Sam Sparro isn’t shy to admit that he’s not head over heels for the traditional, cheery Christmas spirit. The singer recently talked with Billboard about his latest EP, Christmas In Blue, his own personal take on the traditional holiday sounds, out last Friday (Nov. 17).
Sparro took a break from his usual stream of original music to record some Christmas carols this past September, a decision which happened sort of accidentally. For three classics, Charlie Brown’s “Christmastime is Here,” Wham!’s “Last Christmas,” and Luther Vandross’ rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Sparro leaned into the jazz music he grew up listening to, in order to tie them together on one release.
The singer also took a leap of faith and put his own feelings on Christmas into an original track, titled “Christmas In Your Heart.” Today, Sparro premieres the video for this track alongside his conversation with Billboard. Learn the inspirations behind the tracks, as well as all about what’s coming up next for Sparro — a full length album, and some killer collaborations — below.
What inspired you to make a Christmas EP?
It kind of came about accidentally. My friend Tim [Kvasnosky], who co-produced the record with me, was like, “Why don’t we make a Christmas song and send it to your publisher and see if they want to use it for something this Christmas?” and then we just kind of kept going and we made the record in like two weeks. I think we surprised ourselves. It was a lot of fun, and it was really nice to sing.. normally there’s so much production and stuff around my voice, so it was really nice to just sing without a lot of distraction, and do a bit of jazz.
How was your approach to recording holiday music different than your original work?
It was completely different, which I think was why it was so fun. It was really nice to have real piano, upright bass, jazz drums, and my dad played guitar on something. So it was all really organic instead of me being in front of the computer with synthesizers and drum machines, stuff like that. It was very organic and it was also really, I’m not a huge Christmas person. I’ve had a lot of really terrible Christmases and it’s not my favorite thing, but it was really nice to get into the Christmas spirit a little bit early, ’cause we did it in September. It felt really nice.
What made these three classics stand out to you over others?
With a few exceptions, I tend to gravitate more towards the sad or solemn Christmas songs. The Charlie Brown Christmas song, I think, is my favorite, ’cause it’s quite a sad melody. But there’s also something hopeful and very nostalgic to me. And then “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” there’s so many versions of that song. Everybody has done it. They all kind of sound the same, you know, after awhile. But then I discovered Luther Vandross had a version of it, who is one of my favorite singers. I’d never heard his version, and it was really different than the other ones. The time signature was different and it was a really different approach. So I was listening to his version while I did it. And then “Last Christmas,” you know, I love George Michael. He died last Christmas, which was really sad, and I did some tribute songs to him this year, so that was really fresh in my mind. Wanted to just kind of try something different with that song.
Are there any others you wish you included, or hope to do someday?
I love Mariah Carey’s Christmas album. I think that’s one of my favorite ones. I might attempt some of that one day, but I also really love Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas.” That’s one of my favorite ones but I almost feel like it’s untouchable.
Were you hesitant to approach writing an original Christmas song?
I was super hesitant, because I feel like it’s really difficult to do. Most of the Christmas songs that we know and we hear and we sing every year are classics and they’ve been around for a long time, and I think Mariah Carey maybe was the last time that someone made a new Christmas song that everybody knows. I was like, “I don’t know if I can do that. I don’t know if I want to do it.”
So Tim and my manager really encouraged me, like, “You know you’re a great songwriter, you have so much to say, just try and write something.” And actually, I wrote this song probably in eight minutes. Because it just kind of came out of me. I feel like this year we’ve all been subjected to… especially women and people of color and queer people and minorities, it’s just been really exhausting. I kind of came from that place of, like, we’re feeling a bit fragile and a bit spent. Can we find that spirit of hope and joy that Christmas is supposed to be about?
In recent years you’ve turned to a steady stream of EPs rather than full-length projects – is there a reason behind this?
Yeah, I think my first two albums took so long to make. Especially Return to Paradise, my second album, which I still really love and am proud of. I spent years making that. I kind of set out to do a three-EP series with Quantum Physical, and it was just something that I wanted to have a release out every year, and kind of not have the task of making a whole record. Because I think, for me, there’s a lot of pop or R&B or dance artists that have a lot of different people working on their music, so maybe it takes less time, but for me because I mostly do everything I think it takes longer.
And I wasn’t planning on doing the Christmas EP, that just happened, but I am working on a full-length album. I started recording that in the summer. I’m going to be wrapping that up early next year. So yeah, a full length is on the way and I am excited about having that.
Can you tell us more about the forthcoming full length?
It’s sort of a futuristic re-imagining of music that I listened to when I was nine, ten years old. I kind of am thinking of it as a gift to my ten year old self. It was really inspired by the pop from the early 90s and late 80s had this very industrial, kind of aggressive feel to it and it was really fun to dance to, and so I’m really inspired by Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation and Bobby Brown and Michael Jackson’s Bad/Dangerous albums and Minneapolis, Prince Sign o’the Times. That’s kind of where the sound is coming from.
It’s really different from the Christmas thing. I’m really in love right now, so there’s a lot of love songs, which is really different from my last album which is pretty much all breakup songs. I wasn’t planning to write a lot of love songs but they just keep coming, so I guess just go with the flow.
I [also] have a bunch of really exciting collaborations that are coming out next year. I think next year, along with the full-length album, there will be a lot of little one-off singles and songs with some interesting people.