What was your favorite Christmas album growing up?
I always remember [1979’s] Light of the Stable, an Emmylou Harris record my parents used to play. Such a pretty record. I tried to do a cover of one of the songs off that record, but when I [tried] to sing it, I just [couldn’t]. I was like, “It’s not my style.”
Why this album now?
I wanted to do it for years, but when do you find the time? My last record [2016’s This Is What the Truth Feels Like] just came pouring out of me in a way where it was like medicine. It was really just me trying to follow the answers to my prayers. It was very personal. Before that, I hadn’t really been able to write anything. For years it felt like I was the dinosaur that [was] like, "I’m done now. I don’t want to write anymore, it’s not coming through," because writing is very magical. I feel like it’s very spiritual. So after reconnecting with that spiritual side, I just kind of felt like, "Wow, maybe I’ll do the Christmas record." It was really a whim. The way it works is you have to get it done really early, and I had no idea that I would be able to write so quickly, because I’m such a slow writer. It just came right out. I did six songs in three sessions.
You wrote with Shelton, [producer] busbee and [songwriter] Justin Tranter on this album. How did you all come together?
I’ve done so many styles and worked with so many different people. When you make a Christmas record, you want it to be something that’s not going to be dated -- you want it to live forever. So I asked Blake [who to write with] and he goes, “Have you worked with this guy busbee?” I’d never heard of him. I listened to some of what he had done, like Pink’s “Try,” and was like, “He wrote that? I want to work with him.” Within 10 minutes we were best friends. You know when you meet people and you just vibe? We just went in and wrote two songs probably within a half hour. It was just really easy and fun. I [also] brought [past collaborator] Justin in because he could write a hit, but for me, he’s a cheerleader [when I’m writing].
What’s different about making a Christmas album?
It’s one of my favorite projects because for this, I was like, “I’m not going to get in my own way.” It doesn’t have pressure on it. Whoever wants to listen will listen. It’s not like I’m trying to say, “Get this on the radio!” It’s just fun, and Christmas is a special time. Being part of music, you can have such an impact on people. I don’t think I ever was able to really admit that before, because it just seems arrogant to be like, “Oh, yeah, I’m part of your life,” but I’ve had so many people come to me and say that I am. It’s such an incredible feeling -- it doesn’t get old.
Does Blake have a favorite song off the album?
Blake heard “Christmas Eve” and he loved it. He’s like, “This song is so incredible. I’d die for this song. I want to record this song for my record.” No one’s ever recorded any of my songs for their records -- let alone one of the biggest country stars in the world. I was shaking with excitement, and he basically went to Capitol Records and recorded with his band and everything -- his own version of the song. He said, “Listen, I really think children need to be on this song. I want to get the children [who are well enough] from the Children’s Hospital of Nashville” -- Ryan Seacrest had set up this whole studio in that hospital. But it had to be done in like a week. It was never going to happen, and he made it happen. The kids are singing on it, and when you hear the lyrics to the song and the kids singing it really takes on a whole new meaning. So, I think that’s a pretty Christmas-y miracle.
Which cover was the most fun to record?
“Last Christmas,” the Wham! song, is a masterpiece as far as the music goes and how [producer Eric Valentine] created it. To me, that’s the most, of all the covers, that was really flipped. But yet, it still has the spirit of the original. Lyrically, that song speaks to me and things I’ve been through.