Winning Canada’s most prestigious music award may be a big deal to critics and industry types, but it clearly means jack shit to the average Toronto meter maid. Patrick Watson of Patrick Watson—which is both a band and the winner of the 2007 Polaris Music Prize—can attest to that. Two minutes into our phone interview, he puts our Q & A sesh on hold to fight a parking ticket that’s being issued in real time.
“Oh, fuck, Jesus Christ,” Watson whispers into his cell before muttering something under his breath about Toronto. Though he tries somewhat frantically to get his manager to move the band van inside the hotel parking lot, in the end it looks like the parking enforcer has won the battle. “I think we’ll probably lose this one—I’m not going to lie. He seemed pretty stoked about giving us the ticket. He was all excited about it.”
The experimental, falsetto-voiced singer-songwriter-composer from Montreal doesn’t even get a chance to pull the old “don’t you know who I am?” routine before getting slapped with the fine. But like a chamber-pop champ, Watson continues the interview. Here’s what he has to say on how his band’s latest piece of genius, Wooden Arms, differs from its award-winning predecessor, 2006’s Close to Paradise: “We definitely approached it differently, in the sense we were doing a lot more live recording—just recording things that sounded interesting to get what we wanted at the time.”
For instance, he actually played a bicycle in the studio for “Beijing”, the album standout that conjures up images of a cartoonishly charming bike chase through the narrow streets of the bustling Chinese capital. It could almost be the piano-based accompaniment to a silent film.
Other highlights on Wooden Arms include the title track, in which the divine Lhasa de Sela lends a beautifully eerie quality to the barely-there string instrumentation and Watson’s crackling vox. Then there’s the gorgeous “Big Bird in a Small Cage”, where Montreal’s Katie Moore gives a subtle, countrified warmth to the folkiest song on the album. And for fans of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s picture book, there’s the whimsical head-trip for kids, “Where the Wild Things Are”.
“I used to sleep with that book when I was a kid, from I guess five to God knows when,” admits Watson. “I still have the book somewhere around the studio. It’s one of my favourite books of all time.”
Apparently, director Spike Jonze likes it too. He’s got a live-action film adaption of the book due out this fall. Unfortunately, at last check, Jonze had yet to reply to Watson’s musical submission for the movie’s soundtrack. So how is Watson taking this Hollywood slight? Well, as with the parking ticket, he’s disappointed, but he’s not going to let it keep him down for long.
“You have little dreams and stuff.”¦You try them out and see what happens,” he says. “It’s good to have little ambitions and dreams like that and if it happens, it happens and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t—it’s not a big deal.”
Patrick Watson plays Richard’s on Richards on Wednesday (May 13).