Vancouver musicians sound off on their favourite holiday songs and presents
Because a certain rotund fellow with a penchant for black boots and red velvet is watching, there’s no point trying to lie. Especially considering that, more than any other time of the year, bending the truth right now is a sure-fire way to get on what’s colloquially known as Ye Olde Naughtee List. So here’s our confession: despite the fact that we are hard-core misanthropes who hate almost everybody and everything, we fucking love Christmas. Everything about it, in fact, including the Stanley Park Bright Nights train, Avalon Dairy eggnog, rum balls made with twice as much overproof Sailor Jerry as the recipe calls for, and Rankin/Bass Productions’ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Hell, we even love the Jim Carrey version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which, if you think about it, probably hints at a deep-seated season-related mental illness.
As a result, every time we hear Bing Crosby sing “Ave Maria” we not only mist up, but start dreaming of silver-and-gold-tinted Christmases past, and the wonderful gifts that we’ve received. Like that time we were six years old and woke up to find not one, but two (!!) cartons of red-pack Marlboros under the tree. You could almost hear an angel getting his wings that day, not to mention laying the foundation for a Grade A case of lung cancer.
But enough about the nasties—the season is all about good times, even when you find yourself sitting there at the dinner table, doing your goddamn best not to punch your fucking loudmouth, know-it-all brother-in-law in the face in between pulls on that bottle of Johnnie Walker that you were originally meaning to save for a special fucking occasion, but decided to crack open because there was no fucking way you were making it through even the soup and salad courses without fucking killing everyone that you’re glad you don’t have to fucking see any other fucking time of the fucking…
And, errr, you know what else we love about Christmas? It’s that we’re not alone in our affection for the month when you can watch It’s a Wonderful Life every day without feeling like some sort of goddamn weirdo. In honour of the most wonderful time of the year, we asked some of our favourite local acts to reflect on the best Xmas gifts they’ve ever received, as well as their all-time favourite Christmas songs. We’d like to thank them for getting right into the spirit of the thing. And for not picking Fear’s “Fuck Christmas” as a favourite seasonal song.
Andrea Lo brings a winning combination of world-weary sultriness and breezy sexiness to her role as frontwoman of the enchanting noir-pop combo the Belle Game.
Favourite Christmas song: “ ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’. Sometimes, when we’re all able to, my entire family spends the day together. What once was the anticipation of a postcard Christmas turns into the reality of my parents having a strangling match, my nephew hyperactively knocking over everything in the house, and the family dog devouring the Chinese stuffed duck that my sister’s husband just spent a whole two days working on. All the while, I’m in the midst of it, in this beautiful slow-motion, generic holiday panoramic, and Frank Sinatra is crooning in my ear, cool as a Christmas cucumber.”
Best gift ever: “The time my big sister got a western-themed Playmobil set. The joy wasn’t in the present itself, but that she spent hours afterwards creating an intricate world with harvest cycles for seasonal crops, social hierarchies between ranch hands and First Nations (pained love stories included), and horse-breeding based on dominant genetic traits. Very heavy stuff. And then I would terrorize, with no abandon, her entire little cowboy world with my even littler fists—that is, after I had been sure to get on the good list, and had a stocking full of chocolate.”
Lana Pitre’s Synthcake is easily the most demented outfit in town, specializing in through-the-looking-glass cabaret pop that sounds like the cast of Yo Gabba Gabba! drunkenly ripping into the Tom Waits songbook.
Favourite Christmas song: “One that’s very nostalgic for me is the Vandals cover by No Doubt, ‘Oi to the World’. Gwen Stefani was my hero when I was young, and I remember I had a mix tape with that on it when I was a kid.”
Best gift ever: “I got a stuffed monkey when I was a kid, and that kind of got me through my childhood. It’s kind of like Winnie-the-Pooh was to Christopher Robin—that whole world. That was my stuffed monkey. So I would say that probably was the best. I mean, everything else is just a blur, really, to be honest. You get so many Christmas gifts over the years and everything—electronics and stuff—it’s not really that meaningful.”
Savannah Leigh Wellman is the voice of Redbird, whose rootsy alt-pop is lush, warm, and haunting. And you can tell she’s from around here because she wrote a song called “Therein Lies the Grey”.
Favourite Christmas song: “I don’t typically dig Christmas music; I tend to avoid malls that have it blaring unapologetically. Although I do appreciate a good old-fashioned choir belting out something like ‘O Holy Night’—that’ll get me every time.”
Best gift ever: “Without a doubt, the best Christmas gift I ever received was my guitar, Josephine. It was from my boyfriend at the time, who was a broke musician himself, and I’m sure he would have loved his own new acoustic, so that made the gesture so much more significant.”
Shane McMillan fuses paisley-powered garage rock, mariachi-spiked pop, buckshot country, and much more as the founder and singer of White Blood Cells.
Favourite Christmas song: “ ‘The Christmas Song’ as sung by Nat King Cole. As soon as I hear those famous words ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,’ I’m transformed into my bad-sweater-wearing, cheesy-movie-watching, eggnog-swilling, turkey-coma self, cozy by an imaginary fire and the smell of roasting chestnuts sweetening the air. This song is so nostalgic and sentimental that the things Nat sings about don’t even really exist anymore, at least not in my Christmas memories. And that nostalgic, sentimental feeling is exactly what I love.”
Best gift ever: “Socks. Here’s why: when I buy myself socks, they are six pairs for $10, and after a month they’re stiff as boards, covered in pills, and worn through on the heels. When I get socks for Christmas, I don’t know what they cost, but they have padded heels, and they keep my feet warm in the cold and cool in the heat while somehow providing arch support and hitting 14 acupressure points. And three years later they are still as good as new. It’s boring, but nice socks are the best Christmas present.”
Michael Champion makes dark indie pop as the frontman of City of Glass, a band named after a Douglas Coupland book (“Generation X” was already taken).
Favourite Christmas song: “I do like Christmas, so I have several fond Christmas-song attachments, but I think ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ by Vince Guaraldi, from A Charlie Brown Christmas, is just way too classic and listenable at any time to not be, I think, the best.”
Best gift ever: “My family didn’t have a ton of money when I was growing up, so I never had that massive present that maybe some people get. But one Christmas—when I was young enough that I got really excited but I was old enough to understand the value of things, and that they didn’t magically appear under the tree, that it was my parents—I got this automated Lego space play set. It was just massive. It basically took up the whole room. It was battery-powered and had all these flashing lights, which at that point was pretty new. So that was probably my best open-up-present-and-lose-my-shit moment.”