The Return of Watsky
Two years ago, I found myself standing in the back parking lot of the Bear Tooth Theatrepub waiting to interview rapper George Watsky before his scheduled performance. Fourty-five minutes after our scheduled interview, an exhausted Watsky emerged and the doors of his party bus turned dressing room swung open with a puff of pungent smoke. Ignoring the impending promise of a contact high I boarded the bus. An apologetic Watsky explained that he got caught up “hanging out with fans.”
As our interview got underway, he munched on an organic vegan kale salad, all the while making unnerving eye contact as he thoughtfully fielded my painfully unimaginative questions. I left the interview feeling as though I had botched it until I heard raucous laughing coming from the bus’s open door. Turning around I caught a glimpse of Watsky’s naked ass pressed firmly against a window. I’m still not sure if it was a sign that I made an ass out of myself or just a dare from his entourage, but it exemplified the multi-faceted personality of a highly complex man.
At 32-years-old, Watsky has released five full-length albums, written a New York Times Bestseller, appeared on Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry and performed at the Kennedy Center three times. He’s also the same guy who briefly shutdown the Van’s Warped Tour in 2013 after taking a harrowing stage jump from 35-foot high rigging. He’s also the same guy that can spout off lyrics about renowned pianist Arthur Rubinstein’s struggles with depression and set them to a crescendo of classical music before switching gears to rap about being too broke to buy a soda at In-n-Out Burger.
To borrow the famous words of Winston Churchill, in many ways, he is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. But according to Watsky, his multifarious lyrics are an honest expression of his personal experiences.
“I want to make sure that I am being honest about what I'm writing about because I think an artist's first job is to share what they're going through with the world—that's your best opportunity to touch people,” says Watsky.
Although one would be hard-pressed to accuse Watsky of not sharing deeply personal details about his life in his previous albums, he feels that his recently released album, ‘Complaint’, reaches new depths.
“I just wanted to open myself up a little bit because I think in the past, I've been afraid to share parts of my life because any time I share something about my life usually there's other people involved. I'm not going to go on divulging information about other people that don't want to be involved in something that veers into their privacy. There's no identifying details or anything like that about the people who were involved but there is the raw emotion that's underneath that,” explains Watsky.
But digging deeper into darker facets of his personality and relationships did not come easily.
“I’m trying to tap into the shadow side of myself that doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person but is just that other side of being a full person. I was writing a lot about relationship stuff with this project. I was in a really intense relationship, and it was really hard. I felt like it was important for me to share that with people,” Watsky told the Alt Press in a January 11 interview. “I think for years I’ve been afraid to go negative because I believe kindness is such an important quality to carry through the world. But I went to therapy this past year, and one of the themes of my therapy sessions was that every human has a light and a dark side, and that doesn’t make you a bad person.”
Watsky’s revelation also came with a renewed desire to push himself musically as well. “Complaint” is not only his first feature-free album, it also spotlight’s his newly developed proficiency as a singer.
“[Singing has] been scary but I think that if you're not scaring yourself as an artist—if you're not freaked out by something that you're doing—then you probably could be pushing harder. I think what I am realizing is that any artist has the capacity to do more than we think we can. It’s been really cool realizing that I have the ability to write songs from the ground up more than I knew I could before,” says Watsky.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Watsky completed the trifecta of challenging himself with the new album by also sampling from uncharacteristic acid rock-inspired beats laced with EDM melodies. Songs like ‘Welcome to the Family’ and ‘Mean Ass Drunk’ are perfect examples of the album’s overall vibe.
In spite of the album’s departure from Watsky’s past releases, he’s confident that his fans will support the risk.
“I don't feel a lot of pressure. I feel a lot of freedom to go where I want, to do what I want, to pursue my passions. I have a super loyal fan base that gives me even more freedom because they allow me to take risks and have still supported me,” explains Watsky. “I think I felt a little bit more pressure when I first started touring with my band in 2013 because I really didn't know if I would have another tour after that. I thought every tour unless a bunch of people showed up may be the last one I had. At this point I've seen that the audience is sticking around and so I think that's just given me this freedom to experiment.”
Of course, Watsky has had to work hard to earn the unwavering loyalty of his fans. While in Anchorage he is scheduled to teach a writing workshop to East High School students as well as hosting a free-spoken word performance for fans under 21.
“I felt bad that the concert was at a 21-plus venue this time around so I wanted to do something that would enable my younger fans to still come out,” Watsky says of his scheduled performance on Friday, Feb. 8 at The Writer’s Block.
But Watsky’s dedication to his fans goes deeper than performing. He strives to form connections with those who love his music.
“I like to be social. I like to soak in the experience of being on tour which I feel like is this rare, incredible experience. I love [Alaska]. I love the people. I love that it feels unique. Everybody I meet here is very nice and interesting and has compelling life stories,” adds Watsky.