Photo: Manolo Millan / Courtesy of Yep Roc Records

Josh Rouse Gets Us in the Holiday Spirit With “Sleigh Brother Bill” (premiere + interview)

The first-ever collection of holiday tunes from Josh Rouse is as cool as you might expect. And you don't need to put up a tree to listen to it. "Not every song on my record is about Santa Claus. You can listen to it in spring and still enjoy it."

Josh Rouse has built a career on delivering consistently superior albums filled with well-crafted songs that are often wholly familiar and yet deeply original. On 1 November he’ll release his first-ever holiday album, The Holiday Sounds of Josh Rouse via Yep Roc.

The collection of original compositions touches on themes familiar to us all. A longing to return to childhood winters and holidays, the sadness of being away from home at the holidays and the short distance between heartbreak and heartwarming humor, all rendered in a voice that only Rouse can command.

“Sleigh Brother Bill” exemplifies the Nashville-based singer-songwriter’s approach. Rousing, Buddy Holly-esque rhythms coupled with a melody that induces childlike wonderment and will make the most hardened heart dance with jubilation.

The inspiration, Rouse says, was close to home. “The lyrics are basically from my childhood in Nebraska and the time I spent walking up and down hills and sledding,” he says. “It sounded like a traditional folk song to me.”

Rouse spoke with PopMatters about the record’s origins (a bonus 12″ vinyl release and bonus CD version feature him tackling three classic holiday tunes) and what he hopes listeners will take away from it.

This was a project that had a gestation of about 10 years.

I’d say, “Maybe I should do a song or a Christmas album.” I’d get around to working on one or at least have an idea. At some point I said, “Wow, I’ve got a bunch of these put together.” I’d play them every once in a while but I hadn’t recorded anything beyond demos.

Was there any reluctance on your part to do a holiday record?

About 2015 I did a tour with Nick Lowe. He had put out a holiday record around that time that I really liked. We had the same manager. I said, “I’ve got a few Christmas songs.” He said, “Just to let you know they don’t usually sell that well.” It probably wasn’t that high on anybody’s priority list for me to do. A few years later, I said, “I have these songs. I think it’ll be a cool record.” My manager said, “OK. Talk to Yep Roc. Give it a shot.” That’s what I did.

I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out. But I think it turned out really well. We recorded it quickly, in three days. I knew the guys who were playing on the record for a long time. So I knew I had a band that could get the songs really quick.

You didn’t do any classic stuff.

There are so many different versions of the classic songs. I’d listen to original holiday songs that other people did and think, “These are as good as the classics.” My own tunes had their own spin and were as good as other things that I do.

You touch on certain sentiments but the record isn’t overly sentimental.

I didn’t want to make it too sappy. There is some melancholy, which I’m good at. But I wanted it to be fun. Light, I guess. It’s not religious, it’s just different scenarios.

I feel like I could listen to it pretty much any time of the year.

That was kind of the idea. Nick’s record was something that I was still listening to in March. Not every song on my record is about Santa Claus. You can listen to it in Spring and still enjoy it.