“I’m not drowning,” Patrick Watson tells me. “I’m swimming.”
On his introspective new album Wave, the Montreal dream-rock merchant Patrick Watson wrote himself out of a long spell of melancholia caused by a divorce, the departure of his drummer and a death in the family. One does not drown by falling in the water, however, but by staying there. If there are moments of doubt and despair on the record, the songs are ultimately about overcoming grief, not wallowing in it.
The opening track Dream for Dreaming recalls John Lennon’s (Just Like) Starting Over, which is what the Debussy-inspired singer-pianist so much as did – start over. Melody Noir, with its tango-style verve and groovy French-pop uplift, is about filling the hole inside us. Watson even wrote his first-ever love song for the album.
“It’s been a crazy four years, but a lot of great things have happened,” Watson says. “I mean, I met the most amazing person I’ve ever met in my life. I want to make clear that this record isn’t a downer. That’s not the point of it at all."
I caught the show you and your band taped for CBC’s First Play Live. You spoke generally about grief, but do you want to get into specifics?
I lost my mother. I lost my best friend. I went through a divorce. It’s a long list of things that happened. I’ve been asked questions about it, but I just don’t think it’s an interesting conversation. Resetting your life is interesting to talk about. Talking about the actual divorce is not.
But the events inspired the songs of the new album. Dream for Dreaming, for example.
Dream for Dreaming is funny. I was going home after a three-week tour. A lady on the airplane was wearing some crazy perfume. I felt sick the whole flight. I knew I was going home to an empty house. I was used to kids being there. It was sad. But that’s not what was interesting. The interesting reflection was that I had never thought I would be in that situation. It didn’t even feel like my life anymore. It felt so out of body.
Tell me about the watery imagery of the album’s lyrics.
I actually never thought of it as imagery, in terms of landscape. If you’ve ever gone surfing, and you’ve been stuck in a really bad wave, there’s a moment when you’re in a lot of trouble. If you try to swim, you’re going to drown. It’s a hardest lesson that I’ve learned over the last four years. When to swim and when not to. I still fail at it, but sometimes I succeed. I have to let the wave do its thing until I can breathe again.
You’ve explained the song Melody Noir was inspired by the Venezuelan singer Simon Diaz. But what’s sparking your interest these days, as far as pop music?
Cardi B is totally wild. I’d never in a million years accomplish what she does. Her personality is larger than life. I think the Billie Eilish album was really great. There’s no chorus-verse structure. It’s free-form now, and it’s awesome. Nobody talks about that, the death of the traditional song.
Maybe because we’re too busy talking about the death of the album?
I really don’t know why we are. I think the only thing sad in music is that people stopped singing in their own houses. In the last 60 years, music has become a form of entertainment rather than an important part of people’s lives. I think it does a disservice to what music does for me, which is emotional yoga. Playing music pulls different strings in your body. There used to be a musician per house. Families would sing together. I think that makes you healthier.
Is the divide between the audience and the performer wider because of that?
I think so. Music doesn’t belong to fancy people on stage. It belongs to people. It’s a way of making yourself feel good.
And how are you feeling these days?
I feel great. You know, the album is not well described as being a journey of four terrible years. It’s actually been four interesting and dynamic years. This music is not meant to bring you down. It’s meant to carry you.
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