When it came to choosing, and writing, songs for Train‘s upcoming Christmas In Tahoe album — whose rendition of Slade‘s “Merry Christmas Everybody” is premiered below — frontman Pat Monahan felt it had to be more naughty than nice.
“It should be more rock’n’roll, right?” Monahan tells Billboard. “Listen, I’m in a rock band. I can’t do what Mariah Carey can do. I can’t compete with Michael Bublé and people with sultry voices. I can’t compete with Donny Hathaway‘s voice, but what I can do is honor him. So that’s kind of the essence of this. And I think that I have such a great band now that it’s fun to just let ’em loose.”
“Merry Christmas Everybody” was one of the first tracks Train picked for the album and serves as a apt calling card for the holiday-focused set. “Before we decided to make a full-fledged Christmas (album) we were thinking, ‘Let’s make something for the U.K.,'” Monahan explains, “and in the U.K. nobody knows ‘Merry Christmas Baby.’ So that was the idea. And over here (in the U.S.) a lot of people don’t know it, so it’ll feel like something fresh.”
Listen to “Merry Christmas Everybody,” which Billboard is premiering exclusively below.
Train recorded Christmas In Tahoe at Bear Creek studio and Monahan’s own Sunken Forest studio, which he calls “the Crack Shack,” during May and June both in Washington State. The group eschewed any holiday trappings to get it in the spirit, however. “People ask, ‘Did you light a bunch of cinnamon candles’ or if we put up lights or anything like that,” Monahan says. “I’m not a vibe guy. I figure that if you need to light cinnamon candles after 21 yeas of making records, you’re in trouble.”
The album is filled with renditions of Hathaway’s “This Christmas,” Stevie Wonder‘s “What Christmas Means to Me,” John Lennon‘s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” and Robert Alex Anderson’s Hawaiian-flavored “Mele Kelikimaka,” and the group penned three originals — “Christmas Island,” “Shake Up Christmas” and “Wait For Mary Christmas.”
“I love Christmas and I love Christmas songs, so I took this very seriously,” Monahan explains. “Christmas songs are some of the greatest songs ever written, so I didn’t want to just write a good song and then tag Christmas on it. I wanted to write a good Christmas song that couldn’t be anything but a Christmas song. I remember telling a friend of mine, Lyle Workman, I said, “Man, I want to write, like, classic Christmas songs.’ I said that to Vince Gill, too. Vince said, ‘Yeah, man, we all do…'”
Christmas In Tahoe (which is an Amazon exclusive and can be pre-ordered now) is due out Nov. 13, and Train will play one special holiday show on Dec. 14 at the Fillmore in San Francisco to benefit the charity Family House. Then group next plans to release a covers album — a tribute to one band that Monahan won’t yet identify — that he hopes will be out by spring. And Train plans to start working on a follow-up to 2014’s Bulletproof Picasso.
“I’m just now writing that,” Monahan reports. “we’ve made a lot of changes over the years and I love the people that are in my band now. They’re capable of doing things that people don’t know they’re capable of, so I want to make a record that really showcases them. Making a record like (Christmas In Tahoe) is a great way to showcase what the band is now, and that’s the path I want to continue traveling.”