Elementary, My Dear Watson

Posted by Abby Lavin on 10. Jan 2010

BEIJING, Jan 10 - Patrick Watson is a man who likes to have fun. Over the course of our 30-minute phone conversation, the Montreal-based musician uses the word "fun" 9 times, to describe everything from using a bicycle to evoke the sounds of the city for his song "Beijing" to performing in a ska band as a teenager in Hudson, Quebec.

That Watson employs the F-word so liberally will come as no surprise to anyone who's seen his live show - a lush mix of cabaret pop and performance art that has earned him comparisons to Rufus Wainwright and Pink Floyd.

Ask Watson what's the most fun activity he's got on the horizon, and he will surely tell you it's his upcoming trip to Beijing, where he will film the music video for the eponymous song ("Beijing") and play Yugong Yishan with his eponymous band ("Patrick Watson").

Before he embarked on his tour through Australasia, we caught up with the almost impossibly-friendly Watson for a chat about Bugs Bunny, Bollywood, and of course, Beijing.

WLIB: You've made quite a name for yourself on the indie music circuit, scooping up a Polaris Prize and touring with Feist, Cold War Kids and the Dears, to name a few. Back in your high school ska band days, would you ever have imagined you'd be making your current style of melodic, classically-influenced, "grown-up" music?

Patrick Watson: Oh yeah, definitely. The ska's like asking about your first boyfriend or girlfriend. That's not necessarily the person you're going to marry. [Playing in a ska band] we just had fun and it taught me about what playing in a group of musicians was like and taught me about the road. I learned a lot from the band but it definitely wasn't the music I wanted to play.

WLIB: What inspired you to write a song called "Beijing"?

PW: Well, I was at home in Montreal and I'd gone downstairs to this café near my building to get some coffee. There was this person there talking about how she was moving to Beijing. You know how some days you just don't want to be where you are or who you are? It was one of those days. Have you ever seen that movie Being John Malkovich?

WLIB: Yeah, great movie.

PW: [The song "Beijing" is] that concept of waking up in someone else's life. That whole day I just daydreamed about waking up in somebody else's life in Beijing. The song is what Beijing would sound like in my imagination, but the only other places I've been in Asia are Hong Kong and Vietnam, so I thought more of Vietnam when I was writing it, especially of all the bikes.

WLIB: Is it true that you actually played a bicycle when you were in the studio recording the song?

PW: Yeah. Our live shows had a huge influence on this record. There are all sorts of post-production effects you can put in a CD, but we tried to make sure all the effects we used on this album were things we could also bring to a live stage. Instead of just using some electronic stuff, we used pots and pans and all sorts of things. We wanted the same richness you would get out of an electronic-based record, but all done by hand.

We actually got most of those cues from Bugs Bunny cartoons. It's the best in terms of incorporation of sound effects into an orchestra. That type of stuff is what makes the live show so much fun.

WLIB: So how exactly does one play the bicycle?

PW: I actually just sat on a bicycle and pedaled. I figured the character in the song would get into a bike chase at one point. I wanted the stops and squeaks and bike chains. For some of the recording we put the bike upside down and played it by hand, cause it was easier to mic that way.

WLIB: Besides Warner Brothers soundtracks, what else have you been listening to lately?

PW: Grizzly Bear is the latest new stuff I've been listening to. They're such a great band. And a lot of Sufjan Stevens, too. When I'm on tour I tend to put on a lot of home-cooking type music. Some Simon and Garfunkel type feel-good music to keep me grounded.

I've also been listening to a lot of Lata Mangeshkar, this amazing Bollywood singer. Her melodies sound really sad and moody but the music moves and dances at the same time. It has the depth of a ballad but moves like a dance song, which is a rare combination. It's mind-blowing.

WLIB: As a composer of quite a few film scores yourself, what are some of your favourite soundtracks?

PW: Donnie Darko was a big soundtrack for me in terms of inspiration. There Will Be Blood also has a great soundtrack. Our bass player Mishka Stein always listens to the Blade Runner soundtrack. He's probably listened to that soundtrack more times than anyone else has ever listened to anything in history.

WLIB: Whoa.

Patrick Watson will perform at Yugong Yishan on Sun, Jan 17 at 8pm.

Ticket info: 100/80 RMB (pre-sale). For more information on pre-sale tickets, call (010) 6404-2711 (Mon- Sun. 2pm - 12am).

Photo courtesy of the organizers.


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