Last year Aaron Watson headed to the UK for his first ever run of shows. He was coming on the back of his number one album The Underdog which had shaken the Nashville fraternity by smashing the top spot in the charts somewhat like a bolt from the blue. So good was the feeling behind Watson’s shows here in the UK that he came back for more twelve months later. Ahead of the release of his next album Vaquero and before his show in Manchester we sat down on the tour bus for a chat…
Welcome back to the UK. We spoke to you last year on your first ever UK tour and you said you’d be back – how much fun was last year’s run of shows?
It was our first UK run but this is our eighth time in Europe and we just love it! We love the people, we love the culture, obviously, it’s a little easier here since it’s an English speaking country versus when we’re in France or Italy but we just love all the opportunities. It’s a way for us to franchise our music and share it with more country music fans.
Did you ever expect the reaction that you got on your first UK tour?
I’m just thankful for whatever. If only ten people show up tonight but they love it then I’m excited. Let’s have fun! Every show we make the most of it and it’s about the fans – that’s how we’ve been doing it for seventeen years. We’ve had people come from all around. We had some boys last night in Glasgow who took an overnight ferry and it’s a two-day trip to see me play so it’s worthwhile to take care of them.
Do you see much difference between a UK crowd and a US crowd?
Well, back home we’ve been doing it for so long that the crowds are bigger and more like rock crowds. We’re headlining the Houston rodeo, which is seventy thousand people, and tonight in Manchester it’s three hundred – but it’s intimate.
I always think It’s quite a blessing for us to get to see you in smaller venues which you just can’t do back home…
Yeah! We haven’t played something this small since… forever ago!
As an independent artist is it a big risk crossing the pond to play here?
Business is risk! Everything has a little risk but for me it’s worth the investment.
What makes it worth the journey and the cost?
I’ve been doing this for so long that I know that if you play somewhere a few times then it start to pick up and build. Its just part of reinvesting in your business. We played in thirty-eight states and eight countries last year. You go to one place and sell all these tickets so you take some of that money and invest it somewhere that you need to grow. You do things gradual.
Last time you were over you were touring the hugely successful album The Underdog. Obviously that album was huge in making you the first independent solo male artist to hit number 1 in the Billboard country chart. Do you feel like that was a watershed moment for other artists in your position?
I think that’s probably the greatest thing that I’ve heard from The Underdog going number one is having other independent artists come up to me and say “wow, because of what your record did it really inspired me to keep making music and keep working hard”. Any time that you can affect someone in a positive way isn’t that the greatest thing that you can do?
With artists like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell now making a big impact do you think that the market is becoming more open for different styles of country than the mainstream pop-country?
I don’t know. For me I don’t really pay attention to phases, stages and flavours of the month. I just pay attention to my heart and make music that I enjoy. It’s my brand of music. Guys like Sturgill and Stapleton are very talented and incredible artists and I think I have a little in common with them to an extent but I think what I really share in common with them is that we make the music that we want to make. I think the biggest thing is that there is more opportunity for an independent artist these days through social media.
Exactly. I discovered Sam Riggs through having a copy of his album emailed to me and now I can’t get enough of his music!
Oh yeah! You just get online and discover these things accidentally!
Interestingly those kinds of artists seem to be heading to the UK regularly. Do you think there’s a little more acceptance over here than in the States?
I think that there is a lot of similarity between the UK and Texas. There is an appreciation for the underdog and the fighter. You can have that spirit. When you think about the war and what the UK went through – you guys took a beating and just kept fighting!
Yeah thanks for the help…
Well we finally showed up and finally came to help but you guys didn’t give up! I think that pride and independence and that British spirit. I think Texas has that British bulldog spirit!
You’ve released a lot of albums over the years and, after Real Good Time hit number 9 in the charts, seem to have steadily been building toward hitting that number one spot. What was it about The Underdog that you think did it?
I think that the other eleven albums set the table and got everything ready for The Underdog. I do think that I started maturing as an artist with The Underdog and I started working harder. It’s like the snowball at the top of the mountain that starts really small and moving slow but as it comes down it gets bigger and bigger and faster and faster then the next thing you know it’s an avalanche. I think that’s what The Underdog did and I don’t know what’ll happen with the next record Vaquero, I think it’s my best record to date, but to me it’s not about where it charts. If it charts number one then great but if it doesn’t then I’m literally not going to lose a minutes sleep. I’ll go “aww” then wake up in the morning and it’s just not going to affect me. My career does not revolve around radio and charts.
I think I really love the personal aspect of the writing. For example I played Bluebonnets to my girlfriend the other week and had her in tears…
I’m sorry I made you cry! Sorry Ma’am! The new album has sixteen songs and I wrote them all so I jokingly say if the new album is terrible then it’s my fault because I wrote all the songs!
You’re song Fencepost was a humorous look at your moves to break into Nashville. Is that ever a place that you’d go back to and try again?
I think they know who we are! I don’t think they know what to think of me! I don’t have anything against them and I think it’s more how they’ve treated me over the years versus how I’ve treated them. I love Nashville. I love Hank Williams, I love all those Alan Jackson and George Strait records, a lot of those good Willie Nelson records were made in Nashville, Waylon Jennings too, I love the Grand Ole Opry but I think that there’s always been an attitude towards a Texas artist. Maybe it’s because of Willie and Waylon and something they said – I don’t know! We just work hard and we don’t really worry too much about anybody but ourselves. You can’t control what happens five minutes from now but you can try your best to control your own actions so we just try to focus on those things.
Moving on to your new album Vaquero. The first single Outta Style recently dropped which has a quite upbeat and catchy sound. How have you found the reception?
It’s funny because Outta Style is actually a little trendy. I wanted it to be a love song and I wanted it to be kind of like a John Cougar Mellencamp, Tom Petty fun and melodic sound. It’s really my wife and I’s love song. I’d say that song is the bait on the hook for the new record. I’d say that there are very polished moments on the record like that then there are a lot of very ‘singer-songwriter’ moments.
The album comes out in a few weeks time. What can we expect from it?
A little change of style but the same old me! I’ve been listening to The Beatles ‘White Album’ for like the last two years! I didn’t listen to any mainstream music! That album has folk music from ‘Blackbird’, country song in ‘Rocky Racoon’, you know, ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ which is Ringo’s version of country! It’s got blues music…
While My Guitar Gently Weeps is on there…
Oh yeah! And that’s the bait on their hook! That’s a very polished song. It’s got rock’n’roll in ‘Helter Skelter’ and ‘Back In the USSR’… ‘Cry Baby Cry’ it’s just got so many good songs that are diverse but somehow fit together!
Is it a scary thought releasing the follow up to something so successful or are you just hoping for the best?
It’s like I tell my little boys before they go out on the baseball field for the big game – if you get out there and give your best efforts and you do everything that you can possibly do to win then if you lose you’ll sleep good that night because you have no regrets because what can you do?! It didn’t happen and then you say “hey, maybe next time”. With Vaquero I’ve given my best effort and tried my best. Not to mention we’ve been touring whilst making the record, I mean, I’ve gotten my rear kicked! At the end of the day I’m very content with how things have turned out and, you know what, I think it’ll do bigger things than The Underdog. It may not hit number one but I think in the full year it’ll sell more records. Mainstream music wants to focus on the first couple of weeks but it should be about the full life of the album and making an album that lasts!
Aaron Watson’s new album ‘Vaquero’ is released 24th February. Pre-Order here: