What inspired you to record a holiday album?
I’ve always been a huge fan of Christmas music, ever since I was a kid. I love the classics, but also admire when artists release new original holiday songs too. I started writing songs around 11 years old, and I knew from around that time that some day I’d love to record my own holiday album of originals. I like to let my inspiration organically guide me towards what type of album or project I’ll be working on next, and about three years ago I wrote a Christmas song spontaneously, which was the catalyst for my album, Home Sweet Christmas. Once the songwriting floodgates opened up, I started writing Christmas song after Christmas song, “Unhappy Holiday” being one of them, and I knew it was time to make that album!
What is your fondest holiday memory as a kid?
My parents are incredible people and always went to great lengths to make the holidays a special time for me and my brother when we were kids. So I luckily have a ton of fond holiday memories, but one great memory was going to pick out a Christmas tree together every year. We would always dress up in our puff coats, mittens, and hats, as if we were going to the snow (we live in the San Francisco Bay Area). Even if it wasn’t even that cold outside, we’d always put our biggest jackets on and then my brother and I would run around the Christmas tree lot, spending way too much time on the mission of finding the perfect tree. I remember us laughing so hard and always having the best time. There’s nothing quite like being a kid during Christmastime, is there?
Do you still get excited about seeing gifts under the tree? What was your most favorite surprise?
I totally do! I mostly get excited about the gifts I’ve wrapped for my family and thinking about how much they’ll laugh at some joke gift I got them or how much they’ll like something. It’s that anticipation of them opening it, and then when they pick up a certain gift I’ll say, “Wait, save that one for last!” And they do the same thing. It’s fun. My favorite surprise was most likely the year that I started playing guitar at like 11 years old. I was using a rental nylon-string guitar from the music shop where I was taking lessons, and that Christmas my parents gifted me my very own steel-string Yamaha acoustic guitar. I remember freaking out when I got it. The best.
Do you have any special holiday family traditions you would like to share?
The past few years, my mom and I love to record all the Christmas movies on Hallmark and watch them every year. They’re just feel-good movies and it’s fun to look at all the Christmas decorations and cute towns. But it’s become a joke that there are so many new Hallmarks each holiday, and we get so busy during the season that we never have time to watch them all before Christmas is here. So we end up watching them well into the spring and summertime. It will be a nice, sunny July day and we’ll put on a Hallmark Christmas movie and have tea and cookies. It’s so ridiculous, but it’s our mission to watch them all before the next year’s movies start, no matter how long it takes us! It’s kind of a fun and funny way to stay in the holiday spirit year-round.
What is your favorite Christmas/holiday song (that isn’t yours)?
I have so many favorites, but my ultimate favorite Christmas song is still “Silent Night.” It’s such a beautiful classic and I’ve always loved singing it. I did end up recorded my own version of it on my album Home Sweet Christmas. The lyrics are so sweet and it really captures the comforting magic that Christmastime represents for me, and the true meaning of Christmas.
What are your fondest musical memories associated with the holiday season?
My parents host Christmas dinner at their house every year and when my brother and I were kids, we used to put on a little variety show for the whole family after dinner. We’d act out a few skits or a magic trick or something, but mostly we played music. We both played guitar and my brother also played piano, so he’d usually do a song on both and I’d do some song on guitar. My mom would also play piano while I sang a song. It was a lot of fun and everyone always got a kick out of it.
What message do you want people to hear when they listen to your song?
The topic of “Unhappy Holiday” is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a “Blue Christmas” type of song where someone is brokenhearted during the holidays. So essentially it’s a sad song, but the lyrics are a little tongue in cheek because it talks about drinking to ease the pain, and is almost a sort of anthem of the brokenhearted. The holidays are usually a wonderful and festive time, but in real life, sometimes the holidays can be a brutal time when you’re reminded of people who aren’t with you anymore. I mostly want people to hear that they’re not alone when they listen to this song, because we’ve all been there—thinking that we’re alone. But the truth is, we’re all in this together. We all go through similar emotions at various times. So maybe it’s not that bad, because at least we’re not islands. Even when we think we are, music can remind us we’re not. And so we might as well commiserate together, and even sometimes toss a drink back and carry on!
What do you enjoy more? Receiving gifts or giving them?
I genuinely enjoy giving gifts, and the whole process of shopping for my family and trying to think of creative things to get them. It’s so much fun to stumble upon a funny gift idea or make (or bake) something and then hand it off. I travel a lot too so I’m always on the lookout for unique items when I’m in different cities. I’ll get gifts throughout the year and save them until Christmas. The tough part is remembering where I put things once December comes around!
What charities do you support?
I’ve always been big supporter of Toys For Tots, which is run by the Marines, who take toy donations and distribute them to children whose parents are unable to afford Christmas gifts for their kids. The joys of Christmas were always so accessible to me as a kid, it’s hard to think about kids who might not be so lucky, and I think Toys For Tots is such a godsend for this cause. I also support San Francisco-based Muttville, which is pet adoption agency for older dogs. Last holiday season, I matched the number of views of my music video “Wonderful Mother Mary” to money that I donated to Muttville. A lot of older dogs are abandoned and it’s harder for them to find a home the older they are. Dogs deserve a happy holiday (and life) too!
What are your top 5 favorite holiday songs?
“Silent Night” is at the top for me. I love “Merry Christmas Baby,” specifically Elvis’ version, but there are some great other versions too. The Beach Boys’ “The Man with All the Toys” is amazing and one of my favorites of all time. I’ll never get tired of Mariah Carey’s classic “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” There are so many more tops for me, but if I can only choose one more, I’d pick the beautiful and classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”