Willie Watson hasn’t always been a solo artist. In fact he’s spent most of his career with a little band called Old Crowe Medicine Show, but now Willie is ready to step out on his own. His debut solo album produced by David Rawling, Folk Singer Vol. 1 is being released May 6th. In honor of his first album and upcoming club date at Eddie’s Attic on May 1st, AMG sat down with Willie to learn a little more about his new-found solo career, the new album, and what you can expect when he takes the stage at Eddie’s.
I’ve never been a solo artist before so it was a bit of a learning curve having to figure out how to put on that type of show and what songs people would like and I would like. It was a little scary at first. I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but after a little while I did figure out that I could pull it off. As far as I could tell things were going pretty well. It’s definitely a different thing though with it all on me. Now that I feel a lot more confident about it. When I can grab people’s attention and the show goes well, it really is so much fun.
Willie’s debut album features 10 folk songs ranging from hidden gems to popular genre hits. Inspiration for this concept stemmed after leaving Old Crow Willie. Willie started playing a few shows here and there and found that he really enjoyed singing older songs a lot more than the originals he was trying to write. His audiences didn’t mind this either. “I think the people in the crowd were happier when I sang something special as opposed to something I was trying to put together.” That being said Willie is still open to the idea of putting out original work in the future. “It’s definitely possible. I’m not looking too far ahead. For right now this is a really good way to go, and I’m really enjoying it.”
Dave Rawlings, a friend of Willie’s for over a decade, was a key contributor in molding Folk Singer Vol. 1 into a compilation of listenable tracks that fit together from start to finish.
I’ve known Dave for many years. He recorded with Old Crow Medicine Show for a few records so we’ve been friends for over a decade. He was really into what I was doing and wanted to help me. He felt like what I was doing was worth putting some work into and wanted to be a part of it. We’re really on the same page musically. We like a lot of the same stuff, so it was kind of meant to be. Basically the idea was just to go in there, turn on the microphone, stand there, sing, and play. I would do my part, and Dave would do his thing behind the glass in the control room. I ran through all the songs I had been singing, anything I could think of, and recorded everything we could. At the end of the day, the actual selection was all up to Dave. He’s really good at putting stuff together like that, making the timing of the songs fit well together and make a complete album. Something you want to listen to front to back to keep you interested. I didn’t even listen to it. I’ve heard the record maybe once, but not even in its complete form, just when it was mastered. Other than that I wasn’t going into the control room after takes, that’s Dave’s job. My job is to sing and play, and I trust him.
As far as Willie’s live show, expect a one man party band rocking some guitar, some banjo, even a little harmonica, but nothing as wild as his Old Crow shows. “A lot of people come to the shows and don’t really know what to expect. A lot of the Old Crow fans show up, and that was a very rowdy type of scene. People expect my solo show to be a bit of a party, which it is. I play some rocking songs, but it’s much more intimate listening experience as opposed to a huge party.”
Playing smaller, more intimate rooms have allowed Willie to better connect with these more exposed crowds with his music doing the connecting and speaking for him.
People will laugh and they’ll cry all in one song. When people like the music and react to the songs in a positive way, that’s really the only perspective I have. I don’t know what it’s like. I don’t hear it in the same way because I’m listening for other things. I’m with my voice all the time so I’m used to it, so I’ve lost perspective on what it is. Other people have a much different perspective. If people like the show and the record, then that makes me happy and that’s all I really have to go on.
The rest of Willie’s year will include a lot of touring to promote the new album. He’ll be in Newport Folk Festival coming up, and in addition to his headlining dates, will tour with the Dave Rawling’s Machine later in the summer. He’s hoping for more memorable shows like his recent one in Johnson City, TENNESSEEEE. (Wagon Wheel, anyone?)
I was home in Johnson City, Tennessee, just a few weeks ago and it was really amazing. It was a sold out show, everybody was very responsive, they just loved it, and it was really amazing. It was definitely the best solo show that I’ve played yet. It was really amazing and there was a great connection that I had with the crowd.
Willie Watson will be playing at Eddie’s Attic on Thursday, May 1st with Mandolin Orange. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets: GA $10 in advance, $14 at the door. Table seats are $12.50 and must be purchased in multiples of 4. Online and phone sales close at 5 p.m day of show.