Twin Cities musicians on Christmas music at its best and worst

Categories: Holiday
Photo by Erik Hess; Photoshop by City Pages
Each December, you can bet your bough of holly that if a retail space has a PA system, it will pause its cheaply licensed Muzak in favor of Christmas' more expensive, but consumer-enabling, catalogue. Radio stations will cease regular programming for weeks, often witnessing an increase in listenership. Most cuss at its ubiquity. Yet, few wholly denounce it; namely because it's more of a tradition than it is a genre. 

Since tradition tends to hinge on one's own perspective, Gimme Noise went the George Bailey route this holiday season by exploring the vexing Holiday songbook through some fresh lenses. A handful of Twin Cities' musicians -- Polica, Big Cats, Wiping Out Thousands (above), and the Chalice -- and took the time to discuss both the adored and abhorred holiday staples. The lack of absolute condemnation from any of our participants may be disappointing to some. But if there's anything this loose survey seems to suggest, it's that no one's too cool for Christmas.

Photo by Katie Roth
Spencer "Big Cats!" Wirth-Davis

City Pages:
Any big plans for the holiday?

Big Cats!: Nothing too big. Most of my family's in town. So just hanging with them and hopefully making some music.

CP: Most people tend to have a love/hate relationship with the Christmas songbook. Where do you fall with it?

BC: I didn't grow up listening to a ton of it, and I've never worked in an environment where you're subjected to it all the time until you want to kill yourself. I imagine it's gotta be brutal when you hear the same fifteen songs all day, everyday for a month and a half. So I don't necessarily seek it out, but it doesn't really bother me.

CP: Are there any seasonal staples that you're appreciative of?

BC: It's funny. The only two Christmas records that I listened to as a kid. The first one is Manheim Steamroller's. To me, that is Christmas Music even though it's the most absurd stuff. It's not all what you would come to think of as Christmas music. That and the Charlie Brown Christmas record are that without fail would come out on cassette ever year.

CP: What songs can't you stand?

BC: Well, what bothers me is when they take the old standards. I heard a Vegas lounge-style version of "Sleigh Ride" on the radio the other day. It's like, maybe write some new songs and work. The same ten songs have been recorded in every style imaginable, so that gets old.

CP: I feel like some golden-age rappers initially brought a breath of fresh air to the Christmas catalogue with songs like Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis." Hip hop artists really don't do novelty tracks like they used to. Why do you think that is?

I think part of that is because even if it were out there, a lot of places wouldn't play it. So then what's the point? And I'm not sure how much demand there would be for it. I don't know what kind of overlap there his between hip-hop fans and people who really love Christmas music. Actually, the studio I work at, Waterbury Studios, just did two original Christmas songs. We released two Christmas songs last week, but it's not hip hop at all.

CP: I feel like your position as a hip-hop producer would lend itself to digesting holiday music differently than most people do. A lot of the instrumentation is so atypical from what you hear every other month out of the year. Are you ever surprised by what you hear every December, for better or for worse?

BC: Eric, my engineer at the studio, and I were driving somewhere the other day and threw on KOOL 108. And we were talking about how even the arrangements for some of those songs is  stuff that you would never hear anywhere else. For no good reason, there will be a full orchestra behind somebody. And I don't know if that stems from the fact that these songs have been recorded by so many different artists that, inevitably, you're going to get something weird. Or is it something inherent to the genre?

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