Editor’s Note: It is that time of the year where Madness To Creation is walking in a winter wonderland while enjoying a cup of hot cocoa all the while donning an ugly Christmas sweater. Madness To Creation was afforded the opportunity to talk to Isaac Stanford of Slowey and the Boats about their latest Christmas album entitled “Merry Christmas From Slowey And The Boats”, which was released this past Friday via Hi-Tide Recordings. The band takes classic Christmas songs and puts their Hawaiian jazz pop twist with a Philadelphia attitude on classics such as “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas”, and the Donny Hathaway classic “This Christmas”. Isaac also discusses his favorite Christmas traditions and mental health awareness with us. Fans can find Slowey and The Boats at the following locations:
Madness To Creation: I never thought I’d be interviewing a Hawaiian jazz band from Philadelphia yet here I am, what were some influences in the music that is Slowey and The Boats?
Isaac Stanford: I grew up in a very musically rich environment and heard lots of steel guitar in the music my parents would play when I was a kid. I grew up near Philly but my dad had gone to high school in Hawaii and had some great Hawaiian records in his collection. After I took up steel guitar I found the music of Jerry Byrd and was very inspired by his playing.
Madness To Creation: Have you all been to Hawaii, if you have, favorite places, if not, where would you like to go in Hawaii?
Isaac Stanford: I went to Hawaii the summer before last in 2019. My partner is a surfer. She was looking for waves and I was trying to track down steel guitarists. We looked up my dad’s old house in Kailua. The surf was amazing and I ran into several great steel players. In addition to Oahu we travelled to Maui and Kauai. It was the best trip I’ve ever been on and was so inspiring in so many ways. It is such a beautiful place.
Madness To Creation: Biggest influences in terms of your music.
Isaac Stanford: My parents had a huge influence on me musically. They both love music and always encouraged me and my siblings to play. There were always great records on the turntable or in the CD player when I was a kid.
Madness To Creation: It’s getting to be Christmas time, share some of your favorite memories?
Isaac Stanford: We’ve had some great Slowey and the Boats Christmas shows over the years. In addition to the Christmas show we’d do every year at Dawson St. Pub here in Philly, we’ve had some very memorable musical holidays as a band. A couple of years ago we performed a Christmas show in the Great Stair Hall of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We had a live broadcast show one year on WXPN for their Free at Noon series. We’ve also had some great Christmas shows down in Asbury Park where our label, Hi-Tide Recordings, is based. It is usually a busy time for the band.
Madness To Creation: Best and worst gift that you have ever received?
Isaac Stanford: The best gifts usually involve an experience. My partner Kristy loves to surf and has booked some great trips during the holidays. She took me to Barbados last winter just before the pandemic hit. That trip was such a great gift. I got to sit by the beach and play Christmas songs on my steel guitar and then go surf with sea turtles. Perfect.
Worst gift ever was when two of my nephews decided to give me a free car detailing service one Christmas. I had just gotten a brand new car and they ended up scratching every surface with snow shovels as they did their best to clean the snow off of it. They ended up destroying the car’s paint job. Ended up costing me thousands of dollars to get it fixed. I can laugh about it now but it was not so funny at the time.
Madness To Creation: Favorite Christmas tradition.
Isaac Stanford: Our Slowey and the Boats Christmas parties at the Dawson St Pub here in Philadelphia were some great times. We had a monthly residency there for about seven years before the pandemic hit. Every December we’d have a big Christmas party/show there and learn a few new holiday songs. We are generally just an instrumental quintet but we’d invite Shannon McGill and Steve Stanislaw to sing some of the holiday tunes. This record comes out of those great times at the pub playing music with old friends.
Madness To Creation: Take us into the cover of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas”, what are some memories from that song that you remember?
Isaac Stanford: Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” is such a great song. The band usually draws from older material, but Hathaway’s tune is one of those melodies that is just always around during the holidays. When Hi-Tide joined Primary Wave, Donny’s publisher, I thought it would be fun to try recording a Slowey version to celebrate the song’s 50th anniversary this year. Since we were in quarantine, I recorded most of the parts, with Freddie adding some percussion. I think it came out great, and it really got me in the Christmas spirit!
Madness To Creation: From a mental health standpoint what helps center you and gives you balance in life?
Isaac Stanford: Music is definitely a crucial part of my mental health medicine. Playing music with friends and working to improve my playing are so rewarding and help me stay focused. I also love getting out in the woods with my partner and my dog. We live right near the Wissahickon Park in Philadelphia and spend a lot of time out in the woods.
Madness To Creation: What else would you like to say in regards to “Merry Christmas from Slowey and The Boats”?
Isaac Stanford: Well, it’s printed on red vinyl. How cool is that? The whole thing came out beautifully in my opinion. Scott Sugiuchi did a wonderful job with the artwork capturing the vibe of the music with the cover art. It’s a really special album for me this year when we can’t get together and celebrate the holidays with family and friends because of the pandemic. It reminds me of all the great Christmas parties we’ve had in the past and makes me look forward to a time when we can all celebrate together.
And there you have it! Check out “Merry Christmas from Slowey and the Boats Vols.1 & 2” via Spotify below. Let this album be the soundtrack to you putting up the Christmas tree today!