Vince Watson is a man who needs little introduction. The Scottish Native, recently transplanted to Amsterdam, has a sound that is distinct and individual no matter what style he turns his hand to. His new release Deja VU is out now on Ovum Recordings. Ovum is also celebrating its 20th anniversary and Vince's release is the 250th release on that label. Quite the milestone. We took the opportunity to ask him a few questions.
You moved a couple years ago from Scotland to Amsterdam. How long do you see yourself staying there?
The thought of dismantling my studio (again!) is definitely a powerful persuasion method for staying as long as possible! I enjoy my life here... im happy and settled, creative juices flowing and active and healthy lifestyle. In saying all that, you never know what's coming to you in life.
I can see the obvious attraction to Amsterdam, it's a place I've wanted to live for a long time. Now that you've been there for a while is there something off the beaten track / less obvious about the place that keeps you there?
The beauty of Amsterdam is absolutely more than skin deep. It's only once you've lived here long enough to really know all the corners and quirky ways of doing things that you really understand the city. Woermestraat and Rembrandplein are not the real Amsterdam, thats the Amsterdam for tourists and stoners. I don't even remember the last time I was in either of those places. Sitting on a quiet canal in spring with a bottle of wine is hard to beat... but most visitors don't experience that.
You also changed your diet and cut down on alcohol. Has that made a difference to your overall well being?
I was never a massive drinker anyway, it doesn't agree with me mostly, but I organise a Badminton club since 2010 here and it's helped me sort my fitness and wellbeing out. My weakness is chocolate - I'm a recovering addict!
In Scotland you used to wake really early and work as a postman for many years while on the weekends you would jet off for gigs around the world. Was this dual life difficult to sustain?
Funny times when I look back on it. I should have stopped doing it a long time before i did, but I did it for keeping me fit and to be honest, it was one of only a handful of jobs that allowed me to work in the studio at daytime and nightime when i felt like it. Sitting in a studio all afternoon can be pretty monotonous especially if you're not in the creative mode so it's good to get some fresh air, headphones on, peace to yourself. I had this yingyang life of normality and following a dream... it was balanced actually. The memory that sticks in my mind the most was in 2006 when I played in Ibiza on the Saturday, and at 4am on the monday morning my car got a puncture and I had to deliver junk mail to houses in the pouring rain. It was 30 hours after i played a gig....i think that was the point where I asked myself 'what the fuck am i doing?' lol. Enough was enough...
When was the point where you decided to give your all to music and was it scary coming to that decision?
It wasn't scary at all, it was inspiring and exhilarating. I am my music and my music is me... so sometimes being so connected to your chosen art means it can be difficult to carry the burden of pressure to make it work, but if you focus on the positive things and work out a solid business plan, not just winging it as you go, then you will see results if you open the doors that appear in front of you and knock down the ones that are not open yet. Of course, support from friends, girlfriends and parents is the essential building blocks of any musician right? They all feel it at some point!
Has it been a struggle to support yourself solely from music?
If I was to support myself based on my music income and not buy anything for the studio then it would be fine, but my problem is that I have an ever-growing mantra board and as one thing gets removed when it's purchased, 2 more go up haha. There is always something tasty to be bought, and if I was playing 3/4 gigs a week every week I'm sure it would be even bigger haha.
The last 2 years has seen a huge burst of releases from you on many varied high profile labels. What's inspired this productivity?
I needed a reboot. Sometimes it takes a 3rd party to make you see something you missed or didn't realise and then 'boom', you just click into gear. After my deliberate hiatus in 2008 until 2009 I struggled for inspiration... minimal was peaking, and techno and deep music generally was almost forgotten about. So from 2010 to 2012 I was writing a lot of real musical projects, classical music, ambient albums etc. It was the only way I was able to express myself musically at the time, but I soon realised that I needed to re-establish myself again because for the first time in my career I was given a rejection by a record label. I wasn't used to that, so from the ground up I changed everything. My studio setup, techniques, business plan, studio schedule, breaks during the day... my entire work environment. I took inspiration from a lot of things, but essentially it served the purpose of me finding what needed to be removed from my music, what needed to be altered and what needed to be developed on that I was good at. It wasn't long before I went from rejection to having my tracks signed again, but it was a deliberate process rather than evolution.
DJ's these days need to put out productions in order to get themselves booked. The irony is that the more popular artist get, the more gigs they play and the less time they have to make music. Ultimately a few months or a year down the line if they haven't put out a release, their gigs dry up. But isn't this almost a perverse business model? What about the producers who just need more time to make their music?
You're referring to what I call "The Magic Roundabout" :) When it comes to artists who are releasing music, it's all in the marketing. If you have a solid PR agent and a good manager and agent behind you, it can be done with minimal releases. Of course it's important to keep yourself out there with something to tour with, but most Dj's have many many regular DJ slots yearly because they are on the roundabout and the friendships they built on there are hard to break from, so they get repeat bookings regardless of whether they release a record or not because they are good djs OR play good music and are booked by friends. This is not universal of course I'm generalising, but to a certain degree this is what happens. For these artists it's an extra bonus to have a single to promote, but for the artists who have to fight for every gig slot that falls off the roundabout when it turns round, it's hard work that pays off... eventually! The best advice I can give any artist who is becoming busy and is having less studio time is to have an extra battery (or powercord for business class) in their bag and work as much as possible on planes, hotel rooms and trains... and convert that into something bigger later. I also advise to keep one weekend free every now and then.
2007 - 2011 was an unusually fallow period as regards releases. Was there a particular reason for this and did it impact on your touring schedule?
Let's just say it wasn't my most prolific period... as described above, there were inspiration issues, but personally there were huge changes in my life and it took me a while to get back into music. I took a sabbatical for 18 months and it was the worst decision I ever made! Not only did it stop my creativity and prevent me from having an outlet for my frustrations, but my gigs completely stopped, which was serious. It's taken until 2014 to fix it. I will never do that again, and if I'm ever in times of trouble or chaos I will use my music to express that instead of hiding it away in a closet. That's why I now understand that I am my music and my music is me.
This is your first release for Ovum. Did you approach the label or the other way around?
Ovum has been a label I've wanted to release with for 10+ years. The crossover house and techno appeal of the label fits perfectly with how a lot of my career was built on, so it's always been a target. It was never the right time for one reason or another but I knew in this reboot that Ovum was going to be sent music, as was Poker Flat and the same with Yoruba. Josh has always supported me and it was easy to communicate what we both wanted, so in a way we designed the EP together. The ambient and beatless versions were totally Ovum's ideas and it's nice to have this kind of input from them.
Deja Vu is my favourite track on the EP. It reminds me of some of your earlier deeper B-sides releases on Fcomm or Headspace. It's simple and more restrained than some of your other tracks. Was this a conscious decision?
It's totally by design. I've had a few powerful releases in 2014, quite punchy club tracks... and with Ovum being a little more subtle it was the right decision to do, although 'Illusion' balances it out. 'Deja Vu' is titled like that for the very reason you ask... I was exploring something I had done in the past with a fresh palette. I actually submitted 'Illusion' as the title and A side track, but Ovum decided the other way, and I'm happy they did.
You spoke before about the music making process that you know when a track is done is when there's no more room for anything else. Would you stand by that? What about the popular funk maxim "funk is about the space between notes just as much as the notes themselves"?
Yes... I detest dry gaps in music, it's repulsive. But there is an underlying issue... It's the way that I 'see' the shapes of music that causes it. I have a little bit of Synesthesia going on. Sounds are all shapes to me, so when I hear music, and the shapes all work but there are gaps, it feels unfinished to me. It's hard to explain, believe me I've tried many times... it's like a 3rd eye sensing something and conflicting with what you're seeing... ok that doesn't help either haha. But it's all to do with numbers, shapes and sounds. I've struggled with it too sometimes... it can stop me from putting in something into a mix because it irritates me, rather than just not sound good. I'm clearly neurotic in the studio! :). Happily a lot of the time it doesn't affect me.
Space is important, but it doesn't have to be dry! I don't really think that this applies to non electronic music, because most natural or organic instruments that are played will have no dry gaps in the music. These instruments don't really work like that because the organics in them create harmony, reverb, sustain and delay naturally, unlike digital electronic music.
Have you ever compromised your artistic vision and put out something you weren't 100% behind?
Once. I did a remix for a label who offered me really big money for it, and I needed the money at the time. I have since deleted it from my memory but thanks for reminding me! :)
I know that you play all your chords and melodies in. Do you ever use step sequencers for melodies or is it more important for you to play it by hand?
I actually don't use step sequencing at all in my music. I always do my own melodies as I feel I need control over the notes to get exactly what I'm looking for. I like the jamming aspect and finding random melodies with stepping but I like to do the programming. Perhaps it's coming from a musical background rather than a technical background that makes me want to play the keys instinctively rather than input notes. Perhaps it's the feel of playing that I need... ?
You're a huge champion of hardware. What are your 3 favourite pieces of equipment and why?
I'm a champion of anything that sounds amazing, and for a long long time I always supported hardware over software purely on the basis that it didn't sound as rich and that controlling it was unintuitive. Nowadays things are so good in software that in some cases (but not all) the comparison is hard to notice, which is an amazing achievement, albeit an inevitable one. My 3 favourite pieces of hardware at the moment are the Roland System 1, Roland TR8 and the Virus Ti2. The SH101 used to be my all time favourite, but I have to say what Roland have done with the System 1 is amazing. Its internal synth is actually better than the SH101 (or the 101 plugout) that came with it, but the real reason is the SH2 plug out. It has to be one of the fattest synths out there, and is killer to use on stage. Likewise the 808 or 909 could have easily been on there, but again the TR8 replaces them in usability, sound quality (except the 909 kick and claps) and transporting them around the world. Again they did a fantastic job. Lastly my trusty Virus Ti2... What can you not do on this synth? It's so versatile and powerful... it's just a pity that the software is terrible and it's so heavy.
My favourite 3 pieces of software are Spectrasonics Omnisphere, U-he Diva and Synthogy Ivory.
Finally, can you list your 3 favourite personal releases and the story behind each one?
Wow... tough one! There are so many to try and pick 3 favourites from. So what I will do is list 3 that had a lot of meaning behind them (In no order):
Mystical Rhythm (Ibadan/Alola)
It was the 'eureka' moment in the studio... it took less than 7 hours to start and finish. I knew what kind of crossover music I wanted to make and built my debut album in 1999 around the track. To this day I'm still getting messages and licenses for it. Defected just licensed it this week!
My Desire (Planet E)
Sitting listening to '69 - Desire' one day (always hated that squeeling violin sound - sorry Carl! :) I thought I would make a track that was of similiar context. The definition of 'real' techno music unbound my rules or reasons, just existing unto itself. I made a few versions that have never been released (yet), but when I sent to Carl just to let him hear it, he loved it and wanted to release it. I was proud about that one.
It's Not Over (Planet E)
It's Not Over was recently remixed by Carl Craig but the original holds a lot of meaning for me personally. After being rejected by a label (see answer above) and reading a comment that I was 'washed up' and 'past it', it hit me hard at first and I considered if it was true and started to really doubt myself for the first time in my career, I actually thought I was finished. But after a period of reflection I changed everything and came back stronger than ever, this was the first EP that was released. It sent a message as a little note to say just that 'It's Not Over'.
'Deja Vu' is out now on Ovum: