Gwen Stefani wants an enduring Christmas hit like Mariah CareyOn December 7, 2017 by Maybell
Roy Wood may have wished it could be Christmas every day – but Gwen Stefani is actually putting it into practice.
The No Doubt singer has spent the last 12 months surrounded by sleigh bells as she worked on her first festive album, recording classics like Let It Snow and Santa Baby in the blazing heat of summer.
“Did I put up a Christmas tree in the studio?” laughs the singer. “Not really. I just did it and had fun.
“I’ve gone through heartbreak and all that stuff to write my other records. This one was just so fun and easy.”
Inspiration arrived while Stefani was out for a run at her boyfriend Blake Shelton’s ranch – a 200-acre property full of wildebeest and deer in the plains of Oklahoma.
“It was a nice, magical run and I started thinking, ‘If I wrote a Christmas song, what would it be?’ And it just came out of me, this song called Christmas Eve.
“It sounded like a hymn, and I started panicking like, ‘Oh my God! I’ve got to get back to my phone so I don’t forget it!'”
Back at the ranch, Stefani anxiously asked her parents: “Is this from church? Did I steal it?”
Reassured it was an original, she texted her managers and set up a studio session. In a matter of weeks, the voice memo on her phone had transformed into an extravagant, string-laden ballad.
After that, an entire album came together with surprising speed.
“My lifestyle’s really busy now, with all my children and everything, so I’d get to the studio at nine in the morning and… just put my mind to it.
“I only had three sessions and I wrote six songs. Two songs every session and I was home for school time!”
Fans expecting Stefani to knock out some ska-punk covers of Bing Crosby; or an electro-hip-hop take on Jingle Bells will be sorely disappointed, though.
The star, who grew up listening to Emmylou Harris’s Christmas record, Light Of The Stable, and the Charlie Brown Christmas Album, stays affectionately loyal to the old standards, sprinkling her arrangements with chirpy stabs of brass and twinkling, doo-wop backing vocals.
Even her version of Wham’s Last Christmas adds a 60s sheen to George Michael’s heartbroken classic.
“That was kind of the vibe we wanted: That wall of sound, Ronettes-style, throwback,” she says.
“It’s really rare to be able to do a record like this because it’s so expensive to get all the live musicians in.
“It’s so old-fashioned [but] it was pretty magical to be part of that.”
‘Sexiest man alive’
The album, You Make It Feel Like Christmas, is a refreshing palate-cleanser after Stefani’s last solo release, 2016’s This Is What The Truth Feels Like.
That record came in the wake of her divorce from Gavin Rossdale and a subsequent, unexpected, romance with Blake Shelton – her co-host on the US version of The Voice.
The results were suitably confused, swerving between the icy barbs of Me Without You and the cartoonish rebound pop of Make Me Like You; without settling on a consistent tone.
Stefani’s personal life is off-limits, the BBC is told in advance of this interview – but she happily chats away about Shelton, after pausing to check whether we’ve heard of him.
We definitely have. After all, he’s just been named the sexiest man alive.
“Exactly!” Stefani laughs, with a self-deprecating flick of her hair. “I don’t know if you heard about him? The sexiest man alive? That’s my boyfriend, by the way.”
In fact, it was going to be hard to avoid discussing Shelton, since he co-wrote the title track on You Make It Feel Like Christmas, a cute little love song that rides the rhythm of The Supremes’ You Can’t Hurry Love.
The track came out of the blue, says Stefani, as Shelton has largely given up writing his own songs.
“He went to Nashville just to be a writer but he doesn’t enjoy it, I guess. He just likes singing,” she explains.
“But he just happened to be sitting around on the [tour] bus and started writing that song, You Make It Feel Like Christmas.
“He sent me a voice text and I was like, ‘I was just thinking about your record and I don’t know if this is any good’.
“And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this sounds like a hit!'”
“It’s one thing to write a Christmas song that’s mid-tempo or slow or emotional, but an uptempo, fun, joyful one? That’s hard.”
You Make It Feel Like Christmas is undoubtedly the highlight of the album – and Stefani’s best shot at having a recurring Christmas hit.
“As a songwriter, that’s the ultimate dream,” she admits. “The idea of having a song that repeats every year.
“I mean, every year Mariah Carey is like, ‘Here I am again! I’m back! Even if I don’t have a record out this year, I’m back at Christmas!’
“That was the idea – I was going to get the basketball and try to score a basket.
“You never know with any music if it’s going to connect. But this record, so far, has been kind of magical.
“It’s probably going to be my favourite Christmas I’ve ever had – and it’s been going on since April!”
You Make It Feel Like Christmas is out now.