Interview: Kit Watkins

DC Music, January 1996

LINDEN VIRGINIA RESIDENT KIT WATKINS is a musician of many talents. For more than a decade his work has explored the outer regions of classical, jazz, rock and world musics. His work with the groups Camel and Happy the Man helped to define the progressive rock genre. Even on his most recent releases, Kit Watkins continues to explore new directions in music.

DCMW: Tell us about your music and what you do?

KW: I create music in my home studio with both electronic and acoustic instruments. I am primarily a keyboardist, but I also play flute, guitar, and various other related instruments. My music covers an eclectic mix of musical interests and influences. My early music (when I was in Happy The Man and Camel) was called “progressive” and there are still elements of that in what I do now. It is mainly instrumental, although I will do some vocals at times, but not in the traditional song form.

DCMW: What was it that got you working in the style of music that you do?

KW: I guess I ended up here because of my various experiences over the years in bands, but also because of the kinds of music I listen to.

DCMW: What music artists or styles are you listening to these days?

KW: Lately, I’m not really listening to other recordings on a regular basis like I did when I was younger. Some of my influences over the years have been the progressive bands of the ’70s (Gentle Giant, King Crimson), the fusion of the ’70s (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report), solo artists on ECM (Eberhard Weber, Terje Rypdal), 20th century classical composers (Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, Satie). I have also been influenced by some of Brian Eno’s work, as well as composers like Steve Reich.

DCMW: What is it about electonic instruments that attracts you to them?

KW: I like the ability to mold sound and I can do that very nicely with synthesizers and samplers, especially the latter. I actually prefer acoustic instruments, and usually try to use the electronic instruments in ways that are more organic sounding.

DCMW: It seems that peoples approach to instrumental music has changed. Where do you see this kind of music going these days?

KW: Well, I really don’t think of it as “instrumental.” I mean, the classical composers never called their music “instrumental.” That term is only used in the pop culture to delineate between “songs” and “instrumentals.” Since I don’t see myself as a pop musician, I just think of what I do as music. I also don’t see myself as a classical musician either, because my music isn’t scored. What I do is really a whole new medium and much more like painting or sculpture. It’s not meant to be played by anyone else, for example, just like a painting isn’t created so that someone else will then take it and do a rendition of it. I think this new medium is partly the result of the home studio and affordable recording equipment. It’s allowed individuals to create this new art form.

DCMW: There seems to be a movement towards unstructured music based on emotion, rather than composition. Do you think that there will be a backlash and people will start to pay closer attention to more structured work?

KW: Hard to tell. I find merits in both structured and improvised musics and, as an artist, I really don’t pay attention to what people are buying or paying attention to. I just follow my own interests and if people like what I’m doing, that’s just a bonus!

DCMW: If you read some of the European music publications you see that they still have a wide variety of musical interests. Do you see Europe as the last frontier for new music?

KW: I’ve also thought that there is a wider interest in diverse musics in Europe—maybe because of all the different cultures crammed into such a small area. But, nowadays, there’s so much global communication, that I think the new frontiers for new music are places like the Internet, rather than actual physical locations like Europe per se. Of course, my point of view is based on the fact that I don’t do live performances. There might be more interest from audiences in Europe. I don’t know.

DCMW: Electronic music by nature has always explored new ways making music and as a result is often labeled as experimental. Has this changed?

KW: I don’t like the term “electronic music” for what I do because it sounds cold and clinical. I think that people who really stick completely to electronics, like Tangerine Dream, are the true “electronic musicians.” In terms of whether it’s more experimental, that depends on your point of view I suppose. From a pop perspective, Tangerine Dream is probably pretty experimental sounding. From an electronic music perspective (like Subotnick or Stockhausen), Tangerine Dream probably sounds kind of pop.

DCMW: To me, electronic music has always been benchmarked by the technology of the day. Do you see technology having a greater impact on eletronic music?

KW: It’s funny, because I’m using more technology now than ever before and yet my music is sounding less and less electronic. What’s great about today’s technology is that it allows musicians to make a vast number of choices about the sound they want to create. It’s not nearly as confining as it used to be.

DCMW: The Internet is becomming more and more popular. Where do you see the artist or musician fitting into this new medium?

KW: The Internet, and especially the World-Wide Web, has the potential to give artists a much more direct connection with their audiences. It’s also a great vehicle for introducing an artist’s music to the public without the high costs of promotion that major labels are accustomed to paying (including payola). It’s a level playing field too, so an individual’s web page is just as easily accessible as a major corporation’s.

DCMW: You have a home page on the Web, how has that been working for you?

KW: It’s been working great! I’ve made a lot of new connections, both with new listeners and with other musicians. I see it as an exciting new frontier for my music.

Copyright 1996 DC Music