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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014

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In Music

Indie band Patrick Watson will play Turner Hall tonight.

Talking with Patrick Watson of the band Patrick Watson


Patrick Watson is a great name for a singer-songwriter musician. The only problem is that Patrick Watson isn't a singer-songwriter. Patrick Watson is a Canadian indie band that was formed by lead vocalist Patrick Watson, but it's by no means just Patrick Watson. Confused yet?

"We've talked about changing the name of the band for the past 20 years," Watson joked. "The one problem is that we've never thought of a really good name. By the time we came up with the Wooden Arms, it was just a little too late. Once people know you as something, it's hard to break that."

The band is bringing their not one-man, not singer-songwriter sound to the Turner Hall Ballroom Friday night for a special Ten Buck Show. It's not that Watson, a Montreal native, doesn't like singer-songwriter music. Rather, he worries about the audience's expectations, taken from the group's strangely eponymous name, turning them away from their musical blend of cabaret, indie rock, film score and classical influences.

"There's a lot of people out there who'd probably like what we do – the crazy band kind of stuff – but don't go near our concerts because they assume it won't be that," Watson said.

Despite the seemingly normal name, it's Patrick Watson's on-stage theatrics and unique live performances that helped attract attention. For one concert, they performed inside a gigantic 40-foot inflatable bubble. Even in their earliest days in Canada, Watson was interested in strange shows, setting up one of their first gigs in "a 100-year-old vaudeville theater in Montreal that nobody ever really saw inside."

Adding to the band's memorable theatrics are the peculiar instruments often used. In previous shows, they've played items ranging from megaphones to bicycles to using spoons on guitars. Watson noted that, in most cases, the strange instruments are not just for spectacle.

"When you think about arrangements, you think about telling a story," Watson said. "Having the approach of just trying to tell a story in an original way and not focusing so hard on the music, you start finding things a lot more naturally."

All of these elements – the musical storytelling and vibrant spectacle – combine to make the kind of rich live experience that Watson believes can make certain performers, like Neil Young and Dolly Parton, great.

"Nothing beats a live show," Watson said. "If a live show is not better than the CD, that band sucks."

Despite its reputation, the band stripped its music of its usual experimental and instrumental flair for its latest album, this year's "Adventures in Your Own Backyard." It was a fairly drastic move considering its established sound was winning prestigious awards in Watson's native Canada. The band, however, wanted to try something new.

"I really realized as I got older that a good song, if you can just play it on a guitar and sing it, it still holds up," Watson explained. "For me, it was an important record that would take all the crap away, but the songs would still work and be touching."

Eliminating some of the band's stranger musical tendencies isn't the only new idea Patrick Watson plans to take on. Watson noted that he's thinking that, instead of taking an extended time off in between new albums, the band may release a series of small mini EPs. The hope would be to gain some songwriting freedom from the usual routine of writing, recording and touring.

"How you release your music defines a bit more what you and what kind of music you do," Watson said. "Music moves so quickly now. You're working on an album for about a year and a half, and by the time you finish it, it has nothing to do with the sound of where the world is at."

Watson also noted that he'd love to eventually further his work in film scoring, a passion from before he even formed the band. His interest in composing can already be seen in the band's music; in fact, the notes for "Adventures in Your Own Backyard" make reference to Ennio Morricone, the famed composer of "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" and many other iconic scores.

He's already dipped his toe in the film composing world, providing the entire soundtrack for the 2008 Canadian movie "It's Not Me, I Swear!" However, Watson is very interested to expand his composing resume and join the ranks of other rockers-turned-composers, such as Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, who recently provided the score for Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master."

"Any musician would want to do what Jonny Greenwood is doing right now," Watson said. "It's something that comes naturally, and you can't tour every day of your life."

Even with all of those big ideas and career paths opening up, though, Patrick Watson – the man as well as the band – plan to keep on rocking.


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