Twelve Twenty-Four, the holiday rock orchestra, is coming to the Levoy Theatre in Millville this Saturday, December 30. We recently got to talk with vocalist Joey James and bassist Dirk Yahraes as they navigated their way to a gig in a tour van. As we learned, when your job is rocking out to super-charged Christmas tunes in front of huge crowds for the whole holiday season, you have way more than shopping for presents on your mind.
Culture Vultures: So, where are you guys right now?
Dirk Yahraes: Right now we’re passing through State College, Pennsylvania – we’re on our way to Irwin. We have a show there tonight at the Lamp Theater. The tour has been great. It’s a lot of fun – we’re having a lot of laughs driving all over the place.
CV: Since your band is performing non-stop throughout the season, do you even get a chance to have a normal holiday at home?
Joey James: Thankfully, we all manage to spend the holidays with our families, even though we have a pretty rigorous tour schedule throughout the holiday season. We might not get a chance to do much Christmas shopping or preparation, but that’s what online shopping is for.
CV: Your last show of the year is this Saturday at the Levoy Theatre in Millville – the day before New Year’s Eve. What can your audience expect?
DY: The best way I can describe what the show will be like is that we’re going to come out and hit them between the eyes with some rock-edged holiday Christmas music.
CV: Sounds awesome. How did Twelve Twenty-Four begin? What’s the origin story?
DY: It began back in 2002 – the group was founded by guitarist Lenny Kucinski and our musical director Jason Santos. It started out as a five-piece cover band – a Trans-Siberian Orchestra tribute band – and over the years it’s evolved into a 12-piece rock orchestra. So, now we have two guitar players, two keyboard players, a bass player (me), a drummer, a three-piece string section consisting of two violin players and a cellist, and three dedicated vocalists – plus a five-member road crew.
CV: Maybe we should take a quick step back and explain the Trans-Siberian Orchestra to the uninitiated.
DY: Well, for those who don’t know who they are, you have certainly heard their music. Their biggest chart hit was “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” which is basically a variation on “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” mixed together with “Carol of the Bells.” Their song “Wizards In Winter” is used in a lot of television commercials. Their song “Christmas Canon” is also used a lot. Essentially, they’re an ‘80s band that evolved into the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
The core of the group is the neo-classical prog-rock band Savatage. They put a version of “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo” on one of their albums, not even intending for it to be considered a Christmas-time song, and it just started getting a lot of air play during the holiday season, and they realized that they had inadvertently struck a chord with a wide audience. Then, they started applying that concept to other well-known Christmas carols and traditional holiday music, re-arranging them to fit a rock orchestra format. So, they kind of stumbled into it, but they carved out this phenomenal niche that didn’t exist before them, and they turned it into one of the highest-grossing touring acts in this country.
CV: What Twelve Twenty-Four songs stand out to you, as members of the band?
JJ: One of our favorites is “Little Drummer Boy,” which our musical director Jason Santos recently re-worked to fit Twelve Twenty-Four’s current line-up. It’s just such a fantastic song, and this new arrangement is really fun for the vocalists. It really gave us the opportunity to do some great harmony work, and take the song to the next level.
DY: Jason just hears music at a different level, and it’s really cool to watch him work. He’ll hear these different elements of these songs, and take all of these different influences, and just pull them all together. Recording with him is really fun because you’ll be working on certain tracks and it’ll be like working on a puzzle – and you don’t always see the big picture that he sees until it’s done.
CV: So, your last show of the 2017 holiday season is this Saturday. Anything else you’d like to say about that?
DY: If you like the music of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, or if you’re into rock ‘n’ roll Christmas music, come out to the Levoy. You will not be disappointed.
Joey James and Dirk Yahraes will be performing with the rest of Twelve Twenty-Four at the Levoy Theatre in Millville, New Jersey this Saturday, December 30. For more info and tickets, go to: www.levoy.net/event/1224