Smalltown Poets burst onto the Christian music scene with their Grammy-nominated self-titled debut on Ardent/Forefront (EMI) in 1997 and released two more albums with the Memphis based label. Three number one singles and a total of ten top ten radio hits helped garner two Best Rock Gospel Grammy nominations, seven Dove Award nominations (including best new artist) and a Billboard Music video award for the band. Their song Anything Genuine was featured on the platinum selling WOW 1999 compilation. In 2004 the band released It's Later Than It's Ever Been on BEC(EMI).
The guys ended a 7-year hiatus from touring and recording in 2011. Over a year in the making, Smalltown Poets Christmas was released November 1st of that year, with their single "Good Christian Men Rejoice" reaching Billboard's Top 30 songs on Christian radio. Over the two holiday seasons since its release, the band has performed dozens of Christmas concerts across the U.S., in places like Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Charlotte, and many more.
They have just released their second Christmas album "Christmas Time Again." We are honored to be able to catch up with them for this Hallels' exclusive interview.
Hallels: Congratulations on the release of your second Christmas album "Christmas Time Again." Why have you decide to release another Christmas album following 2011'S "Smalltown Poets Christmas"?
The Christmas ideas just kept coming, and we had to do something about it. Some of us listen to Christmas music throughout the year, and it's constantly inspiring us to come up with new Christmas songs and arrangements. We were already planning on recording this year, and we felt we needed to capture these songs.
Hallels: It's so refreshing to hear originals mixed together with the traditional carols on the new album. With the traditional carols, how do you keep your interpretations of these seasonal favorites fresh and engaging?
You're on dangerous ground when you go messing around with the classics. We've tried to handle them with care. We only pursue the ones we feel we can bring passion to, in a way that engages listeners of all ages. A lot of the arrangement ideas never see the light of day. We try to keep the bar high.
Hallels: Tell our readers a little about the original songs on the album. Out of the new songs, if you have to choose 2 of them that you are the proudest of. Which would they be? And why?
The title track "Christmas Time Again" is a story song that follows a young man throughout the seasons of his life, as he tries to make it home for Christmas. I'm a softie. I cried throughout the writing process and still do sometimes when I hear it. I also love "This Day In Bethlehem." We wrote it when were 16 years old, and I'm happy that it's finally found a place.
Hallels: I believe this album is the first time you all have recorded together in the studio in 16 years? What was that like? Any great stories from the studio?
We've continued to record throughout the years, but different band members have come and gone. Since the founding members reunited a few years ago, we're usually not in the studio at the same time. This album was truly a homecoming. And homecomings are part of what make Christmas the happiest time of year!
A story from these sessions? The piano tuner we hired got mad at me for trying to take a picture of him. (We try to document our time in the studio well.) He was pretty rude, but in the end he didn't charge us because he said the piano was so old it would only stay in tune for a day or two. It was a race against time as we recorded the piano tracks, and by the time we finished, the piano was indeed sounding flat. You can hear this slightly on the last song - Auld Lang Syne, which I think adds to its haunting feel.
Hallels: There was statement made that you all are better men, fathers and husbands because of each other - can you explain that a bit?
To live in community with fellow believers who pray for and with each other is no small thing. The relationship we have with each other goes beyond friendship. It's family. Even though we're stretched out across the country, we are a close-knit community. This does indeed make us better in our own individual families. We sharpen one another.
Hallels: Speaking of Christmas, what does Christmas mean to you?
We know that Jesus is worth celebrating all year long. But the Christmas season is full of great traditions we share with friends and family, from music to movies to events to get-togethers. As I mentioned, I'm super-sentimental so I love all the trappings of the holidays. And I believe they point us back to the birth of our Savior King.
Hallels: For our readers who would like to find out more about you or/and purchase "Christmas Time Again," where can they go?
Our website address is smalltownpoets.tv and we also have a Facebook page. You can buy our album on iTunes or wherever you buy music online, whether downloads or actual CDs.