For anyone determined to make this holiday season festive despite 2020 being such a challenging year, Scarlett Burke and Hailey Whitters have the perfect song: “Howdy Christmas,” a feel-good country anthem that comes out on December 11.
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“Howdy Christmas” was written at an unlikely time: Burke, calling from Nashville, says she co-wrote it with Jared Gutstadt in the middle of summer. This past July, they’d started saying “howdy Christmas” to each other as a joke. Then, Burke says, “We were like, ‘You know, there’s something here – let’s just write it.’ As songwriters know, whenever you’re feeling the inspiration, it’s so important to follow through and write it – even if it’s a Christmas song in July!”
Burke says that the song is meant to alleviate some of the stress that this year has brought to everyone because of the pandemic and other issues: “We wanted to take a break from all the heaviness and write something where you could just daydream about two-stepping to it at your favorite country bar in Nashville.”
Burke and Gutstadt wrote “Howdy Christmas” while sitting in the lobby at Blackstar Recording Studios in Los Angeles. It was, Burke says with a laugh, a memorable writing session. “There’s people that are in there like Justin Bieber and Billie Eilish, and Jared and I are in the lobby creating a Christmas song – I don’t think they get too many country artists or writers coming through there. It made it that much more fun. People around the studio could hear the song as we were writing it. I think it was something different that put a smile on their faces.”
Once they had the title and the hook, Burke says, “The verses sort of just wrote themselves. You think about country and Christmas and what that looks like.” In this case, that meant lighthearted lyrics that evoke visions of “throwing on my best boots and going to a honky tonk and two-stepping to a fun song like this around the Christmas tree,” Burke says.
With the song written, Burke could have done all the vocals by herself – but she approached Hailey Whitters about singing it together because “I’m a fan of hers. I love her music. I think that she’s got this edge to her, and she’s very much herself – I think that it’s very appealing to work with an artist like that. And I just knew that Hailey was right. She was the voice that we needed for the song.
“The best part of songwriting is getting to collaborate with people who you really feel inspired by or admire and are fans of their music,” Burke continues, “so this is just selfishly an opportunity for me to have one of my favorite artists cut one of my songs.”
Whitters says she immediately agreed to sing on the track. “I was thrilled that they asked,” she says, also calling from Nashville. “My manager sent it to me, and the first time that I heard it, I felt like it was something that I would have written. It’s so fun. It’s got so much cowgirl charm and character. It’s very fun. I love it. I was thrilled to hear that they had had me in mind as they were writing it. I thought that was just so cool.”
The finished track has an upbeat “country nostalgic” vibe to it, with a little saucy humor thrown in for good measure. “I just had fun with it,” Whitters says of recording her part. “I tried not to overthink it. I wanted it to feel cheery and light and fun. I think Scarlett had done a wonderful job with the original version that was sent to me. I think she nailed it, and I tried not to stray too far from the original interpretation.”
“Howdy Christmas” seems like a high note on which to end 2020 for Burke and Whitters – although each of them has already had quite a successful year. Established an in-demand songwriter and actress, Burke expanded her credits as the co-creator, director, executive producer, and star of the scripted country music podcast Make It Up As We Go, which just completed its first season; she also writes and performs the music for the series soundtrack. For her part, Whitters had a breakout year with her album The Dream, which came out in February to rave reviews (and is hitting many year-end “best of” lists now) – and she says she’s currently working on more music that she expects to release in 2021.
For now, though, Burke and Whitters are focusing on the impending Christmas season (which they each hope to spend with their families, with the appropriate precautions because of the pandemic). Burke says she hopes that “Howdy Christmas” will help others have a festive holiday, as well: “We hope that it brings a smile to people’s faces,” she says, adding that she’s already looking ahead to next year’s Christmas: “Hopefully by the end of 2021, we can play “Howdy Christmas” at a fun honky tonk in Nashville and invite everyone!”
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