“The Grumpytime Club” is a new album by award-winning singer-songwriter Carrie Ferguson that offers children and families inclusive messages about accepting feelings, celebrating differences, and loving themselves exactly as they are. The album was released on June 11.
The songs on the album focus on the ways that people can build confidence such as accepting “grumpy” feelings without judgment and working through obstacles with persistence and enthusiasm. The album’s catchy melodies and sing-along choruses, showcase Carrie’s versatility in traversing musical styles and inspires silly dancing one minute and contemplative stillness the next.
Carrie is the recipient of a Gold Award in the 2020 Mid-Atlantic Songwriting Contest and First Place in the 2020 New England Songwriting Competition. She recently discussed this album and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in music and songwriting and did you always gravitate towards the children’s genre?
Carrie Ferguson (CF): I grew up with music all around me and I wrote my first song when I was about ten. It was called Recognition and was about how deep down all everyone really wants is to be recognized. The examples I gave in the verses were about getting recognition for extraordinary feats of burping and farting. I started performing and officially calling myself a songwriter in my twenties. My first two albums, “Riding On the Back of the Wind” and “The List of Whales,” were for adults. I sort of stumbled upon performing music for children when I started working with Piti Theatre in 2012. My first album for kids was a collaboration with Piti, Piti Theatre and Carrie Ferguson’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1, in 2015. The Grumpytime Club is my first solo album for kids. Looking back, I see that children’s music has always been a natural fit for me. Some of my biggest fans have always been 3-6 year olds; this was true long before I ever started making songs/records specifically for children.
MM: How did you break into the industry and how would you describe your style?
CF: I’m still “breaking into the industry”! As an independent musician, I think that never ends. Kind of like growing up! I usually describe my music as highly melodic folk-pop.
MM: Why did you decide to focus on feelings as a central theme in this latest album?
CF: I’ve always written a lot about feelings and the process of trying to figure oneself out, so it was natural to continue that theme with this record for kids. I think some of the “hard” feelings, like crankiness, frustration, anger, impatience, etc. get a really bad rap. Especially with folks who are assigned female at birth, these feelings are often basically treated as an inconvenience or something to just stifle. But of course, those feelings can provide a lot of information, power, and insight if we’re given the room to feel them.
I can remember being taught as a young person to subvert my feelings of anger and outrage into ambivalence. I was the only girl in my neighborhood and I loved to play with the boys but I used to get teased for being allegedly weaker. I remember being filled with a livid rage. I’d get in fist fights (once it was actually because another kid insulted my mother) and I’d be so angry, with tears streaming down my face, that I couldn’t even see to throw punches. These fights were usually in the street in front of my house. Somehow my Dad always saw what was happening and would come out to get me. I was sent to my room to “cool off” and I’d continue raging while the boys outside would just laugh. I remember feeling an acute impotence as a girl. I was never directly shamed for fighting, but there was this idea from the larger culture that girls are not supposed to get mad or fight back. If we do resist, it’s either seen as bad behavior or not taken seriously.
The idea of The Grumpytime Club was invented by my friend Samara Sawyer, who was 6 at the time; she’s 12 now. It was an imaginary place she’d hang out with her imaginary friend, Doodle Dap. When her mom asked: ‘What do you do there?” Samara answered, “Duh, be grumpy!” When I first heard that story, I immediately wished there really was such a place. The next best thing is a song, so I asked her permission to write it!
MM: How long did it take you to complete this recent album, and what was it like working in quarantine?
CF: This album took about four years to make, the last year being during quarantine. Recording during quarantine was a trip! Northfire Studio could only have one person, or two podded people, in at a time. Luckily, all the major tracking had been done and we mostly just had to finish up my vocal parts. Garrett Sawyer, my producer (and Samara’s Dad) would meet me at the door with an N95 mask on. He’d usher me quickly into the live room, then he’d retreat to the control room. We’d communicate through mics and headphones. There was no close interaction at all. It was starkly differently from how it usually is with lots of joking and eating chocolate, hanging out together and writing parts.
MM: Out of all songs on the album, do you have any personal favorites? If so, which ones and why?
CF: I love the two songs I wrote for the Wolfwood brothers, Tavi and Aza. Their parents, who are two of my oldest friends, asked me to write Tavi a song before he was born, to be sung on his naming day. Two years later they told me I had to write another one for their soon-to-arrive second child, Aza, because it wouldn’t be fair for one kid to have a special song and not the other. Both times it took me the full nine months to write the song. For about ten years their parents would sing the songs to them every night. It is such a blessing and an honor. They are two of the most incredible young people I know, and they’re both fantastic musicians. Recording Tavi’s Song with them (they sing the harmonies) was definitely one of the highlights of making this record
MM: What are you thinking music-video-wise for these songs?
CF: If I had an infinite budget, I’d hire Wishbone Zoe a.k.a Sara Kochanski to make an animated video for most of these songs. She is a Western MA based visual artist and musician and I think her work is brilliant. She did the cover art for the record and also the videos for Cat and Piggy and The Grumpytime Club. I’m hoping she’ll be able to make a video for Tavi’s Song.
MM: You have won many awards, so what were those experiences like?
CF: It has been fun and validating to win awards I always feel really grateful to the organizations when it is my turn to get a shout out!
MM: What’s the best fan feedback you’ve gotten about your music?
CF: The best fan feedback is when people send me videos of their kids listening/dancing/singing to the music. I just received a video the other day with the caption “even though it’s really hot, he won’t get out of the car until your song is over”. The video was of a child friend of mine sitting in a car seat with an expression that was both extremely focused and glazed over at the same time. He was really listening. Yes! I also recently heard from a parent who said that her non-binary child loves my song ‘The Best Way to Be’ because she knows it was written for kids like her. THAT makes it all worth it!
MM: How would you describe your live performances?
CF: Whether I’m solo or playing with my band, I like my performances to be well-rounded, with a lot of humor and opportunities to move, but also with an emphasis on deeper feelings. Humor is essential! I try to keep the energy positive and hopeful, even if I’m singing some of my more serious songs to an adult audience. When I’m performing for kids, whether I’m playing the keyboard or ukulele or guitar, I like to dance as I’m singing and playing. My goal is to make people feel good so they can go out into the world and do good work!
MM: How do you hope your career evolves over the next five years?
CF: My goals are to have fun and be of service. I’d love to be able to keep making records for both children and adults. And I’d love to see my opportunities for performing and sharing this music expand, especially for queer and gender-non- conforming families.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
CF: I am passionate about social and environmental justice and LGBTQ rights. I plan on continuing to find ways to use my voice and music to support these issues.
“The Grumpytime Club” is available digitally at Apple Music, iTunes, Spotify, Bandcamp, Soundcloud and other online platforms. Physical CDs are available at Carrie Ferguson’s live shows or through her website: www.carriefergusonmusic.com. You can also follow her via Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.