The Gothard Sisters’ New Christmas Album Brings Trio’s Signature Celtic Twist to Old Favorites and New Originals
by Pam Stucky at Huffington Post
Tis the season — the holiday season of course, but also the season when artists all over the world debut new music for all to enjoy in this most wonderful time of the year!
Among this year’s seasonal offerings is Falling Snow, a Christmas album to be released this Saturday, December 3, by The Gothard Sisters. This trio of multi-talented sisters from the Pacific Northwest has been performing together since they were very young, and they travel tens of thousands of miles to perform hundreds of concerts every year. With their enchanting Celtic sound and charismatic personalities they’ve built up quite a following of loyal fans all over the world.
The Gothard Sisters are Greta, Willow, and Solana Gothard. I had a chance recently to catch up with them to chat about the album.
Tell me about the new CD. Is there a theme?
Our new album is called Falling Snow, and it is a full Christmas album. We came up with the name because as we were compiling the collection of songs for this album there ended up being a common theme, which was snow, snowy landscapes, falling snow, etc., in the winter time. The title actually comes from a line in “Still, Still, Still,” an Austrian carol on the album, which describes the lovely feeling of safety and warmth at Christmas time when you are inside and the cold snow is softly falling outside. “Still, still, still, one can hear the falling snow.”
What songs did you choose and why? Are there any originals on this album?
In coming up with this collection we chose a lot of very old carols, because those are the most magical for us. It’s incredible how resilient these beautiful pieces of music are — some are from four hundred or five hundred years ago or longer! But they are so wonderful because they have survived through the centuries and are still great to listen to and to sing today. “Good King Wenceslas” tells the story of a great man who leaves his holiday feast to bring food and warmth to a poor man who lives nearby. It’s a great tale of good cheer and the Christmas spirit. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” ended up being this big Irish party at the end after heralding the coming season in a very Lord of the Rings-ish way. ”Skater’s Waltz” was written over a hundred years ago now, but you can still see skaters twirling and jumping around on ice when you listen to it. We finally recorded our version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” on this album as well, which is like the Three Kings heading to Bethlehem and ending up in a gypsy dance-off on their way there.
We also wrote some originals for this album — two fiddle tunes that are very different from each other. The first one is “Christmas Flower,” which is named after poinsettias. When Greta was little she couldn’t say poinsettia, so she always called them Christmas flowers, and imagined that they grew up in the snowy mountains and only happened to appear at the market at Christmas time. It’s a happy, festive Christmas reel. The second tune is called “The Happy Elf,” and it is a mysterious and lively jig played on fiddle, octave mandolin, and bodhran, the Irish drum. It was inspired by the Scandinavian legend of the Tomten, who takes care of the animals on a farm and brings presents and good luck to the people who live there if they treat him well and leave out some porridge and milk at night for him to eat.
Have you recorded a Christmas album before? If so, what’s different with this new one?
Yes, we have! Our last Christmas album was in 2010 and we couldn’t wait to record another one. I would say that this new album is much faster-paced than that album and more Celtic-influenced, while still slowing down for some beautifully peaceful Christmas carols, while our first album was slower, more classical, and cozier. They make perfect partners, really!
You tour the country a lot during the year, performing. What kinds of places have you visited, and how has it influenced your music? Was there any place that was extra special this year?
Yes, we tour for about a third of the year and have visited so much of our beautiful, vast country in the last few years that it makes me really appreciate the expanse and the hospitality of the wonderful people who live in this place we call home. Last Summer we played on a Disney cruise ship for two months as well that was sailing through destinations in Northern Europe, the British Isles, Iceland, Scandinavia and the Baltic, so there is probably a little bit of that influence in our new arrangements as well as our Celtic and Western American roots.
Will you be touring with this new Christmas album?
We’re starting our Pacific Northwest Christmas tour this week and will have concerts in Portland, Seattle, Ellensburg, and Moses Lake. Every year we do just a few special Christmas shows that are different than our regular show, since it is almost entirely Christmas-themed. We tell holiday stories, sing our arrangements of carols (including many of the arrangements on Falling Snow), do funny things involving elf hats, and much more. It’s lots of fun and we look forward to it every year!
How many years have you been recording? Tell me about the process. How long does it usually take from start to finish?
We started recording about ten years ago with a classical Christmas album. It has been a great education to learn the recording process over the course of all those years with our fabulously determined and energetic producer, Kent Harrison, and discover what works and doesn’t work through trial and error. An album can take anywhere from six weeks to six months, depending on the schedule. This one took twenty-five days, but they were pretty much eight- to twelve-hour days. So it can be pretty intense. But we enjoy it, so it’s a kind of crazy creative dream when you’re in the thick of it. And the result of being able to share the album with people at the end of it always makes everything worth it.
What do you like most about recording? Least?
I love the process of building a song from an idea into a fully arranged piece of music. Starting with a vague iPhone clip idea for a melody, groove, or a theme and then incorporating that into a full arrangement, then hearing it played on my favorite range of instruments is a very gratifying process. Probably my least favorite part is having to be incredibly picky about our performances. We’re all three major perfectionists, so sometimes it’s hard to know when to stop and not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. That’s probably the hardest part, knowing when to stop critiquing things and just move forward.
Did you make any new discoveries, musically, on this album?
We used the octave mandolin a lot on this album, since it has this lovely ancient, warm sound to it that sounds magical, expansive and reverent. Perfect for a Christmas album. We also experimented a lot with adding drums and string parts and arrangements, which added a larger scope to the songs. There’s a beautiful cello part on there as well, played by Willie Braun. That adds another rich layer to the tapestry.
What’s next for you after Falling Snow is released?
First up, the Christmas tour! Then in the spring we start to think about what is next. Our summer tour is already filling up and we’re looking at a busy year full of performances, so I know we will probably be back in composing and practicing mode so we will have new songs to play at our upcoming concerts. We’re also hoping to take some time off and enjoy our beautiful home in the Pacific Northwest a little bit — get out for walks and fun, read good books, write a lot, bake cookies. All those good things. And new music, always more music.
Thanks so much, Solana, Willow, and Greta! Best wishes to you all with the new album and the new year!