“Not to be mean to Michael Bublé, but that sort of Michael Bublé Christmas album isn’t my thing,” Roman Coppola says, describing how he, a writer-director with an extensive back catalogue of music videos, imaginative commercials and celebrated feature projects, found himself producing a record of retro-Italian interpretations of familiar Christmas carols. “Basically, I made something I wanted to hear.” With Molto Groovy Christmas, Coppola succeeds at delivering an infectiously festive throwback album sure to appeal beyond the somewhat specific audience of Oscar-nominated vintage organ-enthusiasts. In other words, everyone can swing into the holiday spirit with this cocktail party of a holiday album.
But why did Roman Coppola, of all people, bring us Molto Groovy Christmas? “I became interested in this type of music –I hate to give labels, but groovy, soundtrack, lounge music, whatever you want to call it–when I made my film CQ years ago,” Coppola explains. His 2001 film CQ was a stylish and loving parody of European action films of the 1960s and ’70s. Of special note among them, 1968’s Danger: Diabolik, which Coppola learned about from musician Matthew Sweet; the two collaborated on a nostalgic, ’60s-esque music video for Sweet’s “We’re the Same” in 1995.
“I was really inspired by music,” says Coppola, “And used a lot of tracks to help shape what I wanted the movie to be. I grew a love for that kind of music, and, in the course of making my film, I met a few people within this subculture [of Italian retro-soundtrack music].”
One of the people Coppola met was impresario Allesandro Casella, who had premiered CQ alongside Danger: Diabolik in a two-day event in Rome. Casella was the first person Coppola contacted when, a few years back, he realized, “There’s not really a tradition of Christmas music within this soundtrack sound, and it would be fun to have that. We have to create that one of these days.”
After a number of false starts, Coppola and Casella connected with arranger and multi-instrumentalist Carlo Poddighe in Northern Italy, and the project finally began to get some traction. Coppola relays the laundry list of the vintage gear Poddighe brought to the table: Hammond m102, Leslie 145, Studer A80 MKII multitrack recorder, Trident 65 Console, Otari MTR-12, harpsichord, glockenspiel, Eko 12-string (just check the liner-notes, okay?). Poddighe also brought a knack and talent for creating the music in this vein that had inspired them. “We worked together, and it was a team effort.” Coppola naturally fell into the role of director, choosing the songs, references, and queues, and then “Allesandro chimed in with his knowledge of inspirations, and then Carlo executed it.”
The resulting record is a dedicated homage, at once sounding authentic and referential, yet original. The team turned to the great Italian auteurs of cinematic scores to find the sounds they wanted. “Hark! The Herald Angel Sings” grooves with the twangy funk of Piero Piccioni’s “Psychedelic Mood”. “Jingle Bells” kicks off with a grand, spaghetti western flair, a la Ennio Morricone, before letting loose in the surf-rock style (it’s reminiscent of the 1960’s Batman theme, possibly a knowing wink to the timeless rewrite: jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg). There are no lyrics to this mostly instrumental album, but many tracks, like the bossa nova “Silver Bells”, employ playful, harmonizing vocalists to give the tract a distinct Edda Dell’Orso sound.
“There are certain things,” Coppola shares, “like, for example, ‘Mah Ná Mah Ná’, which was used for the Sweden movie, and was made famous by the Muppets–remember that track? Anyway, I thought, Oh ‘Mah Ná Mah Ná’–such a fun track. I’d love to do something like that. So the last track on the record is ‘Feliz Navidad’, and we kind of did it in the spirit of ‘Mah Ná Mah Ná’. There’s plenty here for a music detective to geek out over, but Coppola insists that’s not the point: “Its peppered with so many references, but I would hate for people to feel like they have to be in the know to get this record, it’s not about that at all.” You don’t need a PhD in Italian Film History to enjoy these groovy tunes.
Coppola, Casella, and Poddighe also had fun flipping the listener’s expectations with a number of tracks. “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, traditionally a more meditative song, flies with a celebratory, upbeat fullness. “White Christmas” opens with seagulls squawking and waves crashing, cluing you in to a fittingly ’60s Tiki-culture detour. “Even something like ‘Joy To The World’ is kind of a dorky song, cheesy when you hear it in the traditional way,” says Coppola. “And I thought, how fun would it be to turn it on its head? We did that with the Hammond/Jimmy Smith sound.”
This is how Coppola approaches all creative endeavors, launching from one inspiration to the next, regardless of what direction that impulse will take him. Coppola says his creative process does not change with the medium. “For me, it’s all kind of the same. I do a lot of different things… And it’s the same story: you get inspired, you have an idea, a little kernel leading the way, then there is usually some kind of setback, then you drop it, then you come back to it and get another flair of action starts to happen. You start telling people you’re going to do it, and they start asking what’s happening with that thing, and you push on. and its just sort of a natural thing.” He continues, “I don’t divide things in my life. I may be working on a screenplay with Wes [Anderson], or doing this Christmas record, I just started a tote bag company; it all seems so diverse, but it’s all kind of the same in my mind, in terms of conceiving something, figuring out the steps to execute it, and then pushing through all the complications and difficulties.”
So, when hosting your own swanky Christmas cocktail party, what drink should you pair with a listening of Molto Groovy Christmas? Negronis, says Coppola. “It’s a traditional Italian cocktail, and has kind of come back in vogue a bit.” His recipe:
- One part Campari
- One part sweet vermouth (preferably Antika Formula)
- Two parts gin
- Slice of orange peel
“A nice, cold Negroni at your cocktail party, with some attractive girls and a good sound system, sounds pretty good,” Coppola assures, even though that’s not what he’s looking forward to this holiday season. “It’s so corny, but you know, when we are cooking christmas dinner and decorating the tree with my kids, this record will be playing in my house. And thats why I made it.”
Molto Groovy Christmas is available now, so download away and make your holiday get-together swing like never before.