From what we typically see on TV and hear on the radio, the holidays are supposed to be a happy time. But for many people right now, that’s just not the case, largely because they’ve had to reassess the safety of long-held family traditions due to the pandemic, or, more tragically, have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Every winter for the past two years, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Danielle Cormier has written a Christmas song, and this year, she chose to sing about the sadness of celebrating the holidays after the death of a family member.
Cormier co-wrote the song, “This Time Last Year,” with singer-songwriter Karlie Bartholomew. Both of them had unexpectedly lost loved ones this year — Cormier lost her father, and Bartholomew lost her grandfather — and though neither of those deaths were due to COVID, the song was written with those who lost family members to the pandemic in mind.
“After my father passed away, I knew this was what I wanted to write a Christmas song about. A lot of people unfortunately can relate to not having a loved one there for them during Christmas, especially this year,” she says.
The single shares many typical elements of holiday songs: minimalistic piano and strings, lyrics about stockings and snow angels, and even sleigh bells. But unlike the cheery mood of your usual Christmas music, Cormier somberly sings about holidays that “aren’t the same” and “presents wrapped without your name.” Perhaps the most poignant line is, “I keep expecting you to walk through the door/Just like every winter before.”
Writing the song was an emotional process for Cormier and Bartholomew. “We shared our experiences of what our holidays have been like in our families and just let it all out on the paper,” says Cormier. “And then recording it, especially singing it, I tried to not block it out but not let it get me too carried away while singing. But then every time I would listen back to the recording, it would feel really emotional. It was definitely therapeutic to create this song.”
She hopes that people who listen to the song feel less alone and know they’re not the only ones having a difficult time accepting that the holidays won’t be the same as before. “The lyrics themselves talk about how our traditions are changing for the holidays — nothing is traditional anymore because you’ve lost someone — so I hope there will be people who are able to find comfort in that and be able to relate to it,” she says.
Cormier has been singing and playing instruments since she was little and studied musical theater at New York City’s American Music and Drama Academy. She dreamed of starring on Broadway, until she realized she didn’t want to act anymore. So, she moved to Nashville and began releasing music in 2016, working with producer Adam Lester, who was Peter Frampton’s lead guitarist on tour. Her first full-length album, 2018’s Fire and Ice, features Frampton on the track “Can’t Quit You,” a country breakup song.
“My producer sent me an email one day and said, ‘here’s the final mix for ‘Can’t Quit You’ — by the way, Peter Frampton put a solo on it.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s nice, thank Mr. Frampton for me.’ But my jaw just dropped,” she remembers.
Today, Cormier is continuing her education online through the New School and works part time processing shipments in the warehouse of a boutique in Nashville.
She began her annual tradition of writing holiday songs in 2018, after someone at a radio station told her they couldn’t play her songs unless they were either top 40 hits or Christmas songs. “Christmas songs have been the hardest for me to write, just to get into that mindset and trying not to repeat things,” she says. “I’d like to record a classic Christmas song as well, but it’s been really fun trying to create new Christmas songs or write a holiday song that hasn’t been said or hasn’t been done before while still carrying the message of the holiday spirit.”
Her first foray into holiday songs was “Christmas Is You,” which has gotten over three million plays on Spotify and was featured on the platform’s Christmas hits playlist in 2018. In it, she sings about her desire for the company of loved ones over Christmas, rather than material things. The following year, she released “Coming Home This Christmas,” a song about visiting family over the holidays.
She’s also hoping to release an EP next year consisting of five songs written in 2020. In the meantime, she’s compiled a mini EP called This Time Last Year consisting of all three of her Christmas songs, which each in their own way speak to the importance of spending time with loved ones over the holidays — and of appreciating any loved ones we will get to share the holidays with this year.
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