Former Old Crow Medicine Show man Willie Watson’s been touring relentlessly for quite a while since the release of his debut solo long-player. He spared a few minutes to have a chat with us about what’s been happening since he split with the band, why he hates country music and why Irish audiences are the best.
Willie Watson, thanks for taking some time out to chat with us before you visit these shores for Open House Festival. You’re currently out touring ‘The Folk Singer Volume 1’, how’s that been received?
The Folk Singer Volume 1 record has been out for just over a year now so I’m longer really touring in support of that record. I’m just touring to work. In some ways it’s been like starting over again. I mean, it’s not completely starting again from the beginning as I still have the Old Crow Medicine Show name to stand over, it’s just slowly working my way back onto the scene. I’m getting the word out that I’m still around and still making music. A lot of people don’t know I’ve left Old Crow Medicine Show. A lot of people don’t know who’s in that band, y’know, they just know a song. Touring now is interesting. The shows are a lot smaller but it works.
The record is composed of old songs but with a very contemporary feel. Was it a conscious decision to keep it cleanly produced and steer clear of that old vinyl crackle?
There’s no point in cutting a modern day record and making it sound like it was recorded in the 1920s. All the equipment we used is modern although we still lay it down on tape. Once we get to the mastering stage, it gets digital. We run it through a computer and that leaves it sounding crisp and clear and I don’t know, hi-fi?
An interview with Jason Isbell this week talked about the two sides of country music with people like himself, Sturgill Simpson and Kacey Musgraves hitting the top of the album charts despite having little radio play or no big label backing. Is that the camp you’d put yourself in?
I honestly have no idea. I don’t listen to any of those guys. I don’t listen to Jason Isbell or Kacey Musgraves. I don’t listen to the top forty charts or country music radio either. I’ve stayed away from all that over the last decade. I think the music industry today is over saturated. There are too many people making music and a lot of that music is watered-down. It’s sub-par, mediocre. I’d rather listen to pop stations – someone like Taylor Swift. Maybe she’s not the best example but she makes good pop music now. I’d rather have Sia, Wu-Tang Clan, 50 Cent or Eminem. These are people writing and singing about what’s going on in their lives. It’s where the real talent is. There are some good rhymes in there. Good songs.
You’re on the road to Ireland, north and south, next week. Are you looking forward to getting back over here and paying us a visit?
I love getting over to Ireland. I love the place and the people there. Like those people I just mentioned, the Irish people are very genuine, tapped into the source. They’re very non-assuming, you know, there’s just no bullshit. And, Irish crowds make the best audiences. Sometimes American audiences can be too rowdy and don’t know when to shut up but on the other hand English audiences can be too quiet, reserved and don’t know when to clap. The Irish are great. They listen when they should be listening and they know when to hoot’n’holler.
Obviously you’ve visited here before in the Old Crow Medicine Show lineup. Do you miss those days? Is touring now a whole new experience?
Touring now is definitely a different experience with smaller crowds and smaller shows. It’s just me and my tour manager on the road in a rented vehicle and sure I miss the brotherhood and the friendship of the Old Crow Medicine Show days. But you know I haven’t seen those guys in a while, I haven’t heard their last record and sometimes when I see their most recent press shots and look at how they’re dressed and the image I just think, I’m glad I wasn’t at that shoot.
What can fans across the UK and Ireland expect from a Willie Watson show on this tour?
I just get up there and sing my songs. I suppose I’d like to take everyone on a little journey together and we can have an experience. Really, I just hope that everyone leaves feeling uplifted. At the end of the day it’s good to just play maybe one song that helps someone forget their troubles for a little while. I like to do a service to people through the music.
It sounds like you’ve a great passion for playing live. Is it fair to say you prefer it to being in the studio?
I prefer playing live. I do like being in the studio to though. I can play my music anywhere, in the house, in a studio, on my own or in front of a few people in a living room and it sounds good. When you play live though that just escalates the intensity. Everything’s more intense in front of a live crowd.
Talking of playing in your house and studio, is there any new material in the pipeline – a Folk Singer Volume 2 perhaps?
I haven’t written any songs for quite a while. It’s something that I put down after the split and just haven’t picked it back up again. I’ve tried a few things but I’m not a ‘songwriter’ songwriter like Gillian Welch or Bob Dylan. I’m not that person who carries a pad around and writes stuff down everywhere I go. I’m someone who writes better with other people, I can collaborate on ideas, help to finish songs off or maybe make them better. Not to compare myself to Elvis or those old country stars who performed other people’s songs but that’s really what I do. I’m a singer and performer. There will always be older songs to sing and I listen to songs that are a hundred years old, twenty years old or maybe even one day old. But in answer to your question, Folk Singer Volume 2 is in the works or at least we’ll soon be putting something into the works.
We’re looking forward to hearing much more soon and look forward to the Bangor show next week. Have you got one final message for people over here?
Yeah, everyone should bring ten friends with them.