Music Interviews

Q&A: Lewis Watson

In the summer of 2010, Lewis Watson began uploading videos of himself covering other artists on his acoustic guitar, filmed in his bedroom in Oxford. He gradually started uploading his own songs, gaining a steady stream of fans, but attention snowballed after his low-key cover of Tracy Chapman‘s Fast Car appeared.

Three years later the 20-year-old has a huge online following, a string of EPs of original material under his belt, and is playing Glastonbury this summer (as well as musicOMH’s stage at The Great Escape – RSVP here).

Ahead of all of that, we talked to him about getting noticed in the digital age, the new breed of singer-songwriters…and the influence of Slipknot on his acoustic love songs…

There have been so many acoustic male singer-songwriters emerging over the past couple of years – Ed Sheeran, Ben Howard, Benjamin Francis Leftwich, to name just a few. How do you make yourself stand out in such a saturated genre?
It’s been great to see the comeback of guitar music and I’m so glad that this has happened. How do I make myself stand out? I haven’t really made any conscious decisions on this, I just do what I’d like any musician that I’m a fan of to do, if that makes sense.
Are you wary of comparisons to these sorts of artists or is that something you welcome?
Of course, I think comparisons are the easiest way for people to find music. I take every comparison as a compliment when they’re used in that way, because these people are extremely talented!
Who influences your music – contemporary musicians such as the ones mentioned above, or older stuff? Anything that’d surprise us?
I’ve been around all kinds of music since I was super young and I’d like to think that I pull influences from everywhere. Any that may surprise you? I was a big fan of Slipknot when I was young, and I think that the anger and emotion that gets poured into their songs is so admirable. I definitely think that they made me think more about putting my full emotion into my own songs.
Do you ever feel the limitations of just having a single guitar to work with or is that something you enjoy? Is branching out into having a backing band and more complex songs something you aspire to or does the idea of ‘one man and his guitar’ appeal more?
I think that having the limitations of a guitar and a voice is a great thing, but I’m always adding textures in the studio. I now actually have a couple of guys playing for the live show too, which makes us a 3-piece. It’s something I’ve always wanted so I’m very happy with that!
You came to prominence through YouTube rather than through the more ‘traditional’ channels – has this affected the way you’ve gone about things at all?
I think it’s made me very grateful for where I am, because I was doing 100% of the work. I was playing an open mic night or gig almost every night, as well as doing all of my ‘marketing’ (which was just fun for me, to be honest). On top of college and actual work I was busy 24/7, which makes being here so sweet because I’ve really worked for it.
Do you think this is the way the music industry will work in the future?
Definitely, the internet is a great tool for anybody trying to build any kind of following. It really allows people to be themselves, create their own image and do things when they want. I must say I hope people still send demos to labels in the post though, there’s a real charm to that.
You often use your YouTube channel to update and communicate directly with fans, which is pretty unusual in a fairly impersonal industry. What motivates that? A lot of bands and musicians prefer to cultivate a ‘mystique’, or are very media-managed, which you don’t seem to be at all.
I just do what I’d like to see from an artist if I was just a fan. I think that keeping people updated personally is invaluable, and I really enjoy doing it, too.
You’ve performed with another rising star of singer-songwriting, Gabrielle Aplin – how did that come about? Are there any other up-and-coming singer-songwriters we should keep our eyes (and ears) peeled for?
Gabby was one of the people that I watched on YouTube before I got my guitar and started uploading videos of my own. I’ve always been a fan and it’s so cool to see her succeed. She asked me to support her on her tour, which was great, and after doing the tour I asked if she could come along and sing with me at my next gig. The one to watch for me is Matt Corby, he’s doing great at the moment and you’ve probably all heard of him, but I think he’s incredible!
You’ve got a tour coming up and a host of festival dates, including Glastonbury, and headlining musicOMH’s stage at The Great Escape in Brighton. What can we expect – new songs, anything a bit different? Do you prefer festivals or regular gigs, and how do the two differ for you as a performer?
I have the band now, so it’s a bit bigger – more harmonies and depth, though I still do songs on my own. I do enjoy festivals – the feeling of ‘I need to win the crowd over here’, because I definitely won’t be the reason that they’ve bought tickets. The ‘safety’ of a headline gig is always nice too, though!
What’s next, following the tour and summer festivals – is there an album in the pipeline?
An album is coming, but there’s no date set yet. It’s nice to not be rushed, and I still get to release music in the form of EPs so I’m very happy!
Lewis Watson plays musicOMH’s stage at The Great Escape on 16 May 2013.

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Q&A: Lewis Watson