May 30, 2011

INTERVIEW: Joshua Watkinson

Joshua Watkinson has just released his debut EP "Brand New Pieces" (Check out my Review here), and has taken time out of his busy day to answer some questions.

SFCB: You attended Berklee College in Boston, and also took part in the travel program to go to Athens Greece. How did attending Berklee help you with your singing/songwriting, and what was your time like in Greece?

JW:  My trip to Greece was actually the catalyst for my songwriting. I had been a student at Berklee for just over a year and was completely focused on guitar. After a couple semesters I hit this wall and felt like I wasn’t expressing everything I needed to so I decided to do a semester abroad with my good friend and fellow songwriter Ricky Reilly. I thought maybe a shift in setting could allow a similar shift in creative output. Once I figured out I could use everything I was learning to write songs I developed this new expressive mission and really started to use the resources Berklee offered.

SFCB: Since releasing your debut in the last month, what kind of reaction have you gotten from those who have heard it?

JW: Feedback has been really great so far. I released the EP with a couple singles in mind, “Better Love” in particular, but it’s been nice to hear how much attention some of the other songs are getting. I guess the even balance is a good thing. Now I just need to get it to more ears.


SFCB: You had a very successful Kickstarter campaign to fund your EP. Looking back, what did you think of the experience, and would you do that again?  Several people I know who have done kickstarter programs have lamented later that there were aspects that you just don't anticipate that made things more difficult such as people backing out after pledging support, or the fees for Amazon/Kickstarter.  For those who are reading this and are thinking of doing a kickstarter program, what are some things looking back that perhaps you never took into consideration or were surprised to discover?

JW: I would definitely go the Kickstarter route again. I’ve since heard of some other fundraising host sites that might be worth checking out. The service fees and dropped backers are all things I expected and was prepared for but the hard part was asking people up front to back my project when they had no idea what I was going for. Doing something like Kickstarter forces you to be completely confident in your music because you are the face of what listeners are experiencing.

SFCB: I first discovered your project when I saw the video that you shot where you were interviewing kids about where they would rank you among a list including Easter and Christmas, and your bribing the children for support with candy, one kid which I thought was going to go into shock when he got the candy.  I thought that was a funny video and showed a lighthearted approach from you that convinced me right away that I would support it.   Where did you film that and who were those kids?

JW: We filmed in Kittery, ME at an after-school program without knowing any of those kids prior to turning on the camera. They were fantastic. Ricky (the other guy in the video) and I have hard drives full of footage and videos we throw together to amuse ourselves, so I figured we could do something similar to promote the project.

SFCB: What are some of the artists and groups that influenced you growing up, when you first realized that you wanted to be an artist?

JW: I have a lot more growing up to do, Gary. But I think I’ve always culled together pieces from everything I heard. It’s hard to say who influenced me the most because it’s always changing. But I can tell you the first song I ever learned to play on guitar was “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones.

SFCB: I ask all the artists that I have interviewed this question, and that is the difference between having a record deal and going the independent route.  I always thought it was interesting the way the image of the Record Industry and the allure of a record deal has drastically changed over hte course of our lives.  When I grew up, that was sort of the end all be all of what you did as an artist.  At least it seemed that way.  The idea of a deal with a major label was viewed as the end goal, and once you had that, it was an example of you "making it". 

Now with the internet, I think things have changed dramatically, due to there being so many options.  Plus, with shows like "Making the Band" you get a glimpse into the realities of the labels, and how little control many artists have over their own music, that it's encouraged a lot of artists to go the independent route, so as to keep more of a grip on what they create.

What are your thoughts on the indie vs. major label route?  Is the pursuit of a major label appealing to you, or are you more interested in going your own way, so to speak?

JW: It’s an interesting question, especially right now with the changes going on in the industry. There seem to be so many different ways to do things now and everyone is finding a way that works for them. Everyone would love to have all the control of a small indie label with the power of a major but I’d be lying if I told you I’d turn down a major to more fully express myself creatively. I’m sure there will always be compromises but if I get signed then it happens because a label likes what I’m doing. I would still be me writing my songs.

SFCB: Over the years the pricing of albums has changed a lot.  Growing up it was 15.99 or more for brand new albums, unless you found some on sale for a little bit less.  Now, with the internet providing people the ability to get anything they want for free even BEFORE it comes out, the days of the 16 dollar album are pretty much over.  Now, I know people who won't pay more than 5 or 6 dollars for an album, and others who refuse to pay for anything, because they can just get it for free.

There have been artists that have tried a new model of the "pay what you want".  Artists like Rage Against the Machine, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Saul Williams and others have put up their album for 5 dollars on their own website, rather than through Itunes or Amazon, but you can basically pay what you think it's worth.  So if you want, you could pay twenty dollars, knowing that 100% of that money is going to the band, rather than the labels, or in some of those cases you can just pay nothing and get it for free.

I think that's an interesting model, as obviously there will be many who will simply grab it and pay nothing, but there are others out there who have no problem paying money for quality music. What are your thoughts on all of this, and is that a model that you would embrace for your own music?

JW: If I could afford to right now I would give everything away for free. I kind of have a bad habit of doing it anyway. I’m so eager to share my music that I’d rather people just have it and as long as I can cover the costs I’m happy. The “pay what you want” model is something I would definitely consider when I’m no longer struggling to make it from one month to the next.

SFCB: With the advent of Social Media, many artists have found a new way to connect directly to their fans, whether it's through twitter or facebook, or Youtube.  The ability to immediately get information out has been a great asset for artists.  How have you used the social media tools out there to your benefit?

JW: I use these sites for everything from Kickstarter promo videos to digital flyering for shows and news flashes. These social media tools aren’t just another option for advertising and connecting to fans. They’ve become completely necessary and many artists and bands wouldn’t have the careers they do without them.

SFCB: Whenever a new artist emerges, it's a bit tempting to compare them to other artists before.   There's obviously pros and cons to this type of situation.  On one hand you don't want to pigeon hole someone into "oh they sound like artist X" but then again it's helpful in allowing a potential customer to say "oh they sound like X...well I like them, so let me check them out".  Of course it could work in the opposite way if the customer doesn't LIKE the person you're compared to.

When I first listened to your album, I had a variety of artists that came to mind, some based solely on the sound of your voice, others with the style of music.  Have you had anyone explicitly tell you "hey you sound like this person" or "I like your music, it reminds me of ...."?

JW: I’ve had comparisons with Maroon 5 to Elliot Smith to John Legend so it’s hard to tell what people are going to hear when they listen to one of my songs. I’m really into Motown era sounds and anything that has that richness and color in it like Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder. I like hearing that it has come back in some current artists such as Michael Buble, Amy Winehouse and even Cee Lo.

SFCB: Now that you have put your debut EP out, and are in the process of touring to support it, looking back how has the entire experience been for you? 

JW: I feel like I’ve just barely started with everything and I’m really excited to move forward. The experience so far has been exactly what I hoped it would be. It feels like an enormous challenge at times, and I have to continuously reevaluate my plan but the idea of creating something from nothing is really appealing, in both a musical and business sense. I’m looking forward to doing it all much better next time.

SFCB:  Thank you, once again, for taking the time to answer these questions.  What do you have planned for the rest of 2011, and where are your upcoming tour dates?

JW: Thank you! I’ll be playing quite a bit with my 7-piece band between Portland, ME and NYC with more extensive touring in the works and, of course, I’ll keep writing for my next studio project. Dates and locations can be found at my website,

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