Music Interviews
2:27 pm
Thu December 13, 2012

Cooking Up Holiday Songs From Scratch

Originally published on Thu December 13, 2012 6:01 pm

It's the time of year when holiday music is everywhere: your car radio, the mall, maybe your office, almost certainly your office elevator. Depending on your taste, that music is either joyous or earsplitting; for every "Baby, It's Cold Outside" there's a "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." So trying to come up with a new holiday tune is no easy feat — but the group Office Romance is giving it a try.

Office Romance is a partnership between Syd Butler and Seth Jabour, members of the band Les Savy Fav, and Butler's wife, actress Amy Carlson of the CBS show Blue Bloods. Their new EP, I Love the Holidays, features three original holiday tunes.

"There are certain things you have to put in a song. You have to put in a glockenspiel and sleigh bells and certain things that make it sound holiday-ish," Butler tells NPR's Rachel Martin. "We tried to make something fresh and new, but we also had to respect the history of the holiday song."

"We started to connect to the holiday songs that we've loved forever in a different way because it's such a challenge to be so succinct and connect to so many people," Carlson adds. "I think that by creating our own, we realized that it's much more challenging than you think to write lyrics that speak to everyone."

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's that time of year when holiday music is everywhere: your car radio, the mall, maybe your office, almost certainly your office elevator. Music that - depending on your taste - is either joyous or earsplitting. For every "Baby It's Cold Outside," there is a "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." So trying to come up with a new holiday tune is no easy feat. But the group Office Romance is giving it a try.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWINKLING LIGHTS")

OFFICE ROMANCE: (Singing) Here comes the snow on this time of the year. Holidays fill us with joy and good cheer. Twinkling lights like stars in the night. Let's sing for this holiday time.

CORNISH: Syd Butler of the indie rock band Les Savy Fav and actress Amy Carlson, who also stars in the CBS show "Blue Bloods," are two of the three members of Office Romance, and I asked them where the inspiration came for this song, "Twinkling Lights."

SYD BUTLER: It was actually inspired by our kids, and our daughter and son both take music classes. And all the recitals that we've been going to, all the piano or violin or sort of kids making music (unintelligible) you know, major keyed march-y songs, I figured that it would be something for their kids, really.

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWINKLING LIGHTS")

ROMANCE: (Singing) Get all your sleds and let's all have some fun. Hurry, get dressed before it's all done. Twinkling lights like stars in the night. Let's sing for this holiday time. Gather friends and family. Pack your cheers and treats up here. See the snow drips piling high. Celebrate this special time.

CORNISH: Syd, you said that writing holiday songs was actually harder than you expected, how so?

BUTLER: Because there are certain things that you have to put in a song, like you have to put in a glockenspiel and sleigh bells and certain things that make it sound holiday-ish. We tried to make something fresh and new, but we also had to respect the history of the holiday song. And it was nice to have Amy there keeping us on the right path of holiday cheer.

CORNISH: I'm kind of a big fan of holiday music, so, what is it about the music that you love?

AMY CARLSON: And a lot of people don't have a good time. They'd say why would you like the holidays? They can be so lonely and sad, and they bring up feelings for people, but I think that there is a hopefulness to the holidays that is timeless. And even though you might have a bad holiday season last year, this year, it might be different, like you can reset the clock every holidays, and the songs can bring up memories from your childhood, times with family, loved ones that are forever. And so I really connect to the holiday songs because of that.

CORNISH: One of the songs that does feel actually emotional is the ballad "Holidays Aren't the Same Without You."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLIDAYS AREN'T THE SAME WITHOUT YOU")

ROMANCE: (Singing) Holidays aren't the same without you. Silver bells (unintelligible). We just have to wait till I see your face so my darling hurry home (unintelligible). Holidays aren't the same without you.

CARLSON: So many holiday songs are about that sadness and that loneliness that people feel and what it's like not to be with the people that you love. But when you got a nice song to sing, I think it's - it makes you feel not so alone.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLIDAYS AREN'T THE SAME WITHOUT YOU")

ROMANCE: (Singing) Holidays aren't the same without you. (Unintelligible). And how could I miss stealing a kiss underneath the mistletoe.

CORNISH: I learned that at one point you guys brought in some consultants to get some advice on this process, and what kind of suggestions did they make?

BUTLER: During the process of the writing, I was asking everyone and their mother basically what their thoughts on a holiday song were, and I have some music supervisor friends and they do a lot of placements and syncs in movies and TV shows.

CORNISH: So music supervisors, they actually get these people songs into movies and TVs and things like that...

BUTLER: That's correct.

CORNISH: ...the soundtracks.

BUTLER: Exactly. So just out of curiosity, I was like, what - are advertisers coming to you being like, hey, we need a holiday song and what the premises of those were. The holidays have so many different memories and feelings, but to a music supervisor, it's cold and calculated. It's, you know, it has to have holiday in it. It has to have snow, and it has to have these five words.

CORNISH: And were there things you could not put in the song?

BUTLER: Rarely enough, you couldn't write Christmas. It was, you know, they want an upbeat happy thing that they could sell. It was almost scientific. And I thought it was an interesting contrast to the process that we're doing, trying to make a happy, warm, timeless holiday song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LOVE THE HOLIDAYS")

CORNISH: In the end, how did this process make you guys hear holiday songs differently?

CARLSON: When we wrote "I Love the Holidays," it was late. The kids were in bed, and we pored through holiday songs. I think in doing that, we started to connect to the holiday songs that we've loved forever in a different way because it's such a challenge to be so succinct and connect to so many people. So, for me, I think by creating our own, we realize that it's much more challenging than you think to write lyrics that speak to everyone.

CORNISH: Well, Syd Butler and Amy Carlson, thank you so much for talking with me.

BUTLER: Thank you so much.

CARLSON: Thanks for having us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LOVE THE HOLIDAYS")

ROMANCE: (Singing) I love the holidays with you.

CORNISH: That's Amy Carlson and Syd Butler of Office Romance. Their E.P. is called "I Love the Holidays."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LOVE THE HOLIDAYS")

ROMANCE: (Singing) It's always a holiday with you. It's true. It's true. There's nothing like the holidays. Something magical is on the way. It's...

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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