Despite being into his fourth decade in the music industry, former FISCHER Z frontman JOHN WATTS shows little sign of slowing down.
He's just returned with two simultaneously-released albums in the UK. The first - 'Morethanmusic' - is a typically thought-provoking album of all new songs while the second 'Fischer Z' finds him revisiting his back catalogue in style with a young and energetic band behind him.
John very kindly took a little time out from his well-received European dates to fill W&H in on his thoughts on everything the Eurozone debt crisis to the dangers of living next door to neighbours with blood-thirsty dogs. Grrr!!
W&H: To begin with, can I ask you what you’ve been involved with since your last solo LP in 2007? You seem to have been branching out into poetry and multi-media in recent times....
JW: "I started developing the Morethanmusic project, which involved writing some 50 commissioned tunes and making the artefacts to go with them. I was then involved with exhibiting the artefacts and films I made for the songs that now constitute the Morethanmusic CD."
"I’ve been involved in poetry and spoken word work for the last 10 years now. (The Real Life is Good Enough CD had an accompanying 60 page poetry book.) I’m now keen to combine different media forms along with my predominantly musical background."
W&H: Both ‘Morethanmusic’ and ‘Fischer Z’ are excellent listens, but why did you decide to release them simultaneously?
JW: "They’ve caught up with one another in this country!"
"However, their simultaneous arrival and promotion has made it easier for the fans of the new and old material to come together at recents concerts and make a clearer connection between my name and the Fischer-Z one and see the same band playing one set of older material with new vigour and a set of new material too."
W&H: Your talent for lyrical observation is as strong as ever on ‘Morethanmusic’ though the themes seem to veer between the personal and the political. Do you have a ‘formula’ for writing songs or do you approach every song in a different way?
JW: "I don’t have formulas. One of the big challenges in expressing yourself is making significant events in the world or in your personal life universal, by presenting them in an everyman context."
W&H: ‘Bring It On’ – if I’m reading this correctly – could almost be a mini-life story of John Watts in three/ four minutes. Is it entirely autobiographical?
W&H: ‘Head On’ seems to be a comment on the post-/11 world we live in and the shadowy forces apparently controlling us. What was the starting point for that one?
JW: "Observing a small child watch the execution of Saddam Hussein on a mobile phone."
W&H: Not so much a direct question relating to your new albums, but it’s topical – what do you make of this whole apocalyptic European debt crisis threatening to engulf us?
JW: "15 years ago… I was a strong exponent of the 2-Tier Euro which avoids the fundamental problem that ‘one size fits all’ can never apply to all the varying European economies."
W&H: To my mind, the people working flat out in ‘All The Workers’ (“they’re working hard to save themselves, they don’t have time to change things”) seem all too prevalent right now. Certainly where I live in Ireland, right now, anyone in work seems to be keeping their head down, hoping they can hang on to their job and keeping quiet. Is it that sort of attitude you’re commenting on there?
JW: "In a way yes … What is relevent.. is the media is merrily selling the idea of a slippery slide into austerity, because doom and gloom is infectious. I think that people get swept up in the prevailing wind and effectively disempower themselves in the process.
W&H: ‘Perfect Timing’ is one I can relate to having been late for planes in the UK, Ireland, the States and more. I love that line about “I was met by a sea of winkers”, for example. Can you tell me a little more about that one?
JW: "Traffic jams inevitably involve seas of flashing lights and stressed out bozos! I’m famous for my lack of patience… I’m working on it!"
W&H: Another of my favourites from ‘Morethanmusic’ is ‘Pitbull Pitbull’. Apart from the fact it rocks really hard, I always wonder why people would keep animals like that out of choice. Do you really have a neighbour like that? Also, how did you get the growling sounds on there? They sound very real...
JW: "Yes… Real dog – real neighbour. Sam and Matt Gest (from my band) are phenomenal dog impersonators!"
W&H: Moving on to the ‘Fischer Z’ album, why did you decide to re-record some of the songs from the band’s first three albums? Also, are the 13 songs you selected the ones that still especially resonate with you?
JW: "To put songs in a modern context and show their connection with my contemporary work.I can still identify with the sentiments of all the songs I re-recorded."
W&H: For me, a song like ‘The Crank’ hasn’t aged a day. There are still plenty of marginalised characters out there denied a hearing or a little respect, even if they seem sinister or scary to many people – even if they probably use the internet rather than a curare ballpoint these days. What are your thoughts on that?
JW: "Yep….It’s one of my favourite songs and it came out really well. Songs themselves don’t age and a good story is always a good story!"
W&H: How much do you really think the world has really changed since you wrote ‘Berlin’ and ‘Red Skies Over Paradise’? ‘RSOP’ is one of my favourite albums ever, but sometimes friends of mine suggest it’s dated because those songs refer to the Cold War, the then very-real nuclear threat etc. Having lived in Berlin, though, I think you have captured the feel of it beautifully...
JW: "The world has changed exponentially, but the atmosphere I was describing in ‘Berlin’ was there from the beginning of the 20th century and is still there now.
"RSOP was a cynical disaster story. A template equally applicable to tsunamis, hurricanes and modern nuclear disasters."
W&H: One I’m a little surprised you didn’t revisit is ‘Multinationals Bite’? That seems more relevant than ever now...
JW: "I reckon it was right in the context of the early 80’s…
W&H: OK, well, WE could probably go on indefinitely, but I’d better sign off here John. Final question – I know you’ve been touring and have more shows lined up but after that what’s next for John Watts?
JW: "Next year is a big adventure for me with my first musical play being piloted from the end of February onwards. There will be performances across Europe and in New York. There are also band festivals being booked in. At the moment I’m knee-deep in preparations!!"