- The Imaginaries — Maggie McClure and Shane Henry — are currently a supporting act on The Brian Setzer Orchestra’s Christmas Rocks! Tour.
For Norman-based duo The Imaginaries, Christmas has, in many ways, been the most wonderful time of the year. Married musicians Maggie McClure and Shane Henry’s holiday songs have been featured in Hallmark movies, played on the radio and earned them invitations to play NBA halftime shows, including a New York Knicks Game at Madison Square Garden.
“We love the holidays, and we love Christmas music,” McClure said. “And over the years, the holidays and holiday music have been really good to us, and our holiday music has opened a lot of doors for us. It's been really cool.”
The Imaginaries release Hometown Christmas — a compilation of originals, including the title track and Magic 104.1 favorite “First Thing On My Christmas List” and traditional tunes such as “Jingle Bell Rock” and “White Christmas” — Friday. Henry said artists often underestimate the opportunities the yuletide can bring.
“Not a lot of musicians look to Christmas or holiday music as a way to find a niche,” Henry said, “and the beautiful thing about Christmas music is it's evergreen. The same songs get played every year.”
The key to a good Christmas song, original or traditional, is to honor tradition without slipping into clichés, McClure and Henry agreed.
“We tried to handpick the songs very intentionally and try to do our own version and own arrangement of the songs,” McClure said. “So they're not exactly the same, arrangement-wise, as some of the classic recordings of the songs that we hear. We tried to make them our own and not force it but just try a different spin on it. I think we really did a good job with that. … They're all really fun to play, and people at Christmastime, they want to hear songs that they are familiar with sometimes. So it's good to have a mix, I think, of classic covers that we really love and our own originals, as well.”
The album includes a cover of the annual online-argument-starter “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with the now-infamous lyric “Say, what’s in this drink?”
“Because it's become more controversial in recent years, we haven't been performing it live as much,” said McClure, who added that the duo originally played the song by request for an NBA holiday halftime show, “but I will say that there are not a lot of duets out there, so we didn't want to keep it off the album because we recorded it and certain people like it. … That song was written a long time ago, and I highly doubt that the people writing it had any ill intention.”
Henry said he thinks “the controversy is ridiculous.”
“It’s funny that people pull stuff out of their butt like this,” Henry said. “I've always thought of it as just flirty, two people who already are digging each other. … It’s a good Christmas duet, and people that don’t like it can skip it. They can hit the ‘next’ button.”
McClure and Henry began dating in 2006 and playing backup for each other on tour about 10 years ago. They began collaborating as songwriters after moving to Los Angeles. The decision to combine forces as The Imaginaries was “fast-tracked” by an invitation to perform on engineer John Cuniberti’s YouTube-based “The OneMic Series” in Mussel Shoals, Alabama, a performance that led to further recording sessions with studio musicians who have played with Aretha Franklin, Gregg Allman and Little Richard.
Playing in a duo relieves some of the pressures and decision fatigue a solo artist faces, Henry said, but McClure added that the combination business, romantic and creative partnership takes effort to maintain.
“At first, it took us a while to really work out the kinks,” McClure said. “When we tried to write our first song together, it was a train wreck; it ended up in an argument. But as time went on, we figured out how the other operates. … We've been making music together and independently around one another for a very long time, so we've figured out a way to make it work. Sometimes the business becomes a lot of what we talk about and a lot of what we do, and so we have to make sure that we try to find balance and not let that become our entire marriage because it’s easy to do. We have to work on it daily.”
The Imaginaries plan to release a self-titled debut in spring of 2020. The duo is currently a supporting act on The Brian Setzer Orchestra’s Christmas Rocks! Tour, an opportunity that came from an unsolicited email McClure sent to the orchestra’s manager.
“This is something I think that’s really encouraging for other musicians because you can kind of feel like, a lot of times, ‘Oh, I'm not going to bother sending that email because they won't respond,’” Henry said. “But guess what? They responded. … It really all came from a cold email. The cool part about that is just telling people, ‘Man, don't give up. Keep trying. Keep thinking outside the box. You just never know where the next opportunity is going to come from.’”
Update (Nov. 13, 2019): The Brian Setzer Orchestra's Christmas Rocks! Tour has been cancelled due to illness.