“This is the feel-good week of the year,” David Myles says with a smile.
Not only is the Halifax-based songwriter fully in the mood to play seasonal songs from his new CD It’s Christmas now that the calendar has turned to December, he will be doing it for good causes this week when he heads to his home province of New Brunswick for his annual Sing for Your Supper shows in support of local food banks.
“I mean, it’s great to have the album out, it’s great to be having all that stuff, but I don’t think there’d be a Christmas album without the Sing for Your Supper tour. That’s what inspired me to make the record,” says Myles.
He performs in Fredericton on Wednesday, Saint John on Thursday and Moncton on Friday, all at noon to 1:30 p.m.
Myles and his trio then head back to Nova Scotia on Saturday for an early afternoon appearance on CTV’s Christmas Daddies telethon, live from the Nova Scotia Community College Waterfront Campus in Woodside at about 1:15 p.m., before making a beeline to Port Hawkesbury for a Saturday night concert at the Strait Area Education Recreation Centre auditorium at 7:30 p.m.
The shows and an upcoming Ontario-Quebec tour wrap up a busy year that saw Myles take the reins of a new CBC Radio program, The East Coast Music Hour, as well as time spent in the studio crafting new tunes with his Enfield cohort Classified. He gets busy in the new year, getting ready for two nights with Symphony Nova Scotia at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium on Feb. 6 and 7, as well as the arrival of his second child with his wife, broadcaster Nina Corfu.
While Myles is used to playing concert halls and theatres across Canada, he has come to enjoy the idea of bringing a sound system into a mall in a shopping cart and just setting up and playing, “like a travelling road show.”
“Originally, the idea was to simplify it, to take the show where people already were, and at Christmastime, it’s the malls. Obviously it presents challenges, because, at first, we were just playing to whoever was eating in the food court, looking over their shoulders thinking, ‘Who is this guy? What’s he doing?’
“Now I’ve reached a kind of critical mass where it’s gotten bigger and bigger, more people come for the event, and there’s a huge crowd that turns out. And that’s why I had to learn all this Christmas music.”
Originally a trumpet player before he switched to guitar and his own self-penned tunes, Myles is a big fan of jazz standards, and tunes like I’ll Be Home for Christmas, The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) and Let It Snow are essentially classic standards that are suited to one particular time of year.
The lanky troubadour found the process of picking some of his favourites, learning the chords and coming up with his own interpretations particularly rewarding.
“The Christmas Song (co-written by Mel Torme and Bob Wells) was an epic undertaking, probably the hardest song I’ve ever learned,” he says. “I’m not a jazz guy, and that’s a jazz song with key changes, tons of chords; it’s not an easy song. And I learned it, and got into it, and now I want to play it all the time because it felt like a real achievement just learning the song.
“I had to trust my instincts, find the songs that suited my voice and play them in a way that I think works well for me. I didn’t want to imitate anybody too much, Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole or whoever, even though I love them all. Like the Mills Brothers, I think their Christmas album is one of the best things I’ve ever heard.”
There was also an old school vibe in the way Myles recorded in the studio with his band — including guitarist Alan Jeffries, bassist Kyle Cunjak and drummer-producer Joshua Van Tassel — playing together in the one room at Joel Plaskett’s New Scotland Yard studio in downtown Dartmouth.
“They were up for the challenge, because it is a challenge. Someone hits a bum note in the last chorus, you’re doing it again. It’s not like you can just punch it in; you’re all in for it, together,” he says of his musical musketeers.
Myles’ original tunes on It’s Christmas include the sweeping title track, featuring the voices of Bedford’s Basinview Drive Community School Choir, the sprightly novelty number Santa Never Brings Me a Banjo and the story song The Gift.
As a nod to another great recent Christmas record out of Halifax, there’s also a cover of singer-songwriter Meaghan Smith’s It Snowed, taken at a breakneck bluegrass pace. A big fan of Smith’s record, Myles didn’t appreciate the skills it takes to write a holiday song until he decided to tackle it himself.
“They have to fit in with the big songs, they have to do something and say something, be memorable and melodic,” he says. “So I don’t know if that raised the bar in my head and made me write songs that I felt really great about, but that’s kind of how it turned out.”
Toughest of all was the decision to do a story song, The Gift, about an encounter with a man who had fallen on hard times as the snow starts to fall. Inspired by the work of Marty Robbins, and with a hint of Red Sovine, the song gets its message across with an air of mystery in its verses.
“That was the biggest risk I’ve taken in a long time, in terms of songwriting,” Myles says. “I’d never done a talking song before, and I played it for Luke — Classified, that is — right after I finished it, and he laughed and said, ‘Dude, you’re rapping man, you’re rapping!’