Alex Watts is set to release his debut album, Another Step in the Dark, through Astound Records on Saturday August 20, with a one-off art exhibition and live show at Hugs and Kisses with support from Emma Russack.
Recorded to tape at Melbourne’s Soundpark Studio, Watts chose to work with some of his favourite local musicians pulling together some of Melbourne’s best musicians including Eliza Lam (Dr. Doctor/Oh Mercy) Mark Gregory, Joe Cope (Dan Kelly Dream Band), Steven Clifford(The Hello Morning), Michael Hubbard (The Bluebottles, Spencer P. Jones, Nick Barker) and saxophonist Phil Noy (The Bamboos).
How does the album making process begin for you?
With the songs. What I do is very much song driven so in planning the album the first step for me was blocking off time to spend in my studio writing. I made sure I had everything pretty much demoed with a good idea of the arrangements before getting anyone else involved. The rhythm section and I worked out the grooves and dynamics in pre-production.
What were the driving forces behind Another Step In The Dark?
I had the idea to make a song-cycle album about these two people who struggle with religion, fidelity, and forgiveness when I was still in high school. One of the songs on the album actually dates back that far. So I wanted to touch on those themes but have the lyrics be general enough that the songs could be enjoyed on their own. A lot of the lyrics and chord sequences repeat, but mostly I just tried to write the best songs I could and present them in the most natural manner.
Where did you record and why did you choose that location?
It was recorded at Soundpark Studio in Northcote, Melbourne. I had some specific ideas about the kind of sounds and tones I wanted the album to have in general. I needed somewhere with a great sounding live room that could have a bit of separation and a control room with a decent tape machine and analogue outboard equipment. Joe Cope, who played keys, highly recommended Soundpark when I described all this to him as he had worked there recently with Big Smoke, Fuck the Fitzroy Doom Scene and a bunch of others.
Favourite song title from the album and how did the title come about?
I like the title of the song Another Step in the Dark, which is why I also used it for the album. I like that it’s a compact phrase about moving towards the unknown, whether it be with certainty or hesitation, and it’s got a certain imagery to it. I was thinking about a game I played with a friend when we were little and I would sleep over at his place. We would dare each other to walk further into the darkness of his backyard, I remember it being exhilarating and frightening not knowing what was right in front of us.
You recorded with many different local musicians, who were they and why did you choose them?
The main band that played on almost every song had been playing in my live act since the tour we did for my first EP, Sing, Strum & Strut, the year before. That was Mark Gregory, Eliza Lam, Joe Cope and Steven Clifford. Everyone involved was chosen because their particular style suited the material. Steve and Joe are both great rock’n’roll players who understand soul and play with personality. I really liked the bass playing on the Oh Mercy’s Deep Heat album that Eliza played on, so I knew she’d be great on this. And then I got the guys from The Cactus Channel involved because there were some songs I thought would really suit their playing.
How long generally recording sessions and which times of the day or night do you prefer to create music? Do you find different impact the sound and vibe?
The sessions were all long days – both for recording and mixing – probably like 15 hours at a time. I find that late at night or early in the morning, I make more instinctual, quick decisions that may lead me in a direction I might no have gone if I were thinking about it in a bit more detail. But the hours of daylight are also good for more focused and energetic work. I don’t like singing or even talking that much too early in the day, it takes me a while to warm up so I always scheduled vocals for the late afternoon and evenings.
Do you feel it’s important for lyrics to be printed in your liner notes?
Not always, but in this case, the album is a narrative and I think it makes it interesting for the listener to be able to read the lyrics and try and understand the story.
Do you write the music or the lyrics first?
It depends from song to song, but generally, they both evolve together. Otherwise one has to bend to the other when I want it to be a cohesive thing.
How long did it take to make record from inception to mastering?
The recording happened between May-November last year and we mixed most of it simultaneously. Then we had to go back and remix some stuff and mastering happened in February and March. So it was about 14 months taking into account writing time.
Did you work to a deadline on this album, how was that experience for you?
I did and it was really rewarding. When I’ve been involved with other independent releases we’ve just put things out when they’re done, which usually meant there was no money left to promote it or anything. I planned everything out so that I would have enough time to get all the performances and sonics I wanted and spaced out enough so that I wouldn’t go broke whilst doing so. I knuckled down with spreadsheets and it made the whole process so easy and stress-free.
What were the challenges you faced while making the album?
It took a little bit to work out where the money was going to come from to do everything I wanted to do (i.e. strings, horns, the right engineer, 10 visual artists, music videos, etc.) but once that was done it was fairly easy.
Who was the first person to hear your finish album in its entirety?
What inspired you to ask all of visual artists to create a piece of artwork for each of your album tracks?
I thought it would be really interesting to get other artist’s interpretations of the storyline. Being pop music and not a novel I kept a lot of the details of what’s happening in the songs sparse, so it was really cool to see what some of the visual artist’s came up with when depicting the scenes. I remember seeing a copy of The Who’s Quadrophenia album – which is also a song cycle – that was accompanied by a photo book with scenes from the songs acted out. This was before they made a whole movie out of it obviously. I thought it was a great way to present the songs in a different medium.
Describe your record in three words.
Smart pop music
ALEX WATTS – ANOTHER STEP IN THE DARK – Debut Album Launch
Saturday 20 August – Hugs and Kisses, Melbourne
Doors and Exhibition: 7.00pm
8:45pm: Alexander Biggs
9:45pm Emma Russack
10:45pm: Alex Watts
Pre-order Another Step in the Dark at: www.alexwatts.com.au