Seth MacFarlane on Playing It Straight for His New ‘Holiday for Swing’ Album

Seth MacFarlane during the 2013 Oscars
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Seth MacFarlane during the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday Feb. 24, 2013, in Los Angeles. 

Seth MacFarlane may be famous for creating irreverent comedies like Family Guy and Ted, but he takes crooning very seriously. Holiday For Swing, his Christmas-themed follow-up to 2011's Grammy-nominated Music Is Better Than Words (due this fall via Republic Records), finds him tapping a 65-piece orchestra and veteran arranger-producer Joel McNeely to perform a handful of well-known ("Let It Snow," "Baby It's Cold Outside") and semi-obscure yuletide chestnuts (Frank Sinatra's "Christmas Dreaming," Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney's "Snow.") MacFarlane called Billboard from the Boston set of Ted 2 to reflect on the album, which was recorded from Christmas Day through New Year's Eve last winter between Los Angeles and London.

You recorded this album during the actual holiday season. Why was that so important to you?
Seth MacFarlane: Generally with a holiday album, you find yourself making the recordings during the summer or any time but Christmas, with this one we actually lucked out. Part of it was because we didn’t want to bump up against the production schedule for Ted 2, which is not an ideal time to be recording anything with 12 to 15 hour days shooting a movie. It worked out nicely, and it was just a pure joy to do. Joel actually went straight from that project with me to the scoring of A Million Ways To Die In The West, so we’ve had a fun year. 

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Do you have any favorite holiday albums that inspired the sound?
I’m not frankly a huge conossieur of holiday music, but I love orchestral jazz. I love that era of high orchestral musicality that bears a lot of similarities to holiday music in a lot of ways. As far as holiday records, gosh I don’t know -- the Home Alone soundtrack?

"Baby It's Cold Outside," a duet with Sara Bareilles, is one of the more recognizable songs on the record -- but also one of the more controversial since its Frank Loesser heyday. What made you want to tackle it?
That's a song that surprisingly has somehow made the leap into the modern era without being called out for what it is. The girl is clearly saying no. But again, it’s just a joy to sing against orchestration that’s that good -- you really gotta be shitty to screw it up I guess. 

How do you rationalize your faction of fans who may continue to expect comedy from your musical projects?
Surprisingly, a good chunk of Family Guy fans recognizes why we do this -- they see that against all the comedy is a legitimate regard tor the importance of music. It's virtually the only show left on TV that uses a live orchestra for every episode. We use anywhere from 50 to 90 people, depending on how many players are available. 

An edited version of this story originally appeared in the Aug. 30 issue of Billboard.