Singer-songwriter Lewis Watson has been very busy for the last year recording his sophomore album 'midnight' and touring. He sat down with GoldenPlec ahead of his show in the Bowery Ballroom in New York and spoke about the recording process, touring on his own and beginning on YouTube.
Having been touring on his own, Watson discusses how it has its good times but it is no easy task, laughing that since he's in New York and there are friends and industry people at his show. "It's nice to have people here!" he says. "I've been rotting in my own company. It has pros and cons – I can sleep whenever I want which is really good. I don't feel obliged to stay up which isn't only good for my sanity but also my voice. Other than that, it kind of really sucks – I get into the venue by myself, get merch, soundcheck... I don't go out for dinner because it means eating alone, so I just end up eating crisps. Then I play the show, sell merch, meet people and go home and get ready.
"It's like honestly pretty shit doing it by myself," he admits, before adding, "other than that it's one of the small cons of getting to sing for a living. It's a sacrifice I'm definitely okay making. I told myself these three weeks would be pretty tough but then I'll get home and I'll be glad I did it."
Having started out by putting out covers and originals on YouTube, Watson then signed a deal with Warner Bros. Records. However, for this release he returned to an indie label – Cooking Vinyl – which has an already impressive roster. He talks about how that meant that recording this album was more similar to his first every EP. He reminisces about his first album, ‘The Morning’, "[it] was recorded over two and half years, with six or seven different producers, in different rooms, it felt very disconnected – I love that album. I'll only ever have one first album, so it's my baby. I love being able to look back and learn from what we did right and wrong."
This is all in pretty stark contrast to Watson’s most recent release. "The second album was recorded in two and a half weeks, with one producer, all in one room – that's something that really excited me. That's how albums are recorded. I know it was quite unorthodox with the first album but I was just riding the wave." He adds that he gained a sense of control this time around: "It was nice being to be able to dictate what happened for this album."
Watson was amongst the first batch of musicians who really made their name on YouTube. But now, seven years on, the medium is vastly different now than it was when he started out in 2010. The terms 'YouTube' and 'Musician' carry certain negative connotations. But Watson is in no rush to distance himself from the platform. However, he does make a distinction between two different types of artist on YouTube. "It is a massive part of my career – it really started things off. I don't feel icky saying that I was associated with YouTube. Nowadays I think there are two pretty different worlds – musicians who have come from YouTube and YouTube musicians, and that's absolutely fine but there's a whole brand of YouTube Musicians who strictly do covers and they have his whole set up and it's great, it's successful and they love what they're doing. And then there's the people, those who mainly started around the time I did Gabbie (Gabrielle Aplin) and Orla (Gartland) who have kind of moved away from that, they're doing original content. We're uploading less and less to YouTube but we're busy, that's why we don't upload more. I'm not saying we're trying to peel away from that world we've just kind of [grown separately]."
He clarifies what he means by this, explaining, "Originally when we uploaded music onto YouTube it was because we loved creating music and now we're able to create music without that platform so for better or worse we've stopped uploading – but I think it's a separate genre to people who are uploading covers. But I definitely still associate myself with YouTube, it was massive learning block and stepping stone."
Being there early on, Watson explains how he and his peers didn't see the massive boom coming. "When I first started YouTube I had no idea how to use it, I don't think anyone knew how to use it. I don't think anybody had a clue it was going to be this massive media outlet. When I started I didn't want anyone to watch them it was just an archiving platform for me so I could go back and see myself learning guitar. It was for me to look back and reflect upon previous covers. When people did start watching I nearly deleted everything because it terrified me, I was awful!"
He laughs. "I had only started learning guitar for a month, fortunately at that time the internet troll wasn't really a thing and people were like ‘oh this is nice, maybe you could try doing this...’ rather than just what people do now – fortunately it was very supportive and gave me that foundation and made me realise: hey, maybe people other than myself would like to listen to my stuff."
And that they do, his album 'Midnight' was streamed over 10 million times in its first month. A triumph by anyone's standard, and an extra indication that he made the right choices when recording and writing the album, and going to an indie label. Watson is set to continue touring and will hit up Dublin's The Academy 2 on 22 September 2017.