Canada’s Andrea England has a unique ability to work successfully in two different music worlds, placing her pop co-writes such as “Casualty” with Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger’s 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 mind of people in the folk genre,” Andrea smiles.
Her new 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.”
And that’s just who Andrea is — a half-full kind of person.
Born in Halifax, NS, she made her singing debut at age 3 with “You Are My Sunshine.” As a kid, she performed at the local church and community centre and in concert settings until her teens, singing and playing piano. She grew up on old-school country, such as Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, but when Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill came out in 1995, it impacted her an a musician while living in Ottawa for university.
“I’d always been a writer, a poet, and I did a literature degree, but I never combined words and music,” Andrea says. “When I heard Jagged Little Pill, I felt like I had permission to write about stuff that was in my head. I thought, ‘I can be brutally honest, confessional even.’”
She sent one of her first originals, “Eyes Wide Shut,” off her 2001 debut EP, Heart Wide Open, to some people she knew at the Ottawa University radio station. “That week, I was in that car accident, went home to Nova Scotia and found out the song had charted at No. 17,” Andrea says. She had hurt her back, got a concussion, complete with partial amnesia, and needed a year to fully recover. During this time, she, of course, was unable to play piano, so instead picked up guitar because it was easier on her physically and ended up writing the songs that would eventually become her first full-length release.
That album was 2005’s Lemonade, a reference to how she makes lemonade from lemons, good from a bad situation, great music out of a bad car accident — her record label and publishing company is called Lemonade Factory Music. Back to performing, she found that Heart Wide Open had been working some magic while she was home when she was invited to participate in the ECMA SOCAN Songwriter Circle. “That’s where I performed ‘Lemonade’ to people in the music industry for the first time, which led to meeting Bryan Potvin, who ended up producing the Lemonade album,” she recounts.
Lemonade received three Nova Scotia Music Awards nominations and won the Pop Rock Award at the Toronto Independent Music Awards. It also earned a place on the first ballot for the 2006 Grammy Awards in seven categories, including song, album, record and best new artist. As a songwriter, Andrea was also recognized with prizes in such songwriting competitions as John Lennon International, USA International, CFF and NSAI Songwriting Competitions.
Andrea quickly infiltrated the songwriting community, which led to more and more opportunities to co-write with people who have placed songs with U2, Rihanna, Backstreet Boys, Eminem, Celine Dion, Chris Brown, Justin Bieber and more. “I became a top-liner too,” Andrea says, referring a songwriter term that means the top line of a song (lyrics and melody).
In 2007, Andrea met Colin Linden at Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble. Colin was playing with Richard Bell, who played on Lemonade and she, Colin, Levon and PR legend Richard Flohil hung out that night around Levon’s kitchen table. Andrea and Colin discussed the idea of one day working together. Two years ago, when she had the demos for this album done, she sent them to him and he was eager to produce.
“I knew that he would understand the aesthetic, the sound that I wanted,” says Andrea. “What I wanted to do was have a band play very organically in the style that I was first exposed to, which was old-school country music, and I knew he would do that. The authenticity and the musicianship, I knew he could bring to the music.”
Recorded mostly in Nashville, Colin played guitars, mandolin, Dobro and harmonies on Hope & Other Sins and assembled a stellar backing band for Andrea: Gary Craig (drums, percussion), John Dymond (bass) and John Whynot (piano, organ). She also wanted more Canadians on the record, so invited her friends Damhnait, Carolyn, and Liz Rodrigues to sing harmonies and fellow Nova Scotian Gordie to play on it.
There are many writing collaborators on the album – contributions from everyone from Hill Kourkoutis to Luke McMaster, but she remains sole writer or co-writer in all the songs. These are her stories of hope and other sins.
“My hope was to make an artistic piece that was a reflective piece of art,” she says. “The sin? Well sometimes hope is sin to people who are cynical. And I am definitely not cynical.”
– by Karen Bliss