Kurt Reil of The Grip Weeds knows this much: No matter how one chooses to classify his New Jersey band’s sound — “power-pop, psychedelic rock, whatever you want to call it” — there isn’t a lot of Christmas music that falls into the same category.
So with the goal of filling that void, Reil and company recorded the recently released Under the Influence of Christmas. And just like wrapping presents properly or decorating the tree, putting the album together was not done in a hurry.
It all started a few years ago with “Christmas, Bring Us.”
“That was a song that I started around the holidays and I didn’t get it done, so the next holiday I picked it up again and went a little further,” Reil remembers. “The next holiday, I picked it up again … and then eventually we finished it off and recorded it, and it was just kind of out there on its own for a while.
“It was a like a song without a home; I think it was on a compilation first,” the singer/drummer adds. “And there’s always that thought that we should do more holiday songs and give ‘Christmas, Bring Us’ a home.”
What came next was “Christmas Dream,” which Reil says he wrote in 2010 on New Year’s Eve and actually performed that same night at a party. Recording it, though — along with the rest of the material included Under the Influence of Christmas — took place during the summer.
“Putting ourselves into the holiday spirit wasn’t really too tough because the songs kind of get you there,” Reil says. “When you’re in the studio, you don’t see the outside, and you don’t see the weather. You could be working on any type of music, really. It’s just a matter of losing yourself in the music, and in this case, it was a concept album about Christmas. So that’s really what our job as recording musicians is — to get lost into whatever music we’re doing and find the magic to make that song really do something special.”
Filling what they thought was a Christmas music void wasn’t the only goal The Grip Weeds wanted to accomplish with Under the Influence of Christmas. In what Reil says was a first for them, The Grip Weeds compiled a wish list of guest musicians they wanted to work with — and ultimately succeeded at bringing in some very familiar names.
Fellow Jerseyans Pat DiNizio and Jim Babjak from The Smithereens can be heard on The Grip Weeds’ version of The Pretenders‘ “2000 Miles.”
“I just heard Pat singing, and I heard Jim’s power chords — sort of a Smithereens approach,” Reil says. “The way I want to hear ‘2000 Miles’ with us playing it, I just gotta hear Pat on the bridge. That came together so easily. It was one of those things where the concept you have in your head of how a song is going to sound gets equaled by the actual reality of the recording.”
Mark Lindsay, best known for his work with Paul Revere and the Raiders, sings “Santa Make Me Good,” which Reil wrote last year with guitarist Kristin Pinell.
“[We] got into the mind of the guy who sang ‘Hungry’ and ‘Kicks’ and all of those songs that have a real swagger and attitude,” Reil says. “So we wrote the lyrics for ‘Santa Make Me Good’ from the standpoint of that swagger, that guy.”
Another 1960s veteran, George Cameron from The Left Banke, sings harmony vocals on “For the Holidays,” another Grip Weeds original.
“It just so happens that my brother Rick [who plays guitar in The Grip Weeds] started backing up those guys and sitting in on drums for the reunion of the Left Banke,” Reil says. “So it was kind of a natural thing; you’re now kind of buddies with these guys, [so] see if they want to do it.
“We happened to have this one track that lends itself toward a Left Banke-ish, more baroque-pop sound. George was totally up for doing it. I’m very proud of that song because it has a lot meaning for me personally, and it just has a lot of depth lyrically that maybe your average Christmas song wouldn’t have.”
— By Chris M. Junior