It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. And country music singer/songwriter and producer Steven Wariner is getting into the spirit with the release of his brand new Christmas album, Feels Like Christmas Time, due out October 15.
The album adds to Wariner’s already diverse discography with a classic Christmas feel, complete with a soft jazzy piano, soothing vocals, and stunning instrumentals.
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Wariner’s upcoming album began with the “Holes in the Floor of Heaven” singer writing a few songs here and there last Christmas, as he said he does every year. This time, with the advice of his son Ross, he decided to spend the year making a full Christmas album. With a mix of classic Christmas songs, newly written songs, and new cuts of past tunes, Feels Like Christmas Time is all about the feel to Wariner.
“Every year I get inspired. I pull out my Nat King Cole and all that stuff—all those old Christmas albums,” says Wariner. “To me, it’s just about feeling. That warm feeling—it’s cliché to say at Christmas—but that warm feeling is just what I wanted.”
With the main goal of making sure the album had a consistent sound throughout, Wariner paid close attention to the lineup during production—he wanted the songs to bleed into one another nicely, making the album more cohesive.
A standout track on the album, and one that American Songwriter is premiering today, is “It Won’t Be Christmas,” which was co-written with Jim “Moose” Brown.
It won’t be Christmas, if you’re not here with me, is the hook of it,” says Wariner. “Christmas is a good time to reflect and think about the people you miss. So that’s what the song is about and I love it.”
On the new record, Wariner was also able to recut an old favorite, “Christmas In Your Arms.” He loves the tune and plays it at the Opry whenever he can, but according to Wariner, the track sounded dated.
Born on Christmas in Noblesville, Indiana, Wariner’s first and biggest inspiration was his father.
“I think my father really was the impetus because, number one, he would play music. He was a really talented guy—anything you put in front of him, he could play,” Wariner tells American Songwriter. “Then I noticed that he would do some songs occasionally and I’d go, ‘Wow, I’ve never heard that,’ and I realized that he wrote these songs.”
Wariner believes his father could have had a successful career in music had he not been so dedicated to his family life, which is the theme he explores in his song “Caught Between Your Duty and Your Dream.”
“I tried to emulate him early on: I tried to write songs and perform and I did as I got a little older,” says Wariner. “Dad and I had a good bond because I was a singer and a songwriter and I did all the things he did. I think he really liked that a lot, you know. He was loving it and living it through me.”
Wariner’s professional career began when Dottie West heard him singing at a club in Indianapolis at age 17. She hired him on the spot to play bass in her band, which he did for three years. While on the road, West helped Wariner craft his songwriting.
After his time with West, Wariner began working with Bob Luman. It was with Luman that Wariner had his first songs recorded.
“Bob came to me and said, ‘Man, I’m doing this album at The House of Cash. Johnny’s gonna produce it and I want you to play on it and I wanna cut some of your songs,’” shares Wariner. “I walk into the studio and there’s Johnny Cash, Bob Luman, the engineer, and me.”
Also in the session was Paul Yandell, who introduced Wariner to another country music star: Chet Atkins. Atkins took a liking to Wariner’s music and signed him to his first recording contract at RCA Records.
In the remainder of his career, Wariner has had 14 No. 1 singles and won four Grammy Awards, three CMA Awards, and one ACM Award. His songs have been recorded by artists including Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Kenny Rogers, and Keith Urban.
Check out “It Won’t Be Christmas,” premiering exclusively with American Songwriter above.
Photos by David Abbott.