21 Nov Joanie Leeds, Fyütch, and Their Daughters Mix Fun Remakes with New Holiday Tunes on ‘Oy Vey! Another Christmas Album’
by Marisa Torrieri Bloom
It’s the most wonderful time of the year again, when holiday music fills the airwaves of every supermarket and my blended-holiday family readies the living room for a big Christmas tree, while our Mensch on a Bench watches from the fireplace mantle (or the windowsill).
So when I heard that two of the coolest and most clever family music voices — Grammy winner Joanie Leeds and Grammy nominated Fyütch — teamed up for a one-of-a-kind Christmas album that’s smart, cheeky, and full of good vibes, I was super stoked!
On Friday, November 4, the dynamic family musician duo released Oy Vey! Another Christmas Album — an all-ages record featuring remakes of four classic Christmas tunes written by Jewish songwriters, as well as two new original tracks co-written by the pair.
The album’s release is the realization of a years-long dream: When Joanie was first made aware that some of the most recognized, and most-cherished, Christmas songs are written by Jewish songwriters, she was ecstatic. In 2020, when she met fellow New York City songwriter and performer Fyütch, she realized he would be the perfect collaborative partner for an album that highlighted these songs.
“I knew that I wanted to feature some of these Jewish songwriters but one of my musts was that the songs would be stylistically different as well,” Joanie tells Rockmommy. “I wasn’t sure if it should be a pop album or a rock album. But then I met Fyütch when we were playing a WFUV show together back in 2020 and I fell in love with his music and style.”
The entire record is a total mood lifter, infused with funky beats and wintry vibes, from the uplifting “Every Day’s a Holiday” to the classic remakes: “Winter Wonderland” by Felix Bernard and Richard Bernhard Smith; “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an open Fire)”by Mel Torme; “Little Drummer Boy” by Harry Simeone, Katherine K Davis, and Henry V. Onorati; and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Walter Kent, Buck Ram & Kim Gannon. They’re all great, though a sucker for my second-favorite holiday tune of all time: “Little Drummer Boy,” which Joanie and Fyütch load up with surprising riffs and warm, fuzzy harmonies.
The original tracks featuring Joya (age 7) and Aura (age 5), the musicians’ daughters, are the most endearing. In the intro track, “The Music,” each girl talks about what she likes best about Christmas, and on “Decorating the Christmas Tree,” the girls pay tribute to their favorite holiday traditions.
We recently caught up with Joanie and Fyütch to talk about the record, holiday traditions, parenthood and more.
Rockmommy: Hey Joanie and Fyütch! Can we talk about how the idea to do a collaborative holiday album came about?
Joanie Leeds: I had the idea to create a “kosher” Christmas album many years ago when I found out that so many of the most beloved Christmas tunes were written by Jews. I knew that I wanted to feature some of these Jewish songwriters but one of my musts was that the songs would be stylistically different as well. I wasn’t sure if it should be a pop album or a rock album. But then I met Fyütch when we were playing a WFUV show together back in 2020 and I fell in love with his music and style. I knew he’d be the perfect person to produce and collaborate on the album. Thankfully, he always wanted to make a Christmas album so it was musically meant to be (or b’sheret, as we say!)
Fyütch: I can proudly call Joanie a good friend now. Our daughters are homies too haha. About a year ago, we started floating collaboration ideas while we were at a Yankees game! Eventually she mentioned this album concept to me and I was SOLD. I also love Christmas music whenever, wherever, and I’ve been training my whole life to make this Holiday album.
Rockmommy: Is the second song featuring both of your daughters? Did they come up with the lyrics/story about decorating the Christmas tree? It’s so cute!
Joanie Leeds: Thank you. It’s my favorite song on the album! Fyütch and I knew we wanted to write a few originals to mix in with the classics. Recently, my 7-year-old daughter has been really into singing and asked to sing on this particular album. I brainstormed this idea and the song basically wrote itself. I wanted to tell a story from my daughter’s perspective about decorating the Christmas tree with her friend Aura (Fyütch’s 5-year-old daughter). Seeing as we are Jewish, she’s never decorated a tree before so I thought it would be really fun. I had a bigger picture in mind for listeners — bringing people of all backgrounds together during the holiday season.
Fyütch: Joanie sent me the lyrics and it was an instant hit. I love dreamy pianos on Christmas songs. So I started with the keys and some bells. The juxtaposition of their cute voices rapping over those hard-hitting rap drums is just so dope.
Rockmommy: I LOVE how inclusive this album is. I grew up with carols and trees, and my husband is Jewish and we celebrate Hanukkah, too. Are you hearing from other modern families (e.g., with one or more cultures) like mine that appreciate and relate to this record?
Joanie Leeds: Yes! A very large chunk of my Jewish friends are married to Christians but raising their kids Jewish or mixed so I think they are really enjoying the tunes. At its core, it’s a true Christmas album. The Jewish songwriting theme and story of how the album came to be is what the adults and the Jewish community are finding most interesting.
Fyütch: I’ll admit I’ve been in my Christmas bubble until recently. Growing up in Nashville, I wasn’t as aware of other holiday traditions. Two years ago, I started celebrating Kwanzaa with my family and even made a few songs about it with my friends Pierce Freelon and Culture Queen. Now, living in New York, I have more friends and students of different cultures than ever before.
Rockmommy: Let’s talk about musical styles. How did you two come together to figure out how to yourself, and your style, weaving itself into these classics? Did you listen to them, and come up with riffs?
Fyütch: Rap music samples everything. Nothing is off limits as inspiration creatively, and the genre continues to expand. I approach music with the mentality that any style can be blended. If you think about the RUN-DMC rock collabs back in the day, or the techno/electronic Planet Rock, I’m always looking for cool approaches to innovate. My sweet spot is jazz and R&B because the chords are the foundations to most popular music. A lot of the timeless Christmas classics are from the 50’s and 60’s, giving us that instant nostalgia. I knew the chords on this album needed that Christmas magic. That was the glue that made it all work. Add some hard-hitting drums and sweet harmonies? C’mon, that’s ear bliss.
Joanie Leeds: I have written in every style under the sun (folk, rock, pop, country, funk…). I truly despise when people put me in a genre box. The cool thing about kids’ music though is that our genre has ALL the genres. This allows me never to feel stuck with one particular writing style. Fyütch came up with most of the beats and orchestration and we would pass it back and forth. Sometimes I was over at his studio and we took things out and dropped things in and sometimes he sent me a fully fleshed out track and we made minimal changes. He’s a fabulous arranger!
Rockmommy: How did you decide which songs to pick for the final recording?
Joanie Leeds: I gave Fyütch a long list of all the Christmas tunes written by Jews and he picked his favorites, the ones that spoke to him. Then we co-wrote a few more.
Fyütch: Yo, Jewish folks basically wrote ALL the classics! That list was STACKED! There were a few we didn’t even get to, like “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.” But I think we chose the perfect ones.
Rockmommy: What is your favorite holiday tradition with your family?
Fyütch: My Mom loves to give gag gifts or cheap filler presents between the real ones. They are thoughtful and silly. It helped us fill the space under the Christmas tree even when we couldn’t afford many gifts. My sister and I would beg to open one gift on Christmas Eve night. Now, my daughter does the same thing. We watch holiday movies and listen to music on repeat.
Joanie Leeds: I’m a single mom and my close family lives pretty far away so on the nights that my daughter is with me on Hanukkah we always light menorah, open presents, put on music and eat latkes and sufganiyot (jelly donuts.) In reality, Hanukkah is not really a big holiday (not like the High Holidays or Passover.) We all still go to work or school during the holiday so it’s more about the food (like ALL Jewish holidays). We also love to take drives to Dyker Heights and see the best Christmas lights.
Rockmommy: If you could wish for one thing this holiday season, what would it be?
Fyütch: Stevie Wonder sings it best:
Someday at Christmas there’ll be no wars
When we have learned what Christmas is for
When we have found what life’s really worth
There’ll be peace on earth
Someday at Christmas we’ll see a land
With no hungry children, no empty hand
One happy morning people will share
Our world where people care
Joanie Leeds: This is a big wish, but I wish people who don’t see eye to eye could treat each other with kindness, respect and have some compassion. The world would be a much more pleasant place to live if we could learn about each other instead of fearing who we don’t know. I also wish for health and happiness, always. OK, that was like 8 wishes… oops!
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.