TORONTO: Singing Christmas-themed tunes together has become an annual tradition for Toronto-based vocalists Ali Slaight and Theo Tams. Under the duo name of Ali & Theo, they began recording seasonal songs together in 2009. It has become a routine to which both singers are still very happily committed.
Their 2016 holiday single is “Winter Song,” and it is quickly receiving a warm welcome at Canadian radio.
We recently interviewed both Ali and Theo about the song and their ongoing creative collaboration.
Ali explains that “Winter Song” fits her preference “for songs that are unique or haven’t been covered a lot. The original version is a duet between Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson, the writers of the song. It is a beautiful song. I love how simple it is and the way the harmonies float around together. It reminds me of snow a little bit.”
Theo Tams admits, “I had never heard the song before. I got a text from Ali around a month ago and we were talking about what song to do. She sent me a link and I pulled it up on my laptop. I didn’t even get to the point where Sara and Ingrid were even singing yet. All I heard was the intro of the piano and a little vocal hook they have in the beginning and I was already sold!
“I loved it from the start. It is completely our style, and the harmonies are beautiful, so I just knew it would be really haunting for us. This song lends itself to that really raw vocal. You want that vulnerability, that one-take sound."
The Bareilles/Michaelson version of “Winter Song” became a very minor hit in Canada during Christmas 2008, reaching #97, but upon release in Ireland in 2011, it peaked at #2. It has been covered by such artists as Judas Priest singer Rob Halford and Kim Wilde, and been featured in episodes of Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy, and Brothers & Sisters.
The new Ali &Theo version of “Winter Song” was recorded in rapid fashion at Slaight Music’s in-house studio, Ali explains. “We’re getting quicker every year at recording, and this one took under two hours to do.”
The session was part of a project in which different artists on the Slaight Music roster teamed up to record an EP of Christmas-themed songs. “We got a bunch of our artists together to do some duets,” Ali recalls. “It was a week full of sessions every day with different people in the studio. It was a fun Christmas vibe there.”
The resulting EP will be placed on Spotify and iTunes.
The Ali & Theo tradition of Christmas duets dates back to 2009, and the song “Do You Hear What I Hear.” Prior to that, Theo Tams had burst onto the scene as winner of Canadian Idol in 2008, and later that year he recorded a solo seasonal single, "Christmas Dream.”
When it was suggested he and Ali Slaight try singing together, their vocal chemistry was immediately apparent. "As soon as we got into the studio, we found out we worked really well and sounded pretty good together,” Ali recalls. “Theo is just a great guy to work with...he's so talented and his voice is amazing.”
Tams confirms that things clicked quickly for the duo. "I remember doing our first single, 'Do You Hear What I Hear.' I had started first and I recall sitting back after most of my vocal parts were done and just listening to Ali. She has something that is so special as she hits the microphone. Her voice has this purity to it, one you don’t hear on records very often. It's just an innate quality in her voice. I knew our voices were going to blend really well together.
"It happens very instinctually, and our harmonies are a little more quirky than the harmonies you usually hear on the radio. We try to play more with counterpoint than harmonies. It has always been very easy and comfortable for us to sing together."
“Do You Hear What I Hear” was a charity single designed to benefit War Child Canada, and it went to #1 on the Canadian AC Chart.
The second Ali & Theo duet, “Mayday,” came out in 2011, and since then there have been one or two Ali & Theo Christmas-themed duets released every year. Theo reports that, "as soon as we did it the first couple of years, for both of us, it was 'so we’re doing it again, right?’ It has just become this tradition."
Both singers acknowledge that Christmas music was always a big part of the season in their households as they were growing up. "Christmas is my favourite holiday," says Tams. "I still know every single word on the Amy Grant and Mariah Carey Christmas albums!"
Ali explains: "Music is an integral part of the Christmas experience for most people. At home, we'd always have our go-to albums that we'd play. You get in such a great mood when you hear them, even if you were in a lousy mood before. You put one on and you get this feeling of family and friends and being with people you love during the holidays. I think people bond over the music.
"There is a Christmas song for every mood, but love is such a huge part of Christmas songs. That is why I like them."
While Slaight thoroughly enjoys singing with Tams and occasionally recording cover songs for family and friends, her primary focus these days is her work as the Talent Development Coordinator at Slaight Music,
“I love what I’m doing here, developing artists,” she stresses. “The talent we have as a company is amazing and getting to work with everyone on a daily basis is what I really love to do.”
As the daughter of Gary Slaight and granddaughter of Allan Slaight, Ali is continuing a family tradition of boosting the careers of Canadian artists.
“Yes, and that is great,” she says. “Obviously I’m coming at it from a bit of a different angle. They come from the CEO/President side and I’m coming at it more from the artistic side, but it is still in the same vein. I can’t see myself doing anything that didn’t involve music.”
Theo Tams remains fully committed to his musical career and is working on his next solo album. "I’m working with Rob Wells [Justin Bieber] and his writing partner Shobha Lee now," he informs us. "The three of us have been collaborating for nearly a year and it’s really exciting. I was able to take a step back and evaluate the kind of record I want to make, and Slaight Music has been gracious in giving me that time. I’m hoping there’ll be a release by fall next year."
He will, of course, always clear his schedule for more Ali & Theo recordings. "We are creating our own little niche within the Christmas music industry in Canada. It has taken years for us to build that up and hopefully we can continue the tradition for years and years to come. I hope that when we are 60 we can release a five-album package!"