THE SIMPLICITY OF ADVENTURES IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD
Story by Kate Davies
Photo provided by Patrick Watson
2012 is an epic year. Not only has there been rampant talk of a zombie apocalypse and an increasing number of natural disasters, but the Mayan prophecies have been continuously cited by both conspiracy theorists and the average Joe alike. Whether you’re a believer or not, 2012 remains a year of fascination and fantasy, with vampires, ghosts, and various other monsters dominating our airwaves as well as our literary interests. However, while we’re all caught up in the fantastical, Montreal crooner Patrick Watson aims to keep our feet on the ground. With the band’s new album Adventures in Your Own Backyard, the group whose head is notoriously in the clouds comes down to earth a little bit. Songs about sitting around a campfire, snippets from Watson’s mother’s recipe book, and what goes on inside a quiet person’s head remind us of those little things in life which we often push aside in favour of the far-reaching or fictitious world.
While chatting with Watson before his Toronto show last Tuesday at the Danforth Music Hall, he explained that this album really came from “trying to bring the curiosity you have when you travel to where you live, and to kind of still keep that ‘spirit curiosity’ while you’re at home. [In this way], you start to see a lot of things you just take for granted all the time”. Although the album was recorded in his Montreal studio, Watson says the inspiration to bring it all back home came “from the fact that we travelled so much in the years before this record, and spending a year at home was the first time in six years straight we did that”. Because of this incessant touring schedule, being at home gave Watson a chance to uncover amazement in the simplicity of life rather than in the exotic. “The funny thing is”, muses Watson, “[when you travel] you start remembering people more than places or buildings. Even when you see Paris, you remember the atmosphere from the people more than the actual buildings”. This kind of philosophy reminds us that even the seemingly mundane can be interesting and worthy of note: “I try [to write] about simple things in a…different way…and it makes it kind of surreal. [I try to] find the surreal in the parts of normal life. It’s always been kind of my motto”.
Although the heart of this record is clearly focused on simple, everyday happenings, the album nevertheless contains that trademark Patrick Watson flourish of dramatics and dynamics. Aided by his irreplaceable band of bass player Mishka Stein, guitar player Simon Angell, and drummer Robbie Kuster, together the group creates a magnificent smorgasbord of ear-pleasing experimentalism. Watson calls Adventures a soundtrack that you can take with you: “I think it’s a record that you can put on when you are on your way to the grocery store and try to turn that into an adventure, you know, make an amazing soundtrack [to your life]”. This philosophy is mirrored by the band’s live performance, where their sound appeals to all of the senses. Tastefully punctuated lighting is at the forefront of their visual effects, with a delectably edible arrangement of shiver-inducing dynamics encapsulating their sound. Just to demonstrate that the goosebumps on my arms were completely sonically-produced and not from a drop in temperature, the fire alarm went off three times during last Tuesday’s sweltering performance. This kind of spontaneity is what keeps the audience so enraptured throughout a Patrick Watson show. Watson explains that “for a musician who sees a lot of shows it’s hard to watch a whole concert, so I think we’re kind of picky with how we build shows. We try to build it dynamic[ally] and with all sorts of fun moments and different moments so it’s never the same concert”.
Before the stage is overcome with the intense instrumental layering and grandiose light show, Watson likes to bring it back home with the touch of his hat. Notorious for always sporting some sort of brim which he picks up in various cities around the world, he explains that wearing a cap gives him a sense of intimacy when performing in front of a large crowd. “[It's] for moments on stage when you just kind of want two minutes, just two seconds to yourself. For some reason it gives me this kind of, yeah comfort on stage that makes you feel kind of natural”. Watson most certainly appears comfortable on stage. He is a master at connecting with the audience using his endearing eccentricity and sharp wit, but is at times surprisingly self-deprecating in person. Although he explains that composing melodies comes to him somewhat easily, he admits that writing lyrics is more troublesome. “Writing lyrics is such a hard thing, I’ll take any way I can write a word”, he laughs. “I find songs really easily and then I take a long time to find words to match the song, or stories that match the song. Often it’s the biggest challenge for me”. Coming from a classical music background and singing in choir as a kid, Watson states that he “fell into songwriting because I like singing and then I was like ‘oh fuck, you know I’m going to have to learn how to write a song’. I feel like it’s taken me like ten years to finally learn how to write a song”. Despite winning the coveted Polaris Music Prize in 2007 for their brilliant sophomore album Close to Paradise, Watson humbly insists that his progression as an artist is a learning curve. “Some people get [songwriting] right away”, he explains. “You look at Bob Dylan’s first record and it’s like a miracle. It’s already there right from the start. It’s kind of interesting you know, some people are like that. I’m definitely not like that”. Perhaps this modesty is what gives Patrick Watson a license for the bold flourishes and risky additions that characterize the band. Adding to this modesty, Watson also seems to pride himself on not taking life too seriously, which he explains is at the basis of a lot of his songs. “Like [the first track off Adventures], ‘Lighthouse’, when the trumpets come in. For me, it’s not a joke, but it’s done with a grain of salt, it’s kind of with a smile. Like, it’s a bit ridiculous when the big trumpets [come in]”, he laughs.
So what’s in store for the future of Patrick Watson? “I’ve been in a debate about how to approach an album as this album disappears”, he says. “Even though we’ve started writing again; we have songs already but…the music business changes so quickly…I think I’d have to give it a bit more time to get an idea of how to approach the next release”. In this way, living life in the present is simply a testament to the simplistic ideology which encompasses Adventures. “I’m just happy, it’s a nice thing to know that honestly the best things for me I haven’t written yet. And I feel pretty confident about that you know; not just like you want to say that to make yourself feel better. I feel like on [Adventures in Your Own Backyard] I started honing into something that I was really happy about”.
So while some of the skeptics out there are busy stocking their shelves with non-perishable food items in preparation for impending disasters, Patrick Watson gives us a gentle reminder to appreciate and enjoy those oft-overlooked aspects of life. It’s those small things in this world which hold the key to understanding the big picture, and this important realization can be discovered simply by searching in your own backyard.
Patrick Watson is currently on tour across North America promoting their latest album, Adventures in Your Own Backyard.
Upcoming Canadian Dates
June 14: Vancouver @ The Vogue Theatre
July 4: Montreal @ Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier
July 10: Quebec City @ Le Pigeonnier (Festival d’Été de Québec)
September 20: New Richmond @ Salle de Spectacles New Richmond
September 21: Rimouski @ Salle Desjardins-Telus
September 22: Baie-Comeau @ Canada Théâtre de Baie-Comeau
September 23: Sept-Îles @ Salle Jean-Marc Dion
September 26: Sherbrooke @ Canada Théâtre Granada
September 27: Drummondville @ Maison des Arts de Drummondville
September 28: Gatineau @ Theatre du Musee des Civilisations
September 29: Gatineau @ Theatre du Musee des Civilisations
December 6: Toronto @ Massey Hall