On the topic of songwriting, Sir Paul McCartney once said, “You sort of say what you might say to a therapist, but you put it into a song and you might feel better afterwards.” That model was no doubt utilized on “Come Back To Me On Christmas” (LaunchLeft), Luke Rathborne’s new single featuring Rain Phoenix.
The melancholy-pop song hits all the bummer sentiments: desperation, depression, deception, confusion and lonesomeness. It’s the classic tale of a failed relationship that leaves one shattered person badly wanting to work it out—while the other has clearly moved on.
“I played everything on this single except for the cello, which was played by Noah Hoffeld from his home in upstate New York,” says Rathborne from his Brooklyn apartment, where the track was engineered. “We did that through a Zoom session. I think the final instrumentation was synthesizers, a drum machine, an acoustic guitar, cello and voices.”
MAGNET spoke to Rathborne, who’s busy recording a new album, about “Come Back To Me On Christmas.”
Lyrically, this is a gloomy Christmas song. What motivated these frank words?
I really wanted to create a complete failure of a love story between two people and show the power dynamic between the two. I sent this song to a close friend as I was mixing it, and he pointed out that the male character is far less stable than the female and he’s kind of drawing her back into his wreck of a life. She’s moved on, is in a new happy relationship and left this part of her life behind. I think it’s funny and kind of touching to hear this man’s fragility, which is very clearly his own fault. The listeners are in on the joke—the guy’s a fool. And yet who hasn’t felt totally heartbroken? It’s the only thing every human being goes through, and as far as we can tell, one of the most uniquely human emotions. The best bit for all of that is the back and forth, “I thought we could get married,” and she says, “I met somebody new.” So sad. How can you not feel for a person in that situation? Kind of makes me sad singing it. I feel sad for my puppet character. What a mess.
Who shot and directed the video?
The video was shot by myself and Adrian Scarsitini, who was the D.P. for Michel Gondry on his videos for the White Stripes, like “Hardest Button To Button,” and Gary Jules’ “Mad World” video. We had the concept of very simple and beautiful-looking cinematography to cut to the heart of the character in the song, and selected the locations around New York City. Rain shot her portion of the video near the infamous payphone at the Canyon Store in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles. That place has so many legends behind it—Jim Morrison living right around the corner. I love the idea of both characters communicating from such unique places.
You and Rain go back and forth on the vocals, a dialogue style. It’s kind of similar to Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra or Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg.
Yes, I really like those records of course. I always had a huge fondness for “Bonnie And Clyde” and all of the album Initials B.B. by Serge Gainsbourg. Maybe this is somewhat less obvious, but that aspect of the song was also really influenced by Pulp and Jarvis Cocker. There are so many moments on different Pulp records where Jarvis Cocker is speaking to himself in the most deliriously good way. No living human being is better at talking to himself in a microphone in that way than Jarvis Cocker.
Why’d you decide to write a Christmas song? What inspired it?
One of the main inspirations behind the song was listening a lot to the Pogues and “Fairytale Of New York.” There’s something so wry and hilarious about that song, and it always stands out so completely from everything else you hear on the radio. Has there ever been a Christmas song that is so beloved and so charmingly offensive? There was actually a point after writing and recording these lyrics where I had to take a step back and think if anything went too far. When I went back and listened to the Pogues song and Shane McGowan’s lyrics, I realized it wasn’t even close to ticking any of those boxes. That Pogues song is way more offensive.
There was also a huge influence from Stephin Merritt and his album 69 Love Songs with the Magnetic Fields. I even try to sing like him on the bridge. I can’t remember if it has a Christmas song on it, but it definitely has quite a number of these old-fashioned modernized duets that diverge into subject matter that is simultaneously funny, interesting and depressing.
And you are still living in New York City.
Still in Brooklyn. I bounced around a bit for some of the intense times, but was also in NYC for a good portion of that. It was a pretty scary and alarming time, especially because we didn’t know how things transmitted. I recall seeing people being rolled out in stretchers out of their apartments into the empty streets at the height of things, as well as hearing my neighbor’s coughing—who clearly had a bad case. This will be the first song I’ve really completed and realized during the pandemic, and I’m proud of that and super thankful to Rain for helping me get the personal energy and spirit to complete it.