June 25, 2019

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Carols of their own

Local musicians get in the holiday spirit with their own Christmas songs

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/12/2018 (203 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

‘Tis the season to crack out your favourite holiday albums and playlists.

Music is a huge piece of the holiday puzzle. No matter what event you attend or what family gathering you’re at, you better believe those tunes will be blasting loud for all to hear (which is obviously the best way to spread Christmas cheer, according to Buddy the Elf), be it umpteen covers of religious-rooted carols or more modern pop- and rock-infused offerings.

Everyone already has their go-to songs of the season, the ones that must be heard every day from Dec.1-25 and onward, but each year, a new collection of artists throw their holiday hats into the ring with a festive album or track they hope will become an instant classic.

This year, many Winnipeg musicians have joined in on the fun, releasing singles (as well as a couple full albums) that are certainly worthy of adding to your holiday party playlist.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/12/2018 (203 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

‘Tis the season to crack out your favourite holiday albums and playlists.

Hear it all

We've collected all the songs and albums Erin's mentioned in this article in one playlist, convenient for shuffling at your next holiday gathering.

We've collected all the songs and albums Erin's mentioned in this article in one playlist, convenient for shuffling at your next holiday gathering.

Music is a huge piece of the holiday puzzle. No matter what event you attend or what family gathering you’re at, you better believe those tunes will be blasting loud for all to hear (which is obviously the best way to spread Christmas cheer, according to Buddy the Elf), be it umpteen covers of religious-rooted carols or more modern pop- and rock-infused offerings.

Everyone already has their go-to songs of the season, the ones that must be heard every day from Dec.1-25 and onward, but each year, a new collection of artists throw their holiday hats into the ring with a festive album or track they hope will become an instant classic.

This year, many Winnipeg musicians have joined in on the fun, releasing singles (as well as a couple full albums) that are certainly worthy of adding to your holiday party playlist.

1. Mise en Scene - Tinsel Town

Writing a Christmas song has been on Stefanie Blondal Johnson’s bucket list for quite some time.

She had penned one previously that was never recorded, but this year, the frontwoman of local indie-rock group Mise en Scene — with some encouragement from her label, Light Organ Records — not only wrote one, titled Tinsel Town, but recorded it, released it and made a music video, all with bandmate Jodi Dunlop.

Jodi Dunlop and Stefanie Blondal Johnson of Mise en Scene (Supplied)

Jodi Dunlop and Stefanie Blondal Johnson of Mise en Scene (Supplied)

"It’s always something I’ve wanted to do but I never really got around to it, but because our label puts out a compilation album every year, it just gave us more incentive because they’re so supportive about it," says Johnson.

When crafting a new holiday tune, Johnson says you can go one of two ways: either you take a satirical route, as though you’re "cooler than Christmas," or you can just let yourself get immersed in the corniness of it.

"I think what makes a really good Christmas song is just getting into the joy of it. It sounds so corny, but you have to really commit to that happiness and joy. But that’s what I think it’s all about, at this time of year, most people just want to be with their friends and families and loved ones and they just want to have a really good time," she says.

And commit to it she did; in addition to references to standard holiday-song items (snow, mistletoe, love), Johnson also injects a full-on talking verse near the end of the upbeat bop, embracing the over-the-top cheese factor holiday songs often adopt.

"I knew that I didn’t want to go into a totally different direction with a bridge, I knew I didn’t want to keep repeating a verse, I wanted to bring it down a little bit, so I thought, ‘How can I get more corny?’ And I know Elvis did it a bunch of times, and I thought if there was ever going to be a time where I do a talking verse, it’s going to be during a Christmas song," says Johnson.

"It’s just this fun, heartfelt little moment, and I just kind of winged it in the studio. I had a few other ideas, but that’s what I did in that take and that’s what we took, and I didn’t even realize what I had said until I had to learn the lip-sync for the music video, and that was actually so hard," she says, laughing.

 

2. Begonia - It Won’t Be Christmas (’Till You’re Here)

The new holiday track from Winnipeg’s Begonia (Alexa Dirks), It Won’t Be Christmas (’Till You’re Here), wasn’t crafted in the most festive of locales.

The songstress was at a SOCAN songwriting workshop in October 2017, and on the sixth day of the intensive course, between the all-day writing sessions and the all-night hangouts with other musicians, she was feeling a little rundown.

Alexa Dirks, also known as Begonia. (Jason Halstead / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Alexa Dirks, also known as Begonia. (Jason Halstead / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Dirks and her writing partners for that day — Jason Couse and Wes Marskell of the Darcys — were stuck for an idea, and decided to pull inspiration from the frigid temperature of the room they were in, deciding to pen a holiday tune.

"At first I was like, ‘This is a joke, why are we doing this?" and then a couple hours passed and I was just living for it," laughs Dirks.

"I was jumping on couches, riffing my ass off; I’ve never done that many vocal runs at the end of a song in that way. And I was so tired, and we kept the takes. On the final song, it’s all the takes of me, as tired as I was. It’s definitely not a perfect vocal take but I felt like it captured the moment of how it was made."

She tucked the song away, fully believing it would never see the light of day, but a year later, it felt like the right move to put it out.

"The guys from the Darcys were into it, and what do I have to lose? Maybe it will make some people feel happy, feel festive, who knows?" she says.

The fun, blues-infused track has a classic feel, with horns and warm piano, and more than a few references to holiday-related items. Mistletoe? Check. Gifts? Check. Reindeer? Check. Snow? Check. The word "Christmas"? Check, literally 30 times over.

"I don’t care if people celebrate Christmas or not, it’s just a funny thing," says Dirks.

"This season means so many different things to different people, I just want them to have fun being themselves. This song, it does say Christmas in it five million times, but I don’t want to force Christmas on anyone, I just want people to have a nice time and be nice to each other... that’s all I really want."

 

3. Don Amero - Amero Little Christmas

For the past seven years, singer-songwriter Don Amero has created and performed a holiday-themed variety show, Amero’s Little Christmas. This year, not only is he taking the show on the road outside of Manitoba for the first time, making more than a dozen stops in the Prairies ("Next time, it’ll hopefully be across the country," Amero adds), he has recorded an album of holiday songs of the same name.

Don Amero</p>

Don Amero

Amero has been a little quiet about the album, which was released Nov. 12, choosing instead to spend most of his time promoting the other record he released this year, Evolution, making sure he gave it "the right legs to stand on."

But now it’s all about Christmas, and Amero, a genuine lover of the holiday season, is ready to get into the spirit.

Of all nine tracks on Amero Little Christmas, Amero says there is one that remains closest to his heart.

"Don’t Let Christmas Pass You By," he says, pointing out the track is the album closer.

"The title says it all: be present, be in the moment and don’t let these precious times pass you by. A couple years ago my dad passed away and it occurred to me that my last Christmas with him was the one before, and you’re never quite ready for that. We all have to say goodbye to people in our lives, so I love this song because it keeps that idea of what the season really is about top of mind."

Amero has two young children of his own, a boy and a girl, and works hard to make sure they understand the true meaning of the season.

"It’s hard to tell a five-year-old it’s not all about presents, but as they get older we want them to know that the holiday season is really about celebrating each other and being there with one another."

Amero Little Christmas (the concert) takes place at the West End Cultural Centre Dec. 15 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance, available at the WECC, both locations of Into the Music and online at Ticketfly.com.

 

4. Whitehorse - A Whitehorse Winter Classic

Whitehorse may only be half-local, but they are fully in holiday mode.

Whitehorse, the Juno Award-winning duo of Melissa McClelland and former-Winnpegger Luke Doucet, released A Whitehorse Winter Classic — a collection of "melancholiday" original songs — in November.

The record explores the ups and downs of the season: the joy of seeing family and friends and celebrating together, but also the moments of loneliness and sadness that can accompany this time of year for some folks.

The record also includes two covers: a languid, almost haunting, version of Blue Christmas (most famously sung by Elvis Presley) and the indie Christmas classic, 2000 Miles, originally recorded by the Pretenders.

5. JP Hoe and Quinzy

Though their music isn’t new, no Winnipeg-made holiday-songs list is complete without JP Hoe and Quinzy. Both acts created long-running holiday concerts, and while Quinzy’s Quinzmas is no longer, Hoe’s Hoe Hoe Hoe Holiday Show is still going strong after more than a decade (this year’s show is Dec. 14 at the Burton Cummings Theatre).

For those annual events, Hoe and the members of Quinzy crafted their fair share of festive tunes that have since become holiday staples for many.

Hoe has a six-song record of originals, Hoe Hoe Hoe Holiday Songs, which explore the true meaning of the season. They are a little bit whimsical, a little bit gloomy, but always full of heartfelt feelings.

Quinzy’s tracks can sometimes be a little sillier (Decemberwolf, anyone?) but are just oozing with fun and festivity.

They, too, have a six-song live record, 2010’s Feast: Quinzmas Live at the West End, but one of the tracks that came a bit later, the sweet Someone Else’s Christmas, is also worth adding into the rotation.

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @NireRabel

 

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

Read full biography

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