The first thing we need to tell you about Patrick Watson & The Wooden Arms, is that it isn’t a singer/band arrangement à la Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers or Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band.
Instead, the dynamic is more about the band than the guy at the mic. And that brings us to the second thing you need to know – this isn’t your usual band.
Originally, Quebec resident Watson, along with Simon Angell, Robbie Kuster and Mishka Stein, simply called themselves “Patrick Watson.” The name got a modification of sorts when the band released its 2009 album Wooden Arms. Now known as Patrick Watson & The Wooden Arms, the band is quickly gaining a reputation for turning other people’s trash into melodic moments as it creates music using empty bottles, automobile parts and even kitchen utensils.
Which makes for a rather eclectic style. In fact, Patrick Watson & The Wooden Arms remind listeners of so many diverse sounds that it seems as if the group is several different bands rolled into one. It’s not surprising to learn the band has chalked up many a touring mile supporting such diverse acts as James Brown, Philip Glass, Feist and Cold War Kids.
“Each song has a different story to tell,” Watson told Pollstar. “Since we have such a big vocabulary of music, we try to have fun with different stories. We can bring in our country influences, we can bring in folk, more classical. It’s more about telling the story than making the sound of music.
“If you want to use a lot of different influences, you’ve got to be narrative about it and not just stick a bunch of stuff there. That’s what kind of makes it work. If you’re telling a story and you’re like, ‘Well, I need this little sound to help place these lyrics in the right setting.’ I think that’s more the way I definitely look at it.”
Although Watson and his bandmates immerse themselves in storytelling, the group’s narrative construction is on a song-by-song basis instead of concept albums like Pink Floyd’s The Wall or Operation: Mindcrime by Queensryche. As it turns out, Watson isn’t all that interested in pursuing the narrative past a particular song’s ending.
“Those [concept albums] are the kind of things that sometimes are more fun to make than listen to,” Watson said.
However, while not all that crazy about going the concept route, Watson did cop to Wooden Arms having somewhat of a general theme.
“I think the theme of the album for me was ‘stuff that was made by hand,’” Watson said. “We were much more inspired by our live set than the stuff we had been doing in the studio before. We try to stay away from post-production. We try to stay away from too many overdubs. Most of the record is completely live off the floor.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean the band kept it simple. Instead, members saw it as a challenge.
“How can we make it sonically interesting in terms of sound achievement but still us playing live off the floor?” Watson said. “I think that was kind of the theme musically. I wanted it to be very folkloric and a bit more old ‘Twilight Zone’ storytelling – a straight story with a strange twist.”
But what about the band’s knack for turning common objects, like auto parts, bottles and trashcans, into musical instruments? Watson explains:
“I think our drummer and guitar player should be more credited than me and Mishka on bass,” Watson said. “Studio and sound is definitely my strength, but when it comes to playing on anything, that’s the drummer. He’s amazing.”
Watson has a unique take on the music industry and how it has changed over the years. The musician grew up in a world when the music industry relied on the tried-and-true method of releasing singles and promoting songs through radio. But as the digital revolution laid waste to the old business model, Watson found himself in an undiscovered country where old methods and rules did not apply.
“There are pluses and minuses about that,” Watson said. “Obviously, one of the minuses is we don’t sell records. Our income has changed. There are a lot of things that have happened. For example, bands before didn’t have to put songs on commercials. They didn’t have to think about that. Now, we put songs on TV shows and commercials. If we don’t do that, we don’t stay afloat. And they’ve kind of like what radio used to be. You put a song on a film or TV show and that’s almost like having a radio hit in the ‘90s or ‘80s.”
While Watson talked about other artists the band has opened for in the past few years, he began describing what it was like to tour with James Brown. Sure, he and his bandmates were kind of awed to be opening for the Godfather of Soul, but when reflecting on those times, Watson gave us an entirely different take on the Hardest Working Man In Show Business.
“We were just lucky to get that gig,” Watson said. “We were young in terms of a touring band. We hadn’t toured a lot. To be with those older guys who had toured for 30 years. They were super-nice to us. Also, just watching a band that’s done a lot of shows. Not everyone does that many shows a year. Just to watch them try to make every night amazing. We learned a whole bunch of tricks of the trade on that tour.
“I don’t know how to say this, Brown’s approach to the stage – there was something very sacred and religious about it. That’s something that will stick with me forever. I love people who make the stage something really sacred and really respect the stage. It’s special.”
Patrick Watson & The Wooden Arms play Chicago at Schubas Tavern May 17, Denver at Larimer Lounge May 19 and Phoenix’s Rhythm Room May 21. Other shows include Hollywood at Hotel Café May 22; San Diego at The Casbah May 24; San Francisco at Café Du Nord May 26 and Portland, Ore., at Doug Fir Lounge May 28.
The band also plays the Sasquatch! Music Festival May 29, Les Eurockeennes de Belfort in Belfort, France, July 2 and Super Bock Super Rock Festival in Sesimbra, Portugal, July 17. For more information, click here for the Patrick Watson website.