Is it that time of year already? Well, not quite, but musician and The Simpsons and Spinal Tap actor Harry Shearer is getting ready to release his Christmas EP. Joining forces with his wife, the Welsh singer Judith Owen, the three track ‘The Best Things’ EP comes out on 20 November and features the songs ‘The Best Things’, ‘(I’ll Sing) Silent Night For You’ and ‘Too Many Notes’. We spoke to Harry about festive feelings and the EP.
What’s your family Christmas ritual?
“Because I'm Jewish, our family Christmas ritual always involved pretending that Chanukkah was a more important holiday than it actually is. Now that I'm married to Judith, I've married into her family's Christmas ritual, which is exchanging and opening lots of jokey little presents, then having a big early dinner, and laughing a lot.”
How does music play its part?
“When Judith first moved to LA, she hated the sunny, warm Christmases. So we'd invite over musical and/or funny friends, gather round the piano, with some beverages of our choice, and try to sing away her "it's not cold and rainy" blues.”
Is your new EP ‘The Best Things’ meant as an anti-commercialist statement?
“The late great American satirist Stan Freberg made, for my mind, the ultimate such statement with his long single ‘Green Christmas’, which was actually banned from American radio when it first came out. Now we're at a point where so much of the US - and perhaps UK - economy is based on ‘4th quarter sales’, in other words Christmas retail, so I think we all have a patriotic duty to buy as much stuff as we possibly can before January.”
Is love and togetherness really the best thing you can get for Xmas? What about an iPad?
“Let me see... you can't really get support and encouragement from an iPad. On the other hand, you can't really get 6Music and live NBA basketball from love and togetherness. So, it's a draw.”
You’ve tackled 80s synth jazz on ‘Too Many Notes’ – why?
“Well, really I've tackled the tendency of Christmas charity records to be aggressively over-sung, as if little Tiny Tims are getting a penny for every note. The setting just seemed as instrumental toast for the vocal cheese to rest on.”
That track is more comic, mocking R&B’s vocal gymnastics – is it strange to make the more serious songs?
“Judith does the serious ones, I do the funny ones. That's how you can tell us apart - that and the fact that she does a far funnier Welsh accent than I do.”
How does this project compare to being in Spinal Tap or The Folksmen?
“I've had to add less hair than with Tap, and take off less hair than with The Folksmen.”
Will you be playing any gigs, and if so what can we expect from them?
“Judith and I do a series of Christmas charity shows, really an outgrowth of those old parties I mentioned. We've done them a few times in London, this year we're doing a rather huge one at Brooklyn Academy of Music in NYC, as well as in Chicago, LA and New Orleans. Sadly, no London show this year. But there's always hope. And if that doesn't work, there's despair.”