Every time I listen back to an interview that I’ve done with Aaron Watson, it makes me miss being in his company. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and interview many country, roots and Americana artists but there are few who are as polite, enthusiastic and gentlemanly as Mr Aaron Watson. On being told that my partner was pregnant he started cleaning up the tour bus, offering cushions and water, helping her down the stairs. The guy is just a saint and an advert for how we’d all like to be. I feel like that story is important because, as he gets more and more popular here in the UK, it can’t be stressed enough how much he deserves it. As we chatted we talked about his love for UK culture, his new live album Live at The World’s Biggest Rodeo Show and also got some exciting news on his next studio album!
How’s the trip been so far?
It’s been good! We came into London and did some press on Tuesday and then we played Glasgow and here tonight. I think things are a little thinner this time around because of all the festivals going on and things like that but we love coming to the UK, everyone acts like it’s such a big deal to come to the UK but it’s a direct flight from Dallas!
I think you’re right, there are festivals on plus a lot of kids going back to school…
Yeah, it’s like that back home, it’s just crazy times!
You play The Long Road on Saturday night, a first UK festival for you, plus the headliner has dropped out now…
Yeah, I heard. I guess they’re gonna move me on up, I said ‘I’ll play. Whatever’. I hated to hear that, I don’t know if she’s unwell…
It must be quite exciting to be playing your first UK festival? I guess it’s the perfect time to introduce yourself to some new fans?
It’ll be my first, yeah! Absolutely, every night is that opportunity to wrap your arms around new people and just try to make a good positive impact. Every night we try to be the same, whether it’s a big or little crowd, we try to put forth the same effort.
We were listening to the Houston Rodeo live album on the way here, it must be strange playing that and then smaller clubs like this?
You know, it’s a strange, I think sometimes for our situation it’s a little more… I don’t want to say it takes more effort… for a lot of these artists they sign a record deal and they’re immediately thrown out in front of large crowds. For someone like Carrie, I’m sure she’s playing the stadiums or large festivals every night so there’s that consistency. For us, I’ll never forget the night we recorded the live album in Houston in front of 60-70,000 people, the next morning we flew to New York and played this small theatre for like 300 people! You go from football stadium to tiny little theatre, something similar to what we’re playing here in Manchester, but every venue, every night is different and special. There’s been nights where it’s not a big crowd and I just try to find those people who I can tell are excited so I’m working for them. They came for me and I’m working for them. At the end of the day, it’s music and it’s fun!
It must be nice to play some of the smaller rooms because you get that intimacy with the crowd?
Oh yeah! I love it all! There’s a lot of time where we’ve played places and I’ve thought ‘ooo this is not a very nice place’ but then it turns out to be the best time! My mom used to always say ‘the church isn’t the building, the church is the people’. It’s that way with the show. A nice venue helps, great venues that are so accommodating are amazing but really, at the end of the night, it’s the show and it’s about the people that show up!
Is this your third trip in three years? Or four?
I think so, maybe four!
What keeps bringing you back?
One thing that I like about the UK, from a selfish point of view, I really enjoy it! I enjoy the people! The fans here in the UK truly have a deeper appreciation for the music, the lyrics, the melodies, the arrangements. Last night in Glasgow, I literally have people begging me to come back! They know the names of my kids and love seeing pictures of my daughter and my boys! They truly love us and that’s a really sweet thing, it’s a really flattering and sweet thing. I have to come back for them! That’s what I tell them, I say ‘tell all your friends about us, you feel free to burn copies of my cd for all of Scotland!’ The crowds will get bigger and bigger and bigger but I told them ‘if the crowds were always just to stay like this, I’ll keep coming back’.
Do you think getting a live album out there, giving people a taste of your show, helps bring crowds in?
I think it might help. I think content. I don’t really consider the releasing of this live album to be like a major album release, it was just kind of a little appetiser. I always consider the big release to be like The Underdog, Vaquero that’s the major release. The live album is like a nice snack to keep people fed! Somewhere in October we’re going to release a Christmas record, that’s been a lot of fun! My wife sang some songs, my daughter and my boys sang with me. We recorded it all in our closet so that’s been a lot of fun! I go back in the studio in about ten days! It’s a little nerve wracking! I’ve been working on it all day today (Aaron gets out a folder with all of the new songs in), I’ve been writing for this forever and I’ve got all my stuff I’ve been working on.
Are you testing any of these out on the road?
No, I really like to keep them secret. My little girl slid a little note in there for me too! It’s so sweet!
The Christmas album must be really exciting because it’s a family thing?
Yeah, of all the albums I’ve ever made I found the most joy in making that record. What’s crazy is that it’s a very very good record! The music is amazing! We kind of did a kind of country-Sinatra, swing type thing. It has a real classic sound to it. My wife, who never sings, sang so good! Years from now, I’ll hear this album and just cry!
It’s a big year for albums like that because the Houston Rodeo record must be a great memento of an amazing night and now you have this family album…
Yeah! It really is. We’ve talked about doing some more things like that as a family because it’s important to do those things as a family. We were supposed to go on vacation and I just told everybody ‘hey, we’ve gotta stay home and work on this Christmas record’. They were ok with it and I was like ‘here’s what we’re gonna do, we’ll wake up in the morning, I’ll make y’all breakfast, we’ll sing a few songs, we’ll go outside, we’ll swim in the pool, we’ll do this, we’ll do that, we’ll go in and work a little,’ my wife called it a ‘staycation’. It was really nice! We had the best time!
It must have been so weird though, singing those songs in Summer!
It was weird! It’s really funny, they were all out swimming and I put Christmas songs on the outdoor speakers. I had ‘Merry Christmas Santa’ from The Beach Boys and the kids are just laughing and splashing. It’s really crazy how those songs fill you with joy. They just have a spirit about them. I was like ‘man, we should be listening to these all the time!’
Haha I agree! In terms of the follow up to Vaquero, is that quite an intimidating project?
Yeah, you know, it’s always been kind of baby steps. I made this little black and white record and people liked it, so wanted to make a better record than that so I made this Texas Café record and people liked it, then I wanted to do better than that so I made the Shut Up and Dance record and we had our first little radio success in Texas. People were like ‘what are you going to do next?’ so we made the Honky Tonk Kid album and Willie Nelson sang with us, so I thought ‘how are we gonna top that?!’ It’s always been that challenge to write better songs. When Real Good Time charted top ten, we didn’t expect it! That was the moment that the lightbulb went off in our heads that people were starting to get it. We’ve never sold out. Everyone talks about not selling out and we never have, we just make our music. When it came time to make a record better than Real Good Time, I thought ‘I wanna take everything to the next level, my writing, my commitment to writing, not just writing when it’s convenient but waking up in the morning to write’. It’s my passion and my hobby but I needed to treat it like a job! I started writing a lot more and, of course, The Underdog did what it did and doing something that could match that was really important. Vaquero actually sold 30 or 40% more copies than The Underdog, it was a bigger success than The Underdog. It was actually the top selling album but Little Big Town got the number one spot because a month or two before the album came out they started counting not just sales but streaming.
It waters it down a bit I guess…
It really does! It makes you kind of like ‘oh…’. They’re fantastic! They’re a fantastic band and seem like the loveliest human beings in the world so, as you guys would say, cheers to them! I’m a competitive guy but I’m thankful for number two as much as number one.
I guess that, listening back to Vaquero, you can hear how good it is and you don’t need that number one to tell you?
Yeah, I have to remember where I came from. I never got into this to have number one records. I often have to remind people that my first ten records didn’t chart! With this one, we have concepts, these are the best songs that I’ve written, these are my best! I think there’s been glimpses of this in all my records in the past but as a writer I’m starting to mature. I go back and listen to some old songs and think ‘I wish I wouldn’t have done that!’ I didn’t know that at the time but it’s like Kris Kristofferson saying ‘write a thousand songs, throw them away and now you’re ready’. There’s literally been some songs on this album that it took me a year to finish. I draw a lot of inspiration from The Beatles and I’ve always loved them, it sounds so cliché! The reason they are so inspiration is that my boys are always listening to them and seeing my little boys love that music reminds me of when I was a little boy, why I love music and there was a lot of passion and art. Those young kids not being afraid to experiment and be who they are. My new album that I’m working on now, there are a lot of things that are different. A lot of people said that Outta Style was much different and I said ‘no, Outta Style is not different. If you think it’s different then you haven’t done your research on my music!’ If you go back to 2002 and listen to our song called Reckless, I remember when we were recording Outta Style, I kinda worried it was too much like Reckless! There’s been times where I’ve told people to go and listen to them back-to-back, it’s that Chris LeDoux put a little bit of rockin’ tele and some fiddle and have fun! That’s the thing that I love about The Beatles is that they have those deep moments where the songs are lyrically so deep but then it’s like Baby, You Can Drive My Car beep beep, beep beep yeah! I mean you need to have those moments! I don’t want to say shallow moments but an album needs the shallow fun stuff to weigh out the deep. I’ve bought albums that are so deep that I’m emotionally exhausted by the end. I really encourage young artists to listen to the greats. By greats I’m not talking about the new poppy kids now because it’s a different time, listen to The Beatles, songwriting legends, Guy Clark, Willie, the guys that paid their dues! They stayed true to their brand all along the way. People are always going to say that people sell out, I was reading an article about The Clash and when they came out with Rock The Kasbah, everybody was like ‘what?! This piano intro?!’ It’s a great song! Let them have fun! It’s like, wouldn’t you get tired of eating the same meal every day?
It must be tough as a musician when you’re criticised for changing your music? There’s almost an entitlement from some fans and critics to produce the same thing over and over.
Yeah, a lot of people are like ‘I want you to play the old stuff’ and I’m like ‘well… I played the old stuff for 15 years!’ I also have to remind them that we didn’t sell out. I own every album. One time somebody was like ‘yeah, on Underdog I just kind of felt like Getaway Truck was kind of poppy’ and I go ‘yeah, it was totally poppy!’ The first time we recorded it I threw that version away because I didn’t like how it sounded. We had to put some fiddle on it but I say ‘the reason I recorded it, I kind of sold out, my daughter made me sing that song!’ Nobody can argue with that! Baby girl tells daddy she likes that song, he’s gonna sing it! What’s funny is that, if you do an album right and mix it well, it’s just a fun moment in that album that you can enjoy. It’s a fine balance. I feel like I’m really excited with this record because I wanna enjoy it. I don’t know that I really got to enjoy Vaquero, I’ve got a guy that I’m working with on this one called Jordan Lehning (Andrew Combs, Charlie Worsham). Jordan’s dad is a legendary producer and what made me go ‘ok, I like this guy’ is that he did Rodney Crowell’s last record. He’s another that we could all learn from! We’ve met, we’ve hung out a little bit and talked on the phone, we’ve never made music together and it’s a little nerve-wracking but he’s like ‘oh man, we’re gonna have so much fun. We’re gonna make music’. I tell people, it’d be like showing up and marrying some woman that you’ve never been on a date with and you’re thinking ‘I hope she’s not crazy! I hope she likes me!’ There’s some nerves but we’re just going to make such a good time out of it. I’m flying my wife to Nashville. I told her that I want her to do whatever she wants to do. You Uber and go shop! We live out in the country, so there’ll be a mall in Nashville, I’ll pack and extra big bag! I have that bag right there (points to his large suitcase) because she just flew into London and I said ‘I’ll pack my big bag in case you buy something’. I’ve been lugging that awful bag around! It’s awful!
Aaron Watson Live at The World’s Biggest Rodeo Show is available now! Check out our review here!