Christmas music is so ingrained into American culture that even Jewish kids grow up knowing the lyrics to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Silent Night. While there are a handful of classic Hanukkah tunes - okay, maybe just two - they rarely rise above nursery-school-level lyrics and repetetive melodies. Honestly, when's the last time anyone made a little dreidel out of clay? And isn't anyone creative enough to rhyme menorah with something other than hora?

Enter Adam Gardner (of the rock band Guster) and Dave Schneider (from the hockey-obsessed group The Zambonis). Performing as The LeeVees, the duo has collaborated on Hannukah Rocks, an album of rock-influenced riffs on the festival of lights.

Unlike Adam Sandler's The Hannukah Song - which is more a catalogue of Jewish celebrities than a specific ode to the holiday - The LeeVees cover subjects more closely related to the week-and-a-day-long celebration. From kugel and chocolate gelt to Jewish singles events and the differences between Christmas presents and Hanukkah gifts, the LeeVees have created a rare thing: a catchy and enjoyable album of Hanukkah music for people beyond the temple youth group demographic.

The LeeVees, who will be playing the Bowery Ballroom for a special Hanukkah performance on December 26, talked to Gothamist for a quick explanation of how their ode to the festival of lights came to be.

You both have main gigs that keep you fairly busy. At what point did you decide, "Hey, let's do a Hanukkah album"?

Adam: We've known each other for years, but it wasn't until last spring when the Zambonis opened for Guster that we really got to know each other. Dave and I were on the tour bus talking about Jewish musicians, when I half-jokingly said, "We should write songs together -- Hanukkah songs." The minute it came out of my mouth I realized it was actually a good idea. There are so few good Hanukkah songs out there. Before Dave could ask I said, "I'm serious." We immediately went to the back lounge of the bus and wrote "Latke Clan" and "Apple Sauce Vs. Sour Cream."

Appropriately enough, you wrote all of the songs in eight days. Can you explain how and why you were able to get the writing done so quickly?

Adam: The songs just flowed out of us. Some songs, like "Goyim Friends," started with music, and other songs, like "How Do You Spell Channukkahh?" started with the title.
Dave: Adam and I had a writing chemistry that I have never experienced. We both just kept spewing out ideas. The first two songs we wrote the first night are the first two songs on the record.
Adam: We also only had a week left on tour together and we knew if we didn't finish then, we'd never finish.

Explain the band's name.

Dave: We really didn't want to call ourselves Shecky and the Jewtones. We wanted to avoid the novelty band angles. Adam's first rabbi was named Levy. We spelled it a little different 'cause it looked kinda cool and also it looks like The BeeGees.

Were there any barriers to getting this produced? How enthusiastic was the record company?

Adam: The second we had enough songs, we called our good friend and producer, Peter Katis, to tell him about our project. His initial response was, "This idea has the potential of being really stupid." We urged him to hear the music first before deciding if he wanted to record us. Once he heard the music and realized we weren't a novelty act, he agreed to produce it. Originally, we were planning on releasing the record ourselves, but some folks at Guster's label, Reprise, caught wind of it and wanted to release it. I couldn't believe that a major label wanted to release an album of Hanukkah songs, but now it makes sense to me. There's really nothing out there like this, and you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy this album. It's not a religious record; it's about the holidays from a Jewish perspective. If you like Seinfeld, you will be able to get this record.

Peter Katis has produced Interpol. How did you decide that someone with a background producing alternative bands would be the perfect person to produce an album of holiday music?

Dave: Pete is one of my best friends. We both love the challenge of making music that is a little different. Be it quirky, weird, or even silly, with Peter it still comes out smart. We would bring him a song and he would add one little guitar part and it would make the song a little cooler than it was before he added that part. Peter also produced some stuff for Guster so Adam had worked with Peter, too. The other great part of recording with Pete is that he lives three blocks from me. You can't beat the commute.

Dave, your band, The Zambonis, sings exclusively about hockey. What was it like making the transition to Hanukkah?

Dave: It was easy! Metaphors can basically make a song about hockey also about the race to the Moon and the Cold War. With The LeeVees a song about apple sauce and sour cream is also about life having many decisions.

Speaking of metaphors, you have some catchy, funny songs like "Goyim Friends," but then a song like "Kugel" plays like an ode to lost innocence. It seems like too many holiday albums either go for a complete novelty theme or are so earnest as to be almost unplayable at any sort of uplifting celebration. Was that balance intentional?

Dave: Well, from the get go, I knew anyone who even heard of the concept of the The LeeVees would immediately think, "That's going to be a silly record." We worked very hard on making the music and melodies speak for themselves. The ultimate compliment has been, "I thought you guys would suck, but, the album is actually really good." That's what my mom said.

Christmas, for better or for worse, has become a big influence on how Hanukkah is celebrated. In fact, one of the biggest Christmas songs was written by Irving Berlin, who was Jewish. Did Christmas influence your songs?

Dave: Just one of the songs was influenced by the Christmas feel. "Latke Clan" has a bell chime chorus. The rest of the record is untouched by the large hands of Christmas.
Adam: We were more influenced by rock bands we liked in common - The Kinks, The Ramones, The Who, REM, Elvis Costello - than any holiday classics.

What are your hopes for the LeeVees and the album beyond this Hanukkah?

Dave: I really hope it finds its way into regular rotation with Jews and non-Jews during the holiday season. Growing up, my dad would always play certain records around the holidays that filled the house with great music. That's the feeling I hope we create with our CD.