Sometimes it can be easy to get down on yourself when creating, especially when you surround yourself with ultra-talented people and listen to them on recordings. Something that I realized this year is that I love recording my yearly Christmas covers, not only because there is such a bounty of timeless classics that I will never tire of, but because of my love of arranging (not to mention that I get an excuse to collaborate with some of the aforementioned local ultra-talents). There are so many roles in the creation of music that are unseen and under-appreciated and it wholeheartedly has an effect on what I regard as valuable at times.
Recently it has been hard for me to settle on ideas that I like when writing music. Though luckily there is never a shortage of music that inspires me. For the past year and a half or so I’ve been listening to more Jazz and Soul which has led to further curiosity about the theory and practice behind it. I stumbled upon a young artist from England named Jacob Collier a while back and have really taken to his style and comprehension of music. He won two Grammys for his arrangements of Stevie Wonder’s You and I (here) and The Flintstones theme song (here) in 2017 and has been creating ever more bizarre, intricate, and incredibly fascinating content since.
Community is so important in the process, whether that be a nearby person you write with or an artist out in the ether that seems like they are speaking directly to you. The feeling of belonging and being a part of something bigger than yourself, to me, is the ultimate message and the best possible outcome of the creative process, whether it is something you’re giving or receiving from the interaction. That is why I cover a Christmas song every year.
This year, I got a bit more serious about things. If you clicked the links for the Jacob Collier tracks you heard the inspiration for my arrangement of Welcome Christmas and hopefully realized that this is an impossible standard to aspire to if you’re not a child prodigy (he was singing with the Royal Opera before he was ten and is in his early twenties now (did I also mention that he has perfect pitch and plays dozens of instruments virtuosically?)). So why would I attempt something like this? Well, luckily most people don’t have a music degree or equivalent amount of education/understanding of music so it is easy for most people to pass it off under the same blanket of “vaguely impressive” – so I am generally safe in that regard (though I haven’t claimed that I compare in any regard to the genius of Jacob, anyway). Why I wanted to do this was to push myself. It’s easy to get complacent in a scene as small as Lethbridge and settle into your little niche before fading into oblivion, and I don’t want to do that. A goal of mine since graduating has been to enhance my musicianship skills and tune my abilities (quite literally when it comes to singing). That’s why I chose a capella: it hides nothing.
Once I finished the arrangement in late July, I had a few weeks to find time in the U of L Studio I to track vocals. I spent about twelve hours total tracking my own vocals, sometimes up to an hour on a five note line. I decided while doing the arrangement that I wouldn’t be using pitch correction (though there is one synthesized vocal note at the end which was dropped an octave to add depth) and as a result there are a few lines and sections that drift a bit in tuning, but I am happy with the way it came out. To me It is a reminder that we are all human.
After my vocals were tracked I brought Dan Saqueira in to sing the bass lines and Joel in to record the guitar solo that he had written (with the engineering help of Phillip Wu). After a few months of mixing, Joel and I decided, in true Joel and Max Christmas Cover fashion, to add a few more layers to his guitar part in the living room of his house which ultimately gave the solo the warm fuzzy texture that it needed. Finally after a few more weeks of mixing the changes, the tracks were sent to Jon Martin of Green Recording Company (with whom I am currently recording my next EP) to be mastered.
All in all this has been the most rewarding, challenging, and enlightening experience I’ve had recording Christmas covers thus far and I’m incredibly excited to see what next year holds.
Thanks for reading, Merry Christmas, and enjoy the music!
Extra shout-out to my mum who inspired some of the lyrics with her jubilant and textually inaccurate singing.