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Alison Sudol breaks down her band’s holiday EP

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Making Oh Blue Christmas (Virgin) was a series of firsts for A Fine Frenzy leader Alison Sudol, and that’s only natural considering the EP is the band’s first holiday release.

Recorded in less than a week with very little prep time, the Oh Blue Christmas sessions marked the first time Sudol and the rest of her band recorded with everyone playing at once, the first time they worked with David Bianco and the first time Sudol formally held the producer role.

“It was terrifying at first,” she recalls, “but once I got the hang of it, [producing] was so very rewarding and fun. It was quite an adventure.”
Sudol recently sat down to give a little background on each song that’s included on Oh Blue Christmas.

* “Blue Christmas”
Alison Sudol: “I’ve always adored Elvis Presley, and I think I’ve pretty much listened to this song every Christmas since I can remember. To me, this song is Christmas, a happy/sad mix of colors, cold weather, nostalgia and love, oftentimes of the not-so-happy kind, as things sometimes fall to bits around the holidays in that department. I love singing this song; we all loved playing it — in fact, it came together so quickly it was almost baffling, and as a result, it sounds terribly cheerful despite being quite a sad song.”

* “Winter Wonderland”
Sudol: “If I remember correctly, this one was Ryan’s idea. He started playing a very strange and off-balanced guitar part, I started singing, everyone joined in, and then suddenly, there was our ‘Winter Wonderland.’ I think it sounds a little like a creepy lullaby, a slightly unbalanced version of an unarguably straightforward carol, something that the Big Bad Wolf might sing to Little Red Riding Hood to lure her into his big, bad jaws, but totally normal otherwise, of course! In the meadow we can build a snowman …”

* “Redribbon Foxes”
Sudol: “I feel like I stepped into a story and all I could do was tell it to the best of my ability.Writing this song was magical. Recording it was magical. I think, at least mentally, we were all in the same place — a little town in the mountains surrounded by pine trees, snow heavy on the ground, all the warmth and glow of Christmas just within reach and yet so very far away.”

* “Winter White”
Sudol: “I suppose it’s a strange thing to have one’s first genuinely angry song also be a Christmas song, but then again, it is utterly maddening to be either fighting or breaking up around the holidays, possibly even more maddening than around other times — excluding Valentine’s Day — because one feels, perhaps foolishly, but stubbornly all the same, that one really ought to be giddily happy at that time. … all the holiday parties and the egg nog and happy jolly jolly tend to make one feel exponentially unmerry, and even occasionally tempted to side with the Grinch. I can’t even say anything about New Year’s. I think that one speaks for itself.”

* “Wish You Well”
Sudol: “Yet another example of the red, green and golden glow of Christmas highlighting all that is lovely in the world and putting into much more start contrast the wrong, in this case, missing and worrying about a certain black sheep in a family. But is there a family full of white sheep? Even the Brady Bunch was a motley assortment of yellows and blues and purples and browns. And maybe someone isn’t really a black sheep after all, perhaps they’re just a very deep navy? I guess the little kid in me just wants us all to be together, and happy.”

* “Christmas Time Is Here”
Sudol: “This song was much debated. All of us wanted to do it, but the original Charlie Brown version was so perfect that we didn’t quite know how to approach it. I thought perhaps it could be very emotional and dreamlike, but didn’t quite know how to get there. We did one version where we tried to do it with the original chords, which was quite drekky and disastrous. I sat down and started plunking the song out on the piano as if a child were playing it — which is how I tend to approach my piano playing, for better or for worse) — and then walked away. Stephen [LeBlanc] sat down after me and started playing the part, which became the version on the EP. It was so heartbreakingly beautiful and finally felt right.”

— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior
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