The next big thing? Ahead of his KOKO show, The Tab talks to Lewis Watson!
Robyn Strachan chats to rising star Lewis Watson, and discovers that there’s more to the songwriting process than just knowing your scales…
Back when The Tab first spoke to Lewis Watson back in August, at Y Not? Festival, we found a young man with a lot of talent and a marketable sound that seems likely to blow up over the next few years. He was a total sweetheart, if that counts for anything , and is just about to play KOKO in what will be his biggest headline set to date.
So Lewis, how would you describe your sound to someone who’s never heard one of your records?
I’d say that it’s kind of acoustic-y, folky… listen to it, you’ll like it!
There’s been a bit of a mainstream folk revival – is that a positive thing?
I think it’s amazing! A lot of people would really like it to stay underground, but for the genre to improve and to develop it needs mainstream attention. If it can get the masses to listen to good music – real music – again, then it can only be a positive thing.
So do you reckon there’s been a shift away from ‘decent’ music on a national level?
It comes in phases, like a lot of things – fashion, art – and I think at the moment there’s a stronger presence of folk music in the charts which is good. Beats being stuck in a crappy nightclub every weekend anyway.
Any particular artists that you’d like to emulate?
Recently, there’s a guy called Matt Corby who I think is just brilliant. I’ve been following him for about four years and he’s finally coming over to the UK from Australia. I just think he’s brilliant – his sound, his voice – and the scale of what he can do is amazing.
There’s so many components that make up an artist. What do you think it takes to succeed?
Something good will always rise to the top. Image is secondary, it’s a by-product of the music, and I’d never listen to someone depending on what they looked like on stage. Some artists are kind of like the people’s band, they don’t need to wear a dress made out of meat like Lady Gaga did or make a statement in that way. Just showing off the music really appeals to the normal man and that’s the main thing, really. It’s versatile, and it transcends all echelons of society.
How does it feel to have achieved so much at such a young age?
It’s crazy really! I picked up a guitar four years ago so even playing my instrument is still so new to me. I’ve just been very lucky, I guess, and came out at a really good time. I got onto social media when it was just getting popular and obviously the folk movement has come back as well, so a lot of things have gone in my favour.
Does social media make it easier for new artists to have some kind of presence in the industry?
It’s great ‘cos you can quite easily get your foot in the door and record labels, whether indie or major, will look at that and say ‘you’ve already got half the job done, we can concentrate on the records, on the music’, rather than having to build up a fanbase for you. Some people can get swamped out and dwell on social media a bit too much – I think it’s very important, but it’s not as important as just being able to play as well as you possibly can.
Does the internet age make it easier to ‘doctor’ your image though – I mean, how important is honesty in music?
I’d never write a song that wasn’t honest – I couldn’t sing a song that wasn’t mine, that I hadn’t written, otherwise it would be a completely fabricated thing. You can write an imaginative song, but I’d never claim it to be ‘real’ or anything like that. Real music means writing from experience, not only in the sense of a song but in the process of writing as well.
There’s a lot of good technical musicians out there, but there’s also people who build their reputation on ideas and innovation. How on earth do you strike a balance?
I think that if you’ve got the ideas, it’s important to use them. You can pick up a guitar and find the right note, then find the right chord sequence, and although it’s very impressive, that amount of musical theory could kind of cage your creativity. You’re thinking that this chord needs to come after that chord, mathematically or scientifically, whereas if it sounds good and you’ve got inspiration then things just work. Musical theory can help support the creativity you might have, but if you’re that creative then you don’t really need to dwell on it too much.
Three chords and a spark, right?
I wish I had a formula! Basically, songs will write themselves when they write themselves. I’ve tried forcing it for a long time, and I just come up with songs that I’m not happy with. It’s kind of like a thing where just suddenly I’ll think of an idea and I’ll sit with my guitar and I’ll try and play it – it might come in two minutes, it might come in two months! That’s the charm of all the best songs.
Lewis Watson is playing Koko on the 18th November. Tickets are available through the venue website.