Tis the season to be jolly, and there might not be anyone who loves Christmas more than Riley Clemmons. The singer talks EXCLUSIVELY with us about her new holiday EP, going on the WinterJam tour, and more!
This holiday season has been gifted with so much brand-new festive music, and one of the shinest-wrapped presents underneath the Christmas tree comes from Riley Clemmons. She released The First Christmas at the start of the season, a 4-song EP that captures the spirit of the holidays while showcasing the young singer’s incredible talent. Starting off with “The First Christmas” before leading into an energetic rendition of the Wham classic, “Last Christmas,” Riley transports the listener to a Winter Wonderland. Riley’s take on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is a new pop-classic in the meaning, and the EP’s closer, a powerful take on “Silent Night,” will leave listeners filled with a sense of awe and joy.
It’s hard to not feel the Christmas spirit when talking with Riley. The Nashville native’s energy is infectious. Grinches’ hearts grow three times their size in her uplifting presence, and fans will get a chance to feel that joy for themselves. Riley will be a part of the WinterJam 2020 tour, kicking off on January 10. When speaking EXCLUSIVELY with HollywoodLife, Riley talked about how this tour has seen her come full circle. She also spoke about the motivation behind her hit song, “Fighting For Me,” what she hopes to accomplish in the next year, and how “First Christmas” came about.
HollywoodLife: You’ve released your Christmas EP, The First Christmas. Did you always want to put out a Christmas album? Usually, artists wait until they’re deeper in their careers before turning their eyes towards Christmas, but this is your second major release.
Riley Clemmons: I think it’s just I’m a Christmas person first and foremost, and I’m a writer. So part of the love of writing comes from putting out music that’s always new and always relevant. So if the season’s Christmas, I want to put out some things seasonal. And it all started for this EP. We walked into a session one day, it was my friend Ethan and I, who I’ve written with for many years. And our producer last minute called and canceled on us.
So it was like a last-minute emergency. They couldn’t make it. Ethan and I ended up just sitting at a piano. It was the middle of June, and we decided we were going to write a Christmas song. And so it was the first original Christmas song I’d ever written, and it was totally random, totally out of the blue. But anyway, we just voice memoed it. It was no fancy demo, nothing like that. Just a voice memo, sent it around to my team, and we cut it a few weeks later. Everybody fell in love.
What song was this?
The First Christmas. The title track. And We ended up creating an EP around that song.
Are you planning to do like a full Christmas album in the future?
Oh, why not? I love it. Who doesn’t love Christmas music in some capacity? It’s the best.
Are the songs on the EP your favorite holiday tracks?
Growing up, those were always my favorites. “Last Christmas,” the Wham! classic. We did an original version, added some flair. We had so much fun doing that one. And then also “Silent Night” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” So, some of my favorites.
As a kid, how I learned to sing was just singing through songs and over top of songs that I loved. And at Christmas, those were always my favorites. And still now, they’re the ones I enjoy singing the most. We were just going through and picking the songs that I loved, and doing something new to them. Each song on the EP, we’ve taken a classic. The ones that are not the original song, we’ve taken classics that everybody knows and added something new and unique to them.
You’re on tour right now, correct?
It’s been amazing. I love Christmas music, and I’ve never done a Christmas tour before, so this would be the first one. It’s been incredible. I’m out with a band called Tenth Avenue North. They’re incredible. They’re so awesome. I grew up listening to them, so that’s a surreal thing. Getting to open for them, play the songs off of the Christmas EP, play the single “Fighting for Me,” that’s on the radio right now. It’s been amazing.
I’m actually a part of their set as well. So it’s called “Decade the Halls,” and it takes you through each decade of Christmas music. And it’s incredible. It’s so much fun. So from like the ’20s to modern-day, it’s a song per decade.
You mentioned “Fighting For Me.” You released that, along with “Free,” this year. It’s your first new music since your self-titled release, which I read that you wrote all through high school. Songwriting-wise, what’s the most significant difference in these tracks than the ones off your debut?
I met my manager when I was 12 and signed on to have a manager when I was 13. So I’ve grown up in the industry, I’ve been around it. I’m born and raised in Nashville, so the idea of doing music as a career was never — It was never outlandish. So wanting to make music was something that was, “Okay, this is a possibility.” And since the age of 12, I’ve never had a backup plan. I started co-writing when I was 13 or so, and so basically, after school, my parents would pick me up and drop me off at the studio before I could even drive.
You had a manager before a learner’s permit.
Exactly! Exactly. So growing up in the industry brings a lot of excitement, also a lot of challenges. But being in rooms with seasoned professional songwriters as an eighth-grader or as a high schooler was such a hands-on way to learn how to write a song in Nashville, the songwriting capital of the world.
The album I wrote through high school. Every song that’s on that body of work I wrote in the middle of high school, which is crazy to think about. It was unreal. I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote for years, and those were the songs that we loved the most, and we wanted to put music out and start building a connection with fans. And then “Fighting for Me,” I wrote last November.
And so we released it this year. And to see this song “Fighting For Me” has been the game-changer of my career so far. Getting to see it chart … It’s number five on the Christian Charts on Billboard right now, which has been amazing.
What inspired the song?
I remember walking into the studio the day that we wrote that one, and I was with my friend Ethan again. And then a producer I’ve loved and worked with for many years, his name is Jordan Zap. He’s incredible. But we were sitting in the room, and we were talking about all the disunity that seems to be popping up everywhere. Obviously, it’s disheartening in a lot of ways, and so we wanted to write something that basically captured just some element of unity.
And I think it all comes down to this idea that people want to be fought for in such a way that shows up as unconditional love. People need love, and so that was the heart behind the song.
Can we expect a sophomore release in 2002?
This is true. We have so much music that’s ready to go. We’re so excited. 2020 is going to be a big year. There have been a lot of opportunities that have come along with getting to see “Fighting for Me” reach lots of ears. So, I’m really excited about more music and for more shows and more fan connections in 2020.
You are going to meet a bunch of fans because you’re just going to go on the Winter Jam tour right after. That’s huge.
Yeah! I grew up going. It’s crazy. It’s a “pinch me” moment.
Is there anyone you’re particularly excited to share the stage with on WinterJam?
One of my all-time favorites, Crowder, is the headliner on tour, and I’ve gotten a chance to collaborate with him in the past, and he is incredible. He’s an amazing writer and vocalist. One of the special parts about getting to tour like that and getting to tour with bigger artists is just the amount of learning that comes from that. You know, just studying how people engage with an audience on a stage, and watching how they perform and tell the story through the music is a big learning process. So, I’m excited.
As 2019 comes to a close, what’s one of the highlights of this past year? And when we talk again in 2020, what will you want to say, “I accomplished this. I want to tell you all about this.”
I would say one of the highlights, I grew up watching the Dove Awards in Nashville, which is basically a gospel award show. I got nominated this year, and I’ve got to play the show, which was amazing. I got to sit at a beautiful white baby grand and play “Fighting for Me” on an award show that I grew up watching. So, that was one of those real moments. I think when I talk to you next time, I want to have released more music that’s reaching more ears. I want to travel more, and hopefully get to go into some other countries and play music. I’m really just excited to get a bigger audience, to find listeners, and to create more music that connects.
Riley Clemmons’ The First Christmas is available now.