The slow-burning success of Patrick Watson's 2007 Polaris Music Prize-winning Close To Paradise meant when it came time to record a follow-up, the Montrealer and his band wanted to shed any preconceptions about their music. That's why Watson named the opening track on Wooden Arms after the fireweed, the plant that grows after a forestfire.
"'Fireweed' comes from the idea of rebirth in my life, regrowing and changing over time," says Watson. "Close To Paradise changed our lives; we were people who lived at home, to then spending two years on the road. I feel like the music is a different kind of transformation."
Although still retaining Watson's characteristic falsetto and the band's piano-driven, orchestral tendencies, Wooden Arms' creation found the band craving the opportunity to branch out and experiment. Drummer Robbie Kuster had tired of his instruments, says Watson, and the end result is more real-world sounding percussion clanking such as bicycle spokes, pots and pans, and sliding drawers.
Watson himself wasn't "in the mood" to write piano music for the record, and his singing is perhaps more sparse, with more attention given to instrumental sections.
"We started as instrumental musicians," Watson points out. "After Close To Paradise, we felt there was too much singing everywhere and we didn't find it that useful.
"There are some things instrumental music can say that singing can't, and there are things singing can say that instrumental music can't."
Many of the ideas on Wooden Arms came about during the band's many travels in support of Close To Paradise. "Big Bird In A Small Cage" was inspired by their trip to the deep southern United States, and Watson even wanted famed country singer Dolly Parton to duet with him on the country-tinged track (Montreal crooner Katie Moore sings with Watson on the final version).
One exception is "Where The Wild Things Are," which was written by Watson when he found out Spike Jonze would be adapting the famed Maurice Sendak children's book for the silver screen.
"I made the song as a demo for [Jonze] to see if he could use it for the score. I had to try something since I grew up with the book. It was my favourite book ever. I had done it myself, more as a composer, and at the end when we were putting the album together, everyone liked the song.
"I never heard back from Spike Jonze — I guess you win some and you lose some."
Patrick Watson will make an announcement shortly about their free outdoor show at this year's Montreal Jazz Festival. You can see them here in the meantime:
May 2 Toronto, ON @ Trinity-St. Paul's United Church
May 4 New York, NY @ City Winery
May 8 Los Angeles, CA @ Hotel Cafe
May 9 San Francisco, CA @ Cafe Du Nord
May 11 Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
May 12 Seattle, WA @ Crocodile Cafe
May 13 Vancouver, BC @ Richard's on Richards
May 15 Calgary, AB @ Theatre Junction at The Grand
May 16 Edmonton, AB @ MacDougall United Church
May 24 Breda, Netherlands @ Mezz
May 25 Brussels, Belgium @ L'Ancienne Belgique
May 26 Amsterdam, Netherlands @ Melkweg
May 28 Hamburg, Germany @ Ubel Und Gefahrlich
May 29 Berlin, Germany @ Passionkirsche
May 31 Cologne, Germany @ Luxor
June 2 Paris, France @ La Maroquinerie
June 4 London, England @ Union
June 17 Gatineau, QC @ Salle Jean-Desprez w/Marie-Pierre Arthur
June 19 Sherbrooke, QC @ Theatre Granada
July 11-12 Winnipeg, MB @ Winnipeg Folk Fest