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Patrick Watson makes music from car parts, kitchen utensils

By Quinn Brown, CNN
Spontaneity and unusual sounds are the hallmarks of Patrick Wilson -- the individual and the band.
Spontaneity and unusual sounds are the hallmarks of Patrick Wilson -- the individual and the band.
  • Patrick Watson is the name of the frontman and his band
  • Musicians like to use spontaneity, found items to make music
  • New album is "Wooden Arms"; band has "touchstones in a lot of areas," Watson says
  • Music
  • Radiohead

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- Patrick Watson is a creature of the moment.

Once he performed in a Paris, France, back alley, holding what appeared to be a flea-market megaphone. Two of his bandmates joined with guitars and tambourine, a local accordion player added his accompaniment and, right then and there, the group put on a show.

Even that set-up was extravagant by the Canadian songwriter's standards. At a Patrick Watson concert, no kitchen utensil is safe, no car parts are off limits, and nowhere is out of bounds.

The band -- the foursome all fall under the eponymous moniker -- could play a street corner, a hallway, a shack in rural Quebec or a theater in New York City.

"There are musicians that react well when you put them on the spot. When you get put on the spot, it changes into something that's fresh again," Watson says. "We found ways to make things' sounds with our hands as opposed to using effects. When we got to this album ['Wooden Arms'], we wanted to do something that we could do with our hands and bring to the stage. ... Nice textural things just to have that sonic edge that you would normally have with electronic music."

Given their fondness for found sounds, it's perhaps surprising that the four musicians are, by and large, classically trained. Watson, the frontman, is an experienced composer who's scored a handful of films. All musicians in the band are adept at multiple instruments and all are songwriters in their own right.

The music on "Wooden Arms" sounds like it's from a band that has shared the stage with John Cale, Philip Glass and James Brown.

CNN sat down with Patrick Watson (the frontman) before a show in Los Angeles.

CNN: What were your first few shows like?

Patrick Watson: We played at a porno theater at our first gig (laughs), but it used to be a vaudeville theater -- a hundred years old. It was sold out mainly because people were so curious to see what was inside.

CNN: How did you go from your ska band (Gangster Politics) to what you do now?

Watson: (laughs) The old days! Well, it's like saying, "how do you get from your girlfriend in high school to the girl you married?" When you're 18, you look for different things than when you're older. We just did it to cause trouble.

CNN: No one could classify your sound as conventional. Are there any precursors for this music?

Watson: The big ones people would know would be Radiohead or Pink Floyd, bands that have that instrumental feel to their music and mix it with pop songs. But then, when you get to the roots of the other influences, they go from classical composers like Debussy or Stravinsky for arrangements and instrumental stuff. The song stuff is influenced by the Beatles to Nick Drake, even Johnny Cash. So there are touchstones in a lot of areas, but no artist that has all those touchstones.

And also, the other band members come from different areas. Robbie and Simon come from a contemporary jazz-noise scene. Mishka comes from more pop and rock, and I come from more Beatles and classical. All those things come together to make [our] sound.

CNN: I've heard you say this band is much more than Patrick Watson ...

Watson: So much more. We tried to find a band name, and [it didn't work]. I would prefer a band name. If we could go back five years, I would've used a band name.

CNN: Is the writing process completely democratic?

Watson: Yeah. On "Wooden Arms," Mishka is one of the main writers and writes a lot. Robbie wrote the "Homage" instrumental ... everybody participates. It's not necessarily democratic. It's usually about what [each] song needs. Usually the person who writes that particular song will carry the veto for that tune.

CNN: How important is spontaneity to what you do?

Watson: Pretty important. And all these musicians have been playing all their lives. So I find to keep these musicians together -- that are playing with lots of different people all the time -- we have to lock ourselves away in order to get things done. That happens in some pretty crazy places, and we go on these adventures and see what happens.

CNN: Any idea where you want your music to go?

Watson: I'm not set on anything. We've been on tour and in the studio so long. We haven't had time to just gather new ideas. It wouldn't be as interesting if we went right away, again.

We have time to digest new things that we like and will make things even better, you know?

CNN: It wouldn't be your style to premeditate too much.

Watson: Exactly.