Kit Watkins

Wonderful sonic bliss.

by David Latchaw
The Zine, #22, May 2002

Where on the Internet can people find out more about you and your musical activities?

Primary starting place for all pertinent info is KitWatkins.com. There’s also a page available about my improvisational ensemble Tone Ghost Ether here.

What aspects of your early musical training gave you the skills necessary to be in Happy The Man and Camel?

Initially, ages 5-13, it was the piano technique I learned from classical lessons with my mother Margaret Watkins—proper use of fingering and how to best move about the keyboard, and daily practice of classical repertoire. From ages 13-19 I was in cover bands and learned to use my ear to figure out how to play songs. I was also exposed to other kinds of music and instruments during that time (rock, blues, jazz — guitar, bass, drums). The progressive rock that I wrote and played in Happy The Man and Camel culminated from my experience and knowledge at the time.

What was it like for you, while with Happy The Man, to get a record deal from Clive Davis and work with producer Ken Scott?

Thrilling as hell! I learned so much from working with Ken on the production of those two albums. I also learned a lot from working with Rupert Hine on the Camel album. I had always been interested in recording, engineering, and producing so soaked it all up.

Which artists inspired you to develop your own voice and evolving creative style, and why?

Different artists at different periods of my life have influenced me. I was heavy into Beatles and Led Zeppelin and Cream in my teens, moved on to Yes, ELP, Genesis, Gentle Giant in the early HTM days, then onto Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra in the mid-70s, rediscovered a certain affinity for classical composers such as Ravel and Debussy, then more onto ECM artists like Eberhard Weber, Terje Rypdal. In the 80s, it was Brian Eno’s ambient work, including Harold Budd and Jon Hassell, and minimalists like Steve Reich. Here’s a list of artists who I now consider long-term or current influences, in no particular order: Brian Eno, Mickey Hart, Mark Isham, Joe Zawinul, Harold Budd, Wayne Shorter, Joni Mitchell, Steve Reich, Jon Hassell, Eberhard Weber, Jeff Greinke, Robert Rich, Steve Roach, David Darling, Wendy Carlos. Most of these musicians are not keyboardists (and, as a matter of note, I no longer consider myself just a keyboardist). I’m interested in composition, sound, texture, mood, feel and these musicians reach me on a number of different levels—both intellectually and emotionally.

What was it like to work with Sonic Foundry and develop the disc of license-free loops, Ambient Realms?

Sonic Foundry licensed Ambient Realms from Q Up Arts who was the company that I developed the audio CD and Roland CD-ROM for. I did all the audio development, mastering, documentation, artwork, and even had all the manufacturing done—the discs were literally delivered to Q Up Arts in final form. Sonic Foundry came along a couple of years later and licensed certain Q Up titles, including mine, for use in their Acid series. It’s been a somewhat lucrative project, although was a huge amount of work. I’m pleased that so many people continue to use the sounds. Every now and then, I’ll hear one of my sounds on a TV program—early on, I heard one of my eerie bell samples on The X-Files and that was a kick.

In your new improvisational ensemble Tone Ghost Ether with John Tlusty and Brad Allen, what musical and personal qualities do you think allow for such collective improvisational cohesion?

I haven’t a clue. We just seem to click and feed off each other very effortlessly. Sometimes when I listen back to the music, I wonder how the hell we did it and where it came from! We certainly have a lot of mutual respect and good will happening, but more than anything, we have a lot of fun and feel very free to explore ideas together.

How has the Internet changed your musical activities?

Well, it came along right about the time my label was falling apart because of distribution problems, so it helped a bit then. Now, it’s primarily MP3.com which has enlivened me by giving me a place to make my music available. I don’t have the luxury of a label, although One Way did reissue 4 of my older titles. But, MP3.com is my sole outlet for new music. It’s really quite revolutionary. I’m a big fan of their system—especially the CD program which has allowed me to put out new music quickly and effortlessly, and also allowed me to keep my back catalog from going out of print.

What future projects should people look for?

Currently, I’m getting ready to work with the digital video of my concert, The Gathering from March 2001 in Philadelphia. My good friend Sally Heldrich made an excellent video recording of it, and I’m going to be doing some final editing with hopes of eventually releasing it on DVD.

Musically, I’m working toward another concert performance which I expect will occur sometime this summer or fall at beautiful Cabell Hall on the UVa campus here in Charlottesville. I’ll be writing new material for the concert, and I’m using 4-channel surround sound live now so am excited about presenting this!