Other than Mariah Carey — who is arguably the Queen of Christmas, thanks to her timeless hit “All I Want for Christmas Is You” — there aren’t too many current artists who have two holiday albums to their name. Joining Carey in the holiday double-up, though, is brother trio Hanson, who released their sophomore yuletide LP, Finally It’s Christmas, in October. And fitting to their Christmas likeness, the Hanson guys (Taylor, Zac and Isaac) included a cover of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” on their second go-round.
When Hanson released their first holiday album, Snowed In, in 1997, Carey’s song wasn’t on the track list, as it was still only a few years old (it was released in 1994). But as soon as Hanson began putting together another wish list of songs for Finally It’s Christmas, the song’s relevance was a little bigger.
“You hear it at ice skating rinks and department stores, it’s been done by many different people now. … It was absolutely in the running right out of the gate,” Taylor tells Billboard. “There’s a lot of subpar Christmas recordings, and songs you wouldn’t listen to except for the fact that it’s Christmas. That is not the case with ‘All I Want for Christmas is You.'”
Of course, Hanson’s version wasn’t going to have the exact feel of Carey’s diva-sprinkled classic, being a band of three guys. But they managed to put their own spin on the holiday track, holding true to the upbeat melody while still putting some Hanson flair on it. How did they channel Mariah but stay Hanson? Let Taylor tell you.
What made you want to cover “All I Want for Christmas Is You”?
When you make a Christmas album, you’re thinking about how you can put your mark on the season, and picking the right songs — songs you feel like you can do well. Really over the last 20 years, that song has become a modern classic. We just felt like it was a great song, and it fit two criteria: One, that it was a great song. It was a song that would be familiar to people and bring a lot of the right kind of nostalgia to the record. Also, we felt like it was a song we felt we could do well. It just felt really great for the record.
How did you guys approach making it Hanson-esque, without totally changing it but also not having it sound just like the original?
For one, there’s great melody and great changes on the song. So that made it easy. There’s a lot of Christmas songs that are classic that people love that don’t have the components that make it something we felt like we could do well. The song has really hooky parts to sing harmony to, and our band has a lot of harmony. It had all of the elements that it needed, so it was really more a matter of arranging what was there to balance the album and to put our strengths forward – which is to combine an organic band sound with really strong vocals.
Probably the distinct difference with ours is the sound of a band playing it, kind of digging in a bit more on the bridge with heavier guitars and having a more organic sound to it with the piano leading and the horn parts.The main way we made it our own was to really just bring a band to the song and then just really enjoy the melody. The great thing about her original Christmas record in that song is that there’s such great songwriting and her incredible vocals. As a band that harmonizes and tends to go toward songs that has a lot of melody, it made a lot of sense.
Is there anything about the construction of the song that makes a three-part harmony challenging?
The biggest challenge is it’s got a big range. The way we incorporate our harmony more is towards the end of the song you hear this kind of refrain, we sort of added our own little outro. I don’t know if it was especially challenging to make it our own in that sense, because the melody is prone to more vocals, and when you mix that with kind of a band sound of guitar, drums, keyboard, really just playing it, it fit the DNA of our band really well.
What made you feel like you should keep it upbeat when the lyrics are actually kind of longing and sad?
We kept that oriented towards an upbeat song [because] there are so many mellow Christmas songs. On the record, you have “Someday at Christmas,” which is heartfelt, and then you’ve got the more melancholy love songs like “Blue Christmas” and “Please Come Home For Christmas,” which we approach in a more mellow, low-key way. Whereas that song has so much potential to be uplifting.
In the balance of the album, we felt like it should be one of the upbeat tracks, and one of the tracks that had that has that pep to it. We [thought] this is the song that brings energy to the record and one that we can really make an upbeat track.
What do you think makes the song so iconic and stand out among other Christmas songs?
Christmas gives people a pass sometimes, in a bad way, to put out songs that are sort of less than great on their own merit. They lean on the theme of, “Hey we put sleigh bells in there!,” “It says ‘Christmas,’ so it’s a Christmas song!” To me, that song just stands up as a really good melody. Her vocal performance sold the song originally, and it’s one of the best actual Christmas original songs that’s been written and released in the last 20 years, and that makes it stand out.
Whenever you make an album, you’re hoping you’re making something that’s just good in its own right, and you’re taking the same amount of pressure that you’d put on your own album of original songs and like “Hey, is this inherently good? Is this a strong album musically?” So that was always our measure, which was, “Are we making an album that you would listen to aside from the fact that it’s July… would you listen to this album and enjoy it? Would it be musically interesting and song?” That [song] fit right into that way of thinking.
Are you all closet Mariah fans?
There’s no closet! She emerged when we were young, so I think we’ve always been fans of her. And as lovers of good pop songs and good melodies, she’s pretty undeniable.