sbcltr caught up with the Montreal based musician during his recent India tour
My introduction to Watson’s music took place in a little guesthouse named Paul House in Dharamkot, Himachal Pradesh, my home for a month a few years ago. My Israeli neighbour Daniella was sitting outside her room strumming Man like You on the guitar, and I was instantly drawn to the music. A big fan of Watson’s music, she had perfected her rendition of this particular song, as can be heard below.
Watson’s music is a unique blend of cabaret pop fused with classical music and indie rock and has been often compared to Pink Floyd and Rufus Wainwright for its experimental nature. The uniqueness of his voice and the orchestral wholeness to some of the songs gives you music that deeply resonates with you. When the day came to watch him live, I was smitten by the magic of the experience. The next day, I found myself sitting opposite Watson at Toit, drinking beer as he sipped on Old Monk and answered sbcltr’s many questions.
Was there a defining moment in your life when you knew that music was your calling?
As a kid, I was always singing in contests. Music’s always been a really big part of my life. So by the time I turned 16 or 17, it was already my life. Life and coincidences led me there. I went to church as a kid and this guy said ‘You’re going to sing in the choir’, and in the first rehearsal, he said ‘You’re going to be singing solos’. I’ve been singing at funerals and stuff since I was young.
So you always knew you could sing. Did that play on your ego at all?
No, because I started in church. It wasn’t about me, it was about ceremony. So in a way, it was the opposite.
Are you religious?
Not in the Christianity kind of way. But music to me is spiritual.
Right. Is there a process you follow when it comes to song writing?
I try everything and I get lucky one out of 20 tries. I’m always writing, like constantly. Everybody sounds like something if you’re in tune with yourself. I work really hard at making every album sound really different. It takes me 7-8 months to develop a new style for myself. So it’s not really a quick process. There are different periods in my writing – some are just for wide-open experimentation and when I find something new that I really like, I start focussing on that.
And when you’re not?
I have kids, so I parent. It’s mostly music and family for me.
Is there a balance?
It depends on the seasons. Sometimes, we tour a lot and sometimes, it’s just quiet. This has been a quiet year.
What’s your studio space like?
It’s a mess. Super chaotic. I’m always improvising. I record for hours just to find 3-4 words that work. So it can take me weeks to finish a song. I listen back and pick things I like and then it’s a lot of editing. But I never touch paper. I hate writing.
Where does Montreal come in? Does the place affect the music?
Oh, it’s a great city! It’s kind of half European, half North American. It’s not expensive. It’s a great place to make music and there’s lots of big musicians around. It’s where we started.
Do most songs come from a personal space or vicariously through others?
I always have my eyes open. I watch people, I listen to people, I listen to myself. And I just try to find little ideas that I put in my pocket. Every day, when I write, I empty my pockets and maybe find little moments that are special and then I build on those. So I look everywhere.
Do you have bad days when it comes to writing?
Yeah, a lot of bad days. That’s why I’m always writing. You have bad weeks of writing shitty songs, where you feel like shit. But you just wait till you get a great idea again, and keep on working till you finally find something interesting.
How’s India been for you?
It’s been a wild adventure so far, so it’s great. It’s a very crazy place when you don’t live here, so when you come here, it’s pretty overwhelming.
In both your gigs on this tour, the visual element i.e. how the stage and lighting should be was very specific. Has that always been the case?
Yeah, we got the lights made. The little details make something really special. It’s super important to have a visual representation. I started off doing music for a book of images, so it all began very visually-based. I guess I’ve just kept that tradition up. I used to do very weird multimedia shows in the beginning.
Also, you kept laughing at your own jokes when you’re on stage. What was going on in your head?
Stage is just a funny place and you have ridiculous thoughts in your head. It’s like when you’re not supposed to have those thoughts, you just have them. I don’t remember but I’m sure it was stupid. It’s not intoxication from booze but just being there and the situation.
Last one. What are you currently working on?
I’m kind of in my experimenting mode. I’m working on the story and script for an animation film for kids. I’m working on a solo EP of really quiet piano music for fun. And I’m starting to think of the band stuff slowly but I’m not ready for that yet.
Text by Rohini Kejriwal.