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Raised in Hillsboro, Andreassen recalls people and places that stick in her memory.

Hillsboro native and Nashville-based singer-songwiter Kristin Andreassen is returning home Friday, Dec. 1 for a concert at the Walters Cultural Arts Center in Hillsboro, joined by Black Prairie / Decemberists' guitarist Jon Neufield. Tickets at www.brownpapertickets.com.

She recently sat down for a Q&A with Walters staff:

Where did you get your start in music?  (a far reaching question, I know, but how did it all come about?)  Portland to Nashville… etc.

 

Andreassen: Well, my dad is a truly lovely whistler and my grandma played the organ in church, so I always had some music around me. Officially, I started piano lessons with Velma Schluderman here in Hillsboro. And come to think of it, I suppose my dance career started with a year of ballet at this little studio that was downtown — I know it was somewhere near the [Hillsboro Pharmacy] soda fountain because we would go downstairs and get cheese corn there after class.

In high school I was into grunge bands and old country, mostly listening on CD and maybe occasionally at this all-ages club in Portland called the Starry Night.

These days there's a powerful old-time and bluegrass scene in Portland, but somehow I didn't find out about stringband music until I went to college in Montreal.

In Canada I encountered this living traditional music culture where old people and little kids all showed up to the same square dance and just knew all the steps without being told what to do. I was really taken with this idea that music could be something people create together as opposed to something they consume together.

So I started learning Canadian fiddle music and the easiest entry point seemed to be the dancing. I took stepdance and square dance classes all over Canada. Finally, I saw an American clogging troupe at a folk festival and I thought "My people! I must go to Appalachia to dig deeper in the traditional music of my own country."

Through a combination of obsessive practice and randomly being in the right place on a hot West Virginia night, I got invited to join Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble, an internationally touring dance company presenting traditional dances including clogging, stepdance and tap.

I postponed grad school to join the circus, effectively. I said I'd do it as long as it paid the bills, and I guessmy bills are modest [because] I never looked back.

I went from dancer to musician to singer to songwriter, playing with the bands Uncle Earl and Sometymes Why. I put out a couple of solo albums, started a music camp for adults called Miles of Music, and recently I moved to Nashville where I'm writing music for TV, working on a new solo album and an album of kids' songs about emotions. 

 I still call square dances, and I dance in most of my shows, but the traditional music has somewhat become more of a "foundation" in my career. The main focus is just being as creative and as productive as I can be in whatever medium seems interesting.

You are actually from Hillsboro . Can you share a bit more about this and what Hillsboro means to you? 

 

Andreassen: Yup, I was a Brookwood Bobcat. I'm actually a fifth- generation Oregonian. I loved growing up in Hillsboro. We had a big garden and a short walk to school. My sisters and I would put on productions of major Broadway musicals in our driveway (with the electric garage door as the curtain). We spent a lot of time digging in the dirt. I'm pretty sure there's a hole to China that starts on 39th Court.

I've been thinking today about how Hillsboro might have uniquely shaped me, and one thing that sticks out was this amazing grade school teacher and this particularly wonderful program I got to be a part of called CLUE (Creative Learning in a Unique Environment).

Some school districts would have called this a "gifted" program, which I know because I moved to Beaverton in sixth grade and did their TAG program. But the two weren't comparable.

Ms. Sue Novotny was the pure magic behind CLUE in Hillsboro, and my recollection is that she took a pretty motley crew of nerdy misfits and sent us back out into the regular school system valuing our own intelligence and curiosity, ready to take initiative in our own learning, practicing tools for better communication, and basically starting to think like "artists," by which I simply mean a person who identifies and pursues a passion out of a genuine love for the creative work involved.

I do a fair bit of teaching these days, and I direct my own all-ages music camp where I'm constantly amazed at how often I use the classroom tools I learned from Ms. Novotny in fourth grade. I reconnected with her a couple years ago and I got to say thanks and visit her grade school class in Tigard.

But since I'm talking to the Hillsboro community at large, and maybe there's a school administrator reading this who had something to do with supporting CLUE in its day, to that person I would like to say you did a beautiful thing. I hope that the fact that the program isn't around anymore means that those teaching methods have just been incorporated into every grade school classroom. Thank you!

 

What would you share with local aspiring musicians and songwriters to inspire them continue the pursuit?

 

Andreassen: If you love music, seek out a community of of musicians who love the music as much as you do.

It's the strength of these friendships and the degree to which you stay close to your art that will keep you happy, whole and limber in your heart and your mind. This is the purpose and the payback for being a musician, and if you are called to the trade, the above is a fine a reward.

Also remember that the word "amateur" comes from the French word "amour", or "to love". It is a perfectly viable option to do what you love for fun, and do something else for money.

If you're determined to make your living playing music, know that you are entering an industry that's in near total financial collapse.

We can now expect even a well-reviewed, much-listened-to album not to earn the artist as much money as it cost to make. Prepare to hustle and to make sacrifices. The act of making the art itself must feel essential and unavoidable to overcome that basic fact.

 

What drives your ongoing creative vision – your musical endeavors have been diverse and non-stop with many collaborations – what keeps you going.

 

Andreassen: I feel most alive in the moments when I'm in "flow" — learning or creating something new. I tend to choose projects that make space for that experience.  If I were a better businessperson, I might have had a more focused career. I just tend to follow my current interests and rely on the integrity and genuine intention behind whatever I do to move me forward to the next collaboration, whatever that happens to be.

So many people know and love the "Crayola" song. Might you share the story behind that song and how the concept, recording and video came about?

 

Andreassen: I first wrote this song as a present for my friend Megan Downes, who was a fellow percussive dancer and one of my mentors in the days when I was touring fulltime with Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble.

We were on a late-night drive home from a festival and we'd been discussing the mysteriously un-nameable color of her eyes.

I took the last shift and while everyone slept, I kept myself awake by tapping on the steering wheel in time, and I wrote that song in the process. By the time we arrived home, I was able to sing the first couple of verses and the chorus with the same rhythm-only accompaniment, and then Megan wrote the next couple of verses in response. 

One of the early fans of that song was my friend Ballard C. Boyd, who was just starting a career in videography at the time. He pitched the idea that we find a grade school willing to work with us on the video, so I reached out to a friend who taught second grade at a magnet school in Boston that was focused on music education.

The principal agreed with us that it would be a good learning experience for the kids to work with us on his video, so they gave us two full days of these second-graders' lives. We taught them the music and involved them as our assistants in every aspect of the video making process.

I love reading the Youtube comments on that video and seeing how proud the kids still are. Sometimes a kid will write in and say "Hey, we made this in my second-grade class!" as though they're rediscovering their own work now that they're teenagers.

These days Ballard works fulltime as the director of video extras on Stephen Colbert's late night show. So if you see funny "fake ads" or other video material on that show, he probably made it.

What's next on your creative horizon?

 

Andreassen: I'm working on an album of children's songs about emotions. This is a collaboration with a dear friend who's a child psychiatrist, and we've got an all-star cast singing and playing with us on songs we wrote together.

The songs address common emotions kids face, like anger, sadness, bullying, divorce, moving to a new school and being afraid of the dark. This project feels incredibly relevant to me right now and I'm excited to finish it for summer 2018.

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