Christmas is upon us. The music’s all around us, and it is an especially special time of year for former Somerville resident and current Providence inhabitant Dan Blakeslee. He’s ringing it in with his backing band, the Calabash Club, on a project titled Christmasland Jubilee. We spoke about the making of the album, the inclusion of a lot of classic renditions, a special hometown residency he got to do over the summer, and trying to enjoy the holidays.
Christmasland Jubilee has you and the Calabash Club performing renditions of various classics including Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” Harry Reser’s “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” Bing Crosby’s “Silver Bells,” and the carols “We Three Kings” and “Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem.” How did you go about the song selection process for the album?
Those are songs that I’ve admired for decades. When I was making this album I had seven originals that I was intending to include, which I did, and when it came to choosing the cover songs it was a no-brainer for me to go with the longstanding classics.
As you’ve done for all of your albums, you drew up the cover art for Christmasland Jubilee and it has Santa Claus jumping up to clack the heels of his boots next to a Christmas tree. I find myself comparing your art to that of Charles Schultz’ Peanuts and Dr. Seuss due in how it seems to transport the mind to a different world where you have these characters you’ve created. Do you consider both of them influences for your art?
I’m absolutely influenced by them. I’ve had so many different art influences, but two big ones are Rockwell Kent and Norman Rockwell. I absolutely agree with the vibe of this Christmas record and how the album cover resembles the guys you mentioned.
To reflect on Christmas in your own personal life, what would you say is the best Christmas gift you’ve ever gotten?
From my family they’ve always been super, super meaningful and really well thought out. I would say one of my most memorable ones is my dad used to always do this thing where he would mention that all of the presents have been unwrapped, we’re hanging out as a family listening to Christmas music and then he would say, “Hey, what’s that behind the bookshelf?” and all of a sudden there’s a major present. One of them was a bicycle, it was my first 10-speed and I’d wanted one throughout my entire childhood and I grew up in the country so I used to like to ride my bike. So yeah, the 10-speed bicycle is definitely it.
You’re a full-time musician and this year you’ve done a lot of virtual shows along with some socially distanced ones at venues including Askew in Providence and 3S Artspace in Portsmouth. What would you say has taken the most adjusting for you this year with COVID-19 completely changing the landscape for live music?
I would say me not being able to go see music, which I’m hugely inspired by. Going to see friends play, going to see heroes play and that’s been the main thing for me. It’s definitely weird being home a lot but I love my little apartment, it makes me happy. Doing internet shows have actually been pretty fun and more fun than they had been pre-pandemic. Before COVID-19, you could do those online shows but no one was really paying attention and I feel like now people are definitely paying attention because it’s all they have.
I was lucky to get a mini residency over the summer near my hometown in Maine. Every Monday I was playing outside of this theater in Ogunquit called the Leavitt Theatre and it was so nice to have this gig. I would go there and play and then I would go help out my mom on the farm the next day because she lives only a few minutes away from the place. It was nice to get out some musical energy that’s been stored inside of me for so long out there along with helping my mom out on the farm each week. Now that winter has set in, I’m trying to figure out ways to play while avoiding the cold.
I’ve been avoiding outdoor shows because it’s too cold, even though I do have some on the schedule for this album. I’m praying that it won’t be crazy cold, they’ll have heaters and everything but you never know.
There’s so much uncertainty and unpredictability with this year that you can’t really nail down what’s going to happen.
Yeah, it’s all dependent on the weather. During October I [usually] have this Halloween side show called Dr. Gasp and I’m usually able to piece together a 25-date tour. This year everything got cancelled except for one show, then more shows got added, then some of those got cancelled and other ones got added, so I ended up playing 10 shows. A couple of them towards the end of the month were in 40-degree weather and I was playing outside thinking to myself, “Man, this is crazy.” It was really fun too, definitely memorable.
With Christmasland Jubilee being out, what’s next for you? Do you plan on hunkering down to work on a new solo album?
You know what I’m gonna do? I’m just going to enjoy the holiday season. That’s exactly what I’m gonna do. It’s been such a crazy race to the finish with this album because I had started it on December 20th of last year and we had it almost wrapped up in March. Then the pandemic hit and we couldn’t finish the record so we ended up finishing it in August with vocal harmonies and mixing adding the final touches. I thought that this was going to be in the pocket by April and I was really going to be able to do all of the PR through the summer but I couldn’t do it because I didn’t have the finished product.
I’m very much looking forward to enjoying the holiday season, and then in January I’m going to get back into my other record that I had intended to put out this year as my next solo release.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.