The Minus 5’s Scott McCaughey credits the Monkees with putting him in the Christmas spirit — including his group’s 2017 album Dear December and the new single “Christmas in Antarctica,” whose lyric video is premiering exclusively below.
McCaughey is one of several writers the Monkees tapped when they began working on a Christmas album a couple of years ago. It didn’t plan out as soon as planned, but after writing and submitting several songs for the project, McCaughey was inspired to make the Minus 5’s holiday release. The Monkees wound up recording “Christmas Party,” co-written by McCaughey and Minus 5 regular Peter Buck, as the title track for their recently released album, while “Christmas in Antarctica,” which features Buck and Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, was among the songs the Monkees had on hold but ultimately didn’t record.
“I liked it, so I thought, ‘Well, let’s put it out somehow,'” McCaughey, who just “bashed it out together one afternoon” with Gibbard, tells Billboard. “I talked to Yep Roc and said we should put it out as a single for Record Store Day or something, but they said, ‘No, let’s just put it out as a digital single’ and kind of let it be an addition to the Minus 5 album we did last year. I thought it was a cool little song, so I’m happy it’s coming out.”
“Christmas in Antarctica” is also a sad little song about how the season is decidedly NOT in the South Pole, while the video depicts a melancholy penguin lamenting the lack of holiday activity at home. “It’s a sad song, but it still feels poppy and Christmasy,” McCaughey contends. “It’s tricky coming up with Christmas songs that aren’t just the same old thing over and over again — like on (Dear December), I mention Santa Claus one time on the whole record. So for this (song) I was thinking about the North Pole being a big part of Christmas songs — why not Antarctica? Why does the North Pole get the monopoly on Christmas songs?
“That’s when I thought about what it would really be like there. I thought of some guy sitting alone in a hut surrounded by snow and listening to the radio and the same 20 Christmas songs over and over again. All I know about Antarctica is that famous, horrendous, beautiful movie (March of the Penguins) about the depressing life that these penguins lead down there. So I threw a bunch of that stuff on there and came up with this sad little song.”
McCaughey — a former R.E.M. sideman who also co-founded the Young Fresh Fellows, Tuatara and the Baseball Project and plays in the all-star the No Ones and Robyn Hitchcock’s the Venus Three — has a new Minus 5 album “pretty close to being done.” He’s also continuing to recover from a November 2017 stroke and has played shows around Portland, where he resides.
“I’m getting my feet back on the ground,” he says, “trying to get my brain to do that work that it needs to do and get my hands to coordinate with my brain. It’s a whole new experience playing music. I can play — I just can’t play as good as I did before. But I’ve learned ways to get around it. There are a lot of challenges, but it’s going pretty well. I read about how (the Kinks’) Dave Davies had to completely learn how to play guitar all over again. So I’m lucky; It could’ve been a lot worse.”