Christian rock artist Zach Williams put his own touch on classic Christmas favorites in his new holiday project, I Don’t Want Christmas to End. Recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the album combines Williams’ country/southern rock influences with the spirit of those who recorded at FAME before him.
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Like many artists, the idea of recording a Christmas album has always been on Williams’ radar, he just needed a free moment to get the ball rolling. The opportunity presented itself in the form of the COVID-19 lockdown, during which Williams used the holiday record to keep himself and his team busy.
“I wanted to do a full-length record for Christmas for a while now. And then we were all stuck at home during COVID last year, and we were all looking for a project to start on because everybody was kind of going stir crazy in the house,” Williams tells American Songwriter. “It’s also one of those things that I always wanted to do but I’ve always wanted to record it so that it sounds like something I would want to go tour on and play on. So we tried to put our own twist on these Christmas classics.”
Williams had the perfect method in mind to make the album his own: take a trip down to Muscle Shoals and use the energy of previous artists to really capture the essence of southern rock in the album.
“A lot of times, Christmas music starts to all sound the same, and I wanted to do a Christmas album that sounded like it came from the late ‘60s or early ‘70s. My whole vision for it was like, ‘let’s go down and record a record that sounds like Wilson Pickett or somebody like that would have recorded these Christmas songs,’” says Williams. “I wanted to do it in a place that has a history. I wanted to do it in a place that was inspiring and I wanted to just make a fun record that we could go out and tour on for years down the road.”
Capturing the sound of the past required more than just creating new arrangements of the songs: the setting was essential. Williams described FAME Studios as a time capsule. From the studio gear to the console desk, everything is the same as it was in the days of Aretha Franklin and Mac Davis. With photos of the greats on the walls and their music coming through the speakers, creativity, and passion run wild.
“It’s just super inspiring. It makes you think, ‘if we’re here, we’re going to continue this legacy of music and we want to capture the sound that was recorded in this place,” says Williams.
FAME Studios worked its magic and, within its walls, Williams and his accompanying musicians made a Christmas album worthy of a place among the greats. A native of northeast Arkansas, Williams has always had roots in classic country and the delta blues. The Christian and gospel influences come from growing up in church, where his father led worship.
Williams’ Christian background presents itself in several songs on the 10 track album. “Silent Night,” a beloved religious Christmas song, was one of the last to fall together and ended up being one of Williams’ favorites. He struggled to find a good key for his voice, so he wasn’t sure it would end up on the album or even be recorded while at Muscle Shoals. It was only on the last night of the three-day recording trip that the song that they finally found the sweet spot.
“They were pulling out some old Allman Brothers and tapes from back in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s. We were just listening, getting some inspiration, we were all super inspired. My producer Jonathan said, ‘You guys go in on the track and start playing around with this,’” recalls Williams. “When we finished the song, it was like, ‘Okay, that was the moment that we were all hoping to get, what we were there for.’ It’s just one of these things that you hope happens while you’re there. You know, you don’t expect it but when it happens, it feels right.”
Of the 10 songs on the album, nine are fresh takes on familiar tunes. The original song and title track, “I Don’t Want Christmas to End,” closes out the album. Williams got the idea from fellow songwriter Dallas Davidson, who was toying with the concept of waiting all year for Christmas, and then it is over in a day.
“It’s been a long year getting to where we are. How do we make a song where the idea is like, ‘Hey, just slow down a little bit. You know, maybe if you want to leave your wrapping paper on the floor a little bit longer, maybe for another day and do it all again tomorrow,’ that was kind of the idea,” says Williams. “You wait all year to get to Christmas and Christmas comes. It seems like it’s getting faster every year to come and go and so we just wanted something that had this classic feel that felt like it had been around for years.”
Check out the video for “I Don’t Want Christmas to End” below.
Photo courtesy of Zach Williams.