Jeff Tuohy interview
The holiday season is truly a magical time of year. As communities gather to celebrate another year’s passing, oftentimes thoughts of reflection permeate from beneath the surface. Looking back over the years of great holiday music, it is evident how difficult it must be for an artist to release something original that stands out amongst the crowd. Last year, New York based Americana artist, Jeff Tuohy released a Christmas single that not only stands out, but has the potential to become an Americana holiday standard. Coupled with an animated music video in the vein of classic Christmas specials, Tuohy’s “Santa’s Bringing Coal,” is a song worth discovering and cherishing every holiday season. Here is a conversation with Tuohy reflecting on “Santa’s Bringing Coal,” as well as unforgettable Christmas memories.
AH: Last year you released your Christmas single, “Santa’s Bringing Coal.” The song stands out amongst other holiday songs for its humorous depiction of a deviant young boy and of course your distinctive rock and roll style. What’s the story behind writing that song?
JT: The chorus popped into my head while walking my pit bull, Buddy, on a Saturday afternoon, three days after Hudson Delta came out. It has been an ambitious year releasing an LP and two music videos, so I thought, “We can save that for next season.” The more I walked, the more the song evolved. I was inspired because I love Christmas and couldn’t think of a similar song. “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” warned Santa’s watching and judging, but I thought, “What about a song where a kid lived their life, regardless of this threat until it was too late?” Later that day, I sang it to my dad. He said, “Sounds great! Record it.” Most artists coordinate the promotion of their holiday song in September and it was almost October. I was under the gun, so I started making calls.
AH: Where did you record the song and who are the musicians playing on it?
JT: We recorded at GB’s Juke Joint in Long Island City, New York. The session was co-produced by John Seymour with Colin Mohnacs behind the soundboard. Like any good producer, John asked if there were demos or charts. Due to the timeline and my faith in the musicians’ abilities, I said we’d wing it. Dave Archer (piano/organ), Dan Asher (bass), Eric Leraci (guitar), and Mike Nappi (drums) learned the song and recorded the rhythm section tracks within an hour. David Gibson (trombone) brought Anthony Nelson, Jr. (sax), and Josh Evans (trumpet) in 30 minutes later. Amy Blaze laid percussion tracks 90 minutes later. It was a four-hour whirlwind.
AH: You also released an accompanying video for the single created by 77 Marcus brilliantly depicting the lyrics of the song. How involved were you in the process of making the video?
JT: Marcus and I used the same process for “Santa’s Bringing Coal” as “The Devil’s in New Orleans.” I shared inspiration (School House Rock meets A Charlie Brown Christmas) and a lyric sheet with the narrative. They submitted approval in three stages. It was completed within weeks.
AH: I remember watching the video for your song “The Devil’s in New Orleans,” which was a great visual accompaniment. When you write, do you ever think about your songs from a visual perspective while you are writing them?
JT: Not yet. As of now, I handle one stage at a time with the finished audio product inspiring the visual aspect, but the next round could be different.
AH: What are some of your favorite holiday songs?
JT: It’s hard to find a Christmas song I don’t like. A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi is my go-to when Thanksgiving dinner’s over. My other favorite albums are Ella & Louis Christmas, James Taylor At Christmas, and Everyday is Christmas by Sia. Singer, Kelly Wolfgramm just turned me on to It’s A Holiday Soul Party by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, which is pretty great. If I had to pick a favorite song, I’d say “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues.
AH: I also read that you loved the classic Christmas specials while growing up and that they influenced the music video for “Santa’s Bringing Coal.” What were some of your favorite Christmas specials and why did they make such an impact on you?
JT: A Charlie Brown Christmas is number one because of the soundtrack and message. Jimmy Durante’s voice made Frosty the Snowman a favorite. The “Fat Albert Christmas Special” is a beautiful story that exposed me to a world outside of suburbia. The Who toys, Boris Karloff’s narration, and the musical compositions in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas were captivating. I also loved “Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special,” A Muppet Family Christmas, Jim Henson’s The Christmas Toy, and A Claymation Christmas Celebration.
AH: Do you have a special Christmas memory to share with our readers?
JT: My parents always make Christmas special. My mother’s decorating should be featured in an issue of Country Living and her cooking and baking are off the charts. The most vivid memory is when my family lived in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. My father and Uncle Jim took me driving to search the night sky for Santa’s sleigh. We returned to a house stacked with brightly covered boxes covering the entire living room floor. My mom and Aunt Mary were out back, waving and yelling, “Goodbye! Thank you!” I can’t tell you what I received as gifts that year. It was about the magic and wonder. I’m fortunate my family gave that to me. Something fades with the holiday season as you get older – the anticipation. As a child, you’re immersed in the experience – rehearsing the holiday concert, making arts and crafts for the house. I guess that’s growing up, in general. My friends and I created an event this year called “The Woodbury Wassail” to bring back some wonder. It was a holiday hop between five restaurants in Woodbury, Connecticut. Local musicians donated one-hour sets. Restaurants donated the first beverage sponsored by Litchfield Distillery. Woodbury Pewter donated keepsakes and our friend, Officer Bill Cario transported Santa in a carriage drawn by a beautiful, black Clydesdale. All proceeds were donated to local food banks. So, we’ll see. Maybe this will be my favorite holiday memory.
AH: When you are gathered with your loved ones for Christmas this year, will music play a part of the festivities?
JT: Oh, yeah. There’s a steady rotation of playlists: “Cozy Christmas Jazz” in the morning, “A Merry Lofi Christmas” while working, “Bluegrass Christmas” while driving, and “Christmas Classics” while getting ready for gatherings. These are coupled with listening to albums I mentioned earlier.
AH: Last year you released the great album, Hudson Delta, which I believe was the first collection of recorded music that you released since 2009. What inspired you to step back into the studio to record these new songs?
JT: The label to which I was signed crumbled with the 2008 economy. I had a choice: make good on my professional degree or double down on art. I chose the latter. Some weeks, I’d play nine, three-hour shows. We’d finish 12-hour days, then cab over to a friend’s show in The Village or Lower East Side. The material had time to marinate as I “waited for the next deal.” When my wife was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer four months after our wedding, I needed something positive and cathartic to combat the darkness. I booked recording to begin as soon as chemo was scheduled to end. It was time to stop waiting and start doing.
AH: Are you a new year’s resolutions kind of guy? What are you hoping to accomplish in 2023?
JT: We’re going to start the next album. There are recorded songs that didn’t fit Hudson Delta as well as fresh ideas. Hopefully it’s ready for Fall 2023. We’ll probably be releasing a series of live videos on my YouTube channel and I’ll probably want to shed 20 pounds of holiday weight.
You can check out the music video for “Santa’s Bringing Coal” below: