Heather Bambrick is a Juno-nominated vocalist — and if you’ve ever seen her perform, you’ll know how much fun her shows are. Those performances have often been described as what happens when Carol Burnett meets Ella Fitzgerald at a Newfoundland kitchen party.
She’s also a founding member of Broadsway, a jazz cabaret comedy enseble with Diane Leah and Julie Michels. And of course, she’s also one of our beloved and award-winning hosts here at JAZZ.FM91.
Bambrick recently teamed up with Diane Leah to write a new song that’s very appropriate for the holiday season — particularly this holiday season. It’s called (Maybe We’ll Have) Christmas This Year. For the New Music Spotlight, she stopped in after her show to talk about the new tune.
It’s so nice to get to talk to you. With all of the cleaning and safety practices we have here at the station, it’s rare that we actually get to pass each other in the studio anymore.
I know. We just wave from behind our masks, from a distance. “Oh yeah, it’s you, hi!” Either that or I’m just waving to random strangers now, which is fun.
When you decided to get together with Diane Leah to write this song (Maybe We’ll Have) Christmas This Year, it seemed like you had a mission. What inspired you to write a Christmas tune this year?
We had written one together last year or the year before — I can’t remember now, time is flying — and it was a happy-go-lucky thing called Santa’s on His Way. It was upbeat, lively, very typical Christmas. And then 2020 hit. Diane and I have each individually had stuff cancelled and postponed, and we’ve had a bunch of Broadsway stuff that was cancelled. Diane has been a dear friend of mine for many years, and so she was a part of things when my dad was sick in the summer. She watched dad’s funeral online and commented on how many people couldn’t be there in person. We saw everything that was happening in the world, and it felt like we needed to write something to acknowledge the fact that there were so many things that changed, so many things that affected us more negatively than positively, unfortunately. To write something that was just, “Oh well, let’s celebrate this year anyway,” it didn’t seem like something we could do. The line that was running through my head was, “We’re living in a world that’s not the same.” That’s the first line of the song. As we go into Christmas this year, so many things have changed. We wanted to acknowledge that, while still having a little bit of hope that maybe Christmas will still be OK. Maybe we can get through it. Maybe we’ll have something to look forward to. At a time when so many things had been cancelled, postponed, moved, shifted, changed, the thought that maybe Christmas will happen was the inspiration for this song.
It is really cathartic to hear you sing about the Christmas season the way it is for us now — to hear someone acknowledge that this has been a hard year. Did it feel that cathartic to write it, as well?
Oh gosh, yes. Absolutely. It happened really quickly. Diane and I have written a lot over the years. Some of it happens over a period of weeks, some of it happens over a period of days, and this happened over the period of an hour. It just flowed. It was emotional. It was very emotional for me to even sing it as we were working on it. There’s one line, “We couldn’t say goodbye the way we wanted to,” and that referred to so many things. I know friends who have lost parents, and they were stuck across the border and couldn’t get home, or their parents were in long-term care facilities and because of the regulations they didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. In my case, I was able to be with my dad but we couldn’t have the type of funeral we wanted to have. Singing that line was really hard for me, even in the studio. The catharsis was definitely there. The emotional purging was there. But it just felt like it was the right thing to do. We’ve heard from a lot of people who have commented on the fact that this is something that so many people can relate to.
One of the lines that really sticks with me is, “It’s not me and you and what we’re going through / It’s everyone.” It’s a reminder that it really is all of us who are in this together. What has it been like for musicians during this time — is there a galvanization of everyone coming together?
Everyone is doing their own thing and handling this differently. I’ve been fortunate enough that I have a place to go Monday through Friday. I’ve been able to go into the radio station. It’s not singing my own music in front of a live audience, but it’s playing the music of my friends and presenting it to people from whom I hear through emails and what not. But everybody’s taking it differently. Some people are really struggling. Some people are having a hard time being creative. Some people are using this time to focus on different things — develop new projects, write new music. When we got into the studio to record this tune — distanced, masked up, all that sort of thing — it felt so good to play together again. It’s been missing for almost a year now. It’s hard, I’m not going to lie. For anyone in the arts who really focuses on live performance, we’re struggling because it’s what we do — it’s who we are. It’s been a rough year, and we’re looking forward to some things changing.
It does feel like we as a society have been leaning on artists to get us through this time and to provide us with that sense of hope. Do you feel like there’s a different connection now between you and the people who are listening to your music?
I think so. You’re right, Raina. Whenever there’s any sort of a fundraising event, you get musicians to come do a performance. When this first happened, there was a lot of that going on, and musicians were asked to partake in it. I think this gives us a good opportunity to say to people, “We were there for you when this first happened, when you needed consolation, when you needed inspiration. When you needed us to be there, we were there. We kept making music, we kept making online appearances.” When everything is said and done and we’re able to get out there and perform again, I think we’re going to feel a little more comfortable saying to audiences, “Now we need you to come back for us.” There are a lot of options out there. There are so many things that you can do at home and not ever leave your house, but I think we’re going to need live music again. We’re going to need to have that feeling. I think it’ll be easier for us to say it’s time to come out of hibernation and see some live music again as soon as it’s safe to do so.
In the meantime, how can we support you and your music?
It’s a great question. A lot of people don’t really understand the ins and outs of so many parts of the music business. We all talk about streaming, and you can get things on iTunes, Spotify, etc. — and yes, you can — but the easiest thing to do is to go directly to the artist whenever you can. If there’s an artist you like and you want to support them, wherever possible, go to that artist’s website. If they have merchandise that you can buy directly from them, that’s always the best way to do it, because they get the majority of the income without having to pay a lot of revenue to services that provide their music, etc. Direct consumption through an artist is always the best bet. When it comes to getting music that you’d like to hear — be it a full record or just a single — a lot of the time artists will sell it directly on their website. And Bandcamp is a brilliant organization that is very artist-friendly; their overhead and admin fees are very low, so the artists get the majority of the income from sales, and the first Friday of every month, they’ve been foregoing all of their admin fees and all the money goes directly to the artist. It’s their way of giving back to the artists who are struggling right now. So I say, make your own decisions and go wherever you feel comfortable, go to the artist’s website or a place like Bandcamp — either order a physical copy or get a download — and the majority of the money goes directly to the artist.
Where can we find (Maybe We’ll Have) Christmas This Year?
I have it on my Bandcamp site. I promise Diane that I absolutely will give her half of everything that we get in.
This interview has been edited and condensed.