Interview by: Roger Sharman
RS: Hello to Mr Willie Watson. I’m Roger Sharman from the Country Lowdown website. How are you today?
WW: I’m doing great, thank you. How about you?
RS: I’m good, it’s been quite busy day but it’s coming to the end of it now so all good.
What’s currently happening in your world today Willie?
WW: Um, today, well my daughter had a Christmas program, a recital at her school. She’s in third grade, they sang a few Christmas songs. She had a vocal solo to do, she was chosen by the music teacher there, so I went and checked that out this morning. She did really really good, she’s got a great singing voice. So that was my early morning and now I’m going to the post office to mail in a speeding ticket.
RS: Ooops, oh no *chuckles*
WW: Yes, and then I’m heading home & I’ve got a few hours to myself so I’ll probably sing a little bit, do some work and I have a sewing machine as well.
RS: You have a sewing machine?
WW: Yeah, I make clothes. I’ve been sewing since I was in my mid-twenties, and recently I’ve decided that I should start selling things that I make. I’ve got some orders to fulfil, to make a little extra money.
RS: Yeah, I noticed that on your website. That’s pretty cool & different.
WW: Yeah it is *both laugh*
RS: So, you are formerly singer songwriter with Old Crow Medicine Show.
WW: That’s right.
RS: Are you still in touch with those guys?
WW: Not really, they’ve kinda gone their own way & done their own thing. You know, it was a sticky situation leaving that band. It created a rift, a big rift in our relationship, which was a hard thing to deal with, you know it was kinda sad. I have seen some of them, I’ve a couple of them on one or two occasions, we were very close at one time and we are not anymore.
RS: sounds like a very similar situation to American Aquarium I had an interview I with BJ Barham recently, he said it was very much like a divorce really, like up breakup there are some people who you never want to see again, and those you want to remain friends with, so I guess its similar situation to that.
WW: It’s not like I have anything bad to say about them or anything. It’s just like, the way the situation is that we are not as close as we used to be. I love them still & I realised that I had & still did. I now know that I will always have a deep love for those guys.
RS: Do you ever foresee re-joining the band or doing some live appearances with them perhaps?
WW: I don’t know it depends on the nature of that, it depends on the music they wanna play. What songs they wanna play. If they asked me, I would consider it, depending on the nature of it.
RS: Moving on to the last few years, Folk Singer Vol 1 a collection of the traditional old songs and folk singer vol 2 is a continuation of that theme. Which of those two do you prefer, which of the two did you enjoy the most?
WW: Well I think Volume one probably has better songs on it. it’s just the nature of those songs on Volume one. But what I like about Volume Two Is my performance of the songs on that. Not to say that they are not good songs, but I just listen to volume one and I kinda cringe just because I was brand new to being solo. I still had not quite figured out how to perform and the strength of those performances, they seem a little bit iffy and sound a little bit unsure to me, not as strong as they could have been.
Volume Two is the only thing I’ve ever recorded in my entire life that I can listen to now, you know, nearly a year later, more than a year later, and still be happy with it and be like you did a good job on that record. I sound strong, I sound like I want it to sound. So, I like Volume Two for those reasons, not that those a re very important reasons, & that’s some thing I do understand is that what I think makes a good recording to me, listening to me, doesn’t necessarily mean that it makes it better. The sort of ragged aspects to Volume one, a lot of people like that but my opinions are very different from what the public thinks, & that’s all fine with me.
RS: Do you envisage a Volume three in the future or are you going to put that in the past now?
WW: The thing about the Folk Singer Volumes is for my next record I could put a band together, I could write ten songs or twenty songs and that could be a little bit different. I could do that for my next two records. I could do something else, you know, call it Willie Watson & the Wagon Wheelers or something and it could be in a slightly different direction, then in five years from then, or from now, Volume Three could come out, and that could be another collection of Folk songs. I could continue the Folk Singer Volumes for the rest of my life and still do other things in between.
RS: Are you currently writing?
WW: There’s always something kicking around. I always have little ideas that I’m working on. There’re a few things up my sleeve. I’ve never been the kind of songwriter like Bob Dylan or Steve Earle or Townes Van Zant, or Gillian Welch. Those people are like born & bred songwriters. I was never like that. That was the idea when I started playing music, I always wanted that, but over time I just realised that I wasn’t necessarily that kind of a songwriter. I can write songs with other people & I understand what a song is, how its supposed to work, & how it’s supposed to be built, but when it comes down to it I kind of fall off. So, it’s like a different kind of work for me, I turned out to be a different kind of musician than that. I think my next record has to have some originals on it, so I’m working on it.
RS: What actually is the process that you follow with writing?
WW: Usually for me it starts with some music, it can go either way, I can have like one line or an idea for a chorus and then build some chords around that or I can have a whole song idea, all the chords, all the melody, the whole structure of the thing in place, & then try to come up with something to say after all the music is in place, which is not necessarily the correct way to go. It’s better if you have something to say from the start. Writing a song around music is hard, you know, what am I trying to say? What do I want to say? Especially when trying to write a song around these chords. I find that typically if it starts with a good idea and you know what you want to say then the rest falls into place.
RS: How many instruments can you play?
WW: Errrr How many can I ACTUALLY play ….. none.
**howls of laughter**
RS: I would not agree with that…
WW: I’m good at guitar, I’m good at banjo, I’m an ok fiddler, you know if I pick up a violin, & I start digging into and playing the violin & brush up on it, then I’m good with that. The harmonica is easy, you just blow into it. I could pick up things with strings on them, I could pick up a mandolin & play some chords but it’s not like I call myself a mandolin player. I call myself a guitar player, a banjo player, almost a fiddler, but first & foremost I’m a singer, that’s my strongest suit, I’m aware of that so, as long as I’m singing good then the guitar is just there to support that.
RS: Well you do have a wonderful voice I will say.
WW: Thank you.
RS: How did you get involved in the movie ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’?
WW: I’ve have been sort of pals or acquaintances with the Coen brothers for a number of years and they were fans of my music, and I’d gotten to know them through mutual friends. In the past couple of years, we’ve become good friends.They approached me well over a year ago now, probably two years ago now, to see if I can play a role in their last film ‘Hail Caesar’. It was about Hollywood in the late Forties, early Fifties & there was a singing Cowboy actor, like a Hollywood Cowboy actor in that movie. They wanted to see if I could play that role, so they asked me to come in and read for it. I was like I don’t know about that, are you guys sure about that? I don’t know if I can do that, I’ve never tried acting, I’ve never pursued acting, it’s never been something that I’ve tried to do. They said yeah, we think you might be good, come on in & read for it. So, I got prepped for it, I didn’t really memorise any of it. I didn’t take it all that seriously but, I went in & I read.
They didn’t give me that part, they used my voice and guitar in the scene where he sings a song on his porch, in a movie within the movie scene. They didn’t give me that role but from the reading they said they knew they wanted me to be in their next project, which is Buster Scruggs. It was a smaller role but again it’s a singing thing, and I think that’s what they were drawn to with both of these projects. That’s what they want. There’s this one character who is a singing Cowboy and that’s what they want. One thing I really like about their films is the smaller character roles, you know the roles where some character turns up for like two minutes, & you’re like where did they find this lady, she’s amazing. Also, they are very accurate & believable characters. So, I felt if they see that in me then I must have something going on. Which made me feel great. I never saw myself being in movies but to know that they saw that in me was a real confidence booster, so it felt good.
RS: I guess coming out your comfort zone, achieving and succeeding is a great boost.
WW: of course, yeah.
RS: Do you see yourself doing any more acting in the future?
WW: Absolutely, I would love it, it was a lot of fun, like I said, now that I know that I can do it, and you know, its not like I’m gonna do some terrible TV show. I’m not going to do some sitcom, but if they ask me for the right kind of role then absolutely, if its something I would like then I would totally do it.
RS: You performed the role really well, so I think that you should.
WW: Thank you, thank you.
RS: Musically, what’s happening for Willie Watson in the near future? You’ve got the tour of UK and I believe you are doing the Netherlands as well?
WW: Yeah, we just added some extra dates a couple of weeks ago. It’s gonna be coming to the time when it is time to get another record out there, sooner rather than later, and like I said earlier I think its important to have some originals on there, yet not totally step away from the folk singer thing, but its time to take another step forward and have some originals on there. It is something that I desire, something that I’ve always wanted, it always was the idea in the very beginning, I want to write songs, I like Neil Young & Bob Dylan and they write great songs and that’s what I want to do too.
I did a lot of writing with other people, I did a lot of writing with Old Crow Medicine Show, so to do it on my own is something that I want to do, that I want to tackle, & do a good job at. Also, at the same time its what the people like.
I’ve only been able to reach a certain amount of people doing folk music, & it’s really important to people these days, & I don’t necessarily agree with this ideal, but people like the guys up there singing the songs, to write the songs too, whether they are even good songs or not, people are just impressed that the guy wrote the song too. Like if you are at a party & there’s some dude there with a guitar that you’ve never seen before or heard of, and he starts singing these songs, people will say dude did you write that? He says ‘yeah I wrote it’, then suddenly the song becomes ten times better because of that, just because the dude wrote it, whether it’s even good or not. It just impresses people for some reason. Things weren’t always like that, I think Bob Dylan changed that a lot. Since then it’s become what you HAVE to do.
You know that genre, Singer/Songwriter it’s become its own genre on iTunes.
RS: It is yes.
WW: I’m going to have to do this, its not like I have to, I want to do this too.
RS: Again, that’s pushing your boundaries and taking you out of your comfort zone, trying to write the best music that you’ve ever written.
WW: Yes, definitely yes.
RS: It’s progress.
WW: It’s something I believe, something I can get behind, something I can feel passionate about & be happy with. I have high standards with regard to what I think a good song is. I think that is something that has always held me back with regard to writing, you know, this is no good I’m going to stop. So, I’m just going to push on through.
RS: Finally, Willie, what have you got planned for the Christmas period? Family time?
WW: Yeah, yeah, I’m home through the rest of this month & through the beginning of January. Me and my daughter just got our Christmas tree yesterday, so I’m just going to be home & focusing on Christmas.Trying not to work myself too hard, I’ve got a lot of things to Sew, a lot of orders to fill & people want these things. So, I got myself in kind of a panic about it, thinking I have to get all these Jeans to people. I was thinking yesterday that I just don’t have time for Christmas. So, I’m just going to try to take it easy & slow down a little bit and just enjoy the holidays.
RS: Wonderful. Thank you very much for your time, Willie I’m really looking forward to the show at The Garage in London, 28thJanuary I believe. The Garage is a really cool venue, there is great sound in there, with its low ceilings, it’s going to be a great night.
WW: I’m really looking forward to getting over there. It’s been really nice talking to you.
RS: Have a great Christmas
WW: Thank you. You too!
RS: Thank you.