Alberta’s Corb Lund is one of the artists featured on the new holiday compilation An Americana Christmas (which you can stream on CBC Music for one week). His contribution, “Just Me And These Ponies (For Christmas This Year),” is a melancholy tune about an old rancher who only has his horses to keep him company for Christmas.
We talked to Lund about the song, and the challenges of writing Christmas music.
What made you decide to contribute to An Americana Christmas?
Well, at first I thought I wouldn’t. I’m not really a Christmas songs kind of guy. The music is too happy for me. But then, at the last second, I got an idea for a song that I thought might be good…. And now I get to be between Johnny Cash and Dwight Yoakam, so I can’t complain about that.
How big a deal is this for you, personally as a country fan, to be listed along with those guys?
Oh yeah. It’s great. We’re all going out for dinner later tonight. No, it’s good. It’s like, 40 per cent of the guys on the compilation are my old heroes from growing up, so it’s cool.
So the song itself, it is the saddest Christmas song I’ve ever heard.
Well, I know a few people in that boat. Not even necessarily cowboys, but old guys who are estranged from their families, and then Christmas comes around. They say Christmas is the saddest time of year if you don’t have friends and family. It seems like whenever I write songs about feelings, they get kind of a horse overlay … I know a couple guys who are spending Christmas out on the prairie, it’s -30 with a bunch of snow, and there’s nobody around but the horses. They’re pretty happy to have those horses there, you know? The horses kind of play the saviour.
Why is that?
Well whenever I write love songs, and I don’t do that a lot, but whenever I do write a song about relationships, there’s usually some sort of horse theme. I think horses are an excellent mirror/metaphor/allegory.
You’re not the first or only country musician to key into this. What is it about horses?
They’re pretty smart, and they all have personalities. No two horses are the same. It’s a thing people can relate to. And it’s part of my background. My whole family’s worldview is shaped by rural life and the cowboy industry.
Was there something or someone you were trying to channel when writing this song?
I’m not much of a religious person, so my favourite Christmas songs are the ones like “Silver Bells” and “White Christmas.” So sonically, I’ve got some sleigh bells and strings in the arrangement, because I was trying to connect with those old songs. And then we added some sleigh bells in there because that just pokes at the Christmas centre in your brain.
I like the phrase “Christmas centre.”
Ninety per cent of the emotional appeal of Christmas songs is that they are so familiar, it’s really hard to write a new Christmas song, because it doesn’t have that same emotional weight that those canon Christmas songs carry. The sleigh bells and the strings helped tie me into that vibe. It’s hard to write a modern Christmas song that doesn’t sound like any other song. It’s hard to get a new Christmas song to activate that nostalgia button…. I’ve thought about this for years, and I kept saying no, and that’s the reason why. Everyone’s happy with the Christmas songs we have. There’s no one looking for new Christmas songs.