Interview: Patrick Watson Discusses His Latest Record, "Adventures in Your Own Backyard"

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photo from myspace.com/patrickwatson

Patrick Watson has been playing with his current band for about ten years, and his career as well as the formation of the group happened gradually and almost unexpectedly, as many things in life do.  Supporting Watson is guitarist Simon Angell, percussionist Robbie Kuster, and bassist Mishka Stein.  The group, simply called Patrick Watson, released their third full-length album titled Adventures in Your Own Backyard in May of this year.  The record boasts well-arranged and beautifully-performed songs that Watson recorded in his home, which perfectly reflects the album’s title that, in a nutshell, conveys the idea that there’s more beauty and adventure at one’s fingertips than meets the eye.

The group that brought you these exquisite songs today initially came together when asked to write and record a soundtrack for a photo book in Montreal about ten years ago.  Listeners were so impressed by the CD that they were asked to perform it live.  “We rented out this old theater in Montreal, and nobody’s ever seen the inside,” recounts Watson.  “People were so curious to see this theater that it ended up being a huge show.  So we thought we should do this more often, and we would do these big, elaborate, multimedia shows.  Then as we became more of a band, we wanted to travel.”

Upon figuring out a way to get out of a city that lacked a real music industry, the four musicians simplified their act and started to move around, and slowly but surely forged a close-knit group both musically and emotionally.  They never had concrete expectations about being a band, but their desire to keep playing music kept them together, and it grew from there.  “I thought I’d be writing more film scores, but I think for all of us it became something we didn’t really plan it to become.  We’ve traveled so much together, we’ve become a very tight family.”

Watson comes from a musical background, and considers the orchestral parts of his music to be more than just instrumentals at times.  “For me arrangements kind of complete the lyrics,” he explains.  “One of my favorite composers is Debussy, and he was one of the first composers to orchestrate around real things. Instead of trying to follow a musical formula, he’d take a car passing by on the street and try to imitate that noise in the orchestra.  He’s always been very influential to me in that way.  [His arrangements] weren’t weird to listen to because they were imitating things that were around people.  With the piece “La Mer” (“The Ocean”)- the whole thing moves like the ocean.  [In my songs,] when the trumpets come in, it puts some of the adventure into the song.”

Adventures is the first full album that Watson recorded at home with his band.  They set up just a couple mics and kept it simple, and didn’t go over the top with arrangements.  They wanted to make a really touching record.  “We wanted to make a record that gave us goosebumps on stage.”  I think they more than succeeded.

The core impetus for this record came from the idea of “…having that curiosity that you have when you travel, but having it in your regular life,” says Watson.  “Whenever people travel they get really curious about the things they see, but when they get home they take their shoes off and don’t pay much attention to what’s around them.  When I thought about the title, I thought about the fact that I travel so often that when I come home I have that same curiosity because I wasn’t home that much.  When you think about your surroundings, there are probably more amazing things to do than when you travel.”

While on the road, Watson has met a myriad of interesting people, and some of his encounters have shaped the songs on his new record.  “What you remember most about traveling is the people you meet, and not necessarily the things you see.  You find very crazy characters.  When you see people in traveling from place to place, you always want to ask them- ‘what are you about?’.  The one thing I noticed that I didn’t expect is how similar people’s dilemmas are, even though they may seem different in certain ways.  It made me think of a silent majority, which inspired the song “Quiet Crowd”.  The more I talked to people, the more similar their problems and goals seemed to be.  It started to bug me so much when different colored hats are put on people, because it it makes it harder to fix their problems.”

One of the most important things you can do as a musician is play with as many people as possible, especially people with varying scopes of musical knowledge.  The more collaborations you do and the more exposure you get to different styles of music, the more you enhance your skills as a musician.  One of the most beautiful aspects of collaboration and improvisation is the momentary-ness of the music you create.  There is beauty in that what happens in one session will probably never happen again.

“I’m a fan of playing with a lot of people and seeing what happens,” says Watson.  “In Montreal  there would be times where everyone would meet for one day and do one rehearsal and everybody brings ideas, and we’d make up songs and do a show.  All sorts of crazy people did it, it was fun.  That was the key to the Montreal music scene- the idea of collaboration and doing crazy things together that could happen only once.  The only problem was that everyone went on tour, but it was a moment.”

The band is on a label called Secret City, built basically by scratch by one of Watson’s college friends.  Originally they were label-less, but their career may have taken a slightly different path than if they had started with their management.  It’s good they took the route they did, and captured their adventures in a snapshot of song.

“Different paths mean different things.  The one good thing about our path is that it took us longer to get better at what we do, but we’ll always keep getting better.  I think if we had started with a producer in the beginning, our first record would have been better in a certain way, but our career would have been shorter in the long run.  The action of learning everything slowly puts you in a momentum where you always [make progress].  I always feel like the our next record is going to be better, and so far so good.”

Patrick Watson will be performing at Philadelphia’s World Cafe Live on Thursday September 6th.  To buy tickets, check out the WCL website.

For music and upcoming shows, check out Patrick Watson’s website: adventuresinyourownbackyard.com

Listen to the song “Lighthouse”

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