Interview: Ben Watt Returns With His First Solo Album in 31 Years
By Brian Ives
To be fair, in those three decades he founded Everything But The Girl with his then girlfriend, now wife Tracey Thorn, played on Thorn’s solo recordings, wrote two books including his latest Romany and Tom: A Memoir, became a club DJ and started a record label, Buzzin’ Fly.
But in April, he released album number two, Hendra. And so, the question shouldn’t be what took him so long, but why, after all this time, he wanted to make another album at all. And the answer is actually quite simple. “I just wanted to get back to guitar playing,” he told Radio.com.
“Bernard Butler, who is my partner on the record, he used to be the guitarist in Suede, and we ran into each other at a party a couple of years ago, and I think we both realized we were in a similar space,” Watt said. “I’d been running the label for ten years, he’d been in the studio producing other people for ten years, and we both suddenly thought, ‘It’d be great to play guitar again, wouldn’t it?’ That’s kind of how we came together.”
Another party led him to meet another guitar legend: Pink Floyd‘s David Gilmour. It was a party for his book that took place in London before he was scheduled to head into the studio.
“It was mainly people from the [publishing] world, and we were introduced. And he was really friendly, and in the middle of the conversation, completely unexpectedly, he said, ‘Would you like to hear my demos?’ Which is not what you expect to hear from Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour!” Watt said. “But he was serious, and he texted me a couple of days later, and said, ‘I’d love to get together and talk about music.’”
Watt went to Gilmour’s house and the two spent the day together listening to music over lunch. A couple of weeks later, Watt was working on a song that he thought Gilmour would sound great on. “I just texted him and said, ‘How about it?’ And he said, ‘Sure!’ And it was done in a couple of days, no managers.”
Watt recently kicked off a U.S. tour with Butler —sadly, not Gilmour—in tow, but fans looking for a nostalgia trip down Everything But The Girl lane will be disappointed.
“Occasionally I think about doing one of the songs that I used to sing in Everything But The Girl, but it always feels like I’m two-timing Tracey by playing it in my solo set, like, really, she ought to be there,” he said.
Has Watt asked his wife how she feels about the prospect of him doing EBTG songs in his sets?
“I think she feels — and she’s quite right — that I ought to establish doing this solo thing, if that’s what I really want to do. And if I’m to get anywhere doing it on my own, I kind of have to do it with my own stuff,” Watt explained. “We’re pretty happy in the space that we’re in right now. We both have solo careers, we’re not trapped by that whole nostalgia machine, which would automatically be placed back on our shoulders if we came back as Everything But The Girl. She’s made three solo albums, she’s writing her second book at the moment. There’s a kind of freedom to what we do. It’s just nice that we have an audience for it.”
Twenty years ago, Everything But The Girl found a hit with their pre-EDM crossover dance hit “Missing,” but even though Watt can see the appeal of today’s EDM he feels like the current state of dance music is “kind of a commercialized monster.”
“One of the things that offended me the most was the conflation of all these underground electronic styles, most of which had been born in America in the first place,” Watt said. “The thing that irritated me was that people didn’t seem to have the attention span, or the good grace, to actually recognize these forms for what they were, and instead they just lumped them in to one big melting pot, and called it ‘EDM.’”
Watt went on to day that these days, it’s about spectacle, which in his opinion is “the antithesis of underground club music.”
“It’s like a Pink Floyd show,” Watt said in response to EDM concerts. “It’s flying pigs, it’s loud music and flashing lights. It’s got a place. If kids weren’t buying it, it wouldn’t be there. But I don’t think it has very much connection to the kind of club music that I respond to. But, you know, I don’t think it’s my place to particularly say it shouldn’t be there.”
Watt has book readings scheduled during his U.S. tour. Check out his website for details.