Rock 'n' Roll Christmas

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Christmas songs are usually transparent ploys by big-label artists to get a little extra seasonal cash. Local band Wormburner, however, never intended to write a rock ’n’ roll Christmas track for a quick buck. But they’ll debut “Bells of St. Ignatius” in front of a live audience this week as they co-headline “A Very Bowery Christmas” with the Knockout Drops—a fitting gift from a band that’s experienced a year of incredible success.

The holiday tune entered the equation a year ago when Wormburner’s lead vocalist, guitarist and super-promoter Steve Henry, aka Temptation Hank, wrote “Bells of St. Ignatius” over Thanksgiving weekend for a Yuletide compilation being put together by the Bogmen. The band recorded the tune on Dec. 1 and, three days later, they were giving it away on their MySpace page to fans.

“There wasn’t a Christmas song in the Wormburner catalogue at the time, and we only had like a week before the deadline,” Hank says. “I’ve always loved Christmas songs, but I had never taken a sincere shot at writing one myself. Nor had I ever written a good song on such a tight deadline. So I had my doubts about whether I could pull it off.”

After a few frustrating attempts at finding the right tact, Hank boarded a PATH train to Hoboken for a show by the Hold Steady. “Something good must have rubbed off on me, because in my apartment the next morning, I picked up my electric guitar and ‘Bells of St. Ignatius’ practically poured out of me.”

It wasn’t just the Hold Steady that helped the song come together; it was a love of darkly tinted holiday pop songs filtered through the eyes of someone who’d been through the educational trenches. “I had a Catholic school education through 12th grade,” Hank explains. “So it’s not really a surprise that the lyrics would have images of bells, steeples and coins in church collection plates.”

Wormburner’s debut album, the David Lowery-produced A Hero’s Welcome began gaining traction on the strength of its classic power-pop tunes and a host of legendary live shows throughout the city.

“Bombastic is a word people have used after seeing Wormburner play live,” says Hank. “We’re also a band that tends to switch up instruments during our live set. I think it helps to give each song more of a unique character.”

But before the whole instrument-switching thing has you thinking prog-wank noodling, a Wormburner show has much more in common with amphetamine-fuelled soul revivals, if such a thing ever existed. In a world full of chin-stroking art rock Radioheads and junk-addled Babyshambles stumblebums, it’s refreshing—quaint, even—to find a band like Wormburner, who so clearly believes in the power of the classic pop song to lift a room full of people clear off its foundation. But make no mistake; Wormburner may have a clear line of influence that runs back through The Replacements and The Cars and even the Beatles, but they’re still very much a contemporary band.

Wormburner kick-started their career in 2004 with a series of self-released CD singles and EPs, building their fanbase one explosive, soul-stirring live show at a time. By the time they were ready to start thinking full-length release, they found the perfect producer by simply asking. 

With technology moving at warp speed, talking about the good old days of a social networking website can actually mean a little more than two years ago. But that’s where Wormburner was when they came across Lowery, who’d fronted two of the indie scene’s most quirky pop bands, Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker.

“We actually linked up with David Lowery in the early days of MySpace, back when MySpace felt like a new frontier and bands were communicating with one another in earnets as opposed to giving P.R. teams and marketers involved,” recalls Hank. “His studio in Richmond, Virginia sent us a friend request, and we replied by asking if David Lowery was into producing indie bands. The next correspondence came directly from him, which felt huge because David Lowery had long been one of my favorite songwriters.”

Wormburner decamped to Richmond during the summer of 2005, returning home with the 12 songs that would make up A Hero’s Welcome. The album is a stormer, with most of the songs falling somewhere between barnburner and fist-pumper, guitars, bass and drums occasionally joined by a buzzing Moog. Lowery captured the band as they are live, which is sort of like Mr. Miyagi catching a fly with chopsticks.

“Bells of St. Ignatius” successfully walks the same celebratory/tear-jerking path as the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” a vibe expected to (loudly) fill the room when the Yule Dogs close out “A Very Bowery Christmas.”

Dec. 20, Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey St. (betw. Bowery & Chrystie St.), 212-533-2111; 8, $20.

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