Christmas just isn’t Christmas without Christmas music.
Nobody knows this better than Durham-based, Florida-born folk-rock musician Mike Furlong, aka Mike the Prophet. Furlong will release "The Christmas EP" on Nov. 25, something he said he felt was a long time coming.
“I've played a lot of Christmas gigs over the years,” he said. “This has really been forming for nine years of playing Christmas gigs and figuring out cool ways to play songs that people already know.”
The EP features one original song, “Outside Like Inside,” and four traditional Christmas songs, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” “Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming,” “Gloria” and “O Christmas Tree.” However, he said “Outside Like Inside” didn’t even start out as a Christmas song.
“I thought it was going to be a different kind of song, then I was like, ‘No, this is a Christmas song, you need to go full tilt into it,’” he said. “So I leaned into that and wrote. It’s much less subtle than my normal songwriting, and I just embraced it.”
He said the song was meant to be a contrast to the typical, happy and joyous Christmas song, and appeal to people who might not have families to spend the holidays with or for those whom Christmas doesn’t find at the happiest of times. It touches on themes of loneliness and uncertainty.
“I kind of wanted to honor the other side of that coin, some people are a little bummed out at Christmas, and it’s OK to be bummed out,” he said. “But remember that all that cheesy hope stuff does apply, and remember that things could get better.”
And this is part of why Furlong said he got into music.
“It feels like I’ve got something to say, so I say it,” he said. “And use the means I’ll be able to say it with.”
Furlong's decision to make a Christmas EP is heavily influenced by his life and how he adored singing Christmas songs.
“I went to church all the time growing up,” he said. “I love a lot of old hymns and old melodies and old folk songs and all that kind of traditional stuff, and really Christmas is a time when that gets brought to the forefront.”
His friend and touring guitar player, Matt Phillips, said Furlong just has a Christmas personality, and he shows that through his music.
“Mike is not your traditional, twist your arm, Southern Christian, but he does rub Christmas in your face, not like in the Jesus way, but in the ‘I love you and I’m going to hand you a plate of cookies’ kind of way,” Phillips said. “The positive points of his personality definitely extend to the way he appreciates the Christmas holiday.”
Phillips, who’s also a musician on his own, said working and touring with Mike was a collaborative experience, he always felt appreciated, and that attitude shines through in his music.
“He’s just a really purposeful dude,” he said. “It was one of the best band experiences I’ve ever had, he was so incredibly detailed.”
Keenan Jenkins, Furlong’s touring bassist and a recent UNC Ph.D. graduate, said Furlong’s music is special because of the melodic capacity of the songs and their ability to stick with you.
“Other than the fact that he’s just a really good, overall musician — and he won’t tell you that, he’ll tell you that he’s not a good guitar player, but he is,” he said. “But besides the fact that he’s just an overall good musician, and composer. I mean, the songs are just catchy as hell.”
And he enjoys playing with Furlong because his songs never get old.
“I’ve been playing these songs with him for well over a year now,” Jenkins said. “I do not get tired of them. I still love playing all of them.”
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