Tawnya: My name is Tawnya Langston. I live in South Carolina with my husband, three kids and a menagerie of pets. While my name graces the cover of the EP, I did not create it alone. I partnered with Jac Mandel and he has his own answers to these questions to share.
Jac: I am Jac Mandel and I am a guitarist, music producer, and worship director living in Columbia, South Carolina. Although I grew up in Los Angeles, I have lived here for almost 20 years.
What made you decide to write Christmas songs?
Tawnya: The story of how we evolved into this project began in the spring of 2019 when I was diagnosed with severe spinal cord compression and it became clear I needed to have a cervical spine fusion. Among the potential complications I was told there is a risk it could permanently damage my voice. I approached Jac about recording some things as a “just in case” and it ended up being a sweet, cathartic experience we both enjoyed. We quickly recorded several songs to include a couple of classic hymns, two original songs and a Christmas song. As surgery approached we both felt an intense desire to remain positive and embrace in faith that I was going to come out of this surgery without complications. During this time we discussed how I would be healed up just in time to record Christmas songs. I am happy to report I did not have any complications from surgery and after several weeks of healing I was back to singing. We got a bit of a late start recording if we were planning to release our music to the world but we didn’t start the process thinking we were going to actually put it out to the world either. It just felt right to put it out there after the health crisis and subsequent healing period. I am so grateful, thankful and blessed to be singing still and now have a renewed interest in growing as a musician because of it. Jac is certainly more experienced in this arena and I am humbled and excited to be working with him.
Did you find that the writing process was different from a non holiday themed song?
Jac: Not really, in both writing and arranging this Christmas music we were trying to capture a mood or a feeling, which is often what I do in non Christmas music. I have always loved the mystery and “magic” of the Christmas season so I really enjoyed getting to explore that in this project with Tawnya.
What was the process in arranging the music for these classic hymns?
Jac: For me it started with Tawnya’s voice and her flexibility in terms of style. Some of these musical arrangements I had started years before but they only existed as basic ideas. When we decided to make an EP I began to work with Tawnya to find out how she wanted to interpret these songs. It was a really intense process, especially because we only had a short time to complete this EP once we had decided to do it. We tried to represent the spirit of each song rather than create an album that sounds cohesive in terms of instrumentation and arrangements.
What were you hoping the listener would take from the album?
Tawnya: All of these songs are familiar Christmas songs written by great writers who came before us. These songs tell the story of Jesus. The hope He was to the world, the longing for his arrival, the joy at His coming to us. Our hope is the listener feels the joy and hope of a baby who came to save the world.
Jac: My best friend and long-time musical partner Eric Scott Williams described it like this, “If you’re looking for some new music that brings that peaceful warm ambience of the classics to your home this season, this is it.” So, along with what Tawnya has already said, that is what I hope people experience when listening to these songs.
Let’s talk about your career in general
How did you get into music?
Tawnya: I annoyed anyone within earshot with my constant singing as a child. I understand now just how obnoxious that was of me. My first experiences with singing were at church and school choirs. The first time I ever sang in front of people I was 8 years old. I sang Amazing Grace acapella during a Sunday morning worship service.
Jac: I started playing guitar at the age of 10 and by 13 started playing in bands with friends. By the age of 18 I had a small home studio with bandmates that grew into a great production studio. I eventually got a couple degrees in music performance, but always loved the recording mixing, and producing side of things. Over the years I have done projects of my own and for others, including this EP, at my home studio.
You have several songs up for streaming, do you have a favorite, or one that really means a lot to you?
Tawnya: My favorite song is O Holy Night. It’s a classic Christmas hymn that has been covered by many great artists. Our version is light and pretty but has an element of fun with its old school vibe.
Jac: I guess I’d have to say that I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day is my favorite on this EP for a few reasons. 1. The words, written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and the story behind them are amazing. In most of the other versions I’ve heard some of the most powerful verses are left out, but I really wanted to include them. Those verses change the feeling of the poem which influenced the feel of the music . 2. I wrote the music for this one. 3. I think Tawnya really nailed the spirit of the song and what I had in mind when I wrote it.
Are you currently working on any new music?
Yes, Jac has several other collaborations going on right now. However, we are currently collaborating on another project. This Christmas EP was our first full project. We released a single cover of No Quarter a year ago under the title Spraypaint the Cat. Our next project will not be Christmas music though and we plan to release it under a different name. We do have some ideas for some other Christmas songs so maybe we will get around to that later this year.
Where can people find your work
We can be found on all the usually streaming music sites, here are a few links.
Where can fans connect with you on social media?
Instagram | BecomingBlue
Instagram | Jac Mandel
Facebook | Jac Mandel Music