For the last three summers, Holly Miranda, Ambrosia Parsley, and Chris Maxwell have gotten together in New York’s Catskill Mountains to work on a Christmas album. This year the trio known as Maxwell / Miranda / Parsley have finally unveiled those efforts on Catskill Christmas.
Recorded during three separate summer sessions at Maxwell’s studio in Woodstock, while surrounded by a serene landscape, the trio dug into their diverse pasts to write 11 new Christmas anthems. Each meeting left new stones turned and Christmases full of tears, craps, and months of Bisquick were remembered and brought to light.
ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with Holly Miranda and Ambrosia Parsley to discuss the new holiday record, where these strange and delightful stories come from, and how a roasted bird can fix any season’s seasonal depression.
Christopher Friedmann: We’re speaking ahead of the release of your Christmas album – A Catskill Christmas. So there’s a two-edged question – How is the mood in the camp? And what’s more exciting – Christmas, or a Christmas release?
Holly Miranda: We’ve been working on this for three summers in a row, so I’d say our mood is pretty happy to see it come out (Laughs). It was really Ambrosia’s brain child I think, the concept of us writing 11 original Christmas songs. She was really the driving force behind this, but I think that it was really fun to make. It meant that every summer we got to go up to the Catskills and we would really set the mood by making ourselves a Christmas dinner to start the week, like roasting a bird and really trying to get in the mood of your quintessential Christmas.
Ambrosia Parsley: I think that started with the three of us sitting around one night, one winter, b****ing at the table, wondering how we were gonna, ya know, live and work. And we were like, “What are we gonna do?” Let’s put five chips on Christmas and write a bunch of Christmas songs!” and so we set aside a few days the very first summer to do that and we did.
We wrote five songs and we recorded them, and we put out an EP. Then I think what we didn’t see coming was that it’s really fun to write songs about things that aren’t so sad and aren’t so hard to dig out of your finger. And so the next summer, I think we all sort of missed each other and wanted to hang out and go swimming in the pond and barbecue stuff again, so we thought oh let’s do a few more and then basically it happened again the next year and it just became more of an excuse to try to fight seasonal depression (Laughs).
CF: … Seasonal summer depression…
AP: Seasonal summer depression. Seasonal year long depression (Laughs).
AP: Let’s be real. Who wants to sing about cookies? Me! (Laughs) F***! (Laughs).
CF: Why, after three years, did it feel it was the right time to make a full album of christmas songs?
AP: Well it’s not like we didn’t keep trying to release them (Laughs), but we are sort of like the Marx Brothers, so I mean it took us three years to finally get it done. I feel like everything in this industry takes three years. And they also cut me off, they were like, “No more. We’re not writing any more” (Laughs).
HM: Yeah, Chris and I told her we weren’t writing any more, so then we had to put it out. It had to be done.
CF: Why are the Catskills so prominent to your Xmas experiences?
HM: Well Chris lives in Woodstock and that’s the studio, his home studio, is where we recorded all of this, so we were in the Catskills when we were writing this and Ambrosia also has a house in the Catskills, so we were just up there a lot (Laughs). And it definitely has that, especially where Chris is it has… you’re next to a river – It’s very magical and secluded and it’s sweet, really sweet.
AP: I’m nodding my head. I’m agreeing with everything (Laughs).
CF: I was wondering if there were any “Dirty Dancing” stories that inspired the record?
HM: Is that where Dirty Dancing is based?
AP: Yeah. I don’t think so, I love that movie though. A real good one.
HM: Nobody puts Christmas in the corner.
CF: Why are the holidays so special to you as a trio?
AP: Well I think we all come from pretty eccentric backgrounds, and so we have a lot of pretty good Christmas stories where our families are concerned, and we usually commiserate every year about them (Laughs).
CF: Is there an especially good one we should all hear?
AP: There are plenty of doozies. You know, the usual fist fights on the lawn and hanging out in Vegas with James Caan…
HM: … Working in the barbershop. I mean, whatever we happen to be doing at the time. They all lend themselves pretty well to songs.
CF: Talking about that song “James Caan”, why is he the ideal person to spend the holidays with? And what are the similarities between Vegas and Christmas?
HM: That’s a true story, actually. That’s something that happened to me when I was 19, and I was travelling across country with my friends. We wound up in Vegas on Christmas, and I was playing craps with James Caan and when I told Ambrosia that story she just ran with it (Laughs). “There’s so much to rhyme with James Caan,” she said.
AP: And we completely forgot that he was in Elf until after we recorded it.
HM: Wait, he’s in Elf?
HM: Ohhhh. I never put that together. Yeah, that actually just happened, so I don’t know what the connection is. I guess there’s a lot of Christmas movies in Vegas.
CF: Do you have a particular formative memory of when a piece of Christmas music resonated and struck you as being especially magical?
HM: I’d say that Bing Crosby record. It’s just something that my sisters and I would choreograph dances to, with all those ♪Jingle Bells♪.
AP: I love Christmas music because to me it’s always either ridiculous or sad. Those are the two varieties you get. I don’t know, when I was a kid I would just sit there and listen to Christmas music and cry. I love it.
CF: Was that a happy cry or a sad cry?
AP: It’s that thing, it’s a really bittersweet thing. It’s sparkly, shiny, and exciting, and there’s this incredible lie that’s being told, but it’s also really stressful and you know that your dad freaking out over they paycheck and you know that you’re going to eat hot dogs or Bisquick for the next three months for your parents to pay back all of the money they spent on it, so your heart just breaks when you see how they tried so hard for this ridiculous holiday. Really, I mean, the story is just so incredibly absurd and it’s also, everybody has to do it, everybody has to do Christmas whether you celebrate it or not you get roped into it somehow. Then your have your ways of dealing.
CF: To dig into that Christmas myth for a minute, If Santa Claus is real, what are his motives?
AP: He was just really poor growing up and he didn’t get any presents (Laughs).
HM: I’m gonna say Santa’s a total altruistic… he’s just sweet.
AP: I just like that it’s impossible, but I will never admit that Santa doesn’t exist. If you ask me I’ll just say yes and it’s like the same thing as saying anything is possible. I also won’t deny the existence of other strange things (Laughs), in the universe. But only because I’m superstitious. If I were to ever admit it then nothing impossible would ever happen.
CF: Over the course your varied career you’ll have had a fair breadth of experiences, but I was wondering if you could tell us of the most grounding moment that you’ve had so far, a moment that reminds you why you do all this?
HM: I mean I feel like the past week…
AP: If you could see us right now. We are sitting on a bed basically eating frosting out of cans wearing pant suits, dirty pant suits.
HM: But I think in all seriousness, this week has been pretty f***ing grounding and a reminder of why we do this. I think now more than ever the world needs music, maybe needs some Christmas songs too (Laughs).
AP: Come get ‘em. We’ve got 12 of them! So suck it b****es (Laughs).
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