Based in Nashville, Chris Watts had his fair share of obstacles that led him to finding a love with music.
“Without the darkness, I doubt we’d see the stars,” he’s quoted as saying in his full biography on his website.
His latest album released on March 18th is entitled, The God’s Own Truth, and touches on topics of life on the road, addiction and overcoming. In early 2015, his wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which contributed to Watts taking time off the road and putting his efforts toward writing, producing and recording this album at Best Friend Studio with Stephen Allbritton in East Nashville.
I had a chance to talk to Chris about his journey to music, his latest album and even his relationship with the city of Nashville as a whole.
“I started playing guitar as a hobby when I was 10 or 11 but I never thought I could get paid for it!” He started. “I used to sit next to the TV with an old RCA tape recorder. Sometimes I would wait for hours for a song I wanted to learn to come on MTV and I would record it. I’d teach myself solos by learning a few notes at a time then rewinding the tapes over and over. Guns N Roses, AC/DC, stuff like that. I was also really into The Doors and The Cure,” Chris confessed.
“I was a weird kid!” He joked. “A few years later my mom took me to my first concert. It was Aerosmith at the Cajun Dome in Lafayette, LA. All the girls screamed when Joe Perry played his guitar behind his head and I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen.
Music became all I wanted to do, because I wanted chicks to scream for me too! Years later I saw David Allan Coe at Uncle Sam Jam on the Red River in Alexandria, LA. It was my hometown’s yearly 4th of July celebration. He was piss drunk and you could smell him from the audience. He couldn’t play or sing very well, and after about five songs he told the crowd to kiss his ass then he flipped them off and walked off stage. I thought to myself, ‘hell, I could do that!’ So later I started my first band Mudflap Junkies with some college friends and never looked back!”
It was clear to me that Chris drew his inspiration from watching other musicians, enough so that he was able to teach himself guitar based on MTV videos. I wanted to know where the bulk of his inspiration stemmed from though, both personally and musically.
“I have a lot of musical inspirations ranging from Willie, Merle, Townes, and Prince [R.I.P.] to both Leonards (Skynyrd and Cohen), Warren Zevon, and Thin Lizzy. Lately I’ve probably been most inspired by the local songwriting community here in Nashville and I’m lucky enough to call some of my favorite songwriters friends – they’re all going to do great things. Ben De La Cour is about to put out a phenomenal album called ‘Midnight in Havana.’ My friend Becky Warren just finished her new record called ‘War Surplus.’ It’s a concept album about war veterans and I do some background vocals on it. Jon Latham put out an album last year called ‘Real Bad News’ and it’s just as good as anything else I heard come out in 2015. Charles Hagar also just released ‘American Saga,’ which I can’t stop listening to. Then you have guys like Isbell, Sturgill, Todd Snider, Margo Price, Cory Brannan and Kevin Gordon who also call Music City home. There’s so much inspiration here I hardly have time to even look elsewhere,” he said excitedly.
“I’m also inspired by people who struggle and overcome. My wife was diagnosed with both ovarian and thyroid cancer within less than a year apart from each other. She is currently cancer free and my real inspiration!”
It’s usually safe to say that in Nashville if someone is an artist, they’re also a songwriter. Everyone’s songwriting process is different, which makes co-writes extremely popular, but sometimes your most vulnerable songs come from the moments your alone with your heart on your sleeve. I asked Chris how that process works for him:
“I’m the worst songwriter in the world,” he humbly admitted. “And I say that because I get so many ideas that run through my head and I never write them down. I don’t usually even complete songs unless I’m writing them for a specific project (album, EP, etc.). Maybe it’s because I need some sort of goal to motivate myself. I mostly write lyrics first, but sometimes it can start with a melody. It rarely comes from a chord progression or whatever that I think sounds cool. I usually only write first thing in the morning or right before bed. And when I do I usually write a lot of material in a short amount of time just to get it out there. The hard part for me is the editing process. I try to make every line, every rhyme, every word count. I’ve yet to co-write a song with someone, which is so un-Nashville of me,” a perfect testament in case you didn’t believe me about co-writes earlier. “But I’m trying to open myself up to that. Lately I’ve just been trying to rip off Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska.’ Maybe for my next album I’ll rip off ‘Born To Run,'” he laughed.
Almost exactly a month ago, Chris had a huge CD release party on his birthday, which was coincidentally the CD release date, here in Nashville at City Winery.
“The CD release party was surreal. The house was packed and I remember seeing people even standing against the back wall because there wasn’t any room, which means two things to me; I have really incredible friends who showed up and brought some of their friends, but I also saw a lot of people I didn’t recognize, which tells me all the hard work I put into promoting my music and the show itself paid off. I did a live performance on Bill Cody’s morning show on WSM Nashville the week before. WSM is the home of the Grand Ole Opry and Bill is one of the most recognized voices on radio. Hall-of-Fame DJ.”
“I made personalized save-the-dates and sent them out to every record label, management group, publishing house, booking agency, press publication, and anyone else I could think of,” Chris said. “I even took a day off work and spent it going door-to-door down Music Row in the pouring down rain handing out CD’s and press kits, and trying to talk to anyone who would listen. Sure I endured a lot of rejection, but something I did worked and I finally feel like I’m starting to build some momentum here!”
I couldn’t agree with Chris more. His hard work and perseverance is paying off in big ways. Not only did he participate in some pretty monumental pre-show experiences, but selling out City Winery is a feat in itself and I’ve since heard his name with a lot of frequency. Coffee shops are the real life message boards of this city and Chris Watts is posted all over them. People crave genuine. They crave authentic. But they also crave plain, old, good music. Chris effortlessly merges his truths into story-like songs that speak on topics relatable to any listener of any age.
As for a song of his that he holds even closer to his heart than most, Chris says,
“the song that means the most to me on the EP is called ‘I Know What It Means.’ I wrote it in response to Louis Armstrong’s ‘Do You Know What It Means (To Miss New Orleans).’ I’ve lived in Louisiana most of my life and spent almost a decade in New Orleans. When I was younger I got into a little bit of trouble and had to join the National Guard. In 2005 I was shot in the leg with an M-16 assault rifle. I was in the New Orleans Super Dome for Hurricane Katrina duty. For years I tried to write a Katrina song and never could get it right. I didn’t write ‘I Know What It Means’ until after I moved to Nashville. New Orleans is one of the greatest cities in the world and I’ll always call it home.”