the recording process and their songs?

Petr invited me to do his Crossroads series at the NAC a couple years ago, and we got along really well. We ended up doing a promo performance on CTV Morning, and it was fun and easy. That planted the seeds in my mind of "If I ever wanted this kind of flavour, he'd be a great guy to call." So I called him and he played some great horn on these kids song. His playing breathed a whole new life into the record, that I think makes it more listenable all the way through. He has such a great instinct for melody, and he really drew it out in to all these solos. Catriona is a friend of mine, and we've done some shows together in the past. I knew I needed more voices for some songs on the album, and I thought some rhymes could be more fun as a rhyming duel. Her voice is also just so unique that I knew I needed to have her on the record.

What was the biggest surprise and challenge of working with a young choir on this record?

I worked with 18 kids, two groups of eight and two of them are my best friend's daughter and son. For the kids the biggest challenge was figuring out how to record it so the kids could hear the music without getting sound-bleed. I don't have enough headphones for eight kids to use at once, so I had to do some audio-engineering trickery to put music on the speakers without getting into the mic-mix. I knew it would be tough to teach all the songs and lyrics to kids in the preschool age it's aimed at, so we worked with kids from eight to twelve. They were super into it, and were really enthusiastic on the record. Their performance and Petr's parts really made it feel more than the sum of its parts.

Do you think you'll be following the kids music for the future or will this be an occasional thing you do every so often?

We'll see how it goes I guess. It's definitely going to be what I'm focused on for the summer, I have a bunch of festivals where I'm playing Jeremy Fisher Jr. sets as well as Jeremy Fisher sets. We'll gauge people's reactions and see what comes. I don't have any other expectations than just having fun with it now. It's where my head is at because I have a toddler at home and it fits my lifestyle right now, so I'm taking it a day at a time.