‘midnight’ is Lewis Watson’s latest release. The singer-songwriter was able to give us some insight into his touring life and divulge some information about the inner-workings of the record, mid-way through his Australian tour. Watson would ultimately play six shows on our shores in seven days.
Hi, how are you?
I’m good, thanks.
You’re still in Melbourne today?
Yeah, today was our first day off on the tour. Played bit of golf this morning and then just chilled out for the rest of the day.
So, you’ve just come off the back of touring Europe with Hanson; are you in control of the jet lag or is the jet lag in control of you right now?
I am bending at the will of jet lag at the moment. The day before yesterday I hit a wall –right before our first Melbourne show and I just kind of forgot how to function and so I came back to the hotel and had a couple hours nap and then got up, played the gig. And the next day we had a show in Melboune as well but it was a matinee show and after that, again, I had to take a couple hours nap and then we went to the Hanson gig last night and met them all again afterwards and then after that I needed to sleep. It’s like, I’m constantly needing to top up on sleep and it’s such a horrible feeling. So I’m definitely losing that battle. Definitely.
What do you usually do on your off days and between touring?
When it’s the only day off between tours or if I’m travelling that day, I try and rest as much as possible. Today I just had a real bug to play golf because we’d driven past a course on the way to the hotel – it was like a four minute walk from the hotel and I was like ‘I’m never going to get another opportunity as easy as this to play golf.’ I needed to do something rather than just spend all day in bed. It’s rest for me, but it’s rest where I don’t feel lazy.
How’s it been so far, touring Australia with your new music?
It’s been great. I love it here, the crowds have always been extremely kind to me and have always given their all at the shows. They’re dancing and singing along and that’s the dream for me, especially with it being the other side of the world; that’s nuts to me. To have people sing the lyrics I wrote in my bedroom is a real kind of pinch-me moment. The gigs have been a load of fun and to be able to bring the band and play the full setup is great. We only have two shows left but I can’t wait.
You mentioned that you came along with the band; I know that you played the US leg of your tour solo, so does that mean your Australian shows are closer to what we hear on the album?
For me, I love doing both shows. They’re very different. But whenever I can bring the band along, I love to do that because I feel like we’re a real family on-stage and the songs, from this album in particular, translate so well to the gig environment and everybody has their part to play and I think the gig is a very big anthemic experience and I absolutely love re-creating those songs.
Yeah, you’re right. They’re getting a much more accurate representation of the songs in the context of the record, especially the second album. The first album as well, we play a load of old songs and a lot of people had heard the first album songs originally on EPs and videos or live when it was just me without the band so I think they kind of expected to hear them without the band. Whereas with ‘midnight’, I think they’re expecting to hear the songs with the band so it’s great to be able to deliver that.
Let’s talk a bit about the new album, ‘midnight’. What was the inspiration behind the album art?
I really didn’t want there to be a crystal clear image of me on the cover. I wanted it to be a likeness of me but I really wanted to go to town on that whole kind of abstract look. There was this artist that I was looking at when we were recording called Andrew Salgado. I just loved his work and love the way he distorted peoples’ portraits and so I asked him if would be interested in collaborating on the album artwork and he said ‘yes’ and he just created this beautiful piece that’s incredible.
Did you write songs specifically for this album or had you been sitting on some material for a while that you knew you wanted on the record?
This album was kind of unique because we had a completely different version of the record about two months before we recorded the album. I had like 96 songs to choose from for this album that I’d written over the years and I’d created an 11-track record. And then when I went in to talk to Anthony, who’s half of Oh Wonder, I’d asked if he wanted to produce the record and he’d said ‘yes’ and so we sat down and suddenly we were writing, myself, Ant and Josephine, the two from Oh Wonder and suddenly we’d written seven songs and a lot of those songs found their way onto the record and it completely changed the track listing and put a load of new songs onto the album.
Personally, I’d like to write a load of songs and then choose a snapshot of those for the album, rather than have a deadline and not be able to deliver, or deliver a bad bunch of songs for the record. I’d hate to do that, that terrifies me. So I definitely like to write in advance.
Having written 90 or so songs to be considered for ‘midnight’, how did ‘midnight’ shift from its conception to the end product? Was it what you envisioned?
I kind of knew how I wanted this album to sound for a long time. I’ve always been a big fan of bands like Death Cab For Cutie and Bombay Bicycle Club and I really wanted to make a record that had taken a load of flavours from those artist and bands and apply them to my songs. Ant, who produced the record, we share a load of musical influences and it was a cool experience to re-create our favourite sounds from our favourite songs and apply them to our songs. I write all of my songs on an acoustic guitar or a piano so a lot of the song demos are all very slow and raw. I knew how I wanted them to sound but they didn’t sound like that at all until we were in the studio with access to all of the guitar and drums and all of the extra things that we added to the songs. So I definitely knew, but nobody else did.
Do you have any favourite lyrics or sonic moments from ‘midnight’?
The outro to track six which is called ‘hello hello’ is a real moment for me. That song originally was just a guitar and a piano and my voice but Ant was really pushing for a synthetic drum, alternative version and it was something that I initially didn’t know how it was going to sound, I was so in love with the raw version. And we mocked up a demo in the studio and I realized how much I did love the new version that he was creating. That outro is a load of fun to build up from basically just an acoustic guitar and piano to then having all of the elements as well as strings and a load of vocal layers and it really shows the journey from it being just an acoustic track to the end product that we worked so hard to create.
Lyric-wise, in ‘little light’, in the second verse I say “A stranger to my skin but now I’m braver in my bones”. That’s a lyric I’d written with Anthony and Josephine and we’d finished the song and were running through the lyrics again and we all stopped on that lyric and were like ‘Holy shit, this is an incredible lyric’. There’s alliteration there, it makes sense, it’s a really poetic family of words. We all just shook each others’ hands and took a sip of our drinks. That was a really good moment.
How does it feel to be travelling the world with original songs and having people connect with your music?
I’m honestly the luckiest guy in the world. I get to sing for a living and not only that, I get to travel the world and meet like-minded people and have crowds of people sing my lyrics back to me and tell me how much they mean to them and that’s nuts. It’s something I couldn’t have ever dreamed would happen at all, never. I’m 24 and to be able to be at a place in my life where I don’t think I could be happier than this in a career sense is an incredible achievement for me. I am incredibly proud of what I’ve created and this career path that I’ve forged and it’s something that I hope that I’m able to do for the rest of my life. And even if I’m not, I’ve certainly been very lucky to do it this much anyway.
Image courtesy of the Lewis Watson Facebook page