Sitting at his piano singing Christmas songs year after year, making a holiday album was something Rob Thomas always dreamed of doing. When the pandemic kept him off the road indefinitely, he started revisiting some of the songs he grew up with, then wrote a collection of originals for his first holiday album Something About Christmas Time.
Produced by Gregg Wattenberg, Something About Christmas Time, also Thomas’ fifth solo release, features a collection of original holiday songs and covers with some special guests, including his rendition of Bryan Adams’ 1985 hit “Christmas Time” with Ingrid Michaelson, Ray Charles’ “That Spirit of Christmas,” featuring a duet with Bebe Winans, while Abby Anderson joins Thomas on the classic “I Believe in Santa Claus.” Brad Paisley sings with Thomas on one of his originals, the country-tinged “Santa Don’t Come Here Anymore.” Something About Christmas Time also features Thomas original holiday tracks A New York Christmas ’21,” and “Small Town Christmas.”
Thomas also tied the album into a live stream charitable event for the non-profit he and his wife Marisol started, Sidewalk Angels Foundation, which funds no-kill animal shelters in the U.S. and internationally.
Upon releasing his first Christmas album, Thomas spoke to American Songwriter about writing original holiday songs, entering the lexicon of Christmas music, new Matchbox Twenty music, and that magical air around Mariah Carey.
American Songwriter: Congratulations! You’ve now entered the world of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby… Burt Ives. You’re officially part of the Christmas genre.
Rob Thomas: It’s weird because now I feel like I’m a part of this little world. Now, I can call up Michael Bublé and say ‘Hey, what’s up, man?’ I’m now part of the Christmas “machine.”
AS: You’ve always wanted to make a Christmas album and ended up writing several original songs for Something About Christmas Time. When did everything start coming together? Were these holidays songs you were working on for some time?
RT: I didn’t have any originals except for “A New York Christmas ’21.” It was always about what covers I was going to do, and every year Christmas I would sit at the piano and play Christmas songs and go ‘I want to make Christmas record,’ but you have to make it in the summer. I think it really just came down to every summer I was either on the road or in the studio doing something already and this was the first time I had a summer where I was free enough to make a record at home, so I took advantage of it. I easily wrote another record-worth of Christmas originals. I wanted to pick covers that were Christmas songs that I grew up with and not necessarily the kind of standard traditional ones you have to do when you make a Christmas record. Michael Bublé and John Legend made these traditional Christmas records and they did really really well, so nobody needed to hear me sing ‘The Christmas Song’ or ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
AS: When the holidays come around again, you can always expand the Christmas releases. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving.
RT: It’s the only kind of album that gets a shot every year. If you have a successful Christmas record, it doesn’t matter how successful that record is, because, after December 26, nobody gives a shit. So you have this little period of time, and that window is so short. Then the next year you get another shot at it and the next year after. I thought it was amazing that the number one Christmas record is Michael Bublé’s Christmas (2011) record, and it just celebrated its 10th anniversary. He’s in this rarefied Mariah Carey air right now.
AS: And Mariah was one of those artists who put out a more contemporary Christmas song [“All I Want For Christmas Is You,” 1994] that became this mammoth thing.
RT: At this point, it’s hard to remember that that was an original contemporary song just because it’s such a part of the lexicon of Christmas music. It’s just one of the standards that came out.
AS: Why did you land on these specific 10 songs for Something About Christmas Time?
RT: I’m a child of the ’80s, and for me, that was one of the most fertile periods for pop Christmas music. There was Band-Aid. There was Cyndi Lauper. And on the radio, there were these Christmas songs by contemporary artists, so that was a big part of my childhood. Doing something like Bryan Adams’ “Christmas Time” made sense. The Ray Charles song [“That Spirit of Christmas”] with Bebe Winans, that’s literally the reason why I did a Christmas record, because I was sitting at the piano playing that song, and my wife’s like ‘you have to do a Christmas record, and you have to put that song on there.’ Then, “I Believe in Santa Claus” [featuring Abby Anderson], I grew up listening to that on the Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton Christmas record. So, “I Believe in Santa Claus” had to make its way on there. For me, each one is just about my personal relationship with Christmas since I was a kid.
AS: In all your Christmas cheer, you were also working on new Matchbox Twenty material. When are you hoping to get this out? (The band last released North, their fourth album, in 2012.)
RT: We’re actually going to be in the studio working on a few new songs next year. I’m also almost done with a whole new solo record because before COVID the idea was I was going to be out with Matchbox Twenty with the new music touring, and by now I was going to be on the phone talking to you about the solo record that I’ve got out right now. So everything got pushed back, and I’ve got the solo record sitting on ice that I’m really excited about. But first, it’s going to be new Matchbox music, so at least I’ve got no shortage of creative stuff going on.
Photo: Randall Slavin / Atlantic Records