Judging from the internet, it might be safe to assume that the phrase “‘Tis the season” now only refers to the constant dewy-eyed, sweater-friendly blitzkrieg of Sufjan Stevens Christmas music (and videos and tours and KILL ME) that seems to crawl out from some distant, twee, North Pole hellscape every year. But rest assured, spreaders of Yuletide cheer: There is still non-Sufjan Christmas music out there. And some of it is really good!
To guide us through the cultural wasteland of Christmas music, I talked to John McCauley of raucous, beer-swilling rock archivists Deer Tick and garage-rock super-group Diamond Rugs. McCauley happens to be a big Christmas music fan, a writer of the hardened Christmas gem “Christmas In A Chinese Restaurant” and the mastermind behind Deer Tick’s Holy Shit, It’s Christmas EP, which the band will be performing tonight in its entirety as part of its ongoing residency at Brooklyn Bowl.
The typically mumbling and laid-back singer wasn’t exactly forthcoming about the secrets to crafting a holiday classic, but he was willing to shoot the shit over the phone about some of the best, worst and most ridiculous Christmas songs.
What do you think makes a good Christmas song?
I don’t know. Nothing religious, personally. It’s just this pretty funny obsession I have. I’m kind of a Christmas music fetishist, but I really have no idea why.
When did Deer Tick first start playing Christmas songs?
The first one we did was “Holy Shit, It’s Christmas.” A lot of the Christmas music that I play in Deer Tick and Diamond Rugs is making fun of Christmas music in a way. But at the same time appreciating it. I don’t know if I’m making any sense.
What’s your favorite Christmas song?
Probably “Fairytale Of New York.”
Why that one especially?
Well, it’s more than just a Christmas song. It’s actually got a story. It’s still got the Christmas part, but it’s still a good song and makes sense.
What’s the worst Christmas song or the cheesiest?
Oh man. [Laughs] All the Burl Ives stuff. That stuff I can’t stand. I love his voice though. We share a birthday. But if “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas” comes on the radio, I have to turn it off.
You guys will be playing the Holy Shit, It’s Christmas EP in its entirety at your Brooklyn Bowl show. Do you have anything special planned for the show?
I don’t know. If we’re going to do it all in order, then I guess “Holy Shit, It’s Christmas” will be the last song of the night, and that song is kinda a total cacophony anyway. There’s this totally atonal saxophone playing on it and shit that’s supposed to sound terrible. So I’m sure it’ll turn into a really long, excruciating jam session and half the crowd will leave by the end of it.
Next page: John McCauley riffs on Christmas songs