Not only is Jay Watson an accomplished musician, but he’s also the type of person to become distracted by a daddy long-legs mid-conversation and embark on a rescue mission, scooping it up with an empty tissue box and freeing it outside. That’s what Watson was up to early in a Skype chat from his native Perth, after he noticed the arachnid out of the corner of his eye.
Watson is a busy man. A multi-instrumentalist who joined Tame Impala at 17, Watson later broadened his horizons to two additional musical projects: Pond, which boasts other members from Tame Impala, including Nick Allbrook, and his solo project GUM, for which he is releasing his fourth full-length album, The Underdog, on April 6 via Spinning Top Records.
“It’s like pop music, I guess, and it’s nice melodies, but it sounds kind of weird and messed up a bit,” he said.
GUM is derived from a childhood nickname based on the Claymation character Gumby.
“I was really tall and really skinny and kind of lopey,” he said, laughing. “The joke always has been that my skin and my hair and my eyes all are like the same color.”
While he wasn’t particularly attached to the nickname, he appreciated its monosyllabic nature and felt it was symbolic for his sound. His persona on stage, whether it’s with GUM, Tame Impala or Pond, is always his own. He wants to honestly reflect how he’s feeling at the moment of creation or performance. There is no alter ego separating who he is based on project. His music with GUM, however, has some unique qualities.
“It’s kind of sweet and sticky but also kind of gross,” Watson said. “But in, like, a stuck-to-the bottom-of-the-desk sort of way.”
Watson said The Underdog was inspired by recent events in politics and sports where the perceived underdog prevailed—for better or for worse. While the first couple tracks evoke a sense of black-horse overachievers, the album reaches an arc emulating Watson’s lifestyle that spans throughout 40 days of touring.
“It’s supposed to be like a 24-hour cycle of my day, where I’ll play a show and it’ll go however it goes, and I’ll be super high on adrenaline,” he said. “And we’ll go out and I’ll get really drunk or whatever, and then I’ll wake up feeling really awful for no reason just ’cause I’m hungover—and [then] be really anxious and have that the whole day until it’s time to start drinking for the show again to make yourself feel good.”
Watson is a DIY guy. He records portions of his album at home in Perth and mixes them himself on the road using his laptop. A majority of The Underdog tracks were written in 2016. Some songs from the album are older; one riff was originally intended for Tame Impala’s second album, but frontman Kevin Parker never used it.
Through GUM, Watson strives to improve his audio skills from recording to mixing.
“Each album sounds a little bit better than the last, hopefully, and I’m just kind of learning how to process audio, ’cause it helps me with all the other projects,” he said. “I think the Pond records get better the better we all get, and helping Kevin with the audio side of it, ’cause he mixes the Pond records. And it’s just good for us to all do it in-house.”
Although Watson and his bandmates are self-sufficient in the mixing and recording arenas, he eventually hopes to be equally adept at creating artwork for posters or social media.
With so many projects from which to choose, how does Watson decide what music to share and what to keep for GUM? It appears his work circulates within the Pond and Tame Impala sphere—Watson will write songs or instrumentals, and if he figures his fellow bandmates would enjoy the work, he shares it.
“It’s good to use not your best ideas with the band, but the ones that you think will be most benefitted from collaboration,” he said.
If he thinks his bandmates wouldn’t jive with certain bits, he saves them for himself and uses them for GUM.
“The good part about [collaborating with a band], is that you know what you’re doing or what you’ve done is good because you have to bounce it off four other people who have their own … tastes in music,” he said. “Whereas, with my stuff, I get to do whatever I want but I have no idea if it’s shit or not until it comes out and people on the internet tell me. Your friends aren’t gonna tell you if it’s crap because it’s just you, and it’s too hurtful to say that.”
Follow writer Grace Becker at Twitter.com/graceoliveb.