Sometimes, it does not take many elaborate words or a clear-cut master plan to get it right – with plenty of enthusiasm and a healthy helping of inspiration, Canadian quartet Patrick Watson launched a band based on interplay and equal input, always in pursuit of the perfect pop song
The four members of Patrick Watson have been playing together for almost a decade, weaving their disparate, diverse – and diverting – influences into a shared and harmonic sound. Joint by their mutual and irrepressible passion for music, the famous foursome transcend their eponymous and evocative front man: After all, Patrick Watson are four ambitious individuals, musicians and songwriters whose effortless output comprises emotional nuggets like The Great Escape (taken from the album Close To Paradise, 2006). Mournful piano, Patrick’s haunting voice and atmospheric backing transform the result into a polished gem – and make its source one of its year’s most impressive albums.
On the side, the band’s figurehead also dabbles in guest vocals and songwriting for The Cinematic Orchestra, used this creative detour as a springboard for bona fide film soundtracks, a. o. for the Canadian indie classic It’s Not Me, I Swear! (OT: C'est pas moi, je le jure!), and expanded his already extensive live experience on tour with John Cale, Steve Reich, Feist or James Brown.
We encountered the likeable front man a few hours before his concert at Berlin’s eminent Passionskirche, the perfect backdrop for the band’s sophisticated stage visuals. Relaxed, laid-back and entirely down-to-earth, Patrick immediately segued into little stories and observations about German humour or Nick Cave’s eccentricities – and would not even let a spontaneous downpour spoil his friendly mood. Later on, during his fragile, yet powerful gig, the focused singer surprised us with a spot of sensitive perception during one of the show’s most quietly charged passages, when a glass bottle – rolling across the church floor – interrupted the moment’s magic. Startled by the intrusion, Patrick simply stopped, grinned and stated, “well, that’s a nice sound!”
Who is behind Patrick Watson?
Picture the scene: When we started this project, we did not think about being a band, but rather considered ourselves artists who saw their own work as an art installation. In a way, we were the backing event for our stage visuals. But once we started to play shows together, we really enjoyed it and soon thought about doing actual gigs by ourselves. As I was the one writing the songs, we called ourselves Patrick Watson. And once we had reached the stage of Close To Paradise, playing gigs all over the place, it became increasingly difficult to change the name as everyone had gotten used to it and knew us by this moniker. So, we simply stuck with it! In the end of the day, we are four people with very different musical backgrounds who have been making music together for a decade. None of us ever thought about becoming rock stars. We simply wanted to make music together and play gigs.
If you had to pick a genre – where would you slot in Patrick Watson?
Pop music. Pop music is a very upbeat term. Originally, pop music was simply music for the people. It was about their everyday lives. A simple example would be the Beatles – what they make is pop music, right? It is funny that everyone would agree on that considering how many different influences and styles the Beatles have. What about their song A Day in the Life? While it starts off like an ordinary song, it soon morphs into a piece of classical music with an orchestra and then literally expands into something else. Well, if that is pop music then what we do is also pop music. That’s how I have always seen it.
Describe your own sound in three words!
That is a tricky one. So: surreal. Sensitive. Free. I know this might sound a little bit cheesy, but I don’t mean free in the sense of freedom or human rights, but rather as a description of our way of telling different stories and not thinking about the musical genres we might dip into on the way, whether classical or country & western. We simply tell a story without any regard to the influences behind it. Music is music.
Tell us a little bit more about your song Great Escape. Does it carry or convey a certain message you would like to get across?
No, not really. To me, music is not about conveying a certain message. Music is more of a collection of thoughts that is supposed to inspire people and open up many different perspectives of things. It is not about conveying a specific view, but rather like donning headphones and realising how your environment changes. Music alters your environment. I invariably experience this when I sit down to play the piano. I simply close my eyes, start to play and find myself whisked away into an alternate reality. And that’s what happened with Great Escape. I wrote the song on a day when absolutely everything went wrong: My phone was disconnected, my power cut off. So, I wrote this song and treated the day like a narrative character: a small, fat, ugly and absurd protagonist who decides to go away because it was a “crappy day.” So, it was just a story about that day – a humorous way of dealing with this nasty experience.
You have already shared stages with countless of other artists. Which of these has inspired you most?
The first one that comes to mind – and this might come as a surprise to some – is James Brown. And his inspiration is not strictly musical. When you mention soul music, many people immediately think of parties, drinking and dance music. That was probably my connotation, too: James Brown equals party in a big way. On our tour with him, however, I learnt that soul music is also a religion of sorts. There was a twenty-minute prayer during every show. We were amazed by the graceful and charming way they continue to occupy the stage after all this time. Back then, we were still very young and somehow soaked up this attitude; a sense of awareness and gratitude, an appreciation for being on stage and playing music for other people – it’s a great honour.
In an ideal world: Is there a specific film you would love to compose the soundtrack for? Past, present or future?
My all-time favourite movie is Donnie Darko. But I can’t say that I would have loved to have done the soundtrack as the film’s music is already great. I could imagine doing some crazy stuff for Wild Things, but couldn’t specify a particular film, not really.
Patrick Watson‘s Adventures In Your Own Backyard just saw the light of day. What’s your summary and verdict on the record? What’s new about its sound or contents?
While it does differ quite a bit from our previous record, there are also marked similarities. We spent an entire day in the studio before we whittled it down to these songs. One thing that stands out about this album is the sheer wealth of different influences, a variety we have always cherished. Everything comes together seamlessly and our selection overshadows the individual influences. We really got it right this time.
Any tips on talents to watch or up-and-coming artists this year?
An up-and-coming band from Montreal are The Barr Brothers. They are great! And there is another one, also from Canada, that some of you over here might know already: Timber Timbre, my favourite band from back home. The moment you hear this music, you instantly become addicted. You simply have to love it. And they are still a well-kept secret.
Patrick’s Watson’s most recent album, Adventures In Your Own Backyard was released by Domino Records on April 20th and is an archetypal Patrick Watson treasure: seminal, unique and eminently charming – just like the band on stage.
More information on Patrick Watson: www.adventuresinyourownbackyard.com
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