By the third time they’d worked through “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” the seven Janesville Craig High School students who make up the upstart pop band A Street were starting to get into a holiday groove.
Craig’s auditorium was empty at the end of a mid-December school day last week, but when a few students heard the band’s amplified workup through the closed doors, they wandered in and sat down in the upper rows.
It was a small audience, but every white Christmas must start with the first few snowflakes.
A Street’s auditorium performance was the first time the band and its Jackson 5-style lineup of five vocalists had performed “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” live, even though it’s one of six songs the Craig students recorded over two weeks of sessions earlier this month at a Janesville music studio.
Just in the nick of time for Christmas, the students have finished up “Mistletones,” a collection of holiday pop music standards including “All I Want For Christmas is You,” “White Christmas” and “Feliz Navidad,” with a few traditional Christmastime standards added.
For the album, A Street recorded all of its instrumentals—including guitar, drums, piano and horns—along with all of the vocals based on its own arrangements.
The group, which is fronted vocally by Craig choir members, plans to sell up to 200 CD copies of “Mistletones” at school entrances this week. Members say they want to turn over all profits to the Janesville School District’s annual Bags of Hope charity food drive.
The idea for the album came from a group chat on social media between the students, who all have become friends through their involvements in the school’s music programs.
“It really was ‘We should put out a Christmas album, because, you know, that’s fun.’ How many high school students have done that?” said senior Isaiah Pharaoh, on of A Street’s singers. “Then we looked at the calendar. We had like three weeks.”
Along with Pharaoh, A Street features Craig students Annika Leverson, Isaac Hanna and Tejas Patel on vocals, Parker Rundquist on vocals and bass guitar, Zack Russell on vocals and guitar, and Rodrigo Villanueva on drums.
The students booked time in the first week of December at Gemini Music Studios in Janesville and began several sessions—a few which lasted until after midnight— to record their own arrangements of holiday hits.
Leverson, a sophomore, said only a few members of A Street had ever recorded in a studio, but their self-imposed challenge to record six holiday songs got more ambitious as they went. The band even enlisted a few other Craig students to lay down horn tracks to fill out the recordings.
All the while, people the students had told about the project were unaware of the steps the students were taking. Even as A Street began hanging up posters around the school announcing the album and its sale to benefit the school district’s annual food drive, they weren’t sure if others at school or at home knew they were making a serious run at an album.
“We just told people we were recording a Christmas album. I think parents, friends, other students ... they thought we were joking or something,” Leverson said.
They weren’t joking. As proof, a Gemini studio operator actually aired a few of A Street’s songs from the album on a local community radio station late last week.
“I never thought this was going to take place. Christmas was coming too soon. But Gemini, the studio, took us in and just said, ‘You guys tell us whatever you need to do, and we’ll do it. They were great,” Russell said.
Russell said A Street decided it will turn over proceeds from the album to Bags of Hope’s ongoing fund because it was the main charity of which the band was aware.
“It was the holiday, and we just figured we shouldn’t keep the money,” he said. “You give that back, because one day … well, you never know. You could be in a situation yourself someday.”
Patel, a junior, joked the next stop for A Street might be a holiday appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” He said the band hopes other Craig students will embrace the band’s impromptu holiday spirit once the album hits the hallways.
“Are people going to love it or hate it? Who cares?” Patel said. “It was so much fun for us. And I know that I did this with the people I love. That was the thing. It’s Christmas.”