NORTH ADAMS - Montreal musician Patrick Watson and his band - collectively also known as Patrick Watson - have been making music together for the past 10 years. With their new album, "Adventures in Our Own Backyard," the lessons of the past are being applied in simple ways that will project their love of live performance into the future.
Watson and band will perform at Mass MoCA on Saturday, June 30, at 8 p.m.
With his new album, Watson says that the band was aiming for something more down to earth, and to achieve this, recorded it in his Montreal apartment.
"We had a very different goal on this record," he said. "We wanted something that wasn't too over-produced. We wanted something that was kind of raw and just the basics of what you need. I think that played a huge role in terms of the sounds. I was also trying to make a really touching record, 12 really touching that give people goosebumps."
The band's typical process sees it experimenting with different arrangements and pushing for musical goals that are more ambitious than whatever they accomplished previously. Watson says that this time they were more interested in melodies than complexity of arrangements, and more focused on having the vocals fit in with the music more comfortably, allowing them to flow together.
The band's current method of sculpting sound in a simpler way hearkens back to their experience with touring for their 2007 album "Close To Paradise," which put them in the difficult
Their next album, 2009's "Wooden Arms," served as an exploration for the band that lead them to the frame of mind that would see them deliver their current work.
"Playing live is an important thing and most the stuff we record is live takes, it's not tracked at all," said Watson. "I think it's always important for us to work on our sounds from the source instead of doing it in the mix."
Watson's trajectory wasn't always to head up a rock band. He started on music around the age of seven, taking piano lessons and chasing a much different career in composition.
"I wrote songs in the middle of the night for myself," Watson said. "I always wrote songs. And then when I studied in college, I was studying classical music and composition. I was more ambitious to be a composer than a pop musician when I started."
"Even to this day my ambition has always been making interesting mixes of music. I don't want to be a singer/songwriter, that doesn't interest me, that kind of career. I enjoy working with people and making interesting arrangements. That's my trade."
Watson's opportunity with a band came in the form of a multi-media project, which saw him and his partners grouping to create a soundtrack for a photo book.
"I thought it would be fun to do it live at least once," he said. "We got lucky because we ended up booking this old porno theater, which was an ancient vaudeville theater. It was sold out because people were so curious to see inside the theater but didn't have the guts to walk into it during the day, so we had this really fun start."
The debut worked so well that the band wanted to do it again, and continued to perform multimedia shows with the same visual artists. When they started to feel like a band, they also found the desire to take things on the road, a harder proposition than they imagined given their configuration at the time.
"We tried to bring our multimedia type of thing on the road and it was just impossible at that time," Watson said. "We could just never afford to do it. You can't go to a city for the first time and bring this elaborate set-up and nobody knows who you are."
"Close To Paradise" was the result of the band's desire to create something that they could actually tour around bars and play, and also allow the other guys in the band to flex their influences and not have Watson dominate the music. The visuals that originally accompanied the music were the impetus for the band forming, but also the ingredient that would help Watson take his songwriting the next level.
"I was interested in doing some score writing, and I had written songs but they were not very interesting to me," he said. "The songs that I was writing were pretty lame, and then when I had the photo book in front of me and I saw all these pictures, it gave me another approach to writing lyrics and songs. It was kind of surreal at first . Then I got really inspired and found a way of writing songs that I actually liked."
"Once I got to that point it opened up a way of looking at songwriting for me, and then at one point, it was just like an Achilles' heel, I could adapt that style and I didn't need the images anymore. I could approach that way of writing and I think it was very lucky for me, because I don't think I would have found a way of writing songs without that."
They also helped Watson develop his lyric-writing abilities, which he paints as pretty poor in the beginning - up until that point, he was more interested in instrumentals.
"I was terrible," Watson said. "It took me awhile. I still say it's still not my favorite thing in the process. The photos helped because I could make some really colorful and surreal lyrics that allowed me to write interesting music underneath it. I can make interesting short stories that are a bit surreal and open and kind of dreamy, and that way underneath I can make crazy music and support those types of scenes."
"As I've gotten older, I've found ways of incorporating more simple subjects. I'm not an actual lyricist by any stretch of the imagination, it's not my skill. I can write a thousand melodies and play piano every day, but with lyrics, it takes me months to finish a song."
In Watson's mind, the band has finally reached the point he hoped it would creatively, one that captures its original intentions while showing a progression in learning its craft.
" 'Adventures in Our Own Backyard,' I feel good about because I feel like we've learned our trade and our sound," he said, "and I feel like it's an album that we've succeeded in capturing that it's cinematic, but still nice songs. It has a nice balance. I think that we could have got a producer a long time ago and would have found something quicker. I think it would've been different, and I'm kind of happy it took a long time to find the sound we wanted to make.
"It's been a long process for us to learn how to do what we do. We didn't have any teachers for what we did. There was no band that sounded like we were doing when we started. We didn't have anybody to give us an example for what we were doing or some sort of roadmap. We had no roadmap for what we were making."
And while his entire musical career has been part of a learning process that has lead him from one focus to something that seems entirely distant from that, the one consistent component has been the love of performance, and that is the recurring link in the chain that endured from effort to effort.
"That was more natural than anything else," Watson said. "I love to perform. I think that's why I ended up going this direction more than the other direction. I love playing shows, I love performing, I love singing for people. That's one of my favorite parts of the whole process. I guess if I wasn't a performer I don't think I would have ended up in this band because of circumstance. I think that's ultimately what sealed the deal in this direction."
Patrick Watson can be found online at adventuresinyourownbackyard.com
John Seven is the Transcript's arts and entertainment editor.