Celebrity Sit-Down Bonus: A Conversation with Carole King

In this Web-exclusive bonus, Carole King discusses what makes her new holiday album a family affair.

by Holly George-Warren
Photograph: Photo by Chris Hatcher

More: Mother-daughter relationships can have their problems, but it sounds like you didn't encounter that much.
CK: Never once on this whole project was there ever anything but absolute unity of vision, clarity. This album is everything we hoped for and more. I want to say a word about “Chanukah Prayer.”

More: It has your grandson [Hayden Wells] on it, right?
CK: Yes, and how that came to be is that I had always said that if I do a Christmas album, my people will be represented, so when I was first talking to Louise about this, one of her earliest suggestions was, "Mom, you know that Chanukah Prayer that you do when you come over and we light the candles …”

I had carried it from my parents, and also in Ireland in 1996, I played Kate in the Neil Simon play, Brighton Beach Memoirs, and it ends with her saying the prayer. I performed it for two or three months in a row. So Louise said, "Why don't you record that prayer, and I’ll put it into my computer and see if I can play with it and make it into a song of some kind?" And that's what she did.

More: It's such a bluesy sounding song, too, and your grandson’s vocals sound so good ...
CK: He's only eight years old.  His 11-year-old brother Elijah [Wells] plays drums, and is on "Do You Hear What I Hear?" Hayden does drums as well, but his little voice is so perfect, and he sang it just so pure and beautifully. That was Louise's idea to have him do it, and we were very respectful to him, asking, "Do you want to do this?" He was not sure at first, but then he said, "Yeah, I would like to do it."

More: Is this the first time he's ever done a performance in a professional studio?
CK: He's been in and out, but I don't know that his voice has been on record. This is his first professional recording where he was hired to do that.

More: I read that Louise was around eight when she started playing piano ...
CK: Oh, she started playing piano much younger than that.  She was in the studio then, and we have some recordings of her just being completely in control, confident, doing exactly what she wants.  Her dad [Gerry Goffin] had a studio at the time.

More: I enjoyed the Goffin-King home movies used in the documentary Troubadours. Were you working on your book at the same time that you were thinking about this record and being interviewed for Troubadours?
CK: Yes, all at one time. I'm coming to a reflective period. I have been putting all that energy into writing the book. I had no energy to write a new song.  I wasn't feeling the songwriting at all. That’s why on this Christmas album, there are no songs by me.

More: Writing songs and writing a memoir is like wearing two different kinds of hats.
CK: Yeah, you're plucking from the same place and it was all going toward the book. What Louise did was she said, "Okay, I'm going to go find collaborators and I'm going to write some songs," and I said, "Please." So there's one song by her and Jodi Marr, "Christmas in the Air," and Louise is actually singing on it. I had to learn her phrasing. That song is more like her, but it was absolutely fun.  There are some other songs that Louise wrote, including "New Year's Day."

More: That’s such a moving song, and one I’d listen to not just during the holidays.
CK: I think so, too. It's a holiday album, but we feel it's a holiday album that can be listened to at any time of the year.  How many times have you gone on vacation to a warm place at Christmas? Louise and George Noriega and Jodi Marr wrote “Christmas Paradise” about that very topic.

More: Was making the album a joyful experience?
CK: Yes. The most important thing to me about this album is how much fun it was to make.  Some albums just take forever and people beat each other up and the work comes out great, but the experience wasn't good.  But this was like butter.  

First Published November 15, 2011

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