One Does Not Simply Record A Christmas Album


Meet The Artist: My name's Brendan Dalton, and I'm a musician / composer / sometimes actor living in NYC. I grew up in Upper Darby, PA, went to school for musical theater at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and eventually moved to New York where I currently reside. Almost immediately after moving to NYC, I landed a gig performing as a Blue Man with Blue Man Group in Orlando, Chicago, and NYC. I did that for 2 years, and that's actually how I came to know a lot of my collaborators on this album. Music's been a huge part of my life since I was little. My mom's a music teacher, and passed on all of her musical passion and ability to me at an early age, and my grandmother on my dad's side also spent a good part of her life writing songs on the piano. Music's pretty much been my outlet for when the acting thing is feeling too far out of reach or dire, so it really is my happy place. I've never really tried to push it in a serious way, I think for a number of reasons.

What Really Got You Into Music? I didn't have a whole lot of friends growing up or in school, so I spent a lot of time in my room listening to what I thought was hardcore music, though now I can say it was really just Billy Joel, Elton John, and Ben Folds. Some Weird Al in there for sure. And then in high school, I started trying to emulate Ben Folds, because I thought he was the coolest nerd there ever was. And I started writing little songs on the piano that were basically Ben Folds knockoffs. I guess I still kind of do that. But songwriting became a huge outlet for me. I wrote a lot of very very sad songs that I would release on Soundcloud when I was in college. And then at some point, I got tired of writing only sad things, so I guess that's kind of how this album came into existence. I've written for the stage a bit, for plays I've also performed in. This past year, I was a member of the New Victory's 2019/20 Labworks program, developing a new musical for young audiences with a writer/director friend of mine, Tom Costello. The program ended up shutting down because of the pandemic, so we lost our residency, but we're trying to find a way to keep it going. Other than that, I've been releasing goofy little music videos all throughout the pandemic on my YouTube channel, while finishing the Christmas album. What Gives You The Christmas Feels? I think my favorite Christmas memory is of my grandma playing and singing her original Christmas song for us at our family Christmas dinners. It is kind of the most Christmas you can get. It's this sweet song where this little kid is writing a letter to Santa, telling him they'll help out in Santa's shop, making all the toys for everyone, if Santa will just make the whole world a great big Christmas tree this year, because wouldn't that be so wonderful? She's not here anymore, but we still have her handwritten sheet music. And every year, I break it out around the holidays to try and learn it front to back, and something always stops me. I think it's because I really just want to hear her singing and playing it. I've been having these dreams lately where we're back at her house, and she's playing it for us, and I'm begging someone to get a camera and record it so we can have it forever. And then the dream ends. We never did that. There's no recording (that I know of) of her singing or playing this song. And.... that's where my morose side takes over I guess - also a big feature on this album (comically, I hope).


You Just Released A Lord Of The Rings Inspired Christmas Album, What Can Listeners Expect?

I think people can expect a healthy little bit of escapism. Sometimes I actually find myself wishing I lived in (the peaceful parts of) Middle-Earth. I've done my best to bring the Christmas cheer to the Shire and the rest of the map (though I definitely haven't covered all regions). Hopefully it makes you giggle. And hopefully it helps you get out of your head for a little while and just enjoy the ride. I think Christmastime and Middle-Earth are equally magical, so I'm hoping this sort of has a bit of that effect on folks as well. One can dream. All 10 songs on the album are original. Though I

have to say right away, it is a parody album. That doesn't mean we're making fun of anything, it just means the whole thing is a loving send-up of two things: The Lord of the Rings, and Christmas - probably my two most favorite things in this world. Because of the parody aspect, we borrow and celebrate certain musical phrases occasionally from Howard Shore. So in the middle of this Christmas song, you'll hear one of the themes from the films float through, all set to Christmas lyrics. Besides the occasional musical tribute to Mr. Shore, and the names of characters from the series, all of these songs are entirely original. What Are You Drawing From for Inspiration on the Album? We're definitely taking a lot of inspiration from the films (the original trilogy from almost 20 years ago), the absolutely beautiful score by Howard Shore, and I've been turning to the books themselves a lot for inspiration and to fill out specifics in each song. Some songs are more faithful to the books, some are more faithful to the films, and some are entirely fictionalized, like "A Friend for Christmas (Prelude to the Death of an Orc)". That song is a totally fictional spin-off of the moment in the films where the orcs find Frodo right after he's been stabbed by Shelob. I liked the idea of maybe just one Orc finding him, and when he sees that Frodo's just been temporarily knocked out, the Orc thinks maybe this could be his new friend, because all he really wants for Christmas is a friend! He doesn't feel like he fits in here in Mordor, and maybe this is his Christmas wish coming true. Immediately after the song ends (in my head), he's beaten to death by the other orcs, fighting over his Mithril jacket. But he died with hope in his heart. So, yeah, I've definitely taken some liberties here. Tolkien fans, please be gentle with me. How Has This Differed from Creating a Non Holiday Album? For me, this is the longest I've ever worked on a project (music or acting). It came into being back in 2012, and it's only ever been a labor of love ever since. I've written serious music along the way, released a couple of albums under different names, written for the stage a bit, and it's always been so stressful. I always take myself so seriously, and I think it usually has a negative impact on the music. Because of the nature of this project, and the nature of Christmas music in general, the end goal for me has always been joy. "How much joy can I bring into the world?" "How much can I make people laugh, or smile?" Not "how much can I really show the rest of the world what I'm feeling inside?" (which is usually sadness). The end product is cheer. Warmth. Togetherness. Hope. And I think when that's the goal, there's no room to take yourself too seriously. Yes, I want it to be good, I want it to sound great, but it's almost impossible to hold any pretention about anything so delightful and fun as Christmas music (I think). But there is a trick to writing Christmas songs. I haven't figured out what it is, but hopefully I'm at least 50% successful on this album. I've done a lot of research on what makes a Christmas song a Christmas song, and there really is no scientific answer. We can point to certain chord progressions or structures, but in the end, it either sounds like Christmas, or it doesn't. So that did present its own challenges. How Was the Writing Process Different? I kind of started talking about this before, but to me, there really is no one scientific way to just write a Christmas song. It really is trial and error. Does this sound like a Christmas song? No? Okay, let's try again. Some of these songs sounded very different in their first iterations. I knew what I wanted to say, and I would say it, and then I would think "Oh no, that's just a regular song. Doesn't sound Christmas-y," and then I'd spend a lot of time just manipulating chords or melodies, or rewriting entire sections until I was more on the trail. Some songs got completely thrown out because they just wouldn't translate. "Christmas with Denethor (Faramir's Song)" was pretty much finished in terms of writing, but something about it just wasn't working. I ended up changing the meter a bit, and once it became more of a swing, the whole thing clicked and magically became a Christmas song. Go figure. But I think the main thing has been just holding onto the joy and the hope. I wrote the first two songs back in 2012 with my friend, Evan Hall, who is heavily featured on this album. Neither of us really remembers why, but we just thought it would be so funny to hear what Christmas would sound like in Middle-Earth. No, they don't celebrate it there. But what if they did? So we wrote "Christmas in the Shire" - which we imagined to be a sort of drinking song you might hear at the Green Dragon. And then we wrote "Arwen (Are You Leaving Me on Christmas?)", which is definitely a more somber piece, though hopefully funny, and funnily hopeful. The main force behind that song is hope, believe it or not. And I think that's true for every single song on the album. In the darkest of times, we look for hope. We need to. And what could be a more hopeful time than Christmas? A time when anything can happen. You could be standing before the Black Gates of Mordor, staring down certain death. But it's Christmas. So maybe, just maybe, something magical could happen. Did you write your letter to Santa? Make a wish. It's a choice, but there's always hope. If we don't have hope, what chance do we have? Okay. I've rambled on long enough. I guess the one thing we've discovered here is that it is actually possible to be pretentious while talking about Christmas music. 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