If there’s an artist out there today not afraid to rock their Christmas spirit, it’s Christina Perri. The talented singer-songwriter, known for her hit songs “Jar of Hearts” and “A Thousand Years,” unveiled her new Christmas EP, A Very Merry Perri Christmas, this past October. Produced by David Hodges, the six-track EP features some of Perri’s very favorite Christmas songs, including The Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas Darling.” She also tackled the daunting task of penning an original Christmas song, “Something About December.”
I had the opportunity to speak with Perri about her new EP. She talked about her love of the holidays and Christmas music and why she wanted to make this record. Additionally, she shared how she came to select the songs for the EP, the origin of the its title , and how she plans to celebrate Christmas this year.
You recently had a pretty exciting couple of months out on tour with Jason Mraz. How was that whole experience?
That was, gosh, the best two months so far of my life. I’m pretty sure I can safely say that. Everything has been really wonderful the past 27 months. Everything kind of started and one thing keeps topping the next, and it was so nice to kind of go out with the end of my album cycle with a bang. Really with Jason and just this incredible tour, playing in venues I’ve only ever dreamt of playing in and dueting with him every night, it was just pure magic. I’ll never forget it, that’s for sure.
You’ve said that Christmas is a huge part of your family. Is that what inspired you to record A Very Merry Perri Christmas?
Yes, my first memory of singing, in general, was of a Christmas song. And then listening to Christmas music was really the first music I was ever connected to. Personally, I’ve always wanted to do something like this, and I’m sure I would have, just dependent upon how many people would hear it or not. I would have definitely made something like this no matter what. I think it’s really inevitable for me, because I have such a passion for Christmas and Christmas music. I feel like I couldn’t go any longer without doing this. This was the perfect year for me to bridge album one and album two. It just came down to really good timing, and then we got together in July and turned the studio into a winter wonderland and went for it.
Growing up, was there a favorite Christmas album of yours that you listened to every year?
My favorite Christmas music is definitely The Carpenters. “Merry Christmas Darling” is my number one favorite Christmas song, so that was the first song I knew I had to do. That was the easiest to choose. But definitely the whole album, the Carpenters’ Christmas album, that’s my favorite.
Being that you have such a passion for Christmas, are you someone that listens to Christmas music throughout the year?
Yes, definitely. It’s funny, it was, in disguise, the brightest thing to happen for me this April when I was deciding on doing an original Christmas song. I was kind of fearful of it, because you really only have two chances—to make a classic, or to just make the worst Christmas song ever. There’s really no in between. I was nervous about it, and I found myself in Singapore in April and really homesick and non-stop not sleeping. It was really a tough run and missing my family, so I listened to some Christmas music, because that’s what brings me home. That’s what makes me feel better, because it reminds me of home.
And all of a sudden, this idea kind of came to me, like, “Oh my gosh!” We go looking for Christmas when really it’s just inside of us, no matter where we are, in Singapore or wherever, if we can’t be with our family, we actually can. So, that’s kind of what then fueled my original Christmas song, “Something About December.” And that’s the idea I came up with. The whole thing, you know, Christmas music is just kind of special to me at any time of year.
Was writing “Something About December” more of a challenge for you to write than writing a regular, non-holiday type of song?
Well, it’s totally different. I feel like writing a Christmas song, I can relate to writing a Twilight song. I just love them both so much. I will be the human to write those types of songs. If you asked me to write a song about cars or a very political song, I wouldn’t go there as easily. I would have to try really hard. I feel like this was just right up my alley, you know? It felt very natural to me to write a Christmas song, but at the same time I had to really put all sorts of pressure aside and just let the creativity flow and see what came out. Also, I had to make it personal. I had to write about me and my Christmases. I’m not a vampire, so I didn’t write about me in the Twilight song, but I imagined being [one of] them. That’s sort of my approach to songwriting, other than just writing my typical little love song. I feel like the Christmas song was just so natural.
You mentioned that you decorated your studio for the recording of the EP. Did working in your winter wonderland help keep everyone in the Christmas spirit?
Yeah. It’s funny, my brother and I, he’s on the EP, he wrote “Something About December” with me, and he’s my best friend, we have all the same Christmas memories, so it was great having him there. It really helped with my Christmas spirit. He and I together, I feel like we’re like Elf. We’re the most Christmas-spirited humans and everyone makes fun of us all year round. We didn’t need that much help, but the band and crew and the producer—everybody needed to get into it.
We really decorated everything the best we could. We had a Christmas tree and snow and Santa hats—we even had a Christmas toilet. And it was just the most little Christmas week we possibly could have had. Everybody got so into it, so it was really, really helpful. I’m super, super proud of the final result. I feel like we all, musically, did our best.
Did you go into the studio with a list of songs that you thought you might like to do and narrow it down, or did you pre-pick the songs for the album and just go for it?
I picked these songs before we went into the studio, just because we have to learn the songs and do a little bit of prep before we hit the record button. So, the songs had to be chosen. I probably picked them maybe two weeks before we started recording, and then we had the time to rehearse and stuff. Like I said, it was just simple really for me to pick these songs, because aside from having 300 Christmas songs in my iTunes, I feel like these were just my favorites. They all rose to the top, and it was really easy to pick them. We did six covers, including the bonus track for Target, plus one original. It was really planned out.
Like you mentioned, “Merry Christmas Darling” was at the top of the list for you to do, but with all of the songs on the EP being your favorites, how did you narrow down which of them to include?
Yeah, “Merry Christmas Darling” is my favorite. That was a “duh” moment. “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” is my second favorite. I’m the biggest Beatles fan on the planet, and I couldn’t not have that song on my Christmas EP. The band and I already knew it, because we cover it around Christmas time. I had some of my friends come in and do background vocals. We had planned to make that a really fun one.
And then “Please Come Home For Christmas” is super bluesy, and arrangement-wise I married the Charles Brown original version with The Eagles’ version and then we did our own thing. That was just super fun to do a blues song. I wanted to really do a variety of songs, vocally, on this EP.
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” I wanted a standard and to pick one of the classics that Frank Sinatra made famous. I went for that one, because I did a snippet of that last Christmas as a ‘Merry Christmas’ to the fans and stuff. Everyone loved it so much; I promised I would do the whole thing. So, that was kind of a no-brainer.
“Ave Maria” was hands down the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life, vocally. But, I wanted that. I wanted to challenge myself. That song, I didn’t even tell everyone we were going to do, because I didn’t know if I could actually do it. So we kept it a secret to see what it’s going to be like. I ended up doing my own version of it, and I wanted to do that for my family, since it’s their favorite. It’s also just a very classic Christmas song. I know we had to keep it really simple and pretty. I don’t know if you know, but I had vocal chord surgery a year ago, so I wanted this Christmas EP to really show how incredibly healed I am. I’m singing with vocal chords that are just better than they were before. I wanted to really push myself, and I’m really, really proud of the vocal performances on all these songs.
“Let It Snow (Acoustic)” came much later when Target asked for a bonus track. We did that on tour, upstairs at a venue in Saratoga Springs, New York. We flipped over a couch and made it into a vocal booth and did it literally backstage and very live. My guitar player Johnny and I [recorded] it very quickly.
And then there’s “Something About December,” which I told you about. It’s my little original that just means the world to me.
I have to admit that I’m kind of sitting here in shock, because I wasn’t aware that you had vocal surgery. You would never be able to tell, because you sound fantastic on this EP.
Thank you. I worked so hard on recovering. Like I said, I was really proud.
How did you get your talented friends (Michelle Branch, Bushwalla, Boys Like Girls’ Martin Johnson) involved to lend their voices for “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”?
I sent around an email, maybe a couple weeks before, to about 30 people who I love in the music business and who are my friends and singers and Christmas lovers. I sent out an invitation and unfortunately, the timing, everyone was really on tour. I think there were about 12 of us that were there that day. I’m so grateful that everybody showed up, and it was kind of just a very free-for-all thing. Like, “Hey, come if you like this song, come sing oohs and ahhs, and have some fun and wear a Santa hat. It’ll be a good time.” My friends showed up and it was really good.
I want to ask you about the title of the EP, because A Very Merry Perri Christmas reminds me of the Christmas specials that air during the holiday season. Was that the sentiment you were aiming for?
I will say that the title was the first thing I knew. My brother and I kind of jokingly always talked about having a Christmas special on TV, like Sonny and Cher, and we called it A Very Merry Perri Christmas. We literally came up with that years ago. When I decided to do a Christmas EP, it was like, “Oh gosh…well, duh.” Especially, since my brother’s featured so much on the EP, it felt like a Perri thing.
The music video for “Something Like December” will be sentimental in that sense also. The theme of it sounding that way, you’re dead on. That’s exactly what we [joked about], you know, 10 years ago, but it was really fun to now actually make this and call it that.
What are your plans for Christmas this year?
My Christmas plans are just to see my family. It’s so funny, I feel like the little boy in Home Alone. I just want my family for Christmas this year. I’ve been gone just for so long and I miss them and I’m super homesick. I want just an old fashioned Perri Christmas.
My brother’s coming in and we’re actually doing the Today Show that Christmas week. We’re going to do the song, “Something About December” on the show, so that’s going to be pretty special. Then we’re gonna head from New York to go over to Philly, which is where I’m from, and spend Christmas together, me and Pistachio, my little pup, and my whole family. I’m just really looking forward to them and all the food.
That’s great! So before we wrap up, how is 2013 looking for you right now, music-wise?
Yeah, oh my gosh, my whole second album will be first in 2013. I plan on it being a really special year, because I’ve just spent 27 months on one album cycle, then I’ve got this little three-month time period to regroup and organize and write and get everything ready for album two. And then I join the circus again. It can’t ever be the same, it should only be bigger and better, and so next year should be pretty awesome. I look forward to everything that’s gonna come.
On Friday, December 21, tune into the Today Show to see Christina Perri perform songs off her A Very Merry Perri Christmas EP, which is available now.
For more information on the artist, please visit her official website.
Photo credit: Francois Bertheir