What do you get when you combine Sheryl Crow, Kelly Clarkson, deep cathartic lyrics, classic rock melodies and a touch of laid-back Capitola-Soquel charm? You get singer-songwriter Penny Framstad.
Born and raised in Soquel, Framstad began her musical career at the age of nine in a talent show at a Baptist church on Roxas St. in Santa Cruz, where her mother was the children’s choir director. After being bombarded with compliments and positive feedback about her performance, she made the decision that would dictate the rest of her life.
“That’s when I knew I wanted to sing professionally,” said the now 51-year-old, musician, who doesn’t look a day over 30.
Left with her older brother’s record collection when he was shipped to Vietnam, a 10-year-old Framstad immersed herself with artists like The Mamas and Papas, Judy Collins, Led Zeppelin, James Taylor, Carly Simon and Carol King.
She credits the thought-provoking singer-songwriters of her youth as the main inspiration for her own songwriting and also holds a special place in her heart for the The Beatles.
“They were a huge influence on my music. Their Magical Mystery Tour totally rocked my world when I was little,” she said.
Framstad made a name for herself by performing at local venues like The Catalyst and the now-closed Palookaville in Santa Cruz. Armed with a guitar in one hand and a keyboard in another, she set out for Los Angeles in 2001, where she hoped to expand on her success as a musician.
Since then, her songs have been featured in countless network TV shows favorites like Dawson’s Creek, The Office, Scrubs and most recently, Dance Moms. They’ve also been heard in the films White Chicks and 10 Things I Hate About You.
When writing songs for film and TV, her aim is to tell a story in three-and-a-half minutes, with strong titles and hooks that deeply the 16-55 demographic.
“First, I try to determine which genre I’m writing in and whether it’s a ballad, mid-tempo or up-tempo. Then, I try to come up with a title I can build the song around,” she said. "...One of the most important elements of is avoiding trite rhyme schemes like miss and kiss; bad, sad, or glad; together, forever, and so on.”
Despite her success as a musician in Los Angeles, she admits she could never quite understand or get used to the fierce competitiveness of the music industry.
“I’ve always felt happy for other artists when they become successful, but it’s not that way in L.A. It made me really sad to see how cutthroat other female singers were… I have never liked that part of the industry, ” she confessed.
Realizing the need for an outlet from the madness, Framstad began teaching songwriting. Since starting Penny Framstad’s Pop Academy, she has gained “divine satisfaction” in witnessing her students develop as musicians and songwriters and said her true passions lie in seeing her students succeed.
“I’ve always really connected with artists on a deep creative level. That’s where I found my true passion and calling—in working with students and artists and seeing them have that a-ha moment.”
Her decision to return to the Santa Cruz area was one she had been planning since her arrival to Los Angeles, nearly twelve years ago.
“I worked my butt off in L.A. for so many years, but always with the vision of coming back home to Santa Cruz eventually,” she said. “I dealt with the smog, traffic and superficiality as long as I could [possibly] take it.”
Framstad is officially back in the Santa Cruz area and is currently teaching the art of songwriting in addition to piano and guitar lessons, as they pertain to songwriting and performing. Musicians, regardless of expertise, can book her for both private classes and group classes.
She will be performing at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz shortly after the New Year (dates have yet to be determined).