In 2010, Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox jumped on the holiday-music bandwagon by releasing the album A Christmas Cornucopia. I was the only Canadian newspaper reporter to interview her about the disc. Now that Eurythmics are finally in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, it seems like a good time to pull this story out of the archives — and update it with some bits that were edited out for space back in the day. Enjoy.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Annie Lennox’s world. “I have already started buying a few Christmas presents for people,” admits the Eurythmics vocalist. “And there will be a few Christmas Cornucopias given out, that’s for sure.”
No, Lennox isn’t spending her weekends stuffing horns o’plenty with fruits and veggies. She’s giving the gift of music this year. A Christmas Cornucopia is the title of her new holiday album, a collection of classics and carols rendered with traditional orchestrations, contemporary sonics and an African children’s choir, led by her rich, warm contralto. For the woman who sang Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) — and who was born on Christmas Day 1954 in Scotland — it’s both a labour of love and the realization of a longtime dream. In this exclusive interview, the 55-year-old singer-songwriter discussed her love of spontaneity, her holiday memories and who cooks the turkey at the Lennox house.
So, are you sick of talking about Christmas yet?
Just about. (Laughs) But we can have this one conversation. I think I can hack it. And I really love my album, so I’m happy to talk about that.
I’m surprised you didn’t make a Christmas album years ago, since it’s your birthday.
Yes. But really, I made this because I wasn’t under contract and had carte blanche. It was like, ‘OK, I can do anything I like. What would I like to do?’ And I have always wanted to do this, you’re quite right. I love these carols so much and I sang them as a child. They’re very personal. So I suddenly realized that this was the perfect moment.
So many people have made Christmas albums. Were you concerned about going into an area that’s so well-travelled?
To be quite frank with you, and it might sound naive on my part, I wasn’t aware there were so many Christmas albums. There really is a plethora, as I’ve discovered. On Amazon, they’ve got a category just for Christmas music. I didn’t even know. So no, I didn’t even think about it. An artist is someone who has their individual voice and style. And I have my own interpretive ways. So I never think about what other people have done. There’s no point. It’s about your own artistic challenge and your own journey. I just wanted to record this beautiful music for posterity.
Did you have a plan beyond that?
I didn’t really have a strategem. I didn’t even have a list of songs to record. I would go into the studio and just pick a song from my head at random, because I know so many of them. Then I would experiment a little bit with the chord progressions and go on from there. Probably each track took about two days — if that — to record. I worked very quickly. It was such a joy, such a pleasure. They’re such beautiful, timeless pieces of music. And it was interesting to revisit them as an adult when I’d sung them as a child.
Do you always work off the cuff?
Yeah. I work very intuitively. I’ve always been someone that picks up on things by ear, you know. I respond to things in a spontaneous way. I never have a game plan. I don’t think there’s a formula. You can’t sit and sweat it. You just hope it will come. And the best way to do that for me is just to be spontaneous. And if it happens, it happens.
The arrangements here are traditional but not stuffy.
Well, I wanted to keep to the tradition, because that’s the source. But I also wanted to give them a certain kind of redefinition. So that when you hear them, it’s almost like you’re hearing them for the first time.
How did you achieve that?
Again, that is all spontaneous. I just make a start, I work on what I think I’m drawn to. And it just develops from there. I’m not sitting down and thinking academically before I start recording I just start playing and recording and go on.
You were born on Christmas. Growing up, did that make the day more special for you?
Well, that was something I had no control over. That just kind of happened when I came into the world, courtesy of my mother and father.
Some people born near the holidays feel they get screwed out of presents. But you were an only child, so did that make up for it?
There were no issues at all. I didn’t have a problem with it.
What was Christmas like for you as a kid?
Well, it was a very different time back then. We didn’t have very much. I used to hang a sock at the end of the bed and I would get some tangerines and maybe a couple of sweets. It wasn’t such a big deal in that respect. And I come from the northeast of Scotland. It’s very dark there in the wintertime, and we used to get big drifts of snow. It was very magical to see all the big Christmas trees in people’s windows. It’s quite magical still, I think.
Do you make a big deal about the holidays today?
Not really. We do buy a Christmas tree. I live with my two daughters, and we put the tree up together. But it’s a secular thing for us; I’m not religious in any way. Sometimes we might go to a Christmas service just to hear the choir sing the carols, or we’ll go out to a restaurant or something.
So you’re not slaving away in the kitchen all day cooking?
No. I am a homemaker, but I’m not much of a cook. I mean, I can cook, but I won’t be taking on that responsibility. (Laughs)
What kind of holiday music do you listen to?
I like classical, medieval songs, actually; something of the past. And then something Rat Packish probably — Dean Martin or a little bit of Frank Sinatra. Or maybe The Ronettes.
And what do you want for Christmas?
I’ve ceased to want anything for Christmas. At this stage, as long as I’m healthy, I don’t need things. It’s interesting — at the end of the year, people look back at things that have happened that year, and all kinds of things happen to all kinds of people. And some people I’ve spoken to say, ‘Oh my God, I just can’t wait to get to the end of 2010, this terrible year.’ For me it’s been a really interesting year. There’s been a lot of activity, a lot of travelling, a lot of interesting things happening. So I’m not saying that I can’t wait to get rid of this year. But it is a demarcation line, isn’t it, between what’s been going on and what’s coming, and a moment to take stock and get prepared for the year ahead.