“We recorded [Midnight] in June 2015, so we’ve had these songs for a very long time,” says Watson. “I’m itching to get it out. I thought maybe I’d be sick of it by now, but I’m not. I think that’s a good sign. I’ll hopefully be singing these songs for the rest of my life, so I’d better like it.”
Watson and his band recorded the album with producer Anthony West, one half of the London-based duo Oh Wonder. Although they hadn’t previously worked together, Watson and West have been in contact for a number of years.
“His previous band, We the Wild, supported me on tour and I’d been a massive fan of all of his bands,” says Watson. “He’s been in some incredible bands that kind of shaped my teenage years, and when we met we just hit it off.”
Watson’s now in his mid-20s, but he remains a fan of West’s output. Specifically, it was Oh Wonder’s 2015 self-titled LP that nominated West as a suitable candidate to produce Midnight.
“[There was] a lot of production stuff that I thought was a great fit for my music, and something slightly different that would add to the guitar band sound,” says Watson. “We just got in a room with him and my band for two and a half weeks and recorded the album. I’m so glad we did it that way – I feel like not only did it enhance the creation process but it’s definitely enhanced the songs too.”
Several major things have occurred for Watson since writing and recording The Morning. He’s now 24 years old, an age where one’s identity and self-understanding begin to coalesce. He’s also spent a handful of years on tour, meeting loads of musicians and fans and gaining recognition within the contemporary music world.
“This album’s quite the evolution from the first and there are a lot of reasons for that,” Watson says. “I think I’ve definitely matured as a songwriter and as a musician as well. I feel like being able to go into the studio on my own terms – self-funded album with no exterior input to the creation process – I think that certainly helped.”
Production-wise, Midnight has a bigger sound than The Morning. The backing of Watson’s live band helps to beef things up, as does the inclusion of a string section on certain tracks. Along with the additional instrumentation, Midnight has more of a spacious sonic character than Watson’s debut effort.
“I’d written just over half of the songs on the album with Ant and Jose [Josephine Vander Gucht] from Oh Wonder, so we had an idea of how we wanted them to sound when we were in that room producing the songs,” says Watson. “It was a really natural process to take these song demos into the studio – with just an acoustic guitar, a piano and three voices – and be able to build around that sound.
“The guys in the band I take on the road are excellent. We were all friends and we could tell them when their take was shit or we could tell them when their take was spot on. It really made the whole process very enjoyable and it improved the sound of the record as well.”
It’s obviously Watson’s project, and therefore the ultimate direction of his music, closely corresponds with his overarching vision. But he’s long been engaged in co-writing sessions with other songwriters – for better or worse.
“It’s something I was forced to do a bit too much on the first album, the co-write thing,” says Watson. “I started out writing my own songs, just me in my room. Of course it’s a slower process and the songs have less chance to become timeless classics because there’s no formula behind them, but I think there’s a lot of charm in that.
“Signing to Warner Bros, a major label, I think their initial idea was just to get me into a room with loads of different writers. It obviously helped my process and my ability to write, and I’ve never come out of a session and been completely upset. But I think it completely crushed my creative juices and it made me loathe writing. I was writing everyday and it was just a tough thing. I don’t think it was right for me at the time.”
Having been released from the Warner Bros. contract and opting to work independently, Watson took a rather different tact with preparing the material for Midnight.
“I’d had the songs for a long time and then I just went into the room with Ant and Jose. We’d said that we’d write, but it wasn’t like a writing session and we came out with six songs. It was just so good because we were already friends and I felt comfortable sharing these personal experiences of mine with them. It was more than just a writing session; it was collaboration. It really improved the writing experience and made the songs a lot more special to me.”