If you could get vocal lessons from anyone, who would it be? The answer’s simple: Patrick Watson.
The Canadian singer-songwriter has five albums under his belt, won the 2007 Polaris Music Prize, and plays a myriad of instruments. But that’s not what makes him special. Watson’s got a voice deeply reminiscent of Jeff Buckley, and on his new album, Love Songs For Robots, his vocals get more direct by staying lower. “It’s like a bizarre sci-fi record for me since I’m not as angelic now,” he says over the phone, laughing.
On the album, synths that sound like strings and original drum sounds are triggered by electronics to get an R&B feel while still floating with a whimsical air. After 2012’s Adventures In Your Own Backyard, Watson spent six months crafting up dance songs just for fun. “I learned a different way of phrasing, specifically that you don’t need high notes to get the delivery across,” he says. “It gives the music more space to dance.” When recorded live, it came to life.
His vocals merge with the music similar to the aesthetics of Blade Runner, a supremely futuristic film with undeniably warm, human tones. There’s no tacky robots or uber cool spaceship. It’s about transporting people outside of their life. “The new album isn’t so much like sound as it is, well, you know what it tastes like,” he says while discussing its relation tot he film. “Sometimes I work visually and sometimes I work with taste. When you taste it, you know. I knew what the album should taste like — Blade Runner.”
If that sounds dark, it’s because it isn’t afraid to be. In all of Patrick Waston’s albums, there’s a lingering feeling that you’re caught in a children’s book. Of course, having song titles like “Where The Wild Things Are” and “Oh The Places We Will Go” certainly help. He’s making fairytales, only this time they’re for adults.
“When I was reading some books to my kids, they didn’t sound very child-friendly,” he says. “I wrote [“Oh The Places We Will Go”] from the mindset of a kid who leaves the house for the first time when they’re 20. Even in an adult life, having that curiosity and looking at the world like that gives things a magical touch. Plus it’s healthy. I’ve never really lost that way of seeing. You don’t need to have the innocence of a children’s book, but you do need the magic.”
In fact, most of Walt Disney’s original material was gruesome stuff. The Little Mermaid tries to stab the prince with a knife, it doesn’t work, and she kills herself by throwing herself off the boat. “That’s the real story,” he admits. “Everything is crazy and magical and wild, but it isn’t always innocent. They have a depth of field that I really like.”
When he was a child, Watson was busy singing right away. He joined his local church choir at age seven, took lessons in hopes of joining a musical (“What a silly idea,” he laughs, reflecting.), and then suddenly stopped singing for five years. “When I started singing again, I hated my voice,” he admits. “Because I didn’t learn enough about songs and I’m not terribly well-versed in the origin of songs like I should be, it became more of something I came to musically where I don’t think about it. The notes do it themselves. I don’t do technical practice. When I’m inspired, it happens. When I’m not inspired, I can’t sing.”
We ask him for some vocal tips, but he struggles to think of them. “You can go to school and learn the arts of opera, but there’s no school about soul,” says Watson “Singing isn’t about the notes; it’s about what’s going on in your head. Singing is mostly about the intention of what you’re doing more than anything. If you concentrate on the story at hand, your voice will do the best job it can.”
He makes you want to morph into a bird, free to sing at anytime in any place. After passing along some basic rules of thumb–don’t stay out too late, don’t drink beer, turn to lemon and ginger when you’re in trouble–he finally figures out his vocal lesson for us: “If I don’t live, I can’t sing. I can’t be too careful, either, because it takes away the beauty of what the instrument is. I like the adventure of touring and then getting to share it live each night. So live. Then let your voice do its thing.”
PATRICK WATSON w/ THE LOW ANTHEM. THE SINCLAIR, 52 CHURCH ST., CAMBRIDGE. SAT 5.30 8PM/18+/$20.