I had the opportunity recently to sit down with Nate Cronk, the writer, and performer of the holiday song, “Christmas Lights”. Released to video on December 17th 2016, “Christmas Lights” is a touching, and relatable song, but backed by a stunning video shot on a winter’s night at Canalside Buffalo, it made significant waves in both the local music scene, and across social media. Resonating with the hearts, and Buffalo pride in the region, the video has reached nearly 100,000 views on Facebook alone.
A music student of Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, Cronk has recently moved to Buffalo, accepting a position in student recruiting with Canisius College. But picking up his life, and making the move to Buffalo wasn’t the easiest of transitions. Despite the challenges, he completed the recording of “Christmas Lights”, and with the assistance of local film writer/director Jason Jurewicz was able to release the song, and video just in time for Christmas.
In the spirit of the season, as success of the song revved up, Nate announced on social media that the proceeds of all of the digital sales of “Christmas Lights” would be donated to Journey’s End Refugee Services; something he made mention of in this interview just a day before he made it official.
Q: So how did you get started in music?
Cronk: Music is sort of everything for me. I can’t remember a moment of my life or a time in my life, rather, where music wasn’t incredibly integral part of life. As a kid, I was listening to what my mom was listening to which was Michael Jackson, and Motown, or The Beatles, and Billy Joel. That sort of stuff got to me, and as I was growing up learning through music was everything. When I was in high school one of my buddies started encouraging me to do musical theater, and my response was, “Oh, I don’t think I’m very good, or a good singer, I don’t know if I can do that,” but he encouraged me to try. After my friend essentially forced me to try out for this play, I got a role, and my pursuits in performing took off. I started singing in choirs, playing drums, and then guitar, because I wanted to write songs. It all came together when I was fifteen; I was singing seriously, taking voice lessons, playing drums, guitar, bass, and pounding out chords on the piano. It was weird, I always had a knack for it, I always loved music. I wrote lyrics, and sang, but I started taking it really seriously, taking music theory, and digging into the hard work and discipline needed to improve.
Q: How does it feel, seeing the success that “Christmas Lights” has already had?
Cronk: I started playing music in church, so for me, my music was always for the greater good. I don’t do that anymore really, so I’m trying to figure out how I leverage any sort of small success I have to try and help people. I’m looking for something locally that I can bring some awareness to, and sort of leveraging as, “Hey, all the people who liked this video, why don’t you donate to this cause as well? Let’s make a difference in the lives of some kids.” So that’s what I’m looking to do with the success of this video.
Q: How was Christmas Lights born? What was your creative process like?
Cronk: My old band, Orchard Drive, in Rochester, was jamming, and I remember playing four chords over and over, and for some reason I remember starting with “Say goodbye to high school boys who stay inside.” That is a weird lyric, especially when you’re not in high school anymore. True to fashion with how that band operated I asked the guys to just keep playing, put my guitar down, and I quickly drafted the rest of the lyrics on the spot. Then we shelved it. It never went anywhere. Eventually I took it and revised the tune, and changed up the lyrics, melody, chords, making it my own. Sometime this fall I decided I wanted to record a decent version so I started putting it together in my bedroom. Everything you hear on the track is completely done by me on a laptop, or with my microphone, and guitar, except for the bass, and vocals, which were tracked at Red Booth Studios in Rochester. Everything else: all the drums, the keys, the acoustic guitar, the electric guitar, are all done by me in an apartment. So that was fun. Music is a lot of freakin’ work, but it was fun to put together.
Q: And how about the video?
Cronk: It was Jason primarily. He’s got this working group, “Welcome to Lovejoy” – Angelo, Brian, and Jay, they conceptualized it. We had talked about different options for the concept; a coffee shop that has a lot of Christmas lights, with me playing while a girl walks in. There was always the core idea of me connecting with a girl, but we didn’t know where to take it. Slowly the concept evolved to being outdoors, with ice skating, which lent itself more to the Christmas feeling, and the setting of Canalside.
Q: Nate, now that you’ve been in Buffalo for a few months, what are some of the things you enjoy about living here?
Cronk: I love the food and beverage scene that’s emerging here. I’m a foodie, and I live in Allentown, so I can walk to so many places to get a drink or a good bite to eat, so that’s fun. I’m excited to be a part of this community. I want to see how I can partner with others to make Buffalo a better place to live in; a better place for underrepresented groups, and a place for people who don’t have a voice to be heard. I would love to be a part of doing that.
Q: What about your music career? How do you see that expanding in the near future?
Cronk: I would love to be able to play with other musicians, and I think this city is a small enough one where there is opportunity to grow an art, and music scene that could really be special, and unique in the country – or even around the world. There are cities that have become so big, that people just don’t go to shows. But it’s important for us to remember that music is a shared human experience, and when you’re touching a screen it’s really difficult to have that same kinetic energy that you get from an in person experience. I’m going to play a lot more shows this upcoming year, supporting local music. I want to encourage us to all do that together, and make the Buffalo music scene something that’s special for everyone involved.
Q: So what plans do you have that will help drive that?
Cronk: I think for me, I’ve seen a lot of changes in my life recently; I’ve moved to a new place, started a new job, and have undergone dramatic changes in my home life. I’m trying to figure out what the next thing is for me, but music is a part of me, and a way for me to figure out even what I’m feeling. I’m planning to release an EP this upcoming spring or summer. I like writing about places, or moments that evoke emotional responses, which is a reason I like this Christmas Lights video. I wrote a song about Toronto, and I wrote some songs about California, so I think the EP I’ll be releasing is going to be called Places. There’s a song about Newbury Street in Boston, a couple songs about California, one that sort of critiques it, and another one that is about love on the West Coast. I’m also working on a re-write of the classic tune “Buffalo Gals” which is a great timepiece from this region. Those are going to be some of the things to expect from me in the near future. I’m excited to see how people respond, and more importantly, how we’re able to make Buffalo a place where music gives us healthy outlets as a community.
Q: People seem to be responding very positively so far.
Cronk: It’s going to be tough to top the enthusiasm people have about this song because it’s such a sweet, topical thing, but for me it’s more about the creation. Way more about the creation than it is about the reception. If people love it, then awesome, I’ll keep doing that. If people don’t like it, then at least the process is still helpful for me as a human being.
Q: Where can people find Christmas Lights if they want it for their holiday music collection?
Cronk: Christmas Lights is on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play. If you want to add it to playlists, it’s on Spotify and Rhapsody, and I-Heart Radio. Really pretty much any service should have it. It’s only 99-cents. Super cheap!