Ralphie's Red Ryders

For those who will be reading the blog who may not have heard of you yet, Can you tell us a bit about you and how you got into music:

Well, I've [Mike Patton] been playing music and writing songs for as long as I can remember. I've been in bands like The Loblaws and The Robinsons, and my main project now is called Vista Blue.

But Christmas music has always been a huge part of me, and I write a lot of songs in general, so I also end up writing a lot of Christmas songs.

Vista Blue has released Christmas EPs each year since we first formed in 2015. So this year, we decided to have a little more fun with it and started Ralphie's Red Ryders to write and record songs all about A Christmas Story.

Who would you consider your biggest Musical Influence?

My influences start with the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Weezer, the Ramones, the Mr. T Experience, Fountains of Wayne, and the Apples in Stereo. But so many other great bands have inspired me over the years, like the Carpenters, Oasis, Pulp, the Cars, the Queers, the Huntingtons, Big Star, Gin Blossoms, Better Than Ezra, Second Saturday, the Smiths, Superdrag, and countless others.

In terms of Musical taste, what songs or type of holiday songs do you find yourself listening to the most during the season?

I mostly listen to the classics. I'm a huge Bing Crosby fan. Being from New Orleans, I fell in love with Harry Connick Jr.'s Christmas stuff right away, and I think he's brilliant. I listen to jazz and big band stuff, and I love the Boston Pops and other symphonies' records. The Vince Guaraldi album is in my Top 3 overall, and for rock records, the Spector album is the clear winner, with the Beach Boys, Carpenters, and Jackson 5 up there as well.

I'll also mention that I have a great group of friends who record Christmas songs with me every year, mostly only to share with each other. It's like sending Christmas cards to each other, but they're songs. We've been doing it since 1999, and honestly, these songs have become a large part of my holiday rotation.

Do you have any fun holiday memories or stories to share?

Every year, from the time I was born probably until Hurricane Katrina, we'd go to my grandparents house for Christmas Eve. I had uncles who played music, and we'd always play songs together. Other than concert bands at school, that was first experience playing music for people, and it was a lot of fun. Later, once my brother and I were playing in our bands, we'd play some of our original stuff as well. It was a blast.

What is Christmas to you? What makes the holiday special?

Of course there's the fact that a lot of people walk around being nice to each other. Not everyone, but most people. Mainly, though, I think it's the music, for me, along with the movies and TV specials, of course. I know some people get tired of the music constantly playing in stores, but I love it. I don't think one month is even close to enough. I usually break out some Bing Crosby and Harry Connick in October, and by November 1st, I'm typically all in.

What is it about The Christmas Story that made you decide to create an entire album around it?

There is a great band called the Home Alones, and they obviously write all songs about that film. Their songs are awesome. And the thing about Vista Blue is that we've done mostly themed releases, doing albums about: baseball, Christmas, Halloween, kids' songs, summer, urban legends, and even curling. Our curling record was actually a split 7-inch with the fantastic band The Zambonis. Those guys have only written hockey songs for more than 25 years now, but they have cool side projects for other themes (Jewish songs, songs for kids, etc.) I liked the idea of doing that, since so many people think of us only as a "baseball" band or a "horror" band. By labeling this project with a name everyone will recognize, there is no mistaking what these songs are about.

Of course, A Christmas Story is a wonderful movie with endless song possibilities. People watch this film for 24 hours straight once a year! Everyone we talked to about this project over the last few months had a different idea for us. "Ovaltine!" "Oh Fudge!" "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out!" "Frag-i-le!" This is a project that can last and can keep making references that lots of people will get.

That's the long version. The short answer is: for fun! The guys in my band, Mark Crowley and Reese Chism, are like me and just want to have fun playing music, so we're always throwing around goofy ideas, and sometimes we pursue them.

I think most of us in the Christmas Podcast and blogging community can agree that we can't wait for Halloween, when the world deams it acceptable to bring out the Christmas music. Do you find yourself in this mindset, or are you listening throughout the year?

Like I said, usually in October I'll start. I try not to listen too much throughout the year, but I'm not opposed to it at all.

I hate the idea of Christmas in July as a "halfway" point, because June 25th is actually the six-month mark. By the end of July, we're almost there, as far as I'm concerned! But then a few years ago I discovered there is an actual term for June 25th: Leon Day (as in "Noel" spelled backwards).

So I now celebrate Leon Day, sometimes by going to a record store and buying a new Christmas record, but also by listening to Christmas music when I go to bed on that night.

Last year, I actually started my first Christmas podcast with my good friend Rusty, and although we've decided to mainly keep the podcast to November/December, we are doing a Leon Day special this year, so I'm excited about that. We're only three months away!

Where you pulling from the influence of any artists or songs when writing these song?

My main goal when I write is to make the songs catchy. I want the songs to be stuck in your head. They need to be simple, but catchy. So a lot of times the music starts with thinking of maybe a Ramones kind of song or a Weezer kind of song. Something like that. Or other times, a melody just comes to me. But I like the lyrics to matter as well, especially in a project like this. I want fans of the movie to know right away that we're also Christmas Story fans and that we are having fun, but we're also pretty serious about this. And then any harmonies are going to have to be credited to my hours and hours of Beach Boys studies, which I spent more time on in college than any of my classes.

What made you decide to create the song?

"They Traded Bullfrog" was going to be our first single the whole time. Once we decided to do this last December, we wanted to do something early in the year to start promoting it. Luckily Matt at Outloud Records loved the idea and agreed to release the album later this year, so we had that support right away. In the meantime, we knew people would be waiting for a Vista Blue baseball release on Opening Day for a sixth straight year, so we thought it'd be fun to launch our Christmas band by releasing... a baseball song!

That scene in the movie is perfect, and any baseball fan can relate. It's mid-December, you're thinking about football, and then you find out your favorite baseball team has just traded away a great player for nothing in return (except maybe a utility infielder). So that set up the perfect song idea for us.

However, once Opening Day was delayed this year, we went ahead and released the song early. Who knows when baseball will start at this point?

The other song, "I Can't Put My Arms Down," was an acoustic song I did in December when I first thought of doing this project. We're going to record a full version of that one for the album.

What did you enjoy most about the process, what do you enjoy about creating Christmas songs?

I love creating that feeling of Christmas that everyone knows. And with these songs, it's all about referencing the film. The main line in the Bullfrog scene, to me, is when the dad says, "I don't believe it!" So I wanted to make sure that line was emphasized, and we used it as the main lyric that repeats in the second part of the song.

For the acoustic track, it wasn't just about getting ready for school, but more about the importance of what it means to know Randy can't put his arms down. What if Grover chases him? We know he can't get up if he falls. It's scary. And of course, we had to get a meatloaf reference in, just cause Randy was having a rough stretch there. Josh at the Faster and Louder blog wrote that his new favorite lyric is: "I hate meatloaf, and I can't put my arms down!"

Where can fans connect with you on social media?

We are on spotify, iTunes, and all the streaming services. You can keep up with Ralphie's Red Ryders and Vista Blue here: