8/9/2020

Darren Watson releases ‘Getting sober for the end of the world’.

Folk-Blues musician Darren Watson is releasing his new album ‘Getting sober for the end of the world’ on Thursday, October 1 in Wellington’s San Fran. The album features the song Ernie Abbott which Watson says is a high point in his song-writing career.

Watson’s tenure as a soloist had exceeded the thirteen years spent fronting Chicago Smokeshop, the beloved soul band he formed in the mid 1980s. On his seventh record, the Wellington guitarist, songwriter and singer relished the opportunity to be fully in control of all aspects of production.

“A really big thing for me is doing it all myself, recording it at home, mixing it. I got just as much of a kick out of finding ways to record in a room with a bunch of people as I did from the performances this time.”

To some, home recordings would mean a modern, computer-assembled production such as Billie Eilish but to Watson it translates into time. Time to get the right performances and to record an excess of songs, refining them down to a cohesive set.

“There are covers here as well but I think I wrote about 20 [songs], we recorded 15 and we’re using nine,” said Watson.

The foundation of the album was recorded live, with vocals, bass, harmonica and percussion all recorded in the same house, at the same time.

“Sometimes you have to accept that you’ve sung something a bit off pitch somewhere, but the vibe of the whole thing is brilliant. You’ve gotta let go of your own ego. In this age when you can make everything perfect, it’s a challenge, it takes a while to get used to.”

Watson clearly enjoys the technical aspect of constructing his records but the motivation that had kept him making music became clearer when the conversation turned to song writing.

Watson is most proud of Ernie Abbott. “I’ve been on cloud nine since I wrote Ernie Abbott. I knew it the minute I wrote it. This is the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s scary as well because how do you top it? But it feels worthwhile,” he said.

The song tells the story of the Wellington Trades Hall caretaker killed in a suitcase bomb blast in 1984.

“I was thinking about all the paranoia that was starting to happen online and how people get easily led in those directions. There was no online then but there was ubiquitous coverage of [Sir Robert] Muldoon shouting down the unions and basically running a campaign to make people hate them and Ernie Abbott paid the price for that.”

Songs like Ernie Abbott illustrated a broader awareness and ambition than any genre-based classification of Watson’s music would imply.

“People can get so myopic about a style of music that they’re in to. Trevor Reekie [Pagan Records founder] is the guy who changed my life on that. His whole label’s philosophy was ‘The only alternative is to listen to everything’. I’ve just always carried that with me,” he said.

The process of creating albums, touring and performing could be taxing on mind, body and soul but Watson felt that creativity recharged the batteries.

“The last record was the most successful record yet and I still crashed for two months after that. At the time I was like, ‘I’m never doing that again, that’s the last record’. Then I wrote a song, and then I wrote another, and it just climbs back into you. You can’t not do it.”

The backdrop of the changing COVID alert levels had forced the Watson to pare down his touring plans in support of the new record. After the album release at San Fran on Oct 1, Watson would be appearing at the Fourth Wall theatre in New Plymouth, The Globe in Palmerston North and the Wellington Folk Festival with plans to visit the rest of the country early 2021. His excitement and the desire to perform the new material sat uneasily against the risks of touring in the uncertain environment.

“I live to be playing onstage. We had a rehearsal last night, went through the last two records and it’s a great show. I’m bursting to play but we run it on a shoestring. I don’t want to lose my shirt but I’m there, I’m really there and I live to connect with people.”