How Many Kings: Songs For Christmas
Release Date: October 6, 2009
With a ten-year career under their belt, constant connectivity from the critics and the radio charts, plus trophies from the Dove, Juno and Covenant Awards, Downhere is among todays most celebrated and innovative modern rock acts. Each album has shown an artistic evolution that constantly finds the Canadian foursome at the top of its game and has resulted in a strong fan base.
Such is the case of the band’s first ever holiday collection, How Many Kings: Songs For Christmas (Centricity Music), which retains much of Downhere’s classic elements, but also stretches to previously uncharted realms capable of expanding the group’s audience more than ever before. Sure, there’s plenty of melodic vocal interplay from co-front men, guitarist Marc Martel and keyboardist Jason Germain, alongside the ultra-infectious rhythm section comprised of bassist Glenn Lavender and drummer Jeremy Thiessen, but there’s also a compelling experiment with organic instrumentation and ingenious holiday interpretations, alongside equally riveting originals.
“In some ways, we’ve always been resistant to anything that even resembles jumping on any kind of bandwagon, like putting out a greatest hits or a worship album,” reflects Germain. “But this came about naturally from the bonus track ‘How Many Kings’ on our last record and then going on the Bethlehem Skyline Tour with other Centricity artists.”
The genesis of Downhere’s Christmas affinity actually dates back several years earlier, when the band began a series of holiday concerts in Franklin, TN for their hometown fans. The shows combined regular hits with classic sounds of the season, which were incorporated into the debut Bethlehem Skyline Tour in 2008. If anything, fan response on those cozy outings, coupled with the unceasing success of “How Many Kings” at Christian radio, started the recording process for the group and led to Downhere’s first Christmas project done in their own unique style.
“Basically we made a giant list of Christmas songs and narrowed them down to our top choices, realizing that every one of them was at least a hundred years old,” muses Martel. “We all really resonate with a love for good lyrics — the classic ones that are going to last — so we do a lot of really old Christmas carols. However, we also tried to make the old stuff sound new.”
Though the band carefully preserved the integrity of timeless tunes like “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” “Bring a Torch,” “What Child Is This?,” “Silent Night,” among many others, each rendering has the group’s signature stamp and is firmly planted in the present. The group also hopes that in the midst of all the shopping insanity, brought on by today’s consumer society, people will truly utilize How Many Kings: Songs For Christmas as a soundtrack to slow down and plug into the true reason for the celebration.
“We didn’t want to pack a whole Christmas record with ‘Jingle Bells,’ ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ or anything that was considered all that fluffy,” admits Thiessen. “We were very selective in wanting to pick songs that actually said something than simply ‘it’s Christmas- let’s party!’ We’re just trying to get people to pay attention and unplug from all of the running around.”
But that’s not to say there aren’t any fun songs on the album, which in keeping with the foursome’s boisterous personalities, includes a handful of quirky interludes like “5 Golden Rings” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
“They’re just meant to be really fun tracks that we recorded at Jason’s house while sitting around the living room,” explains Lavender. “I was literally playing on his Juno Award and hitting everything else imaginable around the room and it made for a really fun afternoon. But it’s also very inviting to listen to and makes you feel like you’re with Downhere right there in the living room.”
Though all of the other tracks throughout the record were recorded in a proper studio, there’s an undeniable sense of immediacy and intimacy given the earthy settings. Several of the songs feature unplugged segments, while originals like the title track are bathed in gorgeous piano and string arrangements. Given the contemplative settings, the double lead singer trade off is incredibly harmonious, allowing both Martel and Germain to show off their remarkable ranges.
“The dueling vocal thing is certainly unique to what we do and there are a lot of grand, theatrical elements to what we do melodically, but this project has really stretched us in so many ways as well,” notices Germain. “With our own material, we pick the way we’re going to sing it as we’re writing it, but with a song that’s lived for literally a hundred years, you have to find just the right balance between re-approaching it with your own flavor and maintaining respect for the pre-existing history. So it’s a combination of doing what comes naturally for us, experimenting with some of the vocal delivery, but making sure we didn’t change the melodies since we want people to sing-a-long and follow something familiar.”
When it comes to audiences, How Many Kings: Songs For Christmas is likely to strike the fancy of faith-based listeners, but could very well appeal to the less than spiritually inclined looking for an artful way to reflect during the holidays. No matter who’s stereo or iPod the album lands in, Downhere wants to make sure the gospel message is at its epicenter, but in a less obvious way than generally associated with the season.
“It’s not just about a baby in a manger, but about the whole story,” affirms Martel. “It’s a look at all the hopes placed on this fragile baby, who will eventually grow, take on the sins of the world, be crucified and rise again. There’s a mystery and a wonder behind it and also foreshadowing of what’s to come, which translates to redemption for the lost and the ultimate hope for the future.”
Please listen to a sample song off this amazing CD: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Thank you to Penny at Centricity Music for providing me with 2 wonderful copies to giveaway to two lucky winners!
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