Interview: Jof Owen of The Boy Least Likely To

I pretty much fell in love with The Boy Least Likely To with the first few glockenspiel notes on their 2003 single, “Be Gentle with Me”. Their twee pop instrumentation and cuter-than-art-thou image made them a quick blogosphere favorite. Next week, the duo will release their third studio album and their first Christmas album, Christmas Special. In the holiday spirit, I asked lead singer Jof Owen a couple of questions about the new album, Christmas food, and oddly enough, midgets.

Your new album is called Christmas Special, what made you want to do a Christmas album?
We’ve both always loved Christmas songs and we’ve always written them. At first we were going to do a little EP, but when we started putting all the songs together that we’d written about Christmas we realized there were too many so it became a whole album. I guess Christmas appeals to me from a lyrical point of view because it seems to be a really magical time that holds a lot of sadness in it too. There’s a sense of loss that i think a lot of people feel at Christmas and I write about loss a lot, the way things change as you grow up and grow out of things. the more Christmas songs we wrote the more we realized it was such a perfect concept for a Boy Least Likely To album, because it’s a time of joy and happiness at the same time as being a time of reflection and melancholy. There’s always been that balance in our songs between overtly upbeat music and sadder lyrics so it suited the way we always write. Christmas is such an amazing time when you’re young and I think it’s a time when adults are more acutely aware of missing the things they used to enjoy as a child too.

The press release for the album said most of the album was written this summer. What was it like recording a Christmas album months away from the actual season?
It was really weird. I’ve been so confused since July. I’ve been thinking Christmas is a month away since then. Most of it was written over the last two years, but we recorded it all over the summer. It is odd singing songs about snow and opening stockings by the fire on the hottest day of the year. I’d talk about Christmas as if it was an immediate concern for everyone and people would think i was completely mad. My girlfriend made me a Christmas dinner in September with decorations and Christmas songs playing just so I could get in the mood for the last bit of recording the album. That was pretty weird, but it made me want to do that more often throughout the year…perhaps once a month.

The album contains eight original songs. Are there any songs on the album that you think could be modern Christmas classics along the lines of Wham!‘s “Last Christmas”?
There’s actually a song about Wham! on there. It’s written about Andrew and George meeting up together all these years later in a Cornish pub on Christmas eve, and just talking about the past and their friendship. It’s the single off the album in the UK. I really like all the songs on the album, and I think some of the best songs we’ve ever written are on it.

There’s a song called “A Happy Christmas Baby” that we’ve had for a few years and have always thought was quite special, and there’s “Blue Spruce Needles” and “Christmas Isn’t Christmas” which are two more recent songs that I’m really proud of. And a song called “I Can’t Make It Snow” which contains some of my favourite lyrics. I wrote it a few years ago and I always imagined it as a Tammy Wynette song and I’m really happy that’s on there. I guess we just have to wait and see if anyone else likes them for them to become Christmas classics. It might just end up being our great lost Christmas record.

How did you decide what Christmas covers to put on the album?
We wanted to do songs that haven’t been covered too often by other people, and that fitted nicely alongside our own songs. We’d released a version of “Little Donkey” a few years ago and it’s my favourite traditional Christmas song so that was always going to go on there. I like to think it’s the sort of song that we would have written about a donkey at Christmas. Then we both really liked “The Wassail Song” because it’s quite unusual and it’s about the new year and we really wanted a song about the new year on the album. And in the bleak midwinter is such a beautiful song. We had thought about doing it with the Christina Rossetti lyrics, but it just sounded so much more magical as an instrumental that in the end we left them off. It reminds me of hearing it when I was young and makes me feel really warm and sad.

You talk about food on twitter quite a bit. What is your favorite Christmas associated food?
Oh God. I didn’t realize I talked about food so much. I’m such a fat person. How embarrassing. I do have lots of favourite Christmas food though. I love doing a Christmas shop the week before, even though no one ever comes round to my house. One of the most exciting things about Christmas food is that they change the packaging and somehow to my tiny brain that’s enough to make it special. Twiglets come in tubs at Christmas and Maltesers and fruit pastilles come in tubes. Wow. Chocolate oranges are amazing, so are matchmakers and hollow Christmas tree chocolates. Sugar mice are pretty odd but I’ll probably do a couple over the two weeks. And I’ll eat so many roast potatoes it’s sick. Then to drink, I absolutely love a snowball, and I like to add a little shot of vodka to my snowballs just to give them an edge. No one else i know likes them but i think they’re amazing. they taste like Amoxicillin.

What’s the best Christmas gift you have ever received?
I got a book last year. It’s called The World of Midgets and it was written in 1934 by Walter Bodin and Burnet Hershey. It’s got some amazing chapter titles: “The Long and Short of It”, “Sex and the Midget”, “Midgets in Love”. It’s quite a special book. I got a double vinyl set of outlaw songs and gunfighter ballads by Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins from my mum and dad when I was six. I remember that being an amazing present. I think they must have been my first records. I love buying presents for people. One of my favourite things about Christmas is all the presents you buy for yourself when you’re supposed to be shopping for presents for other people.

You’re going on a short December tour, what should fans expect from these shows?
We’re going to bring Christmas. We’ve got all the decorations to go up and a tree and bells and we’ll have some special christmas guests and there’ll be mince pies and Christmas songs. We’ll play some of our rest of the year songs too. I’m so excited about these shows. I want people to have the most amazing time. i just hope Santa turns up.

After your short December tour, what’s next for The Boy Least Likely To?
We’re going to release a new single around March and then another one and hopefully the full album in the autumn. We’ve already got quite a few songs for it and I think it’s going to be really good. I’m not just saying that.

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