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SKAIL - Malcolm MacWatt Need To Know Music July 2020
SKAIL - an old Scots word meaning to disperse, scatter and sail over water - sees MacWatt weaving traditional Scottish yarn into the fabric of Americana for his third 2020 studio release.
The EP features three songs with the Appalachians, evictions, slavery and independence at their heart and is a meeting of Scottish and American roots music with MacWatt playing all instruments throughout.
Written and recorded at the height of the coronavirus lockdown from his home in south-east London, MacWatt found himself longing for the fresh air, clean water, open spaces, familiar faces and above all the safety of Morayshire where he grew up.
During the weeks of isolation he happened across an article about the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia up the east coast of America to Maine, which now includes the Scottish Highlands due to ancient geological links going back millions of years.
Coming from the Moray Firth with the northern mountains of the Black Isle an everyday skyline, the stories of the Highland Clearances were already well known to him but in the context of a pandemic, together with the tragic narratives surrounding UK immigration, he felt compelled to explore the connections between Scottish emigration to the New World in the 18th Century and the roots of country and americana music.
Hearts and Horizons EP Independent April 2020
Broken hearts, lonely hearts, hopeful hearts and country hearts are beating on Heart and Horizons.
With banjo, dobro and pedal steel in the mix, ‘Heart and Horizons’ fuses the best elements of country with modern production on four songs about grief, obsession, loneliness and endurance.
I adore the emotive stories and honest grit of classic country and the darker heart of southern gothic. At the same time I love the hooks and melodies of modern country and the delicate touch of homegrown folk music.
So while “Hearts and Horizons” displays true country soul, London singer-songwriter Clare Portman was brought in to contribute her crystal clear backing vocals for a distinct British edge.
With the release of ‘Dial It Back’ in January 2020, I gained a new audience drawn to the album’s 70s rock-inspired production, however ‘Hearts and Horizons’ will hopefully reassure listeners that my country flame continues to burn bright.
Raining Down In Nashville is about loss and grief and was sparked by the tragic death of a young US country singer in a road accident in 2019 on her way to a music festival. Nashville is the spiritual home of country music so I liked the idea that even the city was crying.
Lie For Your Love (featuring Clare Portman) is about the thin line between love and obsession. I’m saying that while I might not be the perfect, most upstanding guy, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do to for you.
That’s How We Roll says there’s a stoicism and acceptance of life’s ups and downs that I think is more apparent in people who have a closer connection with nature.
Living Alone is about how we all want to find our soul mate but it’s not easy even in this modern age of dating apps and social media.
Dial It Back Independently Released January 2020
My new album “Dial It Back” is another major milestone for me as a songwriter. My first all acoustic offering “Anywhere But Here” had a theme of belonging running through. The second, “Three Truths and The Chord”, dealt with ideas of family.
The supposedly “difficult third album” has actually been the easiest yet as over the last year I’ve grown in confidence as a songwriter and a performer. The songs have more social commentary, more diversity of subject matter and I’ve been more disposed to writing love songs. I’ve got the confidence to take a big step sideways out of the calm waters of country, folk and americana into a huge ocean that is much harder to navigate, the mainstream rock sounds that I grew up with; thereby inviting comparisons with Tom Petty, Nils Lofgren, Neil Young, the Rolling Stones and so many others, which is quite intimidating.
On “Dial It Back” I’ve hammered my colours firmly to the retro mast by fusing contemporary songwriting with a wash of mid-70s sonic to create a new album that feels instantly comfortable. It’s not a tribute to the past, more a celebration of a time when rock music was happy to embrace harmony and melody without any sense of irony. The album title reflects the vintage vibe but is mainly about making a conscious decision to relax, sit back, jam and just let the songs breathe easy.
To get the feel of one band performing everything in one session, engineer and producer Phil Dearing at L-Sound Studio, insisted on using the same two guitars; a Jimmie Vaughan signature Strat and a Telecaster Deluxe; the same Fender amps, Hammond, Rhodes and the same rhythm section set-up for every song. The only additions were my G-tuned Squire Strat for the slide guitar part on ‘Hillbilly Funk’ and a Gibson 335 to add some crunch to “Doing The Impossible”.
I live in South-east London and the city features on the tracks “Glass Mountains” and “Riots and Sunshine”, dealing with urban pressures and social unrest, in particular the 2011 London Riots. “Hillbilly Funk” is a Southern groove country-boy-in-the-big-city blues jam while “Guns Are Gathering” asks why with ever-improving communication technology are we more divided than ever. The remaining songs take a look at love from different angles, dealing with loss and the familiar themes of redemption and forgiveness that feature strongly in my writing. While this album is an acoustic guitar-free zone I haven't slacked off with my lyrics and have left lots of space to let the words, sentiment, emotions and stories be heard. I enjoy a rocking guitar riff but I'm still very much a country boy so it'll always be about the story.
Three Truths and The Chord (Independently Released June 2019)
If there’s a theme running through “Three Truths And The Chord” - it’s the idea of family.
There’s the hope of pregnancy and the heartbreak of miscarriage, an idyllic day of domestic life, a parent struggling to accept their child demanding the freedoms of adulthood, a family on the verge of breakdown and the dilemma of a young man who learns the girlfriend he was planning to leave is pregnant. Even the song “Single Man’s Dream” pits marriage and family against the attractions of bachelor life.
Musically, “Three Truths and The Chord” is more traditionally country than debut album “Anywhere But Here” but the album title reflects the alt-country wink in the lyrics. “Bleed For You” uses menstruation - a subject with huge cultural and religious significance around the world - to support a woman's right to determine her own life choices
Throughout, MacWatt demonstrates his economic approach to songwriting by getting straight to the point without unnecessary ornamentation. “The Otherside of You” is saying hello to your dark side and the bluegrass-inspired “Wish You Were My Guitar” is as straightforward as it sounds. Each song consists of one track of Gibson J45 acoustic guitar and one vocal track. As a songwriter first and foremost MacWatt wanted the words and melodies to take precedent over production. Only “Woman-Shaped Heartache” has an instrumental break requiring a third track.
Anywhere But Here (Independently Released Nov 2018)
The idea of home, connection and a sense of belonging are recurrent themes in Malcolm MacWatt’s songwriting and feature heavily on his debut album Anywhere But Here. Pared down to the bare minimum, the austere production of voice and acoustic guitar allows the lyrical and melodic essence of these 12 songs to take priority, sometimes with brutal clarity.
This is a collection of deeply personal songs yet they invite the listener to look with their own eyes at love, loss, fear, guilt and loneliness. But it’s not all scarecrows and shadows. ‘Selkie (A Song For Jimmy)’ - written for a school friend who drowned - calls on Celtic mythology to put a romantic spin on a desperately sad event.
MacWatt is a die-hard country fan but takes a poke at Nashville on ‘Too Many Love Songs’ suggesting that recession, refugees fleeing war and a world in crisis may also be worthy of three chords and the truth. The title track ‘Anywhere But Here’ depicts a twilight zone of drunken one-night-stands in the search for true love. The album closes with ‘Caledonia’, a yearning to swap city life for the Scottish Highlands, to be “anywhere but here”, yet MacWatt admits he made the journey south to London in 2010 for that very same reason.