Beginning his career in folk-rock in the ’80s as part of Everything But the Girl along with partner Tracey Thorn, then taking a turn into the dance world in the ’90s (remember EBTG’s mega-hit “Missing” remixed by Todd Terry?) and ’00s, Ben Watt’s first solo album in 31 years, Hendra, returns him close to the starting point on his musical path. Watt, 51, sees it all quite rightly as a good thing.
Known for championing emerging DJs for a decade with his roving Lazy Dog party and London-based Buzzin’ Fly label, which released bespoke floor movers from Justin Martin, Jimpster, Spencer Parker and many others, Watt gave up his career as an indie dance-music mogul a year ago to focus on his third book, Romany and Tom for Bloomsbury due in 2014 and his BBC 6Music 6Mix.
Out of his departure from dance music came a renewed interest in his guitar, and before long his noodling led to a collection of songs that became Hendra. Before a three-stop jaunt to America — which was suddenly canceled due to last-minute visa issues — Watt explained the genesis of Hendra and why he has no regrets for going back to his musical roots.
Many people were surprised when you shuttered Buzzin’ Fly in 2013. Now that a year has passed, how do you look back on that decision? Any regrets?
None. It was a considered decision over a period of time. I put ten great years into the label, helping young artists and producers, throwing ace parties, travelling the world, but something was beginning to change in me. I needed to get back to words and my own creativity again. And I simply didn’t have the time or the resources to do both. I am very proud of Buzzin’ Fly. And I shuttered it without ever having to compromise.
DJ/producer Ben Watt has made a surprise announcement on his label Buzzin’ Fly’s website. In advance of the imprint’s upcoming 10-year anniversary collection Buzzin’ Fly Anthology, Volume 1, 2003-2004‘ out digitally on April 22, Watt is closing the revered house label and will concentrate on his Romany and Tom book project for Bloomsbury due in 2014 and BBC 6Music 6Mix.
“I loved every minute,” wrote Ben Watt, “but all good things come to an end. It simply feels like the right moment. Buzzin’ Fly was born out of my commitment to the culture of DJing and helping young artists, but these days I am edging away from it towards other challenges – a new book I’m writing, research for another one, and a long-planned solo music project.
“At heart I have always been a creative person – whether as a writer or musician – as opposed to a business person, and after ten years in clubs and in the office I need time again to focus fully on my own stuff rather than other people’s.
“It feels appropriate to stop now in our tenth year and leave the label with, I hope, a strong reputation for what it has managed to achieve, rather than to continue with a muted presence. Someone asked why I couldn’t hand over the reins to someone else, but I don’t think it would ever have been the same. In the meantime, I hope my ongoing show for BBC 6Music’s 6Mix can still be a distilled showcase for some of the great music I come across. You never know, there might even be another imprint one day.”
Strange Feeling Records will remain a vehicle for Watt’s better half Tracey Thorn to release her work on.
Following up on her sublime 2010 album Love and Its Opposite, Tracey Thorn (known to many as being one-half of Everything But The Girl), will change gears by releasing a Christmas album. Due on October 30, Tinsel and Lights features ten holiday covers and two new original songs.
Producer Ewan Pearson is once again behind the boards, and the album features longtime partner Ben Watt guests on guitar and piano on several tracks. Leo Taylor (Adele, Hot Chip) plays drums and Steve Pearce (who played on Everything But The Girl’s Idlewild) is on bass, while Pearson adds “signature synths and electronics.” Three tracks include orchestral arrangements by Nick Ingman.
Obligatory press gush from Thorn: “I’ve always wanted to make a Christmas record. Every year, when the Christmas albums start appearing in November, I get jealous and wish I had one coming out. Last year, I made a resolution to get recording in January to be ready for the following Christmas. And so that’s just what I did. They’re not all strictly Christmas songs, but if they mentioned winter or snow or even just being cold, that was good enough for me.”
Think it’s too soon to think about Chrismas music? Well, keep in mind that there’s 145 shopping days left until Christmas!
Tracklisting for Tinsel and Lights:
1. Joy (written by Tracey Thorn)
2. Hard Candy Christmas (originally performed by Dolly Parton)
3. Like a Snowman (written by Stephin Merritt)
4. Maybe This Christmas (written by Ron Sexsmith)
5. In the Cold, Cold Night (written by Jack White)
6. Snow (written by Randy Newman)
7. Snow in Sun (written by Green Gartside of Scritti Politti)
8. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (holiday classic)
9. Tinsel and Lights (written by Tracey Thorn)
10. River (written by Joni Mitchell)
11. Taking Down the Tree (feat. Green Gartside) (written by Low)
12. Sister Winter (written by Sufjan Stevens)
Bonus LP track: 25th December (written and originally sung by Ben Watt)
DJ/producer Ben Watt of Everything But the Girl fame has talked to Big Shot exclusively about his upcoming single, “Guinea Pig,” which marks his first track in three years for his revered London-based Buzzin’ Fly imprint. Though Watt’s discography is packed with choice house singles like “Pop A Cap In Yo’ Ass” with Estelle, “Attack Attack Attack” with Baby Blak and “A Stronger Man” with Terence Trent D’Arby, among others, he says his new single is the result of conquering a three-year battle with writer’s block.
“‘Guinea Pig’ is my first stand-alone single for the label for three years. I’ve been suffering with periods of indecision and writer’s block for much of that time, which has not helped my productivity much!” Watt confessed. “But I discovered a new working method where I kidded myself that I wasn’t really working but just messing around. It was an experimental process, hence ‘Guinea Pig.'”
“People imagine that after 25 years of making music, I must be permanently creative. But even veterans suffer doubts.”
Watt says the glowing reaction to the track—the vocal version features Julia Biel, who sang on “I Love You” released on Buzzin’ Fly in 2004—by several top DJs “has been like a blood transfusion. To see kind words from people like Francois K, Laurent Garnier, James Zabiela and Will Saul gladdens the heart. People imagine that after 25 years of making music, I must be permanently creative. But even veterans suffer doubts.”
In addition to Watt’s new single, Buzzin’ Fly will release Chaos Restored 2 mixed by Justin Martin next week.