Indie rockers spread Christmas cheer

Fri Dec 5, 2008 10:43pm EST
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By Michael D. Ayers

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Holiday albums have usually been the domain of big stars -- think Bing Crosby, Dean Martin or Josh Groban. But this year, an influx of indie artists and labels are getting into the holiday spirit, all with different goals in mind.

Artists like Aimee Mann and Sufjan Stevens have proved there's a market for a different kind of Christmas tune. Stevens' 2006 collection "Songs for Christmas" has sold 81,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, while Mann's "One More Drifter in the Snow" from the same year has sold 39,000.

The underlying notion is that there's a youthful audience that will buy (or at least pay attention to) records that are more left-of-center than the everyday reinterpretation of a classic holiday ballad.

Longtime Stevens colleague Rosie Thomas decided to take the plunge almost on a whim this spring, calling on a handful of friends from the Seattle area to help her record "A Very Rosie Christmas." Released November 4 by Nettwerk, the set's 12 tracks include Alvin & the Chipmunks' "Christmas Don't Be Late."

"I don't blame people for overlooking it," Thomas says with a laugh. "A chipmunk sung it."

Thomas is on a holiday-themed tour that she hopes to make an annual occurrence, much like Mann, who is in her third year of touring around "Drifter."

Nettwerk sees evergreen potential in "A Very Rosie Christmas," with the idea being to make "an event" out of each tour stop and draw in fans for years to come, according to manager Mike Cochran.

Meanwhile, Merge is hoping to carve out a similar niche for former Neutral Milk Hotel multi-instrumentalist Julian Koster, whose "The Singing Saw at Christmastime" recently became the 20-year-old label's first Christmas album.   Continued...

<p>Aimee Mann arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party at Mortons in West Hollywood March 5, 2006. REUTERS/Phil McCarten</p>