MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
The singer Elizabeth Mitchell came by our studio today with her husband, Daniel Littleton, and their 5-year-old daughter, Storey. You can hear all three of them on the new children's album titled You Are My Little Bird.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. ELIZABETH MITCHELL (Musician): (Singing) Woke up this morning, smile with the rising sun, three little birds, beside my (unintelligible), singing the sweet song, a melody pure and true, singing this is my love that's sing hoo hoo.
Mr. DANIEL LITTLETON (Musician): (Singing) Woke up this morning, smile with the rising sun, three little birds, beside my (unintelligible), singing the sweet song, a melody pure and true, singing this is my love that's sing hoo hoo.
Ms. STOREY MITCHELL (Musician): (Singing) Woke up this morning, smile with the rising sun, three little birds, beside my (unintelligible), singing the sweet song, a melody pure and true, singing this is my love that's sing hoo hoo.
BLOCK: Elizabeth Mitchell and her husband play in an indie folk pop band called Ida. She started recording children's music after she taught at a nursery school in New York City.
Ms. MITCHELL: The kids really responded to these songs that I was listening to. At the time I was listening to the Carter family and Elizabeth Cotton and I had found this Woody Guthrie record, you know, vinyl. And I found a 10-inch copy of Songs To Grow On For Mother and Child.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. MITCHELL: (Singing) Who'll be my little man? Who'll be my nice lady? Who'll be my funny little bunny? Hey, hey. Could be. You'll be my little man. You'll be my nice lady. You'll be my funny little bunny. Hey, hey. Could be.
The way that he writes children's songs so brings to life how it feels to be a child and how it feels to be with a child. They're very free songs. The lyrics are - they're not so clever in the way that some children's songs can be written. They just are free and poetic and joyful.
(Singing) Who's my pretty baby? Who's my pretty little baby? You're my, my pretty baby. Hey, hey. Could be. Hey, hey, pretty baby. Ho, ho, pretty little baby. You'll be my pretty little baby. Hey, hey. Could be.
BLOCK: How do you take a rock song, say, like you do a Velvet Underground song, What Goes On, and what is it that you hear in a song like that that makes you think, this is going to be a great kids song, too?
Ms. MITCHELL: Well, it has such a great energy but more than that, I'm drawn to lyrics that express a sense of wonder in a very open way. They're not bogged down by something too specific and it feels the way that a child would think. I think I'm upside down. You know, that's such an open thing to say and to think about.
(Soundbite of song, "What Goes On")
Ms. MITCHELL: (Singing) What goes on in your mind? I think that I am falling down. What goes on in your mind? I think that I am upside down. Baby, be good, and do what you should, you know it'll work all right. Baby, be good, do what you should, you know it'll be all right.
BLOCK: A lot of these songs would have had different, more adult meanings than you're bringing to them.
Ms. MITCHELL: Certainly. Yeah, but that's the great thing about songs. You can interpret it, you know, any way you want and just by changing the word lady to baby, you know, it's a totally different song, at least for me.
When you become a parent, your whole lens changes. You think about everything, at least I do, differently. Even a song.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. MITCHELL: (Singing) Little bird, little bird, fly through my window. Little bird, little bird, fly through my window. Little bird, little bird, fly through my window. Find molasses candy.
BLOCK: A lot of the songs, birds fly through in some form or another. They may not be about birds, but birds make a recurring appearance. Was there a point when you realized I'm feeling like I want to do a lot of songs about birds or is it you started noticing?
Ms. MITCHELL: That's exactly how it happened. It wasn't, we didn't think of it from the start, we're going to make it all about birds. It just happened. We actually started making a lullaby record and then I thought, well, I'm not quite ready to limit myself.
And so then we thought we were making a record about listening and then somehow all those songs about listening turned out to be about birds and then we realized oh, we're making a record about birds.
Ms. MITCHELL: (Singing): Think of another bird.
Ms. LITTLETON: (Singing): Jay. Jay bird.
Ms. MITCHELL: (Singing): What does a jay bird say?
Ms. LITTLETON: (Singing): Jay, jay, jay, jay, jay.
Ms. MITCHELL: (Singing): Jaybird, jaybird, fly through my window. Jaybird, jaybird, fly through my window. Jaybird, jaybird, fly through my window. Find molasses candy.
Ms. MITCHELL: You know, birds are so magical and wondrous to us humans, I think. I once asked Storey, you know, if you could do one thing or change one thing about your life, what would it be? And I didn't know if she'd say I wish I had a little sister or I wish I was a princess but, without hesitation, she said I wish I could fly.
And, you know, birds possess that magical thing that we never will.
(Soundbite of birds chirping)
BLOCK: There's a great photo of your family in here, you and your husband and your daughter Storey, and she's holding a little turquoise ukulele.
Ms. MITCHELL: Ukulele, yeah.
BLOCK: And looking very proud. And I had this impression of a family like yours that, around the house, you're always picking up a tambourine or a concertina and bursting into song. Is it really like that?
Ms. MITCHELL: It, you know, it really can be. Your kids aren't kids for that long. Childhood goes by really quickly and so we really try to make time to, you know, turn off the TV and step away from work and the computer and all of those things that can occupy us and come together and make sounds.
BLOCK: A lot of people, though, I think are self conscious about putting it into music and singing.
Ms. MITCHELL: Yeah, yeah. But that's the great thing, one of the great things about parenthood is it's a moment where some people sing for the first time. Your children come along and suddenly you're singing them lullabies and you're singing through the mundane moments of the day. We need to be sung to, right there in the room. Not just by the television or a piece of plastic, you know? But by a person, right there with you. It's very powerful.
BLOCK: You've brought your family with you today. Your husband, Daniel Littleton and your daughter Storey. And I wonder if the three of you might sing us out with a song?
Ms. MITCHELL: Oh, yes. We'd love to.
BLOCK: What would you like to sing for us?
Ms. MITCHELL: We're going to do Little Liza Jane and we're going to do a new verse that we wrote specially for today.
BLOCK: This is an old song?
Ms. MITCHELL: Yeah, this is a very old song. Little Liza Jane has lived countless lives, as Daniel likes to say. It's been interpreted in many ways and we sing it as a song about having friends all over the world.
BLOCK: Okay, great.
Ms. MITCHELL: Ready, guys? Tap our knees.
(Soundbite of song, "Little Liza Jane")
Ms. MITCHELL: (Singing) I've got a friend in Baltimore. Little Liza Jane. Streetcars running by her door. Little Liza Jane.
Oh, little Liza. Little Liza Jana. Oh, little Liza. Little Liza Jane. I've got a friend in Mexico, little Liza Jane. Dahlias and cactus grow. Little Liza Jane. Oh, little Liza. Little Liza Jane. Oh, little Liza. Little Liza Jane.
BLOCK: Thank you all three so much. Elizabeth Mitchell, Daniel Littleton and Storey. Thanks for coming in.
Ms. MITCHELL: Thank you.
BLOCK: You can hear more songs from Elizabeth Mitchell's album, You Are My Little Bird at NPR.org.