Interview: Straight No Chaser
Mon, 21 Dec 2009 09:14:29
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Straight No Chaser know how to spread Christmas cheer better than anyone.
These artisans of a cappella awesomeness belt out catchy and fun renditions of Christmas classics on their latest holiday album, Christmas Cheers. However, they've also got a sharp sense of humor. First single from Christmas Cheers, "Who Spiked the Eggnog?" is a hilarious original tune that tells the story of a raucous Christmas party that'd make The Hangover guys proud. The song is bound to be come a new Christmas classic! Check out the video here and an exclusive "Beyond the Video" clip here!
Straight No Chaser's Ryan Ahlwardt sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor Dolor author Rick Florino to talk about Christmas Cheers and so much more in this exclusive interview.
Christmas Cheers is hilarious and fun, but it's also a really heartfelt Christmas album. Was your goal to balance that humor and warmth?
That was exactly the approach! Last year's Holiday Spirits was very traditional, and it was very successful commercially right out of the gate, but we also knew if we wanted to have continued success in the marketplace we needed to come out with something fresh. We like to say Holiday Spirits is like the soundtrack for a snowy Christmas Eve night with your loved one by the fireplace. Christmas Cheers is like the party that someone has spiked the eggnog a little too much on Christmas Eve [Laughs]. It's a little more festive and upbeat. It's also a little more tongue-in-cheek. It shows our personality as a group comedically a little bit more. We never set out to release a comedy album but part of what endears our fans to us is the fact that we are ourselves on stage. We're ten college buddies who poke fun at each other and ourselves. Somehow we needed to capture that in the studio. We had a lot of great arrangers working on this project as well. We really got to bring the songs to life.
They definitely do come to life. The performances are very tangible on tape.
Thanks, man! In the studio, every take is important to us. We said, "If you're not feeling it, the audience isn't going to feel it. So find whatever you have to find to make it work and let's do it." Some days you have to walk away from a song and be like, "Let's do this tomorrow, something's not clicking." We like to have this mentality of "the pocket"—meaning everything is locking in and going great. "The pocket" is out there, you've just got to go out and find it. It's deep and hippie-like, but it is true. You've got to find the right vibe for every song and you can't force it. Any artist would agree with that. If you force a certain character on a song, it's just not going to translate. We'd keep it lighthearted, and sure enough the songs worked.
"Donde Esta Santa Claus" is probably the funniest Christmas song ever.
[Laughs] I remember we were in New York this past summer. We'd just gotten the green light for a second Christmas album, which we were kind of nervous about. We had all of these questions in our mind. We realized that there was room for humor in this. A lot of what people like about us is we're funny guys without trying to be funny. I'd never even heard "Donde Esta," but we heard the original and Guster's cover it. I'm a Guster fan, and I'd never heard it. We let the song brew in our heads. Normally we don't try to mimic the original, but since there wasn't any sheet music written up, the original was all we had to work with. We just went for it. We even laid a little Mexican horn section down. Our director Dan Ponce is Mexican-American. We were like, "Who's singing solo on this? Dan is!" He got in there, and he actually had a lot of say about what Latin flavors made their way into the song and a lot of the vocal percussion. He knew what a Latin song should sound like. It was a lot of fun! It's kind of like a lounge show [Laughs]. If you saw it in a hotel at midnight on the wrong side of town, it might creep you out a little bit [Laughs]. It's got that character to it. It's a little weird, but it's pretty cool too.
Was "Who spiked the Eggnog?" based on true events?
[Laughs] It wasn't necessarily based on truth. There wasn't a Christmas party that we all got lit at. What happened was, we had all of the tracks laid down, and we really wanted to put an original song on the album. Walter Chase had already come up with "The Christmas Can-Can." Those are his lyrics and his arrangement, but the music is from a classical piece from the 1800s. We wanted to come up with an original song from the ground up. We were talking about different ideas. Maybe Santa is 200lbs over weight and he has to lose weight so his sleigh can get off the ground? Maybe Santa has so many Facebook friends that he can't process the gifts they send in on time? We were trying to come up with all of these whacky off-the-wall ideas. Jerome Collins, out of nowhere, said, "Man, I wish we could come up with something like who spiked the eggnog?" I was like, "That's it!" We were all watching football, and I was like, "Guys, I've got to leave. I've got go work on this song while the moment's right." In the studio, we made it more like a mystery caper with this old swing vibe. The lyrics came out of nowhere. It came from an off-the-cuff comment from one of the guys watching football. This album grew organically in the studio like that! It turned into something awesome. Now we've got a music video for "Who Spiked the Eggnog?"! It's that thing we like to do where we're not as cool as people think we are [Laughs]. We're just ten guys who sing a cappella. C'mon, we're not rock stars at all.
Do you have a favorite Christmas memory?
I do! My dad was in the navy, so we moved all over the place. Germany was one of my favorite places that we lived because it snowed every Christmas, one. Two, we just had a giant Christmas tree in our living room. Because we were over in Europe, I was really into Robin Hood, knights, castles and stuff like that. Every Lego thing I had was a giant castle. My parents got me a full knight outfit—the helmet, the breastplate, the shield and the sword—everything. I remember getting out of bed at like six in the morning, going into the living room and every piece was set up there. I was blown away! I was just amazed I wore that thing for about a year [Laughs]. It's probably the most vivid Christmas memory. This year, I'm really looking forward to being in my first home with my wife of two years. We just bought a home in the suburbs of Indianapolis, and it's going to be nice to settle in and enjoy some time off the road.
What's your favorite Christmas song?
I've always liked "The Carol of the Bells"—even from when I could plunk out the parts as a young kid on the piano or when I sang it high school. I still enjoy it when we sing it in Straight No Chaser, because the arrangement with that one doesn't change up a whole lot. It's a traditional song, and it's sung traditionally every single time. There's a reason for that. What we get to do in Straight No Chaser is take that traditional Christmas song and make it spin on its axis.
If Christmas Cheers were a Christmas movie what would it be?
[Laughs] That's a great question! Last year's would've definitely been Miracle on 34th Street. Christmas Cheers is definitely National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation!
Check out Rick Florino's new novel Dolor available now for FREE here…