Jessica Hawkes: Nina Soro - "Pennies for Christmas"

Jess writes and sings an 'alt-Christmas' pop song

Jessica Hawkes: Nina Soro - "Pennies for Christmas"

Jessica Hawkes talked with me about her 2020 single “Pennies for Christmas” by Nina Soro, which dropped on Sunday, December 6.

Soro lives and works in the US, making indie-pop singles and playing in Brooklyn clubs. But she grew up in the Okanagan, and we met while she studied and worked in Vancouver.

The duo of Carson Tworow and David Lavoie produced this track with Soro. (We did a chat with Tworow about his tourdefrance 2 project recently, so check that out if you missed!)

Our brief interview touched on Soro’s immigrant roots and also brought up the idea of ‘alternative Christmas music’, which I enjoy and will continue to seek.

Please enjoy my chat with Nina Soro.

Background info

WILL CHERNOFF: Why do you love 6/8 time so much?

NINA SORO: Laughs. It’s all those hours listening to D’Angelo. Also, in 6/8 you can make it feel like four on the floor, but the melody might be this wavy thing.

It’s mostly D’Angelo’s fault!

WC: Who wrote the song?

NS: Me, 100%. I wrote it last year. I think it’s nice to collaborate with writers, but when you write alone, you get to experience who you are and how you’ve grown after collaborating with lots of people.

WC: For your cover photo: how old are you in it, where are you, etc.?

NS: I was 2 years old, in Westbank, now known as West Kelowna. That was in my nonna’s house. I really miss those times!

My grandparents had more than five acres. They had a farm because they immigrated from Sardinia and came from shepherd families, where they had sheep and cows. Here they had geese, which were really nasty! They’re scary creatures.

I know that the house is still there. That was the centre of my childhood. My parents were working class people, so I was at my nonna and nonno’s most of the time, usually every weekend. That’s how we functioned, coming from an immigrant family.

It’s a beautiful part of town.

Producing the track

WC: Walk me through how you worked with Carson [Tworow] and David [Lavoie].

NS: When I wrote the song, the only reference that I had was Bon Iver’s “The Wolves (Act I and II)”. At the end of that song, there’s a bunch of pots and pans, and it’s just chaos. I couldn’t explain that feeling, but I really identified with it.

There’s a sort of intensity that happened. Carson and David have amazing taste and talent. At first, we thought it could be like a folk song. But then they added the synth and effects, and I thought, ‘Let’s hop on this train.’

The harmonies that I came up with had the intensity that comes from D’Angelo, too. There are computer elements, but there’s also acoustic guitar and trumpet, and me recording vocals in a closet.

I didn’t have to explain myself too much [to the producers]. It felt very organic!

I was going for an alternative Christmas song. I didn’t grow up with Christmas music. Maybe it’s more for people who are from North America; I didn’t grow up with Christmas standards. I like the idea of ‘alt Christmas music’ and what that would mean, and sound like.

Also, it’s about being broke for Christmas! Laughs. But at the end of the day, it’s not about material things.

The “Pennies for Christmas” takeaway

Soro is a great curator of her own sound. Her work is beautifully precise and always heartfelt. She keeps a strong vibe through all five of her singles to date, so each new song adds to her memorable sound.

I’m excited to see Tworow and Lavoie continue producing with other artists. Whether the instrument they’re adding is trumpet, keyboard, guitar, or Ableton itself, they found a range of big and small sounds and brought them together with care.

Check out the song here.

The artist maintains the link above. If the link broke, please contact Rhythm Changes, and thank you for the heads-up.