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Settler released November 28, 2021 Need To Know Music
The umbrella of Santa Cruz-based Need To Know Music has really given me the confidence to continue highlighting the Celtic voice in Americana music and on Settler I'm weaving Scottish balladry with Appalachian string band influences to tell stories of loss, injustice and arduous journeys. With contributions from renowned Americana artists Gretchen Peters, Laura Cantrell and Jaimee Harris, as well as British folk icons Eliza Carthy and Kris Drever, the album acknowledges that music travels from place to place picking up new inflections and nuances wherever it puts down roots.
Settler builds on the success of last year’s Skail EP, conceived and recorded at home during the first Covid lockdown, where I first explored the ties between Scotland and the New World.
When people are uprooted sometimes all they can carry with them are their stories and experiences. Throughout history the Scots have settled all over the world, my family included. I’m a mixed-race Scot with a keen interest in ideas surrounding heritage and identity. Nations were built by people seeking a better life and it is easy to forget our own ancestors were all settlers and immigrants at one time.
I play all instruments on the album with Kris Drever providing electric guitar on one track.
As a multi-instrumentalist, I apply a song based approach to the arrangements in that I play only what is absolutely necessary. If it doesn’t add anything of value to the song I leave it out. I think if I was working with virtuoso musicians I’d be tempted to let a love for the instruments take precedence. When it is just me I can be more parsimonious!
Every artist involved brought their unique personalities to the songs. For me, Eliza, Gretchen, Jaimee, Kris and Laura are a dream line-up and I feel truly honoured to have them contribute to Settler.
The cover linocut was by emerging SE London artist Tilly Trevitt with photographs by Elgin landscape photographer Gary Paul.
Blue Hour/Twilight - Mal MacWatt & The Glass Mountains Independent Release Jan 2021
For ‘Blue Hour/Twilight I revived my side project The Glass Mountains to explore the far corners of Americana music. Where Blue Hour looks at the soulful, bluesier elements, Twilight heads to the country.
The Blue Hour is the brief period just before dawn and just after the sun sets - the twilight zone. The EP is about being alone with your thoughts at the witching hour, too tired to party but too wired to sleep. With so much regret, repentance and reflection in the songs, producer Phil Dearing insisted on a darker, more gritty sound by distilling the blues-soul elements of ‘Dial It Back’ and condensing them down into a more focused roots rock offering.
As the songs came together in the studio they naturally seemed to fall into two distinct camps - half with a strong soul feel and half that were much more country. Initially I thought about trying to integrate them by blurring the edges but it felt more honest to just let the songs take whatever direction suited them best.
I drafted in Leeds-based Steven Hicken Jr to provide pedal steel on two tracks for an unmistakable country sound. I also wanted to work again with London singer-songwriter and session vocalist Clare Portman. By allowing Steven and Clare to interpret the material as they heard it, their input directly influenced the final outcome of the songs. Clare has this English rose, very British quality to her voice which really fits with my aim to write country music that doesn’t sound like anything coming out of Nashville. Steven is also a player of great versatility and his playing added some real country authenticity without the cliches.
SKAIL ep Need To Know Music July 2020
SKAIL - an old Scots word meaning to disperse, scatter and sail over water - sees me weaving traditional Scottish yarn into the fabric of Americana for my 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 me playing all instruments throughout.
Written and recorded at the height of the coronavirus lockdown from my 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 I grew up.
During the weeks of isolation I 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 me but in the context of a pandemic, together with the tragic narratives surrounding UK immigration, I 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.
Dial It Back Independent January 2020
“Dial It Back” is another 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” was the easiest yet as I grew in confidence as a songwriter and a performer. The songs have more social commentary, more diversity of subject matter and I was more disposed to writing love songs. I had 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 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”.
Three Truths and The Chord Independent 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, there's an 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 Independent Nov 2018
The idea of home, connection and a sense of belonging are recurrent themes in my songwriting and feature heavily on my 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 which 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.
I'm a country music fan but there's a gentle 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 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”.