Festive Therapy or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Record a Christmas EP
For as long as I can remember I’ve hated Christmas.
It’s no one’s fault. As a kid my parents always did their absolute best to make the festive season, well… festive.
But you get older. You get cynical. And Christmas slowly came to represent the things in life I’d missed out on. The people I’d lost. The things I hadn’t achieved. The stupid decisions I had made. I dislike society telling me when I’m supposed to be happy, so getting bombarded from all angles being told to HAVE A MERRY CHRISTMAS is a special kind of hell for me.
So how on earth did I end up recording a Christmas EP?
It started in November. I was heartbroken. Again.
I took a big long, hard look at myself. I realised there were a lot of things about my personality that I didn’t like. I needed to prove something.
I decided I was going to record a Christmas song. To show that I could be positive about this time of the year. Because if I was with someone I really cared about I didn’t need this festive negativity anymore.
So I picked the single tackiest Christmas song I could think of – Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’. No disrespect to Mariah intended. I felt weird that the chord sheet was in my Google history. But I tracked it down and started to learn it. A few of the lyrics made me want to retch (just a little bit) but I persevered. I wrote a new arrangement on an old nylon string guitar that I inherited earlier in the year. The moment of revelation came when I substituted two chords out of the main sequence; suddenly it sounded (to my ears) like ‘Lilac Wine’. A few more jazz chords, a slowed down tempo and a Nick Cave-esque baritone vocal, and the whole thing came together.
I threw myself into that arrangement. It gave me focus. Gave me something to fill the hours with. I made instruments out of strange samples. I re-processed guitars. I did my level best to sing in tune.
I even made a music video. For no money. Mostly in and around my house. I spent what little money I had on sparklers and glitter. My back garden still sparkles in the sunlight.
Against all reasonable doubt, it all looked and sounded pretty good (considering that in my mind me covering Christmas tunes is like a grindcore band covering Sinatra – unlikely and inadvisable).
As it tends to, life got more complicated. I went through a very tough couple of months. Felt like I was losing my mind at times. I ended up alone again. And as Bukowski said “being alone never felt right. Sometimes it felt good, but it never felt right”.
I fell into a weird rhythm. I would sleep terribly and wake up feeling utterly exhausted. I would try to fill the hours of my day with anything I could, just trying to struggle back to the point where I could go back to bed, not sleep and start the whole cycle again. I came close to a nervous breakdown. The whole time Christmas shoppers were everywhere, couples holding hands, making plans for the future. It was too much information, too much colour and passion and love and fury. My brain rebelled at the thought of any of it. I scrambled to hold it together.
The whole time, that damn cover of ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ sat at the back of my head. What was I going to do with it? Then I had a revelation – I would record a few more songs and release them together as a little covers EP. I had no idea what I was going to do with the Only Objects sound anyway – I hadn’t played a show since early October and I hated the way most of my songs made me feel – so what did I have to lose?
Most importantly, it gave me something to fill the hours. Not just that, but something productive, something with an end result.
But I couldn’t just record Christmas songs, because that way madness lies.
So I picked a few other covers. In hindsight, they seem obvious, and certainly thematically related to where my head has been. Isn’t it weird the way our unconscious brain operates?
I’ve always loved Depeche Mode. ‘But Not Tonight’ is the relatively obscure b-side to ‘Stripped’ that they knocked together (unbelievably) in three hours. Some wag at their US record company decided to release it as the a-side instead. Watch the video – Alan Wilder hates every second of it. The band has had a weird relationship to the song since, but listening to it in 2014, it has a great riff, lovely energy and a positive vibe largely absent from the Black Celebration era. The arrangement came together in hours, not days. The crazy auto-tuned vocal seemed logical.
Most importantly though, it’s a song about redemption. About being alone and being okay with that. The cleansing of the soul through rain. All ideas I needed. Badly.
For my other non-Christmas cover I chose ‘Survive It’, an incredible track by British rapper Ghostpoet. I’ve covered another song of his (‘Cash and Carry Me Home’) in the past, and I love his lackadaisical, conversational method of delivery. There’s a Christmas connection in the lyrics to ‘Survive It’ too – “I remember/nights in December/fairy lights and torn up wrapping paper/and happy times/now it’s happy slaps/and how big’s your gat/and all that crap” – but I think I chose it as a footnote to myself. Yes, Patrick, you are going to survive this.
Which leaves my one other Christmas song of choice. What could it possibly be but Frightened Rabbit’s ‘It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop’? (Well, it could have been ‘Fairytale of New York’, but even I’m not that brave). The Scottish indie band’s tune of setting aside fights and differences to try and be happy just for one day sums up pretty much how I feel about Christmas. Again, the arrangement seemed to write itself.
Running out of time to finish the EP before Christmas, I made a stupid decision – to write an original to tie everything together. Not one of my brighter moments, perhaps, but the six and a half minutes of ambient-organic-minimal-techno (and yes it is minimal techno and it is 128bpm – any faster or slower and the dance music police arrest you) that emerged (with a touch of spoken word thrown in for good measure) as a title track of sorts felt… right somehow. The uplifting pads and hypnotic chord sequences somehow seemed to evoke hope. And I’m grateful for all the hope I can get. I even managed to cram in a speech sample from my first ever live electronic gig… when I managed to clear half the bar in six minutes flat. Somehow, it felt like everything coming full circle.
Then collaborators started rolling in. flinflin harmonised beautifully not just with herself but somehow managed to actually find a harmony to complement my messy vocals. She expressed utter delight at my maniacal auto tuning of her performance. The session only took an hour or two after I convinced her that the lyric wasn’t actually “ain’t got a licence to kill like buffalo”. We laughed.
Lonelyspeck then appeared, as if in a dream. Brandishing a guitar and a predilection for humming, he blasted through recording ‘But Not Tonight’ in a few hours. Somehow he contributed a guitar solo that is the most rock and roll thing I’ve ever heard, whilst avoiding every single rock and roll cliché. It was incredible. And when he sang! Oh, the songs Jim – they’d melt your face! Then we got distracted talking about minimal techno. What a lovely evening it was.
Sam Page (aka The Man with the Golden Voice) came round on the final day of recording. He belted, crooned and emoted his way through ‘It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop’. I had to constantly pick my jaw up off of the floor. Interestingly, he was also very excited when I auto-tuned his backing vocals (conclusion: everyone loves having their voiced auto-tuned).
So here it is. A (mostly) Christmas themed EP from Only Objects. Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d find myself writing. If this year has taught me nothing else however, it’s that life is strange and often ugly and often beautiful and totally unpredictable (like this EP… I hope). None of us are really adults. None of us really know what we’re doing. We’re all just blundering around in the dark, looking for the light switch. There are bound to be collisions.
As I’m writing this, it’s December. November feels like a long time ago. The weather has been unusually cool today, which gives me some hope (on top of everything else, I despise the heat that summer brings).
So the name.
‘It Was December’.
December was when some things ended, and some other things began.
That’s not that deep, but after all, what is?
If you need me I’ll be here, still looking for the light switch.
Download the ‘It Was December’ EP for free at my Bandcamp:
Stream it at my Soundcloud:
Watch my cheap music video for ‘All I Want For Christmas is You’ at:
Stay in touch with the Facebook thing:
Oh, and Merry Christmas and all that.