Various Artists: A Very Little Christmas

Getting a bunch of musicians to hand in tracks for a compilation on time already seems like a bit of a nightmare. Asking them to write brand new songs for a compilation seems far, far worse. Then again, perhaps if the recording and the mixing is free and being done by the same person putting together the compilation, the chances for musician procrastination are limited. Perhaps that's what made the daunting premise of A Very Little Christmas possible.

Dave Parker runs a pretty stunningly good recording studio out of his bedroom in Oratia. It's called Little Monster, and he's recorded artists like Ruby Frost, Artisan Guns, Great North, Watercolours and a whole lot more.

As he will explain, A Very Little Christmas covers the quieter side of that spectrum without specifically making a theme of it. Probably every one of the artists has played a set at Auckland's low key bar the Wine Cellar, but it's more just a loosely affiliated group of bands befriended by Parker and former Border Music rep, now Bones and Woods/all around good guy Marty Jones. And with one guy recording 18 bands in his bedroom using largely the same microphones, preamps, room and producer's instincts, it's only natural that the album would have a pretty cohesive sound.

It's also interesting to note that some of the artists would go on to recycle their Christmas tracks for later releases. The Gladeyes re-recorded their stunning Carols and Parties for Shadows Explode.

Dear Times Waste did likewise with her track The Drink, re-recording it and putting it on her sublime record Some Kind of Eden. 

Rather than the re-recordings being a slight on the original recordings, I tend to think of it as a desire to reframe a song in the same sonic context as a new album, and it's a reflection on the quality of the writing generated by the project that artists would come to see their Christmas songs as more than mere novelties. The constraint of writing a song to a specific topic and to a deadline can be a powerful tool for focusing a piece. There's any number of quotes about art and limitations, and these words from G. K. Chesterton serve as good as any. "Art is limitation. The essence of every picture is the frame." Here's David Parker talking about the compilation after the jump.

Listening back to this compilation, what do you like about it?
I like that it was a semi-ridiculous task to set myself; to record, mix and master 18 songs from 18 different bands. I like that it has whimsical moments but is still a Christmas album, and an album that you could listen to at any time of the year.

Compilations document a certain musical moment. Can you paint a picture for me - what was happening in music at that time? And what did you want to preserve from that time?
I think at the point that we were organising/recording the compilation a lot of the bands seemed to be on the cusp of doing something big, but at the same time they were mainly just Marty's and my friends that we'd go see play in tiny venues to not many people. I don't think we were really concerned with preserving any moment or capturing any scene, more just focused toward making the best Christmas album we could for free! 

"Rather than singing about snow etc (which doesn't happen here in the Southern hemisphere) we wanted artists to write songs that would be something they would be happy to put on one of their albums, that also happened to be about Christmas."

Can you tell us about the moment when you decided this was something worth doing, and what was your initial concept for the compilation?
A Christmas Album is something I'd been dreaming of for a while and had several ideas about ways to do it but they were just in the back of my mind, in March of 2010 I got an email from Marty, who I'd not met before but he had put out a few of the albums and EP's I'd worked on recently. We met up to discuss it, the concept was to make an album of songs about Christmas. I would record all the songs and Marty would help with the release, promotion etc, the album was (and still is) available as a free download and a limited run of 300 CD's. Rather than singing about snow etc (which doesn't happen here in the Southern hemisphere) we wanted artists to write songs that would be something they would be happy to put on one of their albums, that also happened to be about Christmas (in fact Timothy Blackman's song had appeared on his album prior to this. The Gladeyes and Dear Times Waste's song's appeared on their next albums!). Despite being a big appreciator of Christmas Albums I didn't really see any point in getting a whole bunch of bands we really like and then getting them to play something completely different to what they would usually.

What did these artists have in common that made them belong on a compilation together?
Mainly they were mine or Marty's friends, or just bands we mutually liked, a lot of them I'd recorded or done sound for before. I think every artist on the compilation would have played with at least one of the other bands on the compilation. I guess all of the bands fall in to some sort of vague "alternative" bracket and none are particularly "loud" bands haha.

Did it seem to springboard anything for any of the artists involved?
I don't know that I'd say 'springboard' but as it was up for free download it had quite a far reach and I think spread the awareness of the artists but I think the main positive affect it had was within the group of artists, I know a few hadn't heard of Bannerman for instance and now love them

Tell us about your favourite track on the compilation.
I really love so many of them, but today I'll say Artisan Guns, it was the last song I recorded, two days before the whole compilation had to be mixed and mastered and I thought it wasn't going to happen. Reuben wrote the song and when they showed up in the morning it was really upbeat and beachy sounding, but some of the lyrics were really dark and so we changed it and it turned out so sad and beautiful. I think it epitomises the concept we had for the album; a song set at Christmas but not specifically about Christmas and I was really happy with how it sounds despite being last minute. While we were recording it Matt and Reuben decided they were only going to do one vocal take each, which we stuck to, all those vocals were recorded in one take! Jonathan showed up after a cricket match to add keys and guitar still dressed in his whites! However Special mentions go to Bear Cat's amazing lyrical content and catchiness, Tono for rhyming Isthmus with Christmas, Great North for writing a modern carol and Glass Owls for letting me play drums on their song!

Not counting this one - what's your favourite compilation?
Probably Dark Was The Night, followed closely by Phil Spector's Christmas album. I'm a sucker for Christmas. I also really like this webseries called Shaking Through where they get bands that usually DIY record or have never been in a real studio in to a nice studio to see what they do, they've made a few compilations but as a music producer I enjoy watching those videos!

Is there anything else interesting that you can tell me about the compilation and its creation?
All the songs, even those that appear on other recordings by the artists - were recorded specifically for this compilation in my bedroom studio, and most of them were written specifically for this album. Also if you really like it you can still download it for free from my website

Who did the artwork and where can we find their stuff?
The artwork was a collaboration between the lovely Chelsea Jade (Watercolours) and Reuben Stephens (Artisan Guns). Reuben is hiding all of his artwork, hopefully someday he will put some of it out there, its really great! Chelsea occasionally posts her photography on her blog but spends most of her time napping and singing in Watercolours.

Tell me about the FIRST compilation you ever owned? Mine was The Rhythm Volume 12/16/18 (not sure which one of those but it had a blonde girl with a red waterpistol on the cover) and I really wish I still had it.  
The earliest one I can find in my CD collection is from a defunct UK magazine Bang. It's got Elbow, Mogwai, Kings Of Leon, The American Analog Set, The Raveonettes and others on it. I remember listening to this lots and most of those bands became favourites of mine. I probably had a few NME compilations before this and I feel like I bought one with Travis, Radiohead etc on when I was even younger but I can't find it or remember what it was called.

While this album is available in our catalogue if you really want to see the document in the flesh, it's also available as a free download online here unless the internet breaks. 

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