You don't have to love the holidays to love the Yule Logs, but for me it was love at first listen! Seeing them headline the annual "Christmas is the Best!" bonanza last year was an absolute blast and just thinking about their show coming up this Sunday at Amnesia in San Francisco (festivities begin with holiday crafting and shitty gift giving at 7pm, show at 9) has got me all worked up like a little insomniac on the night before Christmas --- baby, I can't wait! Making spirits bright since 2005, vocalist Marty Parker, bassist Kirt Lind, guitarist Maurice Spencer and drummer Jake Specher dole out hit after original hit of Christmas and Hannukah jams and spruced up traditional holiday classics with such contagious enthusiasm and flawless four-part harmonies that one cannot help but drink their kool-aid. With a good-time party sound that recalls British Invasion class, California surf-rock sass, pop savvy hooks and non-stop borscht belt humor the Yule Logs'll have your shoes off and your socks twistin' under your feet dancing their "Hannukah Mambo," fist-pumping to their "Runaround Rudolph" (featuring guest appearances by presidents William Howard Taft and Richard Nixon, along with Elvis "the King" Presley) and swooning for their rendition of Wham's "Last Christmas." Recently I rapped with the boys from Chico, California about their music, their muses and their state of holiday affairs, and their status as a "the world's premier Christmas and Hannukah rock 'n roll band;" here's what they had to say:
First off, how did such a cute band of dudes like yourselves come to be, as you put it, the "hardest working band in snow business"?
Marty: I look around the tour van and see nothing but repulsive, hairy ogres, but I thank you for calling us cute. In answer to your question, I love the mythology of Christmas, everything from Ebenezer to the Nativity. I love the sensory experience; pine and nutmeg is enough to bring you to your knees -- no? I wanted our music to be delicate and evocative of a tinkly little claymation soundtrack. And then the other Yule Logs started rocking their hairy ogre balls off and I was forced to follow suit.
Jake: I don’t appreciate being labeled an ogre…I’m much too svelte.
I'm sure most folks would be hard put to hate on what the Yule Logs do musically --- you're such a high impact party band! Aside from the obvious influence of the season, what are some of the Yule Logs' musical influences?
Marty: Since I was twelve all I ever wanted to be was Michael Stipe. Jake wants to be Dave Grohl, Spencer wants to be Pete Townshend, and Kirt wants to be a real boy.
Jake: For clarity, I wanna be Nirvana Dave Grohl, not Foo Fighters Dave Grohl.
I suspect that Christmas comes much earlier for you guys than most; when does the holiday season kick into gear for the Yule Logs?
Marty: We don't start rehearsing until late summer. Did you know that Oasis would still be together if they only saw each other five months out of the year? Furthermore, did you know that Oasis broke up?
Well, I hope you guys never do! Has the Yule Logs experience ever dampened the holiday spirit for you guys or does the frenzy you create amplify the season? I mean, do you ever get sick of Christmas?
Marty: I'm trying to think of the best way to put this... Yes.
Jake: Marty’s love of Christmas is actually deeply rooted in intense self-loathing. Each season he strives to rescue his many squandered nights of holidays past, and each season he comes out a bitter, shelled-out hobbit of a man.
Who is the Santa Claus of the group and was it his idea to get a snow machine for your live show (see picture, below right, taken during the Yule Logs performance in the annual Christmas is the Best holiday extravaganza last year at San Francisco's Amnesia club) --- a genius move by the way. It's like a holiday version of the fog machine.
Jake: The unofficial Santa Claus of the group is actually a large and very mysterious fan by the name of John Q. Mensch, who’s not to be confused with Gnarly Claus, a Santa-like figure from a sadistically twisted alternate universe.
The idea of the snow machine came from neither of the above, but rather Marty, who, in addition to being the horse-whigged face of the band, also happens to be Prime Minister of paltry plans and vetoed schemes. The snow machine was one such idea that I personally happened to be extremely wary of, but it paid off in spades and ultimately crowned Marty a genius while hooking a new generation of impressionable youths on snow juice, also known as “bang,” “ice” or “pow.”
Marty: Jake said, "Do we really need a fucking snow machine? $160? Really?" Many of my ideas run in contradiction to those of the other members, but the snow machine was solid gold. Ha!
Will there be anything exciting and new --- tricks up your sleeves or presents beneath your tree --- that you'll be bringing to your live show this year?
Jake: Oh, you better believe it. For starters, 2010 will at long last see The Yule Logs set Spencer’s beard on fire, preferably during one of his many egregious guitar solos. I know Kirt’s flirting with the incorporation of slap bass on at least half our set, Marty’s bedazzling all of his chest and leg hair, and I’m going to play every out-of-town gig completely nude.
Though frontman Marty Parker's commanding stage presence is like a cross between David Lee Roth, Mick Jagger and Fred Astaire from that Rankin and Bass holiday classic Santa Claus is Coming to Town, with a dose of "Blue Christmas" Elvis Presley thrown in for good measure, each of you individually seem to possess a star quality that suggests perhaps you respectively front your own rock 'n' roll units when you're not Log jammin'. Do you all play in other bands?
Jake: That’s an astute observation, actually. Each of us has indeed fronted other bands at various times. Marty had the Alphabet Posse, Spencer had Bear Hunter, Kirt had Floss Anonymous, and I used to front Candy Apple. I think the experience certainly pays off by allowing us a general lack of inhibition while on stage; we’re all quite comfortable in our live skin, and it’s nice to think that it shows.
What was the first official Yule Logs song?
Marty: Jake wrote a song entitled "Christmastime is Here (Again)!" Now it's gone viral on Youtube. Don't get me thinking about the Yule Logs' various viral outbreaks.
(Video interlude: check out the Yule Log's video for "Christmastime is Here (Again)!" right away, below)
Was Hanukkah always a part of the holiday equation for the Yule Logs?
Marty: It was never considered. Then we hired a musically prolific Jew. He will not relent. Do we still do Christmas tunes? I'm not even sure.
Jake: Spencer is quite prolific, to say the least. He even writes Christmas songs despite his Jewish faith. You might say he’s a little like Barbara Streisand in that regard. In fact, I would say. But in all honesty Spencer’s celebration of Hanukkah brings The Yule Logs their only shred of faith-based credibility, as the rest of us haven’t attended church since childhood. As Spencer likes to say, we celebrate the true spirit of Christmas: Santa Claus.
The Yule Logs' original holiday jams are, by far, up there with the best seasonal songs ever penned and you guys just keep upping the bar in terms of quality and keeping spirits bright. That said, I have to commend you guys on your tastefully fresh approach to covering others' holiday tunes: are you working on incorporating any new cover numbers into your set this year?
Marty: Does "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" from the public domain count? We drained it of its Victorian starchiness and replaced "figgy pudding" with "Ziggy Stardust."
Speaking of covers, I gotta ask, traditionally speaking, what are some of your all time favorite Christmas songs? Do you have a favorite contemporary Christmas album? (Mine's, like, both Yule Logs albums by the way, duh!)
Marty: The Swingle Singers' "The Story of Christmas." I wish I could sing, or for that matter, do anything with such precision.
Jake: When My Heart Finds Christmas by Harry Connick, Jr.—no joke. I’ve been lobbying to cover “(Must’ve Been Ol’) Santa Claus” for two years now, only to be shut down by Kirt who claims that it’s too “Bo Diddley.” I like Bo Diddley.
"(Must've Been Ol') Santa Claus" - Harry Connick, Jr.
What is the best Christmas song ever?
Jake: “Christmas Shoes” by NewSong is the greatest piece of recorded music in the history of tonality, period. First off, “NewSong” is without a doubt the most brilliant band name since The Beatles, and, on many levels, is far superior, as it relates the concept of newness with that of a song, all in one exciting breath. And as if it weren’t enough to better The Beatles in name alone, NewSong artistically one-ups the Fab Four with the above-mentioned “Christmas Shoes,” a haunting piano ballad detailing a child’s quest to provide his mother a new pair of holiday shoes before she dies of cancer and meets Jesus in heaven.
"Christmas Shoes" - NewSong
Powerful, emotional stuff, I know. None of us Logs have ever been the same since hearing it on Mix 95.1 a few years back. In fact, I’m weeping…right now!
How about the sexiest Christmas song?
Marty: I'm told Clarence Carter has a song entitled "Back Door Santa." Sexy? No, you say?
"Back Door Santa" - Clarence Carter
Regarding holiday programming for your face, what are some of the movies and things that you watch, rewatch and jones for every year come winter? Are you planning to catch any blockbuster Christmastime flicks, like TRON, this year? (I'm pretty sure TRON's gonna rule.)
Marty: TRON will rule, and rule some more. I will watch Nightmare Before Christmas, and Albert Finney's Scrooge (1971).
Jake: I just wish Cousin Eddy was a real person.
Okay, let's finish this off with a lightning round of Christmas preference quick takes to test your holiday index:
Jingle bells or Batman smells?
Jake: “Jingle Bells,” only the Bob Goulet version from The Simpsons.
Can do! "Jingle Bells" - Robert Goulet
Socks or stockings?
Marty: Just one sock for me.
Naughty or nice?
Marty: I am the nicest naughty person you will ever meet.
Mistletoe headbands or mistletoe belts?
Marty: I've got a mistletoe belt for you!
Eggnog: whiskey or rum (or brandy)?
Kirt: I'll take my whiskey straight, please, no eggnog.
Jake: I need rum. Now.
Christmas tree: paper or plastic?
Kirt: Fake ones just don't feel the same.
Jake: There’s a little Clark Griswold in all of us.
This one might be obvious, but cheese log or yule log?
Jake: All of it, Bubba!
Hammered dulcimer or music box?
Marty: A dozen music boxes playing simultaneously. It's the soundtrack from Hell.
Santa's hat or Santa's lap?
Jake: Santa’s lap, so long as he’s burly and rugged.
Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra?
Kirt: Dean Martin all the way!
Pie or cookies?
Marty: My paternal Grandmother made holiday mincemeat cookies -- with actual meat! This still baffles me.
Christmas Eve or Christmas morning?
Marty: Once Christmas Eve rolls around, it's game over. The mythical Christmas has slipped between our fingers again. Reality is gruesome in comparison.
And one last question, in keeping with tradition, what would you, the Yule Logs, like for Christmas this year?
Marty: Cold cash!
Kirt: One of those Bright Red Wiis!!
Jake: Ray Finkle…and a clean pair of shorts.
Well, that about wraps it up. Thank you so much guys! I'm so looking forward to your show here in San Francisco at Amnesia on December 12th. Until then you best believe a whole flurry of Yule Logs hits are accumulating in my headspace, awaiting exorcism via live sing-a-longs and twistin' in my holiday stockings! If you can't make it out to the show give your Beach Boys Christmas album a rest and get down to Amoeba to pick up the Yule Logs' self-titled debut and their sophomore effort, Walked With A Reindeer, today-- they're guaranteed holiday hits!
Let the happy holidays begin!