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A quick conversation with Paul Furio of Watch Clark

7 December 2019

With two albums under his belt already, Paul Furio returns to his nome de la musique of Watch Clark for another outing fashioning danceable, political, personal, socially aware and honestly direct music. Each album has told a story, less a concept album and more a series of vague diary entries fashioned into songs, the personal becoming the universal, the intimate becoming the relatable. With a new album just hitting the public consciousness, we sat down to find out all about the past, the present and the future for this musical project.

As someone of a certain age, I hear a lot of the sounds of those early synth pioneers coming through your music. How influenced are you that 80’s, post-punk or New Romantic scene or do you think any echo of that is a more subliminal inspiration?

PAUL FURIO: The new wave bands of the 80’s were a huge influence on me, of course, since the mid-80’s were when I entered my teens and that’s when I really started playing attention to music and what bands I liked. It really started off with Duran Duran, ABBA, A-Ha, Giorgio Moroder soundtracks and other electronic disco music that my mom would listen to. While there’s more electric guitar on the more recent albums, I was always drawn to the synthesizer. Guitars seemed to have a very similar sound, and while it’s easy to write a four chord progression with my Les Paul in hand, the sonic variation that can be achieved with synthesis, from something pure and tonal to something gritty and almost sonically collapsing, is what really keeps me hooked. In a sense, despite this nostalgia for the 80’s and early 90’s industrial music, its things that are “new” that pique my passion, and finding that new sound, or at very least a new take on a classic sound, are often the inspiration for each song.

Unlike much music which falls into the broad “dance” category, your music has a lot to say both personally, socially, even politically. Is the balance between making accessible and intelligent music hard to achieve?

PAUL FURIO: As time has gone on, I’ve found I care less about the music being accessible and more about saying something that’s interesting or provocative. For me now, as I’m working on new songs, I’m focusing on a musical progression that’s interesting, phrasing of lyrics that is simultaneously both honest and unexpected, and putting something in every song that warrants a second listen. Sure, I’d love to have tracks that are club hits, but as I grow older, I’m more interested in songs that are relatable to the people who don’t feel that they can connect with what’s already out there, and songs that perhaps will stand the test of time.

For example, on the last album, “Choose” was one of the final tracks that I wrote, and that was to replace a song about breakups that just wasn’t working. The album version is essentially the first version that I wrote and recorded, with very minor tweaks to the instrumentation. But for a few weeks, I tried to rewrite it as a more electronic song, pulling out the strings and piano and replacing them with synthesizer sounds that were more cohesive with the rest of the album. At some point I just decided, fuck it, the original version is what I wanted it to sound like, that’s what’s going on the album, and if people don’t like the way it sounds, too bad for them. The message, about choosing life over suicide, was what fit with the sound in my head, and that’s the way that song wanted to be born, so it was released into the world as it was.

Now that you are three albums down the Watch Clark road, has much changed over the years regarding what you want the music to say or how you approach writing songs?

PAUL FURIO: Again, the music has become more and more personal and frank. I find that I’m worrying less about having songs that “fit” some expectation or format based on what other artists are doing, and I’m just telling the stories or sharing the thoughts that I have.

I only learned to play guitar in the last five years, so more songs are being written by starting with a guitar to work out a progression, so that’s different. I find that lyrics come to me in the shower faster than anyplace else, so I’m often rushing out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around me so that I can type some words out onto my music iMac or a nearby laptop. I’m more open to experimentation, and there are a few randomizing music tools out there for various arpeggiated riffs or glitch beats, and using those as starting points for inspiration have become a larger part of how I kick things off.

At the same time, there are things I don’t know that I’ll ever stop doing. I think every release will have at least one political song, because politics are becoming increasingly more fucked each and every day, and I have no desire to live in a right wing fascist dictatorship, nor do I feel anyone else should have to. So I’ll always find some way to point out the absurdity of the adherents to that ideology, or the choices we make that lead us down that path. There will always be songs about relationships and the difficulty in making a genuine human connection, even thought I’m probably in the best place, interpersonally, I’ve ever been in my entire short life.

The largest change is that I’m aiming to rapidly put out several EPs in 2020, instead of doing one big album every 18 months or so. We’ll see how the followthrough goes on that.

Kasson Crooker was back in the in the producer’s chair, what is it about him that keeps you working together, what does he bring to the project that means he gets that all important call?

PAUL FURIO: Kasson is just a great, talented guy with incredible ears for quality, and he gets how to make Watch Clark sound it’s best. He’s really one of the top two musicians I know personally, the other being Tom Shear of Assemblage 23, who mixed down our first album. But Kasson brought this level of punch and polish to the final output that I wanted to hear again on Couch, and he was graceful in letting me sit in on his mix down sessions to show me some of the tricks he uses to achieve his results.

We also are good friends, in that we meet up regularly just to discuss the music scene and talk about bands that are under appreciated or just up-and-coming. I think that more people should be listening to his work with ELYXR and Symbion Project, and that his label-mates Kodacrome on the Foil imprint are just incredibly talented, and highly inspiring.

The whole album fits together nicely. “Choose” is a beautiful but interesting choice for a first single – a measured and understated track. What made you go that route as a calling card for the album rather than with something more upbeat such as “Tansflache” or “Cross the Chasm?”

It actually wasn’t my choice. I would have picked “Misery” as the first single, but I was convinced otherwise. I get it, to play against type is often the smartest choice, but when you’re neck deep in something that you’ve been working on for months or years, it’s often not easy to see what the best move is for the times. It’s why I work with the talent I work with, whether it’s PR or mixing or guest vocalists, I really want to be collaborating with people who bring something I can’t or won’t do to bear, and then the final results end up as more than the sum of their parts. But to work with people like that, you have to trust them. I’ll often ask a lot of questions, and if the answers are solid and reasonable, not impulsive or whimsical, it’s easy to convince me to do something I might otherwise not choose myself.

Watch Clark seems more geared towards a solo recording project than a live performance at this point, do you ever see a time when it graces the gigging circuit? As a studio project, how has it been trying to garner press and radio interest for your two albums – how has the reception been?

PAUL FURIO: We’ve done live performances around the metro-Seattle area, and I’d like to bring it around the US if I could find the right crew to travel and perform with. That’s the difficult part, again, finding musicians who are professional and dedicated, who pull their weight and also have the drive and curiosity to do more. I toured with SMP twice, before I kicked off Watch Clark, and that was a shitshow. I was often doing three people’s jobs, as the tech and the keyboardist and the navigator, while our guitarist was off getting high in an alley before the show, and that’s not something I want to repeat, ever. So if I can put together some people who want to seriously put on quality performances, and know what it means to accomplish that, we’ll see how broad of a reach we can have for live shows.

As for press and radio interest, look, it’s a crowded space. Technology has allowed so many more artists to get their music recorded and distributed, whether it’s in store or online, but it’s also meant that there’s a flood of quality for the same number of listeners. For all his flaws as a human being, Mark Zuckerberg is right in assessing that people make their decisions based on what their friends and trusted tastemakers like, so virally spreading awareness of what Watch Clark is and why we’re worth listening to… it’s difficult. So I’ve been working with Shameless Promotion PR and they’ve managed to bring our music to new listeners in a few dozen countries now. That said, I’m in this for neither wealth nor fame, so every single fan we have counts as a big win. I mainly make music to be able to say something I want to say, and if that resonates with other people, great.

And where next for Paul Furio and Watch Clark?

PAUL FURIO: I’m aiming to do a few EPs in 2020. I’d love to do three 5-track EPs, and have a few songs already written for the first one. We’ll see if I can get one out before Spring. I’m also trying to do more remixes this year, and I have a few that I’ve already handed off and some still in-progress.

I’d love to do some more live shows. I’ve been talking with a few PNW bands about playing together, and potentially some mini-tours. I do need to fill out the live lineup to get that going, so that’s also in there.

I’m also planning on building out a nice home recording studio, once I settle into more permanent housing in the next twelve months. I have the gear, but I’d love to be in a great, sound-isolated room, where I can write and record without pissing off neighbors. That also plays to my love of working with my hands, so that could be a fun project as well.

Thank you very much for your time