As I’m starting to slowly and unnervingly realize now: it’s already the very beginning of December. That time of year when the snow starts to fly, the temperatures descend, and I begin to think about the Christmas season as the year we know as 2015 starts to draw to a close.
And as this final holiday of the year approaches, as most start to dream of sugarplums dancing in their heads or what type of whiskey smell the mall Santa will have on his breath, I begin to think of the music that provides an ample soundtrack to this time of year. Burl Ives singing “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”, Elvis Presley and “Blue Christmas”, that time Run DMC did the ageless classic “Christmas Is”…. okay maybe not that one quite as much.
The point is, it’s time to focus on music around the holidays. And luckily, Mikey Bar-Lavi is going to start helping me do just that. Bar-Lavi, who is the lead singer and guitarist of a group called Milky White, reached out to me recently to mention that his band was recording a Christmas EP (A Milky White Christmas) and doing a couple of benefit shows on December 17th and 20th around New York City. The profit from said shows (at 89 North and Bowery Electric) as well as the EP go entirely towards a 9/11 first responders charity called Feal Good Foundation, and really make for a fantastic music-related fit into the giving nature of the season.
So with all of this information tucked firmly under my metaphorical cap, I was eager to interview Bar-Lavi and help spread the word about the band’s project:1. What was the inspiration for putting together and hosting these upcoming December charity shows at 89 North and Bowery Electric?
(MB-L): The shows all came from our original plan to record a Christmas album. Once we decided to make this a charity event we just wanted to make sure we could make it as big and helpful as possible. We were lucky enough to have booking agents and venues who were excited about this project and willing to work with us to make this memorable.
2. And speaking of 89 North and Bowery Electric, having been to quite a few venues around NYC I’ve often found that each one possesses it’s own type of atmosphere and unique sense of…. character if that’s the right word. What have your experiences been like playing places like these as a band, and does that change at all around the holidays?
(MB-L): In terms of Bowery Electric and 89 North, they have such extremely different energies and I’m excited to see how different each show is. You’re 100% right that every venue has its own character and it adds an unseen element to every show. During the holidays I just think the vibe is a little friendlier. Especially when bands are coming together for a show like this, I think everyone feels very much on the same team.
3. You’re also playing these benefit shows with some other bands . What can listeners who have not yet been initiated expect to hear not only from your group, but some of these others that are also on the bill?
(MB-L): Honestly, I can’t say I know every band on the bill for the 17th at 89 North. There are so many amazing bands in NY its hard to keep up! I work with an amazing team in putting these shows together and I look forward to discovering some new music picked by my collaborators. For December 20th at Bowery Electric I picked Appalachian Apollo and my partner Nick Mishkin from L Rock entertainment selected Beecher’s Fault. Both are fantastic and I’m so excited that they will be joining us.
4. Now I know you’re playing these benefit shows on behalf of the charity Feal Good Foundation. What made you decide to choose this charity, and can you tell me a little bit more about it?
(MB-L): When we were looking for a cause to support it was important to us that we find something localized that everyone could feel a connection to. Being a NY band, every one of us has a memory of 9/11 and we know that everyone who lives here has a strong connection to that day. When I found The Feal Good Foundation I immediately knew it was a perfect fit for us. John Feal, the founder got in touch with me right away as I reached out to him and his enthusiasm over the phone was very inspiring. He told me his story and why he started his charity and I knew then that I had to get involved. The FealGood Foundation raises awareness of the problems concerns and issues faced by 9/11 First Responders in their every day duties. This charity ensures that yesterdays heroes are not forgotten.
5. You’re also putting out a Christmas EP that coincides with the live shows and will also have all of it’s proceeds donated to the same charity. Tell me a little bit about that, and as a band that’s self-described as “Rock and Roll/PowerPop/Indie Rock/New Wave/Post Punk”, what’s the process like adapting Christmas songs to your brand of sound? Is it a broad leap or has it felt natural?
(MB-L): It all started with the Christmas EP! To be honest it was a pretty natural transition musically. I think that we are going to surprise a lot of people with how this thing sounds. Most of our band has a jazz background and personally I’m a big fan of the kind of swing/rockabilly that is at the heart of most Christmas classics. We had so much fun putting this thing together and its probably the best guitar playing I’ve ever gotten to do on record. From now on we should probably just be a full time Christmas band.
6. Now I know the EP isn’t technically going to be out for a little bit longer yet, but is there a tentative tracklist?
(MB-L): There is! The record is done being recorded and heres the tracklist in no specific order.
Let it Snow
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
Baby it’s Cold Outside (Feat. Veronika Jokel)
Here’s a fun fact about these three songs: all three are written by Jewish Songwriters. As a Jew myself, I’m glad to be keeping the tradition of Jewish Christmas Music alive.
5. And finally, in the spirit of the holidays… favorite Christmas song/artist?
(MB-L): I’ll take Brian Setzer’s Christmas music pretty much any time of year.
Big thanks goes out to Mikey Bar-Lavi of the band Milky White for graciously taking time to do this interview with me! The EP A Milky White Christmas will be released soon (at which time I’ll do a review), but in the meantime you can check out news on the band, the benefit shows, the EP release, the Feal Good foundation and much more down at the links below.