Willie Watson talks about his influences and how his music's changed since Old Crow Medicine Sho
Last week I caught up with founding member of Old Crow medicine Show Willie Watson who is touring the UK in January. He's released a couple of albums since going solo and I was keen to find out more about the singer and his plans for the future!
Can you remember the moment when you first decided, this is what I want to do for a living?
I had interest in playing music from a pretty young age but it wasn't fully realised yet. I would pick up a broomstick or tennis racket and dance around my bed singing along to songs on the radio. I would set up a blanket on the floor and that was the stage and my brother had a music stand because he took violin lessons and I would tape a magic marker to the top and that would be my microphone. I would put on little concerts for no one. Then I wanted to get a guitar when I was 11 or 12 I wasn't exactly sure why. Then there was MTV and it was everything, the look, the whole idea of being a musician on a stage, the cool aspect of it, the image really sealed the deal. Watching MTV and seeing rock stars I thought, yes, that's what I want to do. Of course I cared about the music and wanted the music to be good but at first it was the image.
Growing up what did your parents play to you and what do you choose to listen to now that inspires you?
Well my dad didn't play anything but he was a big music fan, he loved the music of his generation, he grew up in the 60s so he liked the Rolling Stones, he really liked Neil Young, and so I had a lot of Neil Young in the house. That whole era of music, we listen to the radio and he knew all the songs, he played The Beatles as well, those three really stand out.
You are a founding member of Old Crow Medicine Show, how has your music changed in your own words since becoming a solo artist?
What I do now has taken me back to what we were doing when we first started. In the beginning of old Crow our intention and what we ended up being was just an old time string band, replace everything from fiddle tunes to blues and when we first started we had one song that any of us had written and that was Wagon wheel so we played fiddle tunes and Wagon wheel. Then we started thinking that it was very important for us to write and to be an original band which was a good move because if we had stuck to what we were doing we wouldn’t have gone anywhere but we had other songs that we had written so that put us in another realm outside all the other string bands but there wasn’t a lot of them at the time, we were one of the only young string bands around. It's just taken me back to that, that's not to say that I don't want to write songs but I don't think I should be writing songs, it was just a necessity but I didn't like what I was writing and it was really important to me to be a singer songwriter but it was a lot of pressure and I didn't like what I was doing. I was thinking midnight special sounds a lot better than this song I've been writing and it seems to be working really fine at the shows I'm playing so I'm going to stick with that.
Can you tell me how you chose the tracks for your latest record and the process of recording that?
Just like with the first folksinger volume one, volume two I just looked for songs I liked that speak to me, songs that I didn't just like but I loved, if it blows me away I just have to do it. When I started getting good at playing music and understanding how it was working and listening to Neil Young and crazy horse and a live record or something and thinking things like that baseline that bass player is playing is really cool and I bet he thinks it's really cool and is having a lot of fun playing that, he's having the time of his life and I wanted to have that fun too. I want to be a part of that and feel that thing they are feeling so that’s where it starts but I have to be able to pull it off, theres a lot of old music out there that I love that I wish I could do but I haven’t quite found a way to do it my way yet. If I could do all the songs I wanted to do I could put out a folksinger record every other month or so but I can’t pull off all the fine Willie Johnson songs I want to do. Things like Keep It Clean off the first record, where have you heard a chorus like that talking about coca-cola, I don’t understand, I don’t know what it’s about but it’s one of the coolest chorus’ I’ve ever heard and I get to do that, here’s this song right in front of me, no one else is putting it on their record and I can pull it off. I don’t need to write songs when I have these right here for me, I got dibs on these tunes.
Do you have a favourite song that you enjoy playing live then?
My favourite right now is Always lift Him Up and never Knock Him Down. I like singing them all, they come and go, for a month I could like one and for the next I like another. I like this one that I wrote about half of so it’s kind of an original, it’s not on a record or anything yet.
When you’re performing are you completely focused or do you let your mind wander, we call it your mid-gig thoughts?
Yeah they can be all over the place sometimes it depends how good of a show it is, it depends on the audience and how good of a connection I have with the audience. I’ll give them everything I got every time but sometimes they wont meet me halfway especially in America they can be really rude and talk and get way too drunk, they can be obnoxious and I don’t like that kind of a crowd so if the crowds not going to meet me halfway then they’re not going to get the real thing but if it’s a good crowd and we’re working together at the show so everyone has a good show then I can totally get into it and put on a better show because I can focus, well not even focus, get outside of myself. I can’t be thinking about too much but I’m thinking about what I’m playing too, I’m thinking of the timing and the feel of the song and I can take off to another place once I’ve thought about a little bit, then I can be a bit of a channel for the music.
Final question, what’s next for you?
Just out on tour, I’m still on the road here, I’m going to have to put out another record soon and I think it’s going to be pretty important to write some songs, I have one I like. I’ll have to put some time into it and maybe I’ll make it a trio, put together a little band of some kind!
You can catch Willie on tour this January at the following places, get your tickets HERE!
Fri 18-Jan Manchester - Night and Day
Sat 19-Jan Sheffield - The HUBS
Sun 20-Jan Newcastle - Quayside Live Theatre
Mon 21-Jan Glasgow Broadcast, Celtic Connections
Thu 24-Jan Leeds - Howard Assembly Rooms
Fri 25-Jan Nottingham - Bodega
Sat 26-Jan Bristol - Loiusiana
Mon 28-Jan London - The Garage
Tue 29-Jan Lewes - Con Club