What Inspired Singer JD McPherson's Christmas Album

Dec 22, 2018
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Some of us can't wait for this most wonderful time of the year in which it's permissible to hear songs about reindeer, Santa Claus, Jack Frost nipping at your nose one right after another. And there are some people who just want to bury their heads in a snowbank until the time passes. Well, bah, humbug. This year, there's something different.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLAUS VS. CLAUS")

J D MCPHERSON: (Singing) Mrs. Claus, Mrs. Claus, tell me what is wrong with you. I'm seeing all those dirty looks from way across the room. It makes it hard to concentrate on teddy bears and roller skates. Can't you see I'm working here? There's so much to do. I've got to finish up the list. I'm rolling up my sleeves. It's time to make that yearly trip. They call it Christmas Eve.

SIMON: JD McPherson from Oklahoma combines his rock 'n' roll sound with original holiday-themed lyrics on his latest album. It's called "SOCKS." He joins us now in our studio. I didn't even look. Are you wearing them?

MCPHERSON: Oh. I'm definitely wearing socks. I don't leave the house without them (laughter).

SIMON: Why did you feel we needed an album of new Christmas songs?

MCPHERSON: The idea was kicking around for a little while. We had recorded one holiday tune maybe five years ago. I'm a little bad with dates. But it went well. It was a lot of fun and made some people happy. And then I just didn't want to do anymore. And then a few years later, I just - I heard a couple of really inspiring Christmas records. Nick Lowe's "Quality Street" was a big thing. I was like, wow. You can write kind of smart material and leave out some of the cliches, and it's, like, a whole new thing. You know what I mean?

So once we kind of got to that point, it was, like, well, let's just make a rock 'n' roll record that happens to be somewhat seasonally sensitive and see how it goes. And it is honestly the most fun I've ever had writing a record and definitely recording and performing. It's - we were having a blast.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOCKS")

MCPHERSON: (Singing) Early Christmas morning, sneaky as can be, I creep across the carpet, and I peak under the tree, pick out a gift from mom to me and bring it to my ear, give it a little shimmy shake, and what do I hear? Socks.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Tube socks.

MCPHERSON: (Singing) This is the worst gift I ever got. It doesn't...

SIMON: Now, let me point out the obvious. Somebody who didn't have to give you bupkis - to use an old term from Oklahoma - gave you a pair of socks.

MCPHERSON: That's my favorite Oklahoma term is bupkis. But you know what? That's the - that was sort of the idea. I was trying to think of ways to write about Christmas-themed things that, you know, people don't normally touch on because the first go-to is, like, the happy feelings that you get. But, you know, I was just thinking how hilarious it is that adults cultivate this really, really incredible atmosphere for kids. And then when you're a kid, there's this really selfish (laughter)...

SIMON: Yeah.

MCPHERSON: ...Slant that you could get. You're expecting a Game Boy Color, and you get, like, an Izod polo shirt or something. And it's just the worst.

SIMON: Right - and your parents are going, oh, how wonderful.

MCPHERSON: Yeah. So it's a bit of a snarky look at that. But I love getting socks now. Like, now it's the best - one of the best things. That's the time of year where you get the nice socks.

SIMON: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UGLY SWEATER BLUES")

MCPHERSON: (Singing) Mama, don't make me wear that old thing again - hand-knitted Christmas trees and a silly snowman. No matter if I refuse, I got them ugly sweater blues.

SIMON: I'm so impressed by the fact that you're sharing your trauma. This is clearly something deep-seated with you.

MCPHERSON: Apparently. I guess I just - putting those two back to back, I suppose I do have some sort of deeply rooted, clothing-related trauma. I don't know. Maybe I'm - maybe it's kind of finding its way to the front of my brain. But yeah. There's a lot of clothing mentions on this thing.

SIMON: What was Christmas like for you in - where in Oklahoma did you grow up?

MCPHERSON: I grew up in southeast Oklahoma in a - I don't even know if - can you call it a community if there's, like, five people there? But it's Buffalo Valley, Okla., which is right between Buffalo Mountain in the Potato Hills in...

SIMON: Oh.

MCPHERSON: ...Latimer County.

SIMON: Now I know what you're talking...

MCPHERSON: Now you know exactly.

SIMON: Right - exactly. Yeah.

MCPHERSON: Well, it's - I grew up on a 160-acre ranch. And it was beautiful and away from everybody. And I have a lot of family. And it was great. I was always pretty stoked for Santa. I did learn about the truth about Santa pretty early on. I was reading about 5...

SIMON: Excuse me. We're a morning-time program. The truth about Santa is that he exists and will be coming into homes all over America and the world in just a few days. Go ahead, JD.

MCPHERSON: I'm not sure what you were talking about. I was going to say the truth about Santa is that he's a platinum-card member, a world traveler.

SIMON: That's it. Right - OK - right - OK.

MCPHERSON: I don't know where you're going with that.

SIMON: (Laughter) Thank you. But it does bring up just about my favorite song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY SKINNY SANTA")

MCPHERSON: (Singing) Hey, Mr. Santa. How's it looking? That 32 waistline - you better get cooking. We need a big Santa. It's almost Christmastime.

SIMON: Now I love this song for a couple of reasons. It's a tribute to the local cuisines in Chicago and New Orleans. And it promotes a positive body image for Santa...

MCPHERSON: Yeah.

SIMON: ...Who has been made to feel too much shame over the years.

MCPHERSON: If Santa were to climb into that sleigh underweight, the aerodynamics and all of that would be thrown. I mean, it's very carefully...

SIMON: Yeah.

MCPHERSON: It's a very precise science. But we're clearly motivated by food in this band. I co-wrote this song with our utility player, saxophone player Doug Corcoran. He showed up with, like, eight verses of food-related cities fare. And we had to kind of pare that down. Doug's definitely motivated by food.

SIMON: It's a happy season.

MCPHERSON: It sure can be. You can shave off that thin veneer of cynicism once a year. This is a good time to do it. And we could all use a little of that.

SIMON: I hope you don't regret shaving off that thin veneer of cynicism for this album.

MCPHERSON: I don't at all.

SIMON: JD McPherson - his latest album, it's a holiday album. And it's called "SOCKS." And I hope you get many pair for the holidays.

MCPHERSON: I've already gotten a few. Audience members have handed me bags of socks as a present. So...

SIMON: Oh, this is great. Like with candy canes on them or something?

MCPHERSON: It was Christmas ornaments all over the socks. So I'll tell you one thing. If you ever want to give a really special gift to a band on the road, clean socks is a good move.

SIMON: Yeah. JD McPherson, thanks so much. And happy holidays.

MCPHERSON: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.