Interviews

The High Plains Drifters Bring Cheer with Holiday Single “Santa! Bring My Girlfriend Back!”

Genre-bending indie band The High Plains Drifters have released their upbeat holiday single “Santa! Bring My Girlfriend Back!” Produced by Greg Cohen (Robin Thicke, Nile Rodgers), the track tells the story of a distraught man who seeks solace in drink after having his girlfriend stolen by Santa Claus.

Inspired by a boozy and drama-filled Christmas dinner, the track features an array of instrumentation marrying traditional and contemporary sounds including upbeat marimbas, acoustic guitar chords, and horns reminiscent of everyone’s favorite holiday classics. After waking up the next morning and trying to remember the prior night’s holiday debacle, Larry Studnicky (HPD’s front man) was inspired to put pen to paper and craft the holiday tune after the melodies kept ringing in his head like a hangover.

“Santa! Bring My Girlfriend Back!” is a precursor to The High Plains Drifters forthcoming second album to be released in 2021.

The forthcoming collection is the follow up to the band’s debut self-titled album The High Plains Drifters. Their first offering conceptualizes a listening experience of a sonic road trip across the country, where your radio station of choice automatically tunes into different musical genres as you travel. As they propel the listener through various genres (pop-punk, mainstream rock, ballads and more), one thing is certain: The High Plain Drifters offer a cohesive body of “feel good” rock-n-roll. PRESS HERE to stream.

The High Plains Drifters’ founder, lyricist and front man is Larry Studnicky (songwriter, lead & backup vocals), who sings lead and backup vocals on “Santa! Bring My Girlfriend Back!”. The band also features Charles Czarnecki (producer/songwriter, keyboards, lead & backup vocals), John Macom (rhythm & electric guitars, lead & backup vocals), Mike DoCampo (rhythm & electric guitars, backup vocals), Kyle Cassel (drums, backup vocals), and Dave Richards (bass, backup vocals), most of whom are lifelong friends.

Before coming together as The High Plains Drifters, the group’s members worked alongside an array of legendary acts and artists including Pete Townsend, Brian May & Roger Taylor of Queen, Suge Knight of Death Row Records, Fred Schneider of the B-52’s, and Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees. John Macom’s music has been showcased in indie movies and TV shows, including Dawson’s CreekParty of Five, and Felicity.

We got to chat with the band’s frontman, Larry Studnicky, below.

Tell us about your holiday single “Santa! Bring My Girlfriend Back!”

The High Plains Drifters’ new Christmas single was the spontaneous product of what became a tense Christmas Day just two years ago — 2018. 

In fact, I wrote the first verse and the chorus on the morning of December 26, 2018. I had hosted a portion of my side of the family at my home for the holiday. On Christmas Day, some very unexpected “family drama” erupted. In fact, it Erupted like a volcano. I don’t want to go into details, but it was not pretty. I shall say only that my sainted mother, Joan Studnicky, was blameless. 

Everyone slept in on December 26th. I think that I was the first person into the kitchen and, while puttering around making coffee, the lyrics and melody just popped into my head, starting with “I’ve been drinking way too much this Christmas. My friends all want to know the reason why.” 

I just went with it — trying right away to figure out “why is the singer drinking like a fish all Christmas?” I came up with the idea that he was in the dumps because his girlfriend had run off with Santa Claus. Once I had that central idea, the rest of the lyrics flowed almost instantly. 

To me, from the outset, this song felt like it could be a classic holiday tune. But I knew that I’d need the rest of my great band to make that happen, along with a little Christmas magic. 

Did you ever anticipate releasing a holiday track?

Well, I never anticipated writing a second holiday track! This song is actually our band’s second holiday single. In fact, I founded the band originally to record just one Xmas song, which was an Americana-style tune called GET ME HOME BY CHRISTMAS EVE. 

At the time, I told my long-suffering wife, “Darling, we’ll record just this ONE little song, okay? Unless it gets on the radio. If it gets on the radio, we’re going to keep recording and do a whole album.”

Well, despite the band being then unsigned and self-released, that song got radio play and has been on the radio every Christmas for a few years ow. In fact, last Christmas it appeared on a Nashville-released Holiday compilation album alongside the Xmas releases by such huge acts as Kasey Musgraves and Keith Urban. 

What was the creative process like creating the single?

This song was a true Christmas miracle that came to me in a flash and then came together with the band very easily. 

About 6 months after I sang the first verse and chorus into my iPhone on the day after Christmas, I introduced an a cappella version of the song to the full band: John Macom and Mike DoCampo (the guitarists), Charles Czarnecki (keyboards), Kyle Cassel (drums), and Dave Richards (bass). 

Our producer, Greg Cohen, and I got together with John Macom, and we worked out some very basic musical ideas. During that writing session, I came up with the bridge (the part that begins with the line “Tell me more, pour me a whiskey.”) Then we put the song away for a year, until I was ready to start work on the 2nd High Plains Drifters Album. We began work on Album 2 in June of this year. 

I got John Macom involved again and, between him and Greg, they fleshed out a full working demo by early July 2020, complete with some basic (programmed) horn arrangements that I heard (playing in my head) on Verse 1. We sent the demo to the rest of the band — and I was very explicit about where I hoped they’d take the tune. I emailed them as follows:

“This song cannot lean Country or Americana. It must be more like a traditional Sinatra or Dean Martin holiday tune. Accordingly, it will probably have horns on it. . . .  After all this stupid quarantining, I am dying to see you guys again in the Studio. It is long overdue.”

All the guys in the band are brilliant musicians. We met in the studio on Saturday, August 8th. With everyone recording together, the music tracks were finished in five or seven takes. The song was close to perfect from the first take. It was really cool. That day, we also did all the backup vocals. I sang my lead vocals the following day in under an hour. A rough mix from that day was very close to what’s being released. All that was missing was the horn section I had been hearing in my head. 

Greg Cohen found our horn section in Los Angeles: the 305 Horns (Michael Cordone and Jesse McGinty). They got the demo (with the programmed horn parts that I heard on Verse 1) and were told to play those parts (if they thought the parts “worked”) and then do whatever they thought made sense. The parts that I wrote in fact survived, but after Verse 1 Mike and Jesse just totally killed it. I couldn’t have asked for better horn arrangements if I had been Sinatra working with Nelson Riddle. 

That’s it. A Christmas miracle.

What do you want people to feel when they hear the song

2020 has been a really crappy year for the whole world on a lot of levels. At Christmas, perhaps more so than at any other time, the people of the world are going to want things to feel NORMAL again. They’ll want to have smiles on their faces and to enjoy some old-fashioned Christmas cheer. 

I hope that our song will help people feel happy and festive. In testing the song with a few friends (including our band’s female backup singers, who were not geographically around to work on the tune), I kept getting feedback like this (quoting backup singer Christina Benedetto):  “This song is so much fun!!! The lyrics are a hoot.”

Another longtime friend just yesterday heard the song and wrote: “I love it! Replaces ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer’. Upbeat great vocal and musical background. We needed this happy tune for the Pandemic holiday season.”

So, it sounds like we hit our target. 

What are some of your favorite holiday tracks?

Oh wow . . . I have so many of them. I am a Christmas song and Christmas movie junkie starting probably the week before Thanksgiving. 

The original Sinatra version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” has to be near the top. To be very clear, I mean the version where the lyric he sings at one point is, “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.” I love that sentiment. Some idiot later changed those words to “Hang a shining star upon the highest bow.” Yuck. Sacrilege. 

Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas”, especially when it’s in the movie of the same name. When my daughter Anne was about 11 and taking dance classes, she learned all of the choreography for the “Sisters” number in that film and would perform with them just off to the side of the TV screen. It was priceless. 

Dean Martin singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. In fact, everybody should listen to the entire 1959 album on which that song first appeared. It’s called “A Winter Romance”, and it’s absolutely phenomenal. I love Dean’s voice, and it was my inspiration for my vocal approach to “Santa! Bring My Girlfriend Back” (not that I am fit to shine Dean’s shoes . . . ). 

In the modern era, it’s hard to top John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” — but I think our new tune is close to being that good. 

Have you ever had someone steal your girlfriend?

Do you mean, steal my girlfriend directly out from under my nose? I can’t recall that having happened, but that’s probably because girls are way more devious than that. 

Whenever my wife would hear about some gal leaving a guy and there being no apparent reason for the breakup, she would say to me:  “She has found another man to replace him, and she’s just not saying so, to spare his feelings. Girls don’t usually leave a guy unless they have another guy lined up.”

But somebody did once try to steal a girlfriend of mine, right from under my nose. 

I was with her in a Manhattan nightclub and had gone to the bar to get our drinks. As I walked over to her, from about 10 feet away I saw a pretty big guy intently hitting on her — big like me. I stand 6’4” and so did he. But there was something else about him. 

I walked up and stood just slightly behind this girl and to the side, and I reached around and handed her a drink. That caught this other guy’s attention. He hesitated briefly, and then he reached out his hand and said,

“Hi, I’m Chris Reeve.” I shook his hand and introduced myself. 

For the younger folks reading this, Chris Reeve was the actor who in the 1980’s played SUPERMAN on film. 

So, Superman is hitting on your girlfriend. WHAT DO YOU DO? You want to say, “Fly the hell out of here buddy and find Lois Lane or I’ll pound the living crap out of you.” But, jeez, he’s Superman. So, you don’t. 

Fortunately, the girl in question and I were, at that time, very much in love. She edged closer to me and put her arm in mine. I shall say this for Chris Reeve (God rest his soul), he retreated like the true gentleman he was known to be. 

What can fans expect from the next The High Plains Drifters album?

Our debut album featured songs in a wide variety of genres — including Americana, rock ballads, pop-punk, and country. Some reviewers praised our band for its versatility, whereas others panned us for that. 

We were shocked (thrilled!) to have our work compared to such great artists as Simon & Garfunkel, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins (who I knew) and Merle Haggard. Nobody in the band (other than the backup singers) is a kid, and we all love lots of styles of music. We indulged our broad-based tastes arguably a tad too much. But who knew we’d live long enough to do a second album, right?

Most of the songs speak to the age-old themes of the popular music of all eras:  male-female relationships and what holds those together or blows them apart. There are many songs about love found and love lost. 

And, picking up on the idea of blowing things apart, there is one song about Armageddon (inspired in part by all the civil unrest of this past summer). 

We are also working hard to write, record and produce songs with — whenever possible — a more modern and pop sensibility. Even so, we remain true to what brought us together to make music in the first place:  we want to put smiles on the faces of our listeners. We want them to hear stories that resonate with things that happened in their own lives or the lives of their friends. We hope to leave our fans saying, after hearing all of Album 2 (still untitled), “Damn I hope the High Plains Drifters will live long enough to make a pile of albums.”

We hope so. 

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