Oftentimes in music, it’s how the artist comes to a conclusion that adds an extra layer of meaning to their work and is just as important as the work itself. This is the case with AU band Watson.
The band, getting its name from the name of lead singer-songwriter Ben Watson, has been busy since the summer of 2016 collaborating with writers, playing concerts and recording music to get off the ground. But before the folk-rock outfit was formalized into the four-man effort it is now, Ben was working to start a career as a country artist.
Ben was drawn to country music because it was something he knew and loved and wanted to try, but when he sat down to write lyrics, he found he was personally dissatisfied with the genre.
“Listening to my own music, I wanted to do something more and wasn’t really pleased with my writing and wanted to go for something deeper,” Ben said.
He expressed that, now, the country music genre does not allow for a great deal of commercial freedom outside of its more mainstream writing style, covering a limited range of lyrical subjects. In short, the genre did not fit his aspirations.
In order to branch out, however, Ben needed to learn how to write in another style, and for that, he needed help. Reaching out to AU alumnus Joshua Powell (of Joshua Powell and the Great Train Robbery) for songwriting lessons, Ben was able to learn how to begin writing in a more poetic, metaphorical style that better suited his impulses as a musician. Powell encouraged Ben to “broaden [his] musical spectrum” by listening to wide variety of artists that he had never listened to before and to immerse himself in the work of recording artists whose work he admired and wanted to emulate as he found his own unique style.
The decision to move from country to a rock-folk mix was both a consequence and an influence on Ben’s change in writing style. He knew he had to alter the sound of his music to fit his change in his songwriting, “but wanting to do some new things musically affected the lyrics.” The folk influence in Watson reflects Ben’s background in country, but there is no doubt that Watson is a sharp sonic shift from Ben’s original efforts.
At the same time, Watson is not just a name for Ben Watson’s solo work—it is still a group effort. Featuring guitarist Jon Ledbetter, bassist Daniel Conrad and drummer Da’Marcus Watkins, the band wouldn’t have even started without their encouraging Ben to make it happen.
In June 2016, the group spent more than 30 hours in the studio just preparing the first versions of their upcoming four song EP.
Besides the collaboration within the band Watson, also recruited the help of rappers Marquise Banks and Wesley Sojourner to write and record portions of their songs. Ben was drawn to the energy and poetry of rap and wanted to include some degree within his work, even if he was not writing it himself.
“We have a song where I wrote the hook and the first verse and [Wesley] wrote the rest,” Ben said. “I wanted people to think a bit more about what I’m writing and recording.”
Ben feels the band’s dynamic is a reflection of the AU School of Music environment in which it was born. Their work within the band and with others echoes the spirit of collaboration and teamwork fostered within the program.
“We’re all artists. I have my stuff and Jon has his stuff too. It’s like the music department where we help each other out. I was even a little leery about [the name Watson] but the rest thought it was a great idea. They’re helping me make my dream come to life and I’d do the same thing for them. We want to call it a band rather than a solo effort because I couldn’t do this without them.”
Aside from the creative process of writing and performing songs, Watson reached out within the AU community for the more technical process of producing the tracks. Music business student, Will McBeath, was responsible for producing, mixing and mastering each track on the EP and has been an integral part of the polishing and specifying the sound of Watson. Ben expressed his gratitude in that “he had his work cut out for him but has really great with what we gave him.”
Though the EP is nearly finished and the band was busy with local concerts in the fall semester, Watson is currently on hold. Ben injured his hand in a snowboarding accident, preventing him from playing guitar. He doesn’t plan on letting that stop the band, however.
Students can expect Watson’s debut EP within the month and no shortage of Watson concerts starting no later than mid-February or early March. Their first single, “Nothing Left to Prove,” is available on all major streaming services.