LANCE CHAT :: Q&A with singer Mifflin Lowe

**LOOK FOR A GIVEAWAY AT THE END OF THIS Q&A.

The back story: Mifflin Lowe, the singer/songwriter I blogged about here, just released a kid’s Christmas album – Wilton Wilberry and the Magical Christmas Wishing Well. This 15-track collection of original songs and narration tells the story of a greedy kid, Wilton Wilberry, who every Christmas feels snubbed in the gift department.

Fed up with being under-gifted, he runs away from home and stumbles upon a magical wishing well that’s home to a rock ‘n roll Santa who makes all his wildest wishes come true. Soon he’s showered with more toys and candy than an overindulged celebrity child, which naturally leaves him feeling lousy and selfish. With the help of a Christmas princess, gluttonous Wilton comes to terms with his “gimmes” and finally sees value in the most overlooked gift of all: the love of family and friends.

Inspired by the sounds of Elvis, Roy Orbison, The Beatles and early hip-hop, Wilton Wilberry is a modern-day Dickens tale with a rock ‘n roll twist.

Please note: I’d never promote something on the Lance that I didn’t think was awesome. I have a huge soft spot for artists, especially artists whose visions and sensibilities align with mine. If I’m going to push products in this space, they’re going to have to be clever, meaningful and inherently funny. Miff hits all three with Wilton and his two previous albums, The King Who Forgot His Underpants and Beasts By The Bunches.

I love listening to music with Henry. It’s the feel-good, no-fuss, old-fashioned alternative to watching television. One of my favorite material possessions is the radio in my kitchen. It was a Christmas gift from Joe. I listen to more music in the kitchen than anywhere else, including the car. The kitchen is where I spend most of my rare indoor time with Hank. We dance. We sing. Sometimes I even line his stuffed animals on the bench seat at the table so we have an “audience” to entertain. Sometimes in the middle of these dance-offs I wonder who’s really the kid in our house.

Speaking of big kids, here’s Miff … looking more serious than usual …

HK: What kind of kid is Wilton Wilberry?

ML: Wilton is the archetypal little brother who always feels slighted, neglected, picked on and not so much under-appreciated as utterly unnoticed. This simmering resentment is brought to a quick boil during the holidays when Wilton ABSOLUTELY KNOWS his brother and sister will get the all good stuff like video games, skateboards and electric guitars and he will get nothing but the crummy stuff like socks, undershirts and cuff links. Cufflinks? What kid wants cufflinks? It’s even worse than cologne! When Wilton discovers the magical wishing well and the Rock ‘n Roll Santa, he’s able to turn the tables and get everything he wants. Sometimes he goes to the wishing well with catalogs and wishes for every single thing on every single page – and gets it all. Eventually his gifts fill the house, the front lawn, the street and the whole neighborhood while no one else gets a thing.

HK: It sounds like you have Santa issues.

ML: I suppose Wilton springs from the fact that my sisters were the princesses in our family. They were driven to grade school even though it was only three blocks away, while I was forced to rake leaves, shovel the walk, and refinish furniture.

HK: Why the name Wilton Wilberry?

ML: It arises from its alliteration with wishing well. I’m a sucker for word play and a particular fan of alliteration. Plus I thought the name implied a certain weeny-ness, which is part and parcel of Wilton’s character.

HK: How long has this album been in the works? You told me The Santa Rap (track 6) was your college roommate’s favorite song. When did you write it?

ML: This album has been in the works for so long I don’t even want to mention it. I wrote it after the birth of our son as a follow up to a children’s book and CD I had published by Doubleday, Beasts By The Bunches. Invoking the true spirit of the holidays is always relevant.

HK: It must feel like such a relief to birth Wilton after such a long gestation.

ML: Over the years, I’ve performed Wilton as a show at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Boston and Belcourt Castle in Newport, R.I. and other great venues. This year I’m going to do it at the Berkshire Athenaeum, where James Taylor makes an occasional appearance. It took so long to finish it because I wanted to get it right.

HK: True to Mifflin form, the narration and voices are excellent.

ML: Last year I found the perfect voice to tell the story. His name is John Pether, but I call him Sir John Pether because he sounds like Sir David Attenborough and Sir John Gielgud wrapped into one. I mixed up the musical styles to keep things interesting. The Santa Rap is expressive of the Rock ‘N Roll Santa’s character. He’s a dark and slightly weird, sort of Rumpelstiltskin character. My son, Alden, who’s now grown up, does his voice and does a great job of it. I sing the lead vocals, but it’s the background singing (performed by Lowe’s wife, Patti and singers Kim O’Keefe and Lauren Baker) that gives the tunes their spirit and spice. Sir John tells the story in a voice that’s inimitably British and perfect for a holiday tale, like a narrator from A Christmas Carol. My wife also does the voice of the Christmas Princess. She channeled Glinda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz.

HK: Why a Christmas story?

ML: Given the unrivaled materialism of our society, I think stories that communicate the true spirit of the holidays will always be important, especially for kids. Kids don’t know they’re not supposed to be greedy little buggers, unless someone points it out to them. And let’s face it, the love of our family and friends is a lot more important. It certainly lasts a lot longer than a Hot Wheels monster truck.

HK: How does Wilton differ from other Christmas stories?

ML: I think this story is different because, despite its fantasy elements, it gets to the real heart of the matter: sibling rivalry, materialism, jealousy and resentment between brothers and sisters. These feelings tend to come to the fore during the holidays, when kids can look under the tree and actually keep score. Adults try to paper over these lurking sentiments by getting kids what they want, but I don’t think placating them is the right answer. While it’s nice for parents to try to jump through hoops to keep their kids happy, it’s much more important to make sure they value the right things in life. The holidays are a great teachable time.

HK: All Alone and The Christmas Princess sound like Beatles songs to me. Were you aware of that?

ML: Actually, I was not aware of the Beatles sound. I was kind of thinking of Elvis’ Blue Christmas and Roy Orbison when I wrote it. I love All Alone. The engineer on the tracks started crying when we were recording it. I guess he was recalling a particularly lonesome holiday. I think there are two things on this song which evoke the Beatles: the minor 6th on the IV chord which is something the Beatles used a lot and the harmonium in the rhythm track, which the Beatles used on Here Comes the Sun, We Can Work it Out and more. On The Christmas Princess, my son said I sound like John Lennon, which I took as an immense compliment. Musically, it’s in 6/8 time, which is virtually the same as the 3/4 time signature of Lennon’s Happy Christmas (War is Over).

HK: Your other children’s albums are all pretty witty. Do you think this one is as humorous?

ML: I think it’s funny in the gross way kids love – ie: Wilton’s brother spitting out candy and the sheer delight he takes in getting revenge. I’m hoping this CD is more meaningful than clever. I think the music is more “rocking,” which kids like. A mom sent me a video of her daughter jumping all over the living room couch in response to a demo I did of Rock ‘n Roll Santa. At the end of the song, the girl says what every musician lives to hear: “Put that on again.”

Here’s Tiffany dancing to an old demo of Rock N Roll Santa. The video was shot several years ago, before the song was the polished tune it is today. 

HK: Give me your saddest Christmas memory.

ML: Here comes the dirty laundry. Year after year my father would come home from his office party on Christmas Eve a trifle schnokered, which didn’t go over well with my mother, which meant they would have their inevitable altercation.

HK: Your happiest?

ML: When my son was a year old or so my wife got him all gussied up in Christmas clothes, some of which she’d made. It was the cutest darn thing I ever saw.

HK: Greed is the villain in this story. Did you find your son was especially greedy at Christmas time?

ML: Our son is an only child. We actually called him “the messiah,” since we knew he was going to be the one and only, but he was never really greedy. The Christmas gifts he liked best were a Power Rangers set, a Michael Jackson album and Raggles, his little stuffed animal toy. We still have Raggles.

HK: What do you suggest parents do to keep their kids from getting the gimmes at Christmas time?

ML: (Laughing) Repeated lectures and one or two severe beatings.

HK: And when that doesn’t work?

ML: I suggest parents talk about the true spirit of the holidays. Legos will one day gather dust in the attic. Friends and family will be important forever. That’s what Wilton Wilberry is all about. One song in particular (Gimme Everything) sets that table for this discussion. It’s a no-holds-barred enunciation of youthful greed. It’s the song one 5-year-old boy said he liked the best. He liked the beat, but it also kind of summed up his fundamental approach to Christmas.

HK: What’s at the top of your Christmas wish list?

ML: Well, other than all the obvious stuff – peace on earth, good health for me and mine and yours too – I really hope a lot of families give Wilton a listen. I love the fact that people get in touch with me to tell me how they loved Beasts By The Bunches when they were a kid and now they’re getting it for their kids. I would love to have the same kind of affection for Wilton.

For more on Miff, visit LocoKids.com.

**GIVEAWAY – ALL ENTRIES WILL RECEIVE FREE MUSIC BY MIFFLIN LOWE. THE WINNING ENTRY WILL RUN AS A GUEST POST ON THE LANCE AND RECEIVE A CHRISTMAS PRESENT FROM ME AND WRAPPED BY JOE, WHO IS THE BEST GIFT-WRAPPER I KNOW.

I’m accepting guest post submissions in the following categories:

1. Your sweetest Christmas.

2. Your wackiest Christmas.

3. Your saddest Christmas.

4. Your greediest, most commercial Christmas.

**Posts can be short! Just because I write long doesn’t mean you have to. Email heidikurp@gmail.com 

Comments

  1. Jill Dowd says

    Sounds like the album would make a great Christmas present, but I wish there were some pictures to go with the music.

  2. heidi says

    Jill – funny you should mention it. My sister’s 6th graders are creating digital illustrations to accompany the songs using their iPads.

  3. Jill Dowd says

    wonderful! Will you be publishing them here? And why not a full length cartoon ala “Charlie Brown”??

  4. heidi says

    Jill – I will definitely publish them here. I’m not sure these 6th graders have mastered digital illustration yet. For that, we have Ringling kids.

  5. heidi says

    From Mifflin in response to Jill’s comments: “I hope to publish a book with great illustrations for the next holiday season, maybe make it a part of a CD package. Regarding Charlie Brown: “I’d love to do something animated!”

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