If you’re like me, once Thanksgiving – a fine holiday in its own right – has passed, it’s the thought of once again seeing houses decked out with colorful twinkling lights, tabletops and mantles adorned with cheerful elves, stoic nutcrackers and reindeer-drawn sleighs, getting a whiff of fragrant boughs of fir, pine and spruce that bring a wide smile to my face. Let’s not forget those long absent melodic tunes, both classic and contemporary, playing on the radio once again. Christmas songs really get me in the holiday spirit, and missing them as I have the past 11 months, I have them playing as often as I can, no matter what I am doing. I sing along with Bing [Crosby], Johnny [Mathis], Amy [Grant], Ariana [Grande] and Justin [Bieber]. If a song combines Christmas and Star Wars, all the better! This year, two of my favorites are The Matinée’s “Star Wars Christmas” and up-and-coming voice over artist Daniel Ferguson’s “Star Wars 12 Days of Christmas”. What makes both these songs so endearing and so much fun to listen to is you can tell the songs were written and performed by Star Wars fans. 🙂
The Matinée, its roots clearly in traditional rock ’n roll, consists of a core of four band members who have been friends dating back to their school days [The Matinée has been a part of the Vancouver scene for the past 10 years]. The group was approached by its record label [Vancouver, British Columbia’s Light Organ] this past fall to record a holiday song. Lead vocalist and songwriter Matt Layzell took on the task, at first not even considering a song with a Star Wars bent to it. The harder he tried to come up with something, the more frustrated he got. To be blunt, his early efforts were “garbage” [his assessment; not mine] and were nothing more than cheesy imitations of the classics that have been heard for years. “They’re called classics for a reason,” Matt states matter-of-factly.
Then, a light went on.
“When I’m writing, I’m looking for a story to tell, something people will connect to,” Matt, 37, explains. “We’re all Star Wars fans. There’s a new Star Wars movie coming out. I went online and typed in Star Wars 1977, and all this information [was listed]. I started doing research, making lists about Star Wars in that year. I knew the movie, but not the backstory. I went down the rabbit hole, and [garnered information] about the beginning of it all.”
Once Matt got started down the path to writing the group’s Star Wars Christmas song, there was no stopping him. “I drank a lot of coffee and stayed up all night,” the singer/songwriter quipped. He went to his main bandmates – drummer Pete Lemon, lead guitarist Matthew Rose and rhythm guitarist Geoff Petrie [keyboardist Georges Couling and bass guitarist Marcus Abramzik join the foursome when the Matinée are in the recording studio and on tour] – on Halloween, and they were delighted. The members of The Matinée started strumming their instruments while Pete beat a rhythm on his drum kit. “There was a stream of consciousness where the lyrics and melody flowed together,” Matt notes. Too, Matthew [Rose] scored a horn section for one part of “Star Wars Christmas” to add a cinematic flavor to the song. The ease of putting the song together wasn’t all that hard to believe since, as Matt puts it, while he is a Star Wars fan, his three lifelong friends and fellow bandmates [all of whom are 37] are fanatical SW fans. “They can recreate scenes, not only from Star Wars but from Lord of the Rings, Star Trek. They can reenact a scene and recite dialog. They’re nuts about it!” Matt adds that last tribute good-naturedly. 🙂 Remember, he is a serious Star Wars fan as well. 😉
Unfortunately, not all the lyrics Matt wrote made it into this year’s recording. Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing after all. Go to the band’s YouTube video, and you’ll see The Matinée took a page right out of the Star Wars ‘manual’. Employing the standard opening crawl with which all Star Wars fans are familiar, the video boldly begins: “Episode I”. “When he was trying to sell his story [to studios], George Lucas told them he wanted Star Wars to be a series,” Matt explains, a bit tongue-in-cheek. “We’re leaving it open-ended. There could be others to follow.” Matt mentions the band had intended to put together what he calls a “proper music video,” but Light Organ thought the planned video was a bit too ambitious for the amount of time the band had available to them. In retrospect, the simplicity of the video lends itself to the feeling of nostalgia for which they were striving. As far as what lyrics did make it into the song, Matt stresses there were some parts of Star Wars that just had to be included. That includes the [in]famous 1978 “Star Wars Holiday Special”, that empty action figure box Kenner offered, and Chewbacca. “We had smiles on our faces all day while we were recording,” Matt recalls fondly. “We knew [the song] was cheeky but that didn’t matter. We were so excited, and it meant so much to us to record this song. It came to us so naturally, and has been well-received so far.” Listen to it, and you immediately are transported back to 1977 [no time machine needed].
Besides YouTube, listeners can catch The Matinée’s “Star Wars Christmas” on Spotify, Itunes and Google Play Music.
Like The Matinée’s decision to go simplistic with its music video, aspiring voice-over artist Daniel Ferguson took the ‘simplistic’ route when he morphed the traditional “12 Days of Christmas” into a Star Wars-themed Christmas carol – “Star Wars’ 12 Days of Christmas”. He had just returned home from college – to the apartment where his family was living at the time [in between selling their Ohio home and moving into their new home] – with Christmas 2015 just around the corner. To keep the video as much a surprise to his family as possible, Daniel recorded late at night or whenever he could find time alone. When he needed an extra pair of hands to handle a prop [that’s Daniel’s brother wielding the lightsaber during the 11th day of Christmas], Daniel, who now lives in Virginia, called upon his brother for help.
Inspired to create a Star Wars-themed holiday song the December The Force Awakens was set to hit theaters, Daniel brainstormed different facets of Star Wars – everything from characters to droids to props. Going into the process, he had only two ‘givens’ – that is he wanted to feature the [two] stolen droids and [five] Jar Jar Binks. Beyond that, it was a matter of deciding what fit best in what spot in the 12-part carol. He had to go out to buy a lightsaber – “Our parents had gotten rid of our toy lightsabers!” Daniel laments good-naturedly – before hanging a black sheet [that would act as his backdrop] on a closet wall and setting up his family camera on a tripod. Then, it was a matter of hitting the ‘record’ button and singing the song over and over and over again. “I really tried to match up syllables to the original song,” the 24-year-old Kent State University graduate explains. Downloading the karaoke version of the holiday classic provided Daniel with the music he needed to make his Star Wars version possible.
“I had never made a video with 12 frames before, or used sound effects so that was a big learning experience for me,” Daniel, a huge Star Wars fan, recalls. “Syncing the sound during editing was an issue, too. Even with all that, I was really excited about this video.”
Passionate about becoming a voice over actor, Daniel got to use some of the Star Wars voices he’s worked on in his Christmas-themed Star Wars song. You’ll hear Yoda, a Tusken Raider, and, of course, Jar Jar Binks – one of Daniel’s favorite Star Wars characters [Obi-Wan Kenobi is his all-time favorite character from the galaxy far, far away]. “It’s a lot of trial and error – and a lot of practice,” Daniel says about developing a variety of voices. “It’s basically beating your voice into the ground ’til you get it right.” He’s gotten enough voices right that he auditioned for “America’s Got Talent” last spring, and made it onto the series’ summer lineup of contestants. Daniel got through two rounds of the competition, and now has his own YouTube channel. Not bad for the middle child who admits to watching lots and lots of cartoons as a youngster [still does, he adds 😉 ], and went around the house mimicking the characters he had just seen on television, wouldn’t you say?
Daniel says he’d like to create another Star Wars-themed Christmas carol sometime down the line. I, for one, intend to keep my ears ready to enjoy second installments from both he and The Matinée [I’m taking Matt at his innuendo that the band’s Episode II might show up sometime in the future 😉 ]. With news that there are Star Wars films coming down the pike, and Disney’s penchant for releasing them in December, can it get any better than Star Wars and Christmas going hand in hand? 🙂 As far as this holiday season is concerned, I’m singing along with The Matinée and Daniel, too.
A very happy holiday to you all! I look forward to wrapping up the year with you on December 30! 🙂
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