Just when you thought this year couldn’t have any more plot twists, it’s time to get another taste of award-winning Platinum-selling Canadian rockers, Universal Honey.
A double, in fact.
First up, co-fronts Johnny Sinclair and Leslie Stanwyck have their brand new EP, UH EP 2020, including lead single “Rolling Back Time” — PLUS a rollickin’ re-release of their holiday classic, Can’t Stop Thinking About Christmas.
It’s a holiday season throwback for the ages: Some 15+ years after its initial independent release, Can’t Stop Thinking About Christmas is officially and for the first time available on digital streaming platforms.
While paying homage to holiday classics like “Three Ships” — featuring Gerard Popma (Sin City Boys) and Clayton Denwood — the extended re-release includes some first-ever takes on a trio of yuletide classics, including “Little Drummer Boy,” “White Christmas,” and “Winter Wonderland.”
The album’s title track “Can’t Stop Thinking About Christmas” also got a second look with an all-new radio edit. “This song’s claim to fame is that it’s an acapella song, and it’s the only acapella song we’ve ever written and produced,” Sinclair says. “We didn’t know it was going to be all-vocals at first, but when Leslie started singing the bass line, we thought ‘let’s do this one with just voice.’”
“This album was produced during an especially creative period in our career,” Stanwyck recalls. “We had gathered in our home studio during a heatwave in July, of all times, to co-write some original holiday rock tunes.
“We wanted them to reflect our own power pop backgrounds while capturing Johnny’s distinct lyrical takes on the Christmas season. We were going for an uplifting and inspiring release; there’s a few heartfelt ballads, yes, but most of the songs are fun, funny, and engaging.”
“It was a hot summer and beautiful outside, and there we were inside conjuring up visions of sugar plums in our heads,” Sinclair adds. “But the album came about quickly once we got going…
“Seemingly, the hardest part was trying to find Egg Nog in the summer!”
“Writing Can’t Stop Thinking About Christmas was like writing songs for a play,” Stanwyck says. “We chose different subjects, which there are a lot of: Christmas shopping and the stress and rushing around for “The Celebration,’ or the sweetness of having your own Christmas tree and spending the time to dress it for ‘Little Christmas Tree.’
“We did not have a shortage of ideas to draw from!”
The release features the who’s-who of Canadian mainstays, including Kim Mitchell, Ron Sexsmith, Jim Cuddy, Tyler Stewart, Peter Timmins, and more. The success of the songs has endured: They continue to be regularly featured on holiday radio playlists, in films like The Road to Christmas and The Christmas Ornament, and rock n’ roll Hall of Fame-r Ronnie Spector liked the song “Best Christmas Ever,” she covered the song and named her 2010 holiday album after it.
“The number of artists that all came together to contribute to this album was amazing!” Stanwyck revels. “They each brought their own creativity to the process to make it special; for example, if you listen closely to Andy Maize’s vocals in the last chorus on ‘The Celebration,’ you can hear him say ‘enjoy me now’ instead of ‘join me now’ — he loved that turn-around of words, and he did such a great job singing that song.
“Another highlight for me is Ron Sexsmith’s singing on ‘Little Christmas Tree,’” she continues. “His voice is so comforting and the song is so sweet — it was a perfect combination.”
“The drums were recorded in Brampton at Mark Robinson’s Knobman Studios,” Sinclair details. “Mark is also the goalie on my hockey team, the Morningstars, along with other artists on the album like Stephen Stanley and Dave Bidini.
“Actually, the whole album is full of recreational hockey players who have played with or against me — Tyler Stewart, Jim Cuddy, Clayton Denwood, Darrin Pfeiffer…
“It’s a little bit of a Toronto musician Christmas Party.”
Re-energized by global events and sparked with a creative burst, Universal Honey are out with UH EP 2020 — a six-track album with their first new material in over a decade.
In it, the couple’s trademark melodic power-pop prowess is on full display — first and most notably on lead single, “Rolling Back Time.”
“It feels very ‘of the moment,’” Stanwyck offers of the song’s inspiration. “With all the uncertainties and questions of ‘today,’ it reminds us to keep moving forward and not become complacent or accepting of those energies that fear change.”
“It’s about looking forward and not getting caught in the trappings of past ideals,” Sinclair adds.
Joined on the recordings by fellow Canadian rock veterans Kurt Schefter (guitarist, Alannah Myles) and Don Kerr (drummer, Ron Sexsmith, Rheostatics), UH EP 2020 delivers the same distinct ear candy concoction Universal Honey has long been heralded for.
With seven albums and hundreds of tracks to their credit, UH EP 2020 marks the award-winning Platinum-selling artist’s first new release in over 15 years.
“After time away, we’ve always been asked if we’ll be doing another Universal Honey project, “ Sinclair shares. “It’s nice to find out we still have fans interested in our music.
“Our time away was spent being parents and raising our son — who also has a very strong love of music. So picking up now, after such a long break, we hope this is the natural progression from where our last album, Vicious Circles, left off.”
“The spare time provided by the pandemic lockdown found us immersed in many projects,” Stanwyck adds. “It inspired us to pursue and release this EP.”
Such inspiration is one of many as of late: Recently the pair have established their own production house and label, Honeytunes, and are in the process of mining the archives to re-release their catalogue in digital streaming format — including their 1995 debut, Magic Basement and 1996’s Earth Moon Transit.