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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Andy Cirzan Keeps Going All In For Christmas Music

Posted By on Tue, Dec 16, 2014 at 3:20 AM

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What's interesting about holiday music is that a label might release a Bessie Smith recording of a Christmas song, and it's promoted that year, or for a short time around the holidays, and maybe people are going to buy it, but then the holidays are over. Nobody wants to hear it. When someone's looking for a rare blues or R&B artist, they aren't trying to dig up the great Christmas song.

Christmas songs are something that any artist can keep in their back pocket, and roll it out when they're having a career slump. The record company might say, "It's time to do your Christmas album, because the new material you sent us sucks." It's there, and it's almost guaranteed to sell X amount of copies. I don't pay that much attention to that part of things. Almost everything I'm doing is not off an album. It's off a 45. This year's mix is almost all off 45. Maybe one track is from an album.

Back then, even up until the mid '70s or so, no one was letting an unknown artist make an entire album of Christmas material. To move that kind of a record you have to be an artist of a certain stature already. When an artist gets to that level I'm not even interested. I don't think I have a single artist on this year's compilation that people would even know.

My thing is: Did this person go all in on the track? They aren't trying to have a pop hit. It's more, "This is my song about Christmas. It's maybe the only record I'm going to put out." That's what I'm looking for. I'm pretty knowledgeable, but sometimes I'll find something, and I've never even heard of the label or the person or the song. So I'm going to check it out. The attrition rate is ridiculous. For every twenty records I actually buy, just like anything else, 90 percent of them suck. It can be frustrating. You think it's going to be perfect, but I have no idea what I'm looking for. I'm not looking for any artist on any label. I'm so far past that. I don't even have a wish list.

It's a crapshoot. The only way to do is it is to look at a physical piece of vinyl and say, "Looks right, I'm going to take leap on it." And shit, it's only two bucks or a buck or a dime. And then you take them home and realize that most of them are terrible. But sometimes you say, "Whoa, hold on." And it goes in the inbox.

The new movie, Jingle Bell Rocks!, follows filmmaker Mitchell Kezin through his relationship to Christmas and to Christmas music, specifically the song "The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot." And what's nice about it is that it isn't so much about being just a collector, a crate digger, but it's about someone who has an emotional drive to resolve or make sense out of his life through the music. It's a bit Oedipal in Kezin's case, because of his relationship to his father, but it rings true. My question is: Do you see any of yourself in that story?

Uh, no. [Laughs] Mitchell is a real character, let me tell you. You want me to talk about the film?


Out of the blue I get this call. He says, "My name is Mitchell, I'm making this film about holiday music. I know about you and what you do, and I'm wondering if you'd be willing to participate in the movie." That was years ago. The number of shoots that went on in the early days, there's so much footage on the floor. I hope that a bonus disc comes out. There's some amazing stuff that I was involved in, going to record conventions and crate digging, and talking about music. But at the end of the day you have to make a movie that is going to resonate and is going to be concise.

Crate digging is a lonely pursuit. Watching a guy fumble around looking for records -- talk about a niche! Early on I thought, "I hope this guy can get this movie made. He's so committed to it." His tenacity and wanting to go after stuff made me want to help him make his movie. I got my nose in there in a couple of things. I'm friends with the Flaming Lips. Wayne [Coyne] and I know each other. I told Wayne that he should talk to Mitchell. That kind of thing. I gave him access to film from the WBEZ sessions and whatnot. I still knew the challenges Mitchell was facing. At some point the film changed from being about record collectors into this theme. My first reaction was, "This is a good thing." There was something that could connect the dots for people who are not necessarily so disturbingly into this micro-niche of music. It's more about a story, a guy's journey and how Christmas music played an integral role.

You were saying before, and it's been said by others, that the worst music of all is bad Christmas music (I think it's actually bad Columbus Day music), but maybe the best music is great Christmas music. Is there really anything in popular music more sublime than Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" or Phil Spector's Christmas album? I'm wondering if discovering new Christmas songs, or records you've never heard before, if it's partly about that for you. A Christmas record that's really good shines more brightly because of how much dreck is out there.

I can only say, not really for me, because I've been involved in music and the industry for a long time, and I've been a record geek since day one. I get just as big a kick out of finding an obscure psych-rock track from the mid '60s. "That's fucking awesome. I never knew this thing existed!" The difference for me is that when I find a holiday gem I know I'm going to get to share it with people. I get an extra personal boost out of that. I cannot wait to play it on my radio shows and put it in on my mix so everyone else can hear it.

I want these songs to live another life. The listeners can be the judge of that. That's the end game.

So desert island time: If you could only take one Christmas record to the island, what would it be?

I wouldn't use the desert-island analogy, but if it's one record I hope to one day find, it's the Esquivel Christmas stuff. You might be familiar with him, but I don't know if you've heard the Christmas stuff. It's these spectacular arrangements of holiday classics, turned upside, put through a psychedelic washing machine by this guy. You can find it on CD online. But I've never seen the record. When I said I'm never looking for a specific record, I'm always looking for that one in the back of my mind. If I ever find it, I'll fall over.


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