Sufjan Stevens Talks Beyoncé, The 50 States, And Why Christmas Is Actually Not His Favorite Holiday
Among other throughlines in his career, Sufjan Stevens has long been a patron saint of off-kilter Christmas music. He has recorded more than 100 Christmas songs spread across various EPs, mostly collected on the box sets Songs For Christmas and Silver & Gold; this was the context for a rare interview granted to Vulture’s Craig Jenkins, published today. In the Q&A, Sufjan reveals that Christmas isn’t even his favorite holiday:
I’m not so secretly a Fourth of July person because my birthday is July 1, and I am a pyromaniac. I love fireworks. Every year, I drive to Pennsylvania and drop like $2,000 on illegal fireworks, cross them into New York State, and we do a big show.
So why did he get so into making Christmas music for so long?
That was a period of my life where I was really deeply invested in the catalogue and in trying to make sense of it and indulge in it, but that was from 2000 to 2010. That’s 12 years ago now. A whole decade. It was always a very isolated moment, usually in November-December, where I would get together with some friends for a week or two and we’d create without much forethought and improvise and jump into the Christmas catalogue and try and create something as quickly as possible. Sort of like first thought, best thought.
As for why he finally stopped cranking out Christmas tunes:
At some point, I think one has to confront one’s absurd obsessions and sort of OCD behavioral pathologies. Unfortunately, my own pathologies are often an explanation for my work, and the motivation for my work. When I start to really become self-conscious about where this is coming from, I start to realize it’s obsessive and unhealthy and then I have to force myself to put an end to it and move on. There’s no better feeling than moving on to something else.
And yes, this is related to his reason for giving up on the 50 States Project so early:
I feel like my whole music career has been an exercise in calling my own bluff. I go on all these excursions and I feel they’re indulgent and slightly megalomaniacal in their approach. At some point, I realize how absurd and unhealthy and unsustainable it is, so I am fine moving on. I think it’s the original impulse that generates the work and allows me to bear down in isolation and create as lavishly as I can, but at some point, you have to go. You’re an artist, so you understand. There is a kind of sadomasochism inherent in what we do. It requires that we completely give ourselves over to the work.
The interview also contains Sufjan’s thoughts on Beyoncé’s Renaissance. “When I first heard ‘Plastic Off the Sofa,’ I was like, This is ridiculous,” he says, adding, “The wizardry on that album is so awesome and frustrating for me as a musician, because even if you took out her vocals, I’m still obsessed; I’m still intrigued by the engineering and production that’s going on and the harmonic relationship between chords. All that stuff is really interesting too. It’s a pretty exciting album.”
There’s a lot more to dig into in the interview, including Sufjan’s favorite Christmas songs and annual Christmas traditions, his current views on religion and Christianity specifically, and his approach to live performance despite not really craving the spotlight. Check it out here.