Country artists love spreading Christmas cheer, and Tara Thompson is no exception. The singer/songwriter, who hails from East Tennessee, recently released her first-ever holiday album entitled, Hillbilly Christmas, and it’s witty, warm, and highly relatable.
The 10-track project features a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas,” and nine original songs including, “Willie Nelson Tickets,” “Bah Humbug” and “Christmas Eve.” Thompson was partly inspired by the small town she grew up in when it came to writing some of the tracks on the project.
“Christmas in a small town usually means you’re house hopping and more than likely drinking moonshine and someone may or may not wind up in jail,” Thompson light-heartedly explains of her hometown on her official website.
A distant cousin to the legendary Loretta Lynn, Thompson didn’t rely on famous ties to get to where she is today. Instead, she forged a path on her own and began her career by performing as a regular act in Nashville’s local music scene.
Her hard work and dedication landed her a record deal with Big Machine Label Group’s Valory Music Imprint. However, she has since gone on to make her own way as an independent artist. Thompson’s Hillbilly Christmas album now follows her 2016’s debut EP Someone To Take Your Place.
Thompson recently caught up with Country Now to talk all about her holiday album as well as how she celebrates the Christmas season with family. Read on for our exclusive Q & A with Tara Thompson…
Melinda Lorge: This is your first full-length project since Someone To Take Your Place. Why did you choose to follow that up with a Christmas album?
Tara Thompson: I’m not on Big Machine anymore; I’m doing this independently. But, I think it started back when I was with Big Machine. When I was on there, they were like, “You’ve got to do a Christmas album.” So it was in the back of my mind that I’d put out my own Christmas album. So it started with them and ended with me on my own. I wanted my Christmas album to be both country and funny. We wrote it this summer, and it was weird writing Christmas songs in June and recording them with shorts and a tank top, but we had so much fun writing it.
Lorge: How did you get into the Christmas spirit while making the album over summer?
Thompson: I have to give full credit to my firefighter buddy Marc Christian. He just took it and ran with it. We had so much fun writing for this album. After we wrote “Bah Humbug,” we came up with “Christmas Crawl,” and I couldn’t wait to finish the rest of the album. I also brought a Santa hat into the studio to bring in the cheer. But, to me, “Cookies and Milk” doesn’t sound like a Christmas song at all. I feel like my music has a Christmas tone to it, but for the most part, it’s country music with Christmas lyrics.
Lorge: How did you come up with the Hillbilly Christmas as the title for the project?
Thompson: When I was doing a radio tour, I told myself I’d get a tattoo. I don’t know where [I got it], but I got this giant tattoo on my arm that says, ‘Hillbilly.’ If you’ve ever heard the term hillbilly, there are two definitions. One is an old-fashioned term for country music, and that’s me. I’m country, from East Tennessee, and I feel like I’m a 90-year-old woman. I’ve always been country and being related to Loretta Lynn, I feel like she’s always been called a hillbilly, so I’m just carrying on the tradition.
Lorge: Why did you choose “Bah Humbug” as the album opener?
Thompson: To me, it is up-tempo and hilarious. I feel like everyone can relate to it. It’s not me trying to be like, ‘I hate Christmas, Bah Humbug.’ It’s more me being like, ‘my family is all here, whether you love them or hate them, it’s that time of year.’ For my family, so many of us are usually at my mom’s tiny farmhouse, kids are running around and it’s so real. I just wanted to be comedic with that song.
Lorge: Do you and your family have any holiday traditions?
Thompson: We always get together the day before Christmas and have dinner and usually open at least one present. When we get older, we still buy each other presents. But, I think it’s less about the presents and more about family. We play games like Skip-Bo and Yahtzee and hang out. Sometimes we celebrate after Christmas because we’re all over. This year, I’ll be in Branson, Missouri, visiting my fiancé, probably in a casino. Then I’ll fly home the next day and go straight to East Tennessee.
Lorge: Tell me about your current track, “Christmas Eve.”
Thompson: I wrote that one with Marc Christian. It’s the sweetest song on the album. I wanted it to relate to people that have loved ones who are gone. The music video relates to soldiers being deployed and thanking them for their service. My fiancé is always gone too. He works on the road as a stage manager, so he’s constantly touring with artists. Every year he does a Christmas tour, so we celebrate Christmas in January. I had this idea of it being Christmas Eve and all I want is for him to come home soon. But, I wrote it for people who don’t get to be with their loved ones. My brother is in the army, and so is my brother-in-law. They get deployed and it’s hard.
Lorge: Speaking of you and your fiancé, you two got engaged this year. Congratulations!
Thompson: Yea! We got engaged in March in London. We’ve been together forever, and I’ve always been adamant about not wanting to get married or have kids. Now I’m engaged, and I have a future stepdaughter (laughs).
Lorge: Clearly you won’t have a “Blue Christmas” with that excitement! But, you did cover “Blue Christmas” on the album. Why was that song important for you to include?
Thompson: When we wrote this album, we wanted to have one familiar song. It was between that and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” I was like, “You know what? We’re going to go the Elvis [Presley] route.” I’m a huge Elvis [Presley] fan, and I wanted to pay tribute to “The King.” I wanted to do a different version of it that no one has heard before. Marc Christian did all the background vocals, and that’s probably my favorite part of the song. When the harmonies come in, you’re like, “Ahh, okay!”
Lorge: What track on the album is your personal favorite?
Thompson: “Karaoke In A Bar” is one of my favorites. Everyone says that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but for some people, it can be the most depressing time of the year. People get their hearts broken and it hurts. That’s my song that’s like, “You know what, just be sad. I’m here.” I just love that track.
Lorge: Can fans expect another holiday album in the future?
Thompson: We’re thinking about it because every year it’s so timeless. We thought about doing a bonus track and releasing it on vinyl as a physical copy. This year, we only did digital. Maybe next year we’ll have a physical bonus track so fans can put it in their stocking.
Lorge: What’s next for you?
Thompson: I have so many songs that I want to get out of. I feel like I’ve played a lot of those songs for people and everybody has there own favorite. I have them narrowed down to a few and they are all very country and so real. I feel like it’s going into a deeper side of me, and I want to dig more into that deeper side. I also think I’ll be releasing a single instead of an EP next. I hope Christmas gives me enough buzz for people to be like, “What is she going to do next?” If so, then I guess the Christmas stuff was perfect timing.