Released on November 20, 2018
“Surviving Christmas” is a simple song with a big message. Co-written by Norwegian singer Sondre Lerche and American composer & arranger Jherek Bischoff, it is warm, orchestral pop tune with vocals projected like that of a 1950s crooner and classic, broad screen instrumentation as bold as that of a 1960s girl group. While bereft of irony or cynicism, it is not without a message. The lyrics urge acceptance in an era where humanitarian & refugee crisis seem endemic all over the globe. As Sondre sings: “I’m sure you wouldn’t disagree / That Christmas only truly begins / When we invite the snowman in”
This tune was originally an Amazon exclusive commissioned by the site for their holiday playlist and released on November 20, 2015. It is now available from all digital retailers.
Vocal - Sondre Lerche
Violins 1 & 2 - Serena McKinney
Violas - Marta Sofia Honer
Cello - Aniela Marie Perry
Guitar, Bass, Drums, Horn - Jherek Bischoff
Arrangement by Jherek Bischoff
Song by Jherek Bischoff & Sondre Lerche
Words by Sondre Lerche
Recorded and Produced by Jherek Bischoff
Vocal recorded by David Groener Jr
Mixed by David Groener Jr
Tell us about how it came about/how it was made.
Jherek: I have had the chord progression in my head for several years and was not sure where it belonged and when approached about doing this Christmas song it jumped out at me! I have worked with Sondre Lerche a bit in the past and have been looking for a nice opportunity to do more and when asked to make a Christmas song, he was the first person that came to mind. I have always heard a bit of that Sinatra sound in the character of his voice, so I new in this context it would sound really good.
When I sent the song over to Sondre to write the lyrics I already had a melody and the whole thing laid out. But as Sondre started to write the lyrics it became apparent that it was taking a different shape. So we let the lyrics kind of dictate where the song was going and we made changes to the song together. It was an extremely easy process even over the internet which can sometimes be difficult.
Sondre: Jherek sent me some musical sketches that were already really inspiring, so I started writing words to some of it in New York, and together we shaped the song into what it would become, back and forth via email. I was both intimidated and compelled by the idea of writing a Christmas song - it's no joke. I wanted to write something direct and simple, that the whole family could sing together. So I tried to write it as a children's song. I find I like Christmas songs that are both idealistic, realistic and don't let us off the hook so easily. Everything is amplified at Christmas, as should our empathy be. The ongoing immigration crisis in Europe and Syria was erupting in the most gruesome ways, and I felt both shame and disappointment, both rhetorically and practically, with the way my government was responding the crisis home in Norway. Somehow this became the backdrop for my lyrics, although it could be about any family forced to leave their homes, looking for a future somewhere else, and how the way we greet immigrants, or any homeless person in the street, can mean so much more than we realize.
Tell us about the recording process.
Jherek: I have a little home recording studio that I do most of my work in. I have and play a lot of instruments! So I recorded and played all of the instruments except for the strings and sleigh bells. I actually had my dad record the sleigh bells in his studio in Seattle and send them to me over the internet because I didn't have any and finding sleigh bells in the summer is not easy... I arranged the parts for the string players and had players come out to my place and I recorded them there. When all of that was done we were coming up on our deadline and so I asked Sondre to record his vocal at home. He wasn't very set up to do that and the result was not quite there for both of us and then I just happened to have some gigs bringing me out to NY. I called a friend with a studio and we all showed up the night I arrived which was also the night before Sondre was off to Brazil. Somehow we managed to get it done. A Christmas Miracle :)
Sondre: Well, Jherek is such a wizard. He plays all the instruments you hear on the recording, except for the strings, of course, which he arranged. So I got to just be an old fashioned singer, show up and sing it. I first tried recording it myself at home, cause we didn't have much time, but I had neither the technical facilities in my bedroom, nor the skills, to record such a big vocal performance myself, and so Jherek came to New York to record my vocals here. The recording happened within a week, on both sides of the US, while the writing had moved at a more sluggish pace, back and forth in the month leading up to the recording. I'm so glad it came together in time, and really inspired by our collaboration and this tiny, ambitious and idealistic song that came out of it.
A bit of biographical information on Jherek's collaborator: By the time Sondre Lerche released his debut (2002's critically acclaimed Faces Down) at age 19, the Norwegian was already a veteran of the music industry. Signed to a major label in 2000, released two chart-topping EPs in 2001. Lerche?s distinctive voice and natural talent for writing appealing pop tunes that were alternately sunny and melancholic quickly established him as a definite contender for significance throughout Europe and beyond. As of 2015, Lerche has released eight studio albums, the last two on his own Mona label?most recently 2014?s Please an altogether different kind of divorce-record and his most emotionally intricate offering to date.
"'Surviving Christmas' is my best attempt at writing a Christmas song in LA in August! I will let Sondre speak to what the lyrics mean, but musically speaking, it was made out of love for those Christmas songs that are heavy but ultimately joyful and powerful. I am a huge fan of the crooners of the 50's as well as the girl groups of the 60's and in fact came to making orchestral music from that world as opposed to Mozart or Bach. So I wanted to have that orchestral, wall of sound feel and do it out of a deep love and not out of irony. Sondre and I both wanted to make sure the song was warm and inviting and something that could be listened to by the whole family."—Jherek Bischoff
"It's a simple song, projected in a big way. It's bereft of irony or cynicism, and as such maybe corresponds with different eras. It's something I hope both children and adults can appreciate and feel good listening to, perhaps even sing along to. If it feels too idealistic, wholesome, even naive, that is good. I wanted the song to identify and strive for our greatest potential as human beings, even if we as individuals fail to live up to it most of the time."—Sondre Lerche
Let’s build a man from all the snow
That fell to earth not long ago
We’ll dress him up, give him a nose
Some stones for eyes that he can’t close
The snow is melting in the sun
But he will freeze when day is done
He can’t come in, he’ll have to stay
Out in the cold, out on display
He has a wife, they have two boys
They had a life that fate destroyed
Surviving christmas is no feat
To any snowman in the street
But an avalanche of vile debris
Will bring a snowman to his knees
He’ll cross an ocean clutching the hope
That compassion awaits at the end of his rope
We pride ourselves in empathy
Our most displayed accessory
But reality can’t come too near
At least not now, this time of year
Our house lit up by Christmas lights
and folks who share the human right
To safety, love and decency
Especially on Christmas Eve
The snowman right outside your door
Is no exception though we tend to ignore
The frozen souls with no hats or decor
Melted down or washed ashore
They didn’t want to leave their home
They simply had nowhere to go
This tired lesson isn’t new
So what good can these few couplets do?
If you still sing along with me
I’m sure you wouldn’t disagree
That Christmas only truly begins
When we invite the snowman in