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Published: 2008/12/23
by Mike Greenhaus

A Very Brushfire Christmas with G. Love, Mason Jennings, Matt Costa and Zach Gill

Earlier this year Brushfire Records released the lovely holiday album This Warm December. The 11-track collection finds an eclectic mix of Brushfire recording artists either covering a Christmas classic or offering a holiday original of their own, including G. Love, Mason Jennings, Money Mark, Matt Costa, ALO, Rouge Wave, Zee Avi, Neil Halstead, Zach Gill and label boss Jack Johnson. As Christmas draws near, we asked four of our favorite Brushfire musicians to talk about their contributions to This Warm December, how they intend to spend the holiday season and what’s in store for 2009.

G. LOVE

What is your favorite Christmas song and why?
My girlfriend just got me hooked on that old tune “It’s Cold Outside.” It’s a perfect duet about a Christmas date not wanting to end. Also, singing “Silent Night” with the candles going is my favorite Christmas moment.

What about a holiday song by a rock or pop musician? Is there a modern holiday classic you particular enjoy?
That new G. Love joint, “Christmas Baby.” Also Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis.” That’s the bomb. I just got a cool painting by this New York urban artist that’s a tribute to Run-DMC and Jam Master Jay called “Christmas in Hollis” as well. Siiick

Was your new song “Christmas Baby” inspired by any holiday particular standard?
I have been working on a Christmas record for years now. I have about seven or eight carols and Christmas songs I’ve written. This Warm December gave me an opportunity to write a new one. I wanted to write a Christmas love song, mistletoe included.

Can you talk a little about where and how you recorded “Christmas Baby?” Was it part of another upcoming project?
Well, this past summer I had an injury to my vocal chords. The injury was a reoccurring hemorrhage on my chord, and I recently went through surgery to get it taken care of. This past summer, for five weeks of my summer tour, I was on full vocal rest off the stage. Brushfire called and said they wanted me to do a song and there was no way I was missing this record. I’m all about carols, man. So, my manager passed because I wasn’t allowed to sing. I booked an afternoon session in Boston and cut the tune with my side project The Phamily. We cut two takes and used the first. My voice sounded pretty good too. Shhhh don’t tell anyone I did that.

Growing up did your family have any holiday traditions you continue with your own friends and family?
Our big tradition is caroling. To me, Christmas just doesn’t seem complete without song. We have a family Christmas band called The Bob named after my Uncle Bob. We play all the hits! And we take requests.

Looking ahead to 2009, what project or tour are you most excited about?
I guess I am excited to get creative in general. My whole band just moved back to Boston and there is a new member as well: Timo Shanko on bass. I’m also really focused right now on writing my next record and shedding on a lot of Delta Blues like Bukka White, Big Bill Broonzy and Lightening Hopkins.

Brushfire feels like a community, as well as a label. Can you give us one story about collaborating or touring with another Brushfire artist?
Man, I’ve got a lot of stories about all these cats now. You should go on YouTube and peep our jams from Brazil where Matt Costa, Donovan Frankenreiter, ALO and I all jam “Sympathy for the Devil" in the lobby bar of the hotel. Siiiiick. (Click here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOa0EBV7aS4 for a look).

MATT COSTA

What is your favorite Christmas song and why?
I like to listen to Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits. It’s not a Christmas record. In fact, it hasn’t a Christmas song on it. It just sounds warmlike Christmas lights around the fireplace. But if I were to choose a real Christmas song it would be “Skating” by Vince Guaraldi from his A Charlie Brown Christmas album.

What about a holiday song by rock or pop musician? Is there a modern holiday classic you particular enjoy?
It’s not really a modern song, but “Father Christmas” by The Kinks came out in the 70’s.any chance to listen to The Kinks is always a good thing.

Can you talk a little about why you decided to cover “All I Want For Christmas?”
I tried to make “All I Want For Christmas” sound like something you’ve heard before, like that old stocking you pull out every year. I based it on the film A Christmas Story and a 1950’s broken heart.

Can you talk a little about where and how you recorded “All I Want For Christmas?”
I recorded it on my 4-track recorder at Maple Studios. A Gibson ES335 and a Harmony acoustic that belonged to my Grandfather were the instruments that I used.

Growing up did your family have any holiday traditions you continue with your own friends and family?
When I was young on Christmas Eve we would make and eat tamales.

Looking ahead to 2009, what project or tour are you most excited about?
In 2009 I am moving to France and recorded a new record called Manic Chateau.

Brushfire feels like a community, as well as a label. Can you give us one story about collaborating or touring with another Brushfire artist?
It is a community. Recently, I have been writing a couple of songs for a new artist on the label named Zee Avi. Zee has a wonderful voice and she has a song on her record called “No Christmas For Me”

MASON JENNINGS

What is your favorite Christmas song and why?
I like “Silent Night.” It is awesome and ironic because once you start singing it the night is well, not silent.

What about a holiday song a by rock or pop musicians? Is there a modern holiday classic you particular enjoy
John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” is amazing.

Can you talk a little about why you decided to cover “Santa Claus is Coming to Town?”
I picked “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” because people need to know he is coming so he doesn’t freak anybody out. He asked me to do it too, I think. Psychically. Santa-clly

Can you talk a little about where and how you recorded “Santa Claus is Coming to Town?”
I was out in my studio in the woods in Minnesota. Brushfire called and asked if I’d do it. Then Santa called and well, I felt obliged….seeing all he has done for me….

Growing up did your family have any holiday traditions you continue with your own friends and family?
Hunting camels. Road kill sandwiches. I don’t know. We put up a tree. I spent a few wonderful Christmases in Oak Park, Illinois with my Aunt and Uncle. I love this time of year.

Looking ahead to 2009, what project or tour are you most excited about?
I am excited to begin recording my new CD in January. Also excited to be a part of the new documentary about Chile called 180 Degrees South. That should be fun.

Brushfire feels like a community, as well as a label. Can you give us one story about collaborating or touring with another Brushfire artist?
Well, I just got back from a tour where Zach Gill and I played on stage every night. Before that I was in Europe with Jack Johnson, G Love and Neil Halstead. We would play onstage together every night as well. It totally feels like a family.

ZACH GILL

What is your favorite Christmas song and why?
“Carol of the Bells” because I can really feel the winter in it, its spooky a little haunted. It reminds me of ancient winter rituals, of things dark and mysterious and wonderful.

What about a holiday song by rock or pop musicians? Is there a modern holiday classic you particular enjoy?
I love Gene Autry’s version of "Silver Bells." I only had a few albums between the ages of five and twelve, and Gene Autry’s holiday album was one of them. I have always loved that album

Why did you choose to cover “Silent Night”?
I ended up doing two songs on the holiday album, one with ALO and one by myself. I think the ALO song really hits a lot of bases. The lyrics are pretty cynical upon first examination but they also have a sweetness to them. I picture the character singing the song as trying to sarcastically force himself into the holiday spirit, but by the end he is no longer pretending and no longer sarcastic. By the end he is feeling the joy. That’s my daughter doing the spoken word at the end. The other song I did is “Silent Night.” I have always loved that piece of music. You can feel something otherworldly in it.

Can you talk a little about where and how you record your selections for This Warm December? Were they part of another upcoming project?
For ALO’s “Christmas Time” we grabbed a song that we had written years ago and updated it, Dave [Brogan], Steve [Adams] and I got together at my home studio in Santa Barbara and recorded the basics there in about a day, then we brought it up to San Francisco for Dan [Lebowitz] to work on and our engineer DSB to mix. We had a great time. It was fun trying to invoke the spirit of the holiday season in August in southern California.

I did “Silent Night” at the last minute almost as an after thought. I like the way it came out, though. It sounds old and sacred.

Growing up did your family have any holiday traditions you continue with your own friends and family?
We did the usual Christmas tree, presents, egg nog, pajamas most of the day. Now that I am a parent most of that still continues. These days we all seem to spend a lot more time feeling thankful just to be together. I love my family and friends so much.

Looking ahead to 2009, what project or tour are you most excited about?
ALO is doing our annual Tour De Amore in February, and I always look forward to that. Aside from that, I want to do some more solo touring and work on more music at home. I’m looking forward to being at home a little more this year.

Brushfire feels like a community, as well as a label. Can you give us one story about collaborating or touring with another Brushfire artist?
Brushfire is really a pretty incredible thing, creative thoughtful people working hard to bring music into the world. It’s an inspiring thing to be around. I love hanging at the office, and I love touring with the other artists and crew. One time, G. Love, Matt Costa, Dan from ALO and Donovan Frankenreiter all got stuck in this really tiny glass elevator at a radio station in Brazil. I was waiting at the bottom. The elevator only went up a couple of feet and then just stayed there. You could hear yelling and banging coming from it. Eventually they pried open the doors and climbed down. The sight of all of them awkwardly climbing out of this tiny little elevator was very funny. Reminded me of the clown and the car circus bit. I don’t think it was quiet as funny for those inside the elevator.

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