Doby Watson has dedicated his life to making music and touring.
For the past 12 years, the Kansas City native has been traveling the country performing at DIY shows, collaborating with various artists, and couch surfing his way from one city to the next. But in an industry currently flooded with musicians, it’s become increasingly difficult to stay relevant as an authentic artist – so much so that once Watson found himself homeless during his touring, while simultaneously watching others “making it big” with songs made on MacBooks.
However, because Watson made his live performance more important than any permanent home could offer, he’s still able to remain active over a decade later. His entire career is a message to musicians around the world who are stuck in a rut or have given up. Twelve years later, Watson may still be far from “stardom,” but he’s still releasing albums, embarking on tours, and has crafted some of the most unique record promotion and creations around the Midwest. His dedication to the quality of his music after all these years is both admiring and appreciated.
While Watson’s performance aims to contain intimacy, he still describes his touring mentality in classic DIY fashion, trying to book “any space that I can get booked that people will at some capacity show up to.” The shows could be in a parking lot or high school gymnasium, as long as the performance remains intimate and sincere.
Watson finds this value not only in his live shows but in his albums, too. Instead of giving out a paper download code for his most recent album, he released a customized beer bottle with the album information on the artwork and a download code inside.
Much like the unique purchasing of his latest album, his recording style was also rather different. The album, Live-In Son, was recorded completely live. Watson said he prefers a live album to the time-consuming work of a studio album. He believes the intimacy of his live shows should be captured in his records as well. For Watson, recording music isn’t about perfection and high-end studios.
“Over time (studio albums) become stale and it just takes too long to get something done,” Watson said. “At the end of the day, the kind of music I make doesn’t feel like it has to be perfect. Sincerity is far more important than perfection.”
Live-In Son exemplifies just that. It’s raw, genuine, and embodies more personality than most records you’ll come across. You can hear the errors, but you hear the heart above all else. His vulnerable lyrics in songs like “Family Mattress” express the discomfort and solitude he feels as someone out of place in a relationship. Watson called this song the thesis for the album, because the album is much like reading a diary entry. And it’s apparent Watson has nothing to hide.
“We’re at an age where people unload anything about themselves on the Internet without thinking about it,” Watson said. “It’s almost like you’re giving away your privacy and you’re letting yourself be vulnerable to strangers, so it’s kind of in that sentiment that I write that way.”
The vulnerability found in his lyrics is also amplified through his powerful, yet honest singing style. To add more emotion to the album, Watson also sent Live-In Son to various artists he previously collaborated with in order for them to add their own flare and complexity to certain songs.
Watson explained that each artist he chose had specific talents he wanted to highlight, such as harmonizing melodies or clever guitar riffs, but overall there were no set guidelines. “I thought, who do I feel like would have an interesting perspective for these particular songs and who would mesh well together?” Watson said. “Kind of like guessing.” Watson’s guessing ended up working in his favor, and Live-In Son became his first debut full-length album that was released by Urbana label Error Records.
Watson is now out for a tour with singer-songwriter Margo May, with whom he’s been friends with throughout his childhood and eventually collaborated with on the 2013 split Watson & May. “In terms of a band, we are each other’s band,” Watson said.
On their tour, Watson’s performing his solo work, along with new material from May’s latest album, and tracks from their collaborative record.
The tour will come through Springfield, Ill. on Monday, July 13 at the Black Sheep Cafe. Watson said he has every hope for making back to Champaign-Urbana as soon as possible, as well. While Doby may not be an Illinois native, he still finds Urbana as an important place for him.
“There are so many people in Champaign-Urbana that I feel really close to and that I have a close allegiance to musically and as human beings,” he said. “I’m wearing a Withershins t-shirt right now.”
After this tour, Watson has plans to record roughly four albums worth of music. In terms of what the musician expects of himself he explained, “the goal is to make what I think is the most honest for who I am, to put out there and wherever it finds a home, I’m fine with that.”
Doby Watson is performing Monday night (7/13) at the Black Sheep Cafe in Springfield, Ill. with Margo May, Jessica Knight, and Our Lady (acoustic). The show starts at 7 p.m. and costs $5 at the door.