In our November/December 2022 issue, we catch up with Mo Herms about her podcast Music & Booze with Mo. Herms has a penchant for playlists, she’s been deejaying since she was 13, and she even had a job where she once oversaw playlists for a streaming service. Which means she’s pretty much the perfect person to put together a holiday soundtrack and offer some tips for creating your own.
1. Don’t go all in on the usual classics.
Sticking to the usual suspects can quickly bore a crowd. Instead, Herms includes ‘90s hip-hop, electronica, and Latin flair alongside her list of Rat Pack-era jazz standards. “I found that you can mix these things up and trick people into going to places they didn’t think they were going to go for the holidays,” she says.
2. Embrace “Shuffle.”
Don’t be concerned with trying to time songs with the beginning, middle, and end of the night. Instead, Herms makes sure there is no song that’s too “jarring” to fit in with the overall vibe of the list.
3. Throw in surprises.
Switch out favorites for cover versions, either from an alternate genre or a different language. “Just make it a little bit of a different version so it’s still familiar but maybe still a little new,” she said, which is key to winning over guests who are surly about played-out holiday hits. Instead of Mariah Carey’s inescapable “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” Herms cues up the version by The Dollyrots. “It’s kind of punky, so that puts a little edge on it,” she says. “So if someone’s like, ‘If I hear that Mariah Carey song again…’ and then they hear this snotty punk version, that might give them a reason to wink at it.”
Other surprises on the list include Diplo’s holiday version of his “Biggie Bounce” and Julian Casablancas of The Strokes performing “Christmas Treat,” otherwise known as “I Wish It Was Christmas Today” from Saturday Night Live.
4. Match the mood.
Herms says the key to building a list, no matter the genre, is to “listen to the music, and if it fits the mood that you want to project, then that’s the right song for the list.” For The Mermaid, a nautical-themed LA dive bar of which she’s a partner, she sticks to holiday punk tunes and the ilk because “we rock out our holidays.”
5. Avoid low-key songs.
“I definitely don’t throw songs on there that are really low-key because that would bring the vibe down,” Herms says. “If it’s going to be ‘Silent Night,’ it’s gonna be some bouncy electro version of ‘Silent Night’ where you know it’s ‘Silent Night’ but it’s still gonna be somewhat spirited and upbeat.”