Lewis Watson Interview
Saloni Jaisingh | May 2017
Before Lewis Watson’s concert at Lincoln Hall on May 11th, 2017, I had the pleasure of sitting down with him to chat about his new album, midnight, writing, recording, and touring.
Tell me about midnight. What were some challenges or differences in creating your sophomore album compared to the first?
LW: Everybody says that the sophomore album is a tough one. I just thought it would be like any album, really. That was completely false. I very quickly realized that it isn’t like any other album.It was just scary because I had already established a sound, and everybody grew to expect that sound. When it came to challenging that and wanting the sound to evolve and be bigger, better,and more mature, it was tough to do that with confidence. I loved it, and really, at the end of the day, that’s the only real reason why I make music - for me. But in the back of my head, there was always that little thing, that “oh God, everybody is going to hate this, I’m playing the electric guitar now...” it was certainly a challenge in that respect. Other than that, it was honestly so enjoyable. We did it in two and a half weeks.
Yeah, I read about that, that’s amazing! With Oh Wonder, right?
LW: Yeah, with Anthony! And Josephine—she arranged the strings and played the piano. She hasa really great way of making these super colorful chords. It was lots of fun; we’re friends. It wasbasically just hanging out with all my friends for two and a half weeks.
Did you have everything ready going into the studio?
LW: We had the songs ready, but not so much the production. We did a bit of the pre-production, but Anthony and myself share the same influences, so it was so much fun just going in the studio with him, referencing our favorite albums, and just basically making music that we really enjoy listening to. It was such a contrast to the first record for me because the first record was done with a major label and recorded over two and a half years with eight or nine different producers. I really loved that experience of doing that all in one sitting and having a lot of fun while doing so.
What made you choose to do this album without going through a label?
LW: I think the major label thing can and does work for many people... for me, there was always a conflict of creativity. I had released my first EP independently and that kind of established a dark acoustic sound, and a label wanted to take that completely different and make me as pop as possible. That was just something I didn’t agree with. There were a lot of conversations about how songs should sound and “Oh, it’s not good enough for radio.” Of course, I understand that is important, but I just wanted to make music, and that’s all I did in my first EP. Really, the end product wasn’t 100% me, and that really bothered me. In the second album, I didn’t want any of that. I wanted to make an album that I love and think about the business side of things after that. It was a very conscious decision, and I’m so glad I did it that way.
Yeah, I think that’s a really great way to make the album completely yours. My next question is: What is your process of creating music as both a singer and songwriter?
LW: I wish there was a formula, really, because then, I would be a much more prolific songwriter than I am now. With songwriting, it just happens when it happens. And when it does, I’ll be sat at a guitar or a piano, and I’ll write a basic set of chords that really catch my ears, and then I start kind of blabbering not even words, just melodies. Within that, I’ll find a melody that I like, and I’ll go with that. Usually, some actual words kind of happen with those melodies, and if there’s a word I really like, I’ll take that and expand on that. With production, I tend to just kind of mirror the music I’m really into at the time. With the second album, I was listening to Death Cab for Cutie, Bon Iver, Bombay Bicycle Club heavily. So they really influenced this record with drum beats and guitar tones and string arrangements. I basically try and make an album that I should in theory would enjoy listening to, and hope that people will enjoy it as well.
You do have a lot of music out— multiple EPs and now two albums. How did you go into making the setlist for this tour with so much material out?
LW: It was SO hard. Every night, someone says “Oh, you didn’t play this,” and it’s a completely different song. Basically, with this solo tour, I’m promoting the new album and trying to play as many songs from it as possible. But also, the album has only been out for a month, and people haven’t absorbed those songs as much, so I like to play a lot of old stuff as well. What I try to do is new, old, new, old. I hate going to shows and having the artist just play the new album all the way through because I haven’t attached memories to those songs yet— they don’t resonate with me as much as the older stuff. I think it works best when people sprinkle the new stuff in with a familiar set list.
Yeah, that’s definitely a good way to do it. Back to the topic of midnight. What song has the most meaning to you, and can you tell me a bit about it?
LW: At the moment, it’s a track called “Run.” That’s a song that I am still unable to play live. I’m not ready to share that with a room full of people. I think that in itself tells me it’s the one that I’m most attached to. It’s about when you’ve just come out of a relationship with somebody, and you’re starting to spend nights alone, and it’s starting to feel really weird, and you want that person with you. So you say “please come over and spend the night, and in the morning you can leave, I just need a fix now.” And when that happens, it refreshes that grief period and “shit, now I wanna be with you even more” and getting frustrated at the fact that they’ve left even though you’ve told them to leave.
Do you have any pre-show rituals? How do you prepare to perform in front of so many adoring fans every night?
LW: I’ve kind of learned now to thrive from the nerves. Before, I really worked myself up before stage and the first song for me would be a real shaky affair. I’ve realized that the nerves mean that I just want to do as well as possible. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I ever stop feeling nervous, I need to look for something else to do. I don’t ever want to be comfortable in this realm. I take a lot of deep breaths, I warm up, I like to listen to music it gets me in the mood. At the moment, I can’t stop listening to the Post Malone album...right now, it’s exactly what I want to listen to.
I really loved your collaboration with Lucy Rose in “Slumber.” Do you have any plans for future collaborations or who would it be your dream to collaborate with?
LW: Thank you! I have so many people I’d love to collaborate with, but it’s a tough one because being a musician means that your schedule is pretty nuts, so to try and match up to people’s schedules is kind of tough. Also, it’s so important for the other person to be really into it as well. There’s nothing in the pipeline, but I’d love to work with Australian musician Matt Corby. Kanye West would be such a great collaboration; I’d be really intrigued to hear his opinion on things and see how he works. Beyond everything, I think he’s a very talented producer. Bon Iver, for me, would be a massive dream collaboration. I don’t know if that would ever happen, but I’d probably just retire right then, I would not be able top that. Jack Stepman from Bombay Bicycle Club would be a great one for me, he’s just started producing electronic music and I’d love to work with him or have him remix something.
Going off of that, what are your future goals as an artist?
LW: Honestly, just to be able to get away with doing this for as long as possible. I never imagined I would get this far, and to get this far is amazing. For me, my big goal was to sell out Shepherd’s Bush in London, and we did that two years ago. I’m a realist, and for me, even that was way optimistic. I never saw that happening, so when it did happen, I started thinking about my next goals, and I just thought that I have already exceeded my expectations so much that I don’t wanna set a goal and then not reach it and be disappointed. So honestly, just to be able to do this as a career would be more than enough for me. A third album is the next goal.
I know your second one just came out, but have you started writing anything for the third album?
LW: I have about four songs, but they’re songs that I wrote a long time ago. I still have a long time touring this record, so I don’t want to start thinking beyond it already and get excited about something else. I just really want to be absorbed by this album first.
Shortly after thanking Watson for his time, I got to experience his phenomenal live show. The power of his music was portrayed through how just he and his guitar are capable of commanding the attention of everyone in the room. Throughout the show, he told jokes, stories, and even came down into the crowd for a song. Before performing his last song, he invited anyone in the audience to stay after the show so that he could personally thank them for attending. Lewis genuinely shone through his whole performance, and the relationship he has with his fans is truly unique.