There’s no stopping Thomas Feurer and Neal Pawley, the talented duo behind the group 11 Acorn Lane. They’ve composed and recorded a full blown marching band piece, they play enough instruments between the two of them to call themselves “the smallest big band ever,” and they’re no strangers to exploring new styles of music, and even more instruments. Read on to learn how their 2010 holiday album “Happy Holy Days” has helped further their career, and whether or not they would consider making another…
Without using the words “world,” “jazz,” or “pop,” describe your sound.
Quirky and fun.
Let’s jump right into the album. What inspired 11 Acorn Lane’s 2010 holiday release, Happy Holy Days?
One day we started playing around with Jingle Bells. We can’t remember why. Thomas thinks it was because it was snowing outside. He loves snow. He’s from Switzerland. Anyway, we got really into it and had a lot of fun with it. We were so happy with it, we felt like doing a few more.
Because it’s very common for bands/artists to make holiday records, did you feel any increased pressure creating this album than you do your original albums?
Actually, we didn’t. And come to think of it, we never really feel any pressure because we don’t compare ourselves to other bands. There’s a very fruitful creative dynamic between the two of us that allows us to explore anything we want as long as we’re feeling it. The results can be very unexpected and eclectic. We love that freedom. And we hope people who like our music enjoy the surprises.
There are so many great holiday songs you had to choose from! How did you decide what to arrange/include on Happy Holy Days?
Happy Holy Days is a very personal album. We chose songs that we love and grew up with back in England and Switzerland when we celebrated Christmas with our families. And we wanted it to not only be a Christmas album, but to also represent music that is dear to us from other “holy” days.
For instance, we wrote and recorded a marching band piece. Something you would hear at a parade or other festivities. Part of our early teenage musical experience was playing in marching bands back in Europe. Arranging and recording a full blown marching band piece was one of our most involved endeavors to date. But everything came back to us real easy and we had a blast. Literally. Just check out the low brass solo in the middle.
And we allowed ourselves to include one of our favorite celebratory pieces of music of all time – the “Mazinka”. We couldn’t help but create two completely different arrangements of it and are getting great responses from people on both of them. One of them is a free download on Amazon if readers would like to get a taste.
Let’s talk about the making of your album. How did you approach arranging the tracks?
Each one was different. We would throw back and forth ideas, grooves and reharmonizations to find out gradually where we wanted to take a particular song. Or where a song wanted to take us. As always we let things flow and ended up with a multitude of influences from our own musical pasts and current sounds and production techniques that we are very much into.
Between the two of us we play quite a few instruments which gives us the luxury to immediately record ideas and see how they work. And we do it mostly by ear. So it’s a fun, playful and intuitive process.
We gave ourselves a lot of time. We recorded Happy Holy Days over the course of three years. Often, our arrangements tend to get quite involved and there is no quick and easy way to do them. So we gave ourselves enough time to get all the details exactly to where we wanted them to be.
Have you done many live performances of the holiday tracks? Do you feel limited in your performance of the music from the album since it’s so season-specific?
Actually, it’s not so much the season-specificness that stands in the way. Most of the arrangements on the record would be almost impossible, or at least prohibitively expensive, to be put on stage. And it’s really all about the arrangements here, since the songs themselves are mostly not originals. Never say never, but it looks like we’ll be holding off on that until we can afford to hire a 30 piece augmented big band.
Has the holiday album helped generate fan interest in your other records?
Yes, definitely. When it comes to holiday music, both listeners and DJs are more open to venture into new territories and discover new artists. For instance, many great christmas radio shows are one big genre-crossing melting pot of cool music. We feel the holiday record allowed us to connect with more new DJs and listeners than maybe a regular release would.
Would you consider making another holiday album? Or is one enough?!
We loved it so much, we’re hooked. We’ve already started working on a new one. But it’ll be a few years.
And what about future projects in general. Got anything in the works?
We released our album Swing Thing a week ago. It’s a high-energy collection of fun and quirky songs. We are very excited about this one. The track “Swing Thing” – another free download on Amazon just got added to a program on SiriusFM and our song “Le Sexe Au Telephone (Do Me Do Mix)” was played on KCRW. We’re thrilled. Or to say it with one of our own favorite songs, we’re “Happy As Can Be.”