Tame Impala’s Jay Watson on his new solo album as GUM: “I’ve spent a lot of my life trying not to fuck it up”
When not touring with Tame Impala and Pond, Jay Watson has been writing music for his solo project GUM whenever he can.
“Because of Tame and to a lesser extent Pond, I don’t have a day job,” laughs Watson. “I haven’t had one now for a long time, almost a decade. I’m really lucky in that respect so I think I actually have heaps of free time but in tiny little blocks, not necessarily a huge chunk.”
Despite a busy few years with his other bands, he has still managed to find time to release four solo albums. Now, he has a fifth – with ‘Out In The World’ coming on June 12. We caught up with Jay to talk about life away from Tame Impala and life in lockdown…
Hello, Jay! How are you coping with lockdown?
Jay: “I’m in Perth, Western Australia. Being in the most isolated city in the world is finally paying off! We’ve had very few cases here relatively speaking so it’s a relief. I’m alright, just hanging at home and recording whenever I can. I have a cute four-month-old son; it’s lovely being home with him at the moment.”
How are you feeling about life when this is all over?
“I’m of course apprehensive like a lot of people about what’s going to happen with touring and making money and all that but for the moment, it’s nice to have a little breather. I’ve toured for years and this is probably my biggest gap from playing since I left school. It’s kind of nice in one way and scary in another. The uncertainty of not knowing how long this will go on is the hardest thing.”
‘Out In The World’ is about finding your feet again after a life-changing event: what inspired this?
“It was very coincidental timing with what’s going on now. My songs are never about an overly specific theme: at most it will be about trying to evoke a feeling. It gets difficult for me when I have to come up with a concept or an explanation for a song – I’ve never really been good at that. Kevin from Tame and Nick from Pond have always been good at that, but a lot of music for me is just a train of thought that makes sense later. I like using music to just dump emotions.”
Do you find it difficult to talk about music?
“It’s always hard for me to promote records because people love context when it comes to art and music – even I like the exciting stories behind albums. I have a pretty nice, boring life and the truth is, a lot of it just comes from my imagination. I’ve spent a lot of my life trying not to fuck it up, which kind of goes against the image of the whole tortured artist thing. I think when I was younger that image kind of appealed to me and then I got to a certain age and I was like ‘Wait, I don’t want to be an alcoholic – I had no desire to be that!’ I’m always trying to improve my life, even if it’s to the detriment of the narrative of the artist.”
With a band you’re a little more shielded – Is there more vulnerability when it’s your own solo work?
“I guess so, yes. There’s a line on the second GUM record, ‘I shouldn’t have written that song if I knew wouldn’t be good for long’. I’ve regretted – and they’ve literally kept me up at night – things I’ve written over the years for Pond or GUM. You don’t want to put out stuff you’re going to be embarrassed about down the line but at the same time, you don’t want to censor your more out-there ideas for the sake of feeling good and safe about it because otherwise you’re going to end up with really beige music.”
Is it cathartic making music away from your other projects?
“A lot of it is pure catharsis definitely and some of it originally was probably just ego too – wanting people to know that I could do stuff on my own. I think a lot of making music is based in ego to be honest, otherwise you wouldn’t put it out. I think a lot of people require big life events to inspire and influence making records, but I don’t. Making music is a habit.”
Did you ever worry about making music that sounded too much like your other projects?
“I’ve never really had any concern about it sounding like Tame Impala or Pond. I think because I’ve grown up with them, they are my friends and we’ve gone through our 20’s listening to a lot of the same music, hanging out and having the same in-jokes, it’s inevitable. It doesn’t bother me if the records sound like Tame Impala or Pond – it bothers me if they’re not up to the same standard.”
What can you tell us about what was influencing you on this record?
“I’m one of those people that constantly listens to music and if I don’t, even for a couple of days, I get depressed. I can rattle off the influences for the album, but it would just go on forever. I hear little bits and pieces all through it from the stuff I was just listening to at the time I was recording to the stuff I liked when at 14. I was obsessed with Jimi Hendrix when I was younger and I can still hear bits in there.
“I couldn’t really describe the genre of my music anymore. I guess I’ve just settled into making music that sounds like me. We talk a lot about that in Pond and Tame: when we make stuff now, it just sort of sounds like us. It’s not like an obvious attempt at doing Led Zeppelin or Kraftwerk or something. We can just do our thing whereas for years, just because we were such little music nerds, it was always a deliberate attempt to reference something else.”
Do you share your solo work with Tame Impala and Pond?
“I used to, but now I make them and send them to the guys at the end. It’s dangerous for the purity of the thing I think to show too many people and ask too many people what they think of it. A lot of making music on your own is about trusting your own instincts, taste and decision making. It’s kind of the hardest bit of the whole thing whereas making music is quite easy and natural for me: I can just make it indefinitely.”
What have you got coming up?
“In the future, I’d love to tour with a five-or-six piece band and do a proper solo tour, something I haven’t really done with GUM yet. I’m in no hurry; it’s one for the future.”
GUM’s new album ‘Out In The World’ is out on June 12