There's a terrible pun to be made with Christmas rapidly approaching and THE ALMOST only heightening excitement for St. Nick's arrival with No Gift To Bring, a stopgap holiday EP released in late November. Aaron Gillespie & Co. fill the stocking with one original, two covers and a pair of reduxes from their 2007 debut, Southern Weather. It's a quieter, more acoustic-based approach for the band, better known for the energetic emo-rock that'll likely return when they record their next full-length in spring 2009. Brian Shultz recently spoke with Gillespie about the EP's international creation, what Christmas music meant to him as a child and the curious dichotomy between the Almost and his day job as the drummer of Underoath.

What made you decide to go with the softer acoustic approach for this EP instead of a more rock-based one?
To me, EPs serve two purposes: One purpose is to bridge records and the other is [they’re] for beginner bands–to put out an EP before their first record. Because they only have five songs, or [whatever].

I had an idea for this kind of really slow, country-ish tune, and I had an idea to rework some of the other songs and it all felt like it should be acoustic–kind of just slow, and… I don't really know, to be honest with you. There was no pre-determined reason why I was going to make it like this. I felt like it was neat this way and it had a different vibe this way.

Did you leave behind any other approaches or ideas for the musical format?
No, not at all. I just ran with this idea and we did the whole thing on the road. It made it convenient not to have to worry about setting up big guitar rigs and all that stuff.

Where'd you record it, then?
We recorded part of it in Lawrence, Kansas; part of it in New York City; [and] part of it in London, England.

So it was basically self-produced at all these various studios?
Yeah. Well, [Underoath guitarist] Tim [McTague], who's starting to make records now, produced the whole thing, which is really cool. We had a really good time making it. We were on the Mayhem tour with Underoath, so we had to [record] it [on the road], because when you want to have a Christmas/holiday release, you have to have everything handed in by October 3rd or something like that. So we had to have all this stuff handled and finished over the summer. We'd been on tour for 16 weeks straight. So we had to do everything while abroad, which is kind of a pain. But it's cool, man. It was a totally different dynamic, and I've never done a record that way. So it was fun.

Little Drummer Boy – The Almost

Was it weird to be recording these really mellow, acoustic songs by day, and then playing Underoath's heavy, confrontational songs to huge audiences by night?
I don't know, man. I love all kinds of music in all kinds of shapes and sizes. I love when I do both spots, so… Not at all, really.

[Mayhem] was a festival tour, so we were playing 6:30 every night. So all these sessions were done super late at night. It kinda fit the vibe.

Were there other songs from Southern Weather you were considering redoing that didn't make the cut?
No, no, just ["Amazing Because It Is.”] I didn't really wanna dig too deep into it. I just wanted to have something to bridge the gap between Almost records, and have a little bit of music out there.

Did you consider doing any other Christmas songs?
Not that I know. I'm sure I [c[considered]omething [e[else]t one point or another. My mind is always going when I want to sleep and racing on at night. [I[I'm trying to remember–there was one other song I was going to do. I wasn't going to add it [to the EP]n addition to…[<[contemplates]I don't know.]

I noticed one song, “Your Love Is Extravagant,” is a cover of evangelical Christian singer/songwriter Darrell Evans. I hadn't heard of him until now, and part of me feels like your fanbase probably isn't well-acquainted with him either.
He sang that song when I was in high school. I love that song for that reason. But I don't know, man. I don't want to shape what I want to do and what I feel like I should do for a record-or an EP, or whatever it is-towards whether the public knows it or not. Or if the kids know it or not. I think kids will enjoy the song, regardless of who wrote it. I enjoy it and I think it's a really neat, stripped-down version. People will love it or hate it, or just go, “Eh.” It's important to me and it's something that I really feel [w[was]mportant to have on the EP.

Your Love Is Extravagant – The Almost

How crucial was Christmas music to your overall childhood experience of Christmas?
I have a friend who waits all year so he can play Christmas music. Like, he has the largest collection of Christmas music I know. I'm not one of those people. I like Christmas music fine, and I think it's fun to listen to and neat to play. I like how it's a subgenre. I think it's so bizarre in itself.

My mom and dad always used to play it, but I don't remember it being a big reason why I'm here, playing Christmas stuff now. [<[Laughs.] don't think there's any reason why. [N[Not]ny significance or anything like that. I [d[do]ove Christmas music, [t[though]/p>

A lot of reviews of the last Underoath album, Lost In The Sound Of Separation, noted that your vocal duty in the band had been scaled back, giving more of the reins to Spencer Chamberlain. Did you form the Almost because Underoath's songwriting was leaning in that direction? Or, after forming the Almost, did you not mind giving more of the vocal responsibilities to Spencer?
Underoath write music first, and then we do vocals, and this music didn't really fit the whole clean vocal thing. So that's why there's [l[little-to-] clean vocals [o[on Separation]Not because of me “giving over the reins” to anyone, or taking the reins from somebody or there being some confrontational, great conversation piece. The songs didn't fit clean vocals on this record for me or whoever else would sing it. For what we wanted to do, it needed to be heavy and loud, and that's it.

But do you have a burning desire within you to front a band, and the Almost gets it out of your system?
No. That would be a juicy one, but no. It's not the truth at all. I have people ask now, at times, “Do you feel squashed by Underoath, and [d[do]ou need to spread your wings…?” And I think that's completely ridiculous. I grew up just wanting to play music and share my life with people. I get to do that [w[with]wo different entities, and I'm really thankful for it.

If tomorrow I found out the Almost were dropped from the label and we couldn't play and we weren't allowed to write music for some reason, I would be bummed, but I'd be okay with it. I love Underoath, and I love what I do there. I'm happy in both areas.

Have you started writing for the next Almost studio album yet?
Yeah! I have.

How's that going?
Really good, man. It's been over a week since we set up a studio in the backyard of my house and we've been demoing there. It's been cool. I'm pretty optimistic about it. You never really know until you get there, though. You never really know until you get in the studio. We're gonna do a record this spring, and it's weird because you can write songs all day long and record them on your computer in your house, but until you get there, get everybody all together and really see how it starts fleshing out. You never really know. It's a weird thing. I feel good about it, but I don't really know. alt