The Happy Christmas Band in their natural habitat
Rarely does a semi-successful up-and-coming indie band make a career-changing shift from the glamorous life of rock n’ roll to a kitschy seasonal act. And when I say seasonal, I’m talking a full-on Christmas-themed band, complete with songs about yuletide cheer and overdosing on nog with sleigh bell solos-a-plenty. After a few name changes, the Oakland-based outfit—formerly known as City Speak and Pony Come Lately, who have shared the stage with Ted Leo and the Pharmacists—decided to make the shift from indie to full-fledged yule rock. With mistletoe affixed to the roof of their practice space and Santa hats secured on their shaggy tresses, the Happy Christmas Band was formed. This festive foursome recently went into the studio to record original holiday tunes like “It’s Christmas Time” and “Christmas in a Jar” that infuse humor and a rock n’ roll spirit into the stale tradition of Christmas carols. Think swanky ’60s lounge music fused with Beatles-inspired harmonious pop and Walkmen-esque lush melodies but with a holiday twist. I recently caught up with bass player and eggnog guzzler Carson Bell to discuss the shift from indie to yule rock and who in the band ended up on the naughty list this year.
Want more of the Happy Christmas Band? Need some rock-fueled holiday cheer? Then cruise over to the Uptown in downtown Oakland to catch them perform at A Derelict Christmas, a multi-denominational holiday concert also featuring the Gomorran Social Aid & Pleasure Club and Damon and the Heathens. Don’t forget to wear your Santa hat and reindeer sweater!
Who are the members of the Happy Christmas Band?
Carson Bell: Justin Lynn sings and plays the piano.
I’m Carson Bell and I play bass and drink a lot of eggnog.
Travis Dutton plays guitar and his glowing red nose guides us through life.
James Willetts plays drums and rings sleigh bells compulsively.
How did The Happy Christmas Band form?
CB: I was working at a Christmas tree lot ringing a bell for the Salvation Army. James was an elf, and Justin was Santa at a small department store. Travis, who also worked for the Salvation Army, asked me to play with him in the All Star Jamboree Salvation Army Band. To enhance the yuletide spirit, I invited Justin and James to join us, and the Happy Christmas Band was born.
Have you guys always been Christmas-obsessed?
CB: Obsessed might be a little too strong. We are enthusiasts.
If you could be any of the eight reindeer, which one would you be and why?
CB: Is Itchy or Swisher a Reindeer? No seriously, I would be Prancer. I think you can figure out why.
What influenced the Happy Christmas Band’s signature sound?
CB: The new sound: the Bing Crosby indie scene, or Bing-indie for short. If you’re really cool, it's Bingdie.
What is the song "Christmas in a Jar" about?
CB: It’s about the four of us getting together and having our annual holiday sleep-over.
What can people expect from your live show? Will there be reindeers? Fake
CB: They can expect gifts galore in beautiful wrapping paper, a visit from Santa and Travis will be up to his old tricks.
If you weren't playing Christmas jams, what would you be doing?
CB: Ringing my Salvation Army bell, making intricate ornaments and figurines and James would be back at his old elf gig.
Do you expect coal in your stocking this year?
CB: I expect everything that I deserve in my stocking this year.
Who do you think in the band ended up on the naughty list this year?
CB: That is between James and Santa.
What can people expect from the Christmas concert this Friday at the Uptown? Will there be other bands spreading holiday cheer?
CB: It’s probably going to be the best Christmas party ever. We are going to be celebrating traditional Christmas and Pagan holidays. Damon and the Heathens will be spreading their Christmas cheer by barking at the moon. And Santa will definitely make an appearance.
A Derelict Christmas featuring the Happy Christmas Band
on December 21, Friday, 9 p.m.
The Uptown 1928 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; 510-451-8100