With a specialty in Christmas music, singer-songwriter Elizabeth Chan’s passion for the holiday has driven her to a career that’s unique from other recording artists. Case in point, her new album, Best Gift Ever, which is sure to become a soundtrack of the season.
Led by the infectiousness of the album’s title-track and Chan’s original renditions of such classics as “O Holy Night,” “The First Noelle” (aptly re-named in honor of her daughter), and the unearthed classic, “For Unto Us,” Best Gift Ever gives listeners a refreshing mix of tradition and universal acceptance.
In addition to the new album, Chan is also lending her voice to various charities and radio shows across the country. For her, it’s an honor to not only share her music with the world, but also to give back for the greater good.
AXS recently spoke with Elizabeth Chan about Best Gift Ever and more in this exclusive new interview.
AXS: What inspired you to take on a career as a Christmas songwriter and producer?
Elizabeth Chan: I've always wanted to write Christmas music from a very young age. When I was growing up, there was a radio station in New York City that went all Christmas every year, and I remember whenever the station would turn me and my sister would leave the radio on twenty-four hours a day. It wasn't something I knew I could make a career out of until after I already had another career. I always knew I wanted to be a musician, but eventually chose a different path. Then about eight years ago, I had what I guess you’d call a quarter-life crisis. I thought, either I could keep working at the career I was at or do something that makes me happy. I think people are given one shot to do something with their life, and for me, it was music. I thought back to the one time in my life when I was truly happy, and that was when I listening to Christmas music and writing poems. I decided to give myself a shot, and here I am.
AXS: What’s your writing process like?
EC: I'm highly inspired by my family but also approach songwriting like a muscle you flex. I write Christmas music all year long. In the beginning, I’d force myself to write at least one Christmas song every day. Most of them were bad but I quickly amassed a vault of Christmas music. I now have my own sifting method where I’ll wait and see if I can recall a melody and lyrics of a song I wrote several years later. That’s how I know it has a classic, timelessness to it.
AXS: Let’s discuss a few original tracks from Best Gift Ever, starting with the title track. What’s the story behind it?
EC: My husband is the most-simple, happiest guy on the planet who never wants anything for his birthday, anniversary or Christmas. I’m always prodding him by asking, "What do you want? What do you want? What do you want" [laughs]. The bridge is always his answer: “Don't worry about me. I have everything I want.” It’s also a universal theme with people. Every year, there’s always that sense of hey, what do you want this year? It was a good opportunity to write a song about the way everyone feels.
AXS: What can you tell me about the song, “Christmas Through Your Eyes?”
EC: My family is a big inspiration and that’s a song I wrote for my daughter. I’m a new mom and my daughter is discovering things I haven’t seen in a long time. I started thinking about how Christmas is going to be exciting in a new way because I’m going to see it through her eyes.
AXS: The last song I want to ask you about is “Bad Kids Go.”
EC: I usually let songs marinate in my mind for a few years before I produce them, but this one was different. I was recording the album and was on my way to the studio with my daughter. I’d just gotten coffee and was walking down the street. I looked at her and started imagining our future conversations and then started to laugh. I came up with the melody and lyrics and literally wrote the song in twenty minutes.
AXS: Was there a theme you had in mind for choosing the classic Christmas songs you decided to cover for the album?
EC: I want to leave behind my own Christmas standard but I also like the challenge of re-inventing standards and unearthing songs people may not know too well. This year, I unearthed “For Unto Us.” It's not a very well-known, mainstream song on the radio. “The First Noelle” is an homage to me being a mom for the first time. I changed the title because Noelle is my daughter’s name. Then there’s “O Holy Night.” I love that song but wanted to reinvent it to be reflective of how I feel about the season. Most of the year, I’m busy working on Christmas music. It’s very normal and nonchalant. Then Christmas shows up and before you know it, it’s over. This version starts very acoustic and laid back and by the third time, it’s grandiose and beautiful, and then it’s done.
AXS: Are there any other projects you’re currently working on?
EC: I’ll take a vacation for about a month from Christmas to mid-January and then start all over again on the next album. I have an independent label with a small team, so I really have to think about what I want to share and present. I only have one shot for about sixty days each year to get it right.
AXS: It sounds like your decision to change careers was a good one.
EC: Sometimes you take a certain road because you're given an opportunity. Then one thing leads to another and before you know it, you've become someone you never intended. It wasn't until I was old enough and saw the gravitas of how not following your calling can be a worse future than anything else that I decided to make a change. When you’re a musician and it’s in your blood you can't escape it.
For more on Elizabeth Chan and her music, be sure to check out her website.