New traditionalists type thing…the mainstream is starting to allowing some feeling to come back into the music…that’s whats it’s all about…it’s an emotional art form…
We sat down with local country musician Pat Watters of the Pat Watters Band, we chatted about his path to music, influences, the origins of the band, covid, playing live, the recording process and upcoming summer shows.
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Amy Gabay 00:00
This podcast is brought to you by People’s Food Co Op, a community owned grocery store in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin and Rochester, Minnesota that promotes local farmers and producers through an emphasis on fresh, healthy, sustainable food. Anyone can shop, everyone is welcome. For more information, visit them online at PFC.coop. This podcast is also brought to you by Trempealeau County Tourism. Whether your idea of fun is bicycling, hiking or canoeing, afterwards head into the heart of one of their welcoming communities to experience historic architecture, independent shops and locally owned dining establishments. Visit Trempealeau County Tourism online. We sat down with local country musician Pat Watters of the Pat Watters Band, we chatted about his path to music, influences, the origins of the band, covid, playing live, the recording process and upcoming summer shows. You can find more conversations, food reviews, live music and events on our website lacrosselocal.com. I’m Amy. And this is La Crosse Local.
Brent Hanifl 01:04
Pat Watters 01:06
I’m Pat Watters. I’m the front man and the manager of the Pat Watters Band. Born in, I mean if you want to get specific it was one of the hospitals in La Crosse, but I was raised in and grew up here in Sparta, Wisconsin. And what got me into music? That’s a tough question because I think it was a lot of things through life growing up. My dad was into country music specifically and storytellers and songwriters like that. I’m the third of four brothers, you know, I was born in 1986. Van Halen was for the gods in our house in the in the 80s. So my brothers had that influence. And there was kind of the dawn of Garth Brooks in the early 90s. That coincided with around the time I started playing guitar. And I was not in the country music to that point, but was like 12 years old when he did his NBC special and it was like, oh man, Country’s a little different than it used to be. Which is funny because I’m now more of a traditionalist pro than I was then you know. But that was sort of, you know, it was a full package and I come from a musical family. I’ve got several well known area Polka bands in my distant family, you know, second and third cousins and great uncles who’ve fronted up those. So it’s, I kind of grew up around it, but sort of found my own voice when some of those influences kind of come into my head.
Brent Hanifl 02:54
What was like the I guess the record that you found when you’re younger that maybe sent you down the right path from Van Halen, you mentioned, to the others?
Pat Watters 03:02
Yeah, Garth Brooks, No Fences, second album, Thunder Rolls on it. Had Friends In Low Places, but it had a lot of really good like, there was a song in there called New Way To Fly which is just today I think stands up against any heartbreak in country ballad you’ve ever heard, man. It just uh, you know, it was the time of cassette tapes, and I wore three of them out, three copies of that thing out. That was really the one that sort of, you know, there was a lot of albums growing up, you know, a lot of the Van Halen catalog. There was a Ricky Skaggs album when I was six or seven years old that my dad had that I listened to constantly, you know, so I think we’ve all got those albums that have sort of pivoted or changed our direction, musically throughout our lives. You know, later on, it was a Pat Green album that it was Jason Isbell’s Southeastern that sort of turned my ear and pulled me different ways. So I think they’re sort of guideposts through your life, like, oh, I kind of pivoted a little bit on how I felt about things. That was a really important piece of music.
Brent Hanifl 03:53
You know, kinda digging into your music over the last couple of days here. Do you kind of relate to more of the, you’ve referenced Jason Isbell so I don’t know if it’s like a contemporary traditionalist in some ways. Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Colter Wall, to me are kind of the people I’m thinking of when I’m listening to you.
Pat Watters 04:11
I love all those guys. I don’t necessarily, and I appreciate that, I don’t necessarily hear the influence in what I do. You know, Isbell drives me nuts, because he’s a year older than me. And I’m like, how come he feels like he’s lived four times longer than I have, like, he’s just the songs are so the depth of emotion and the songs. So I look to him as somebody to chase from a songwriting perspective. And if you never catch him, but you know, you get halfway there, I think you probably do pretty good. Then Sturgill, big fan of Sturgill, so kind of that new traditionalists type thing. There’s even some major label guys out of Nashville, as rough as Nashville has been kicking out some pretty embarrassing music the last couple of decades. You know, there’s guys like Luke Combs, Justin Moore, some young guys, Randall King, I think is another one that I’ve heard and Midland. The mainstream starting to sort of allow some feeling to come back into the into the music and for me, man, that’s what it’s all about it. And that’s why country music is because of the feeling. It’s an emotional art form. There’s a lot of jokes about country is I was, you know, a teenager in the time of Nine Inch Nails and Pearl Jam. I was a huge country fan. So I took plenty of ribbing about it being you know, oh, it’s always sad and its twangy. It’s like, man, if you take some of that stuff that was coming out in the 90s and 90s country, like, it’s some of the deepest and most heartfelt music you’ve ever heard in your life. It’s not hillbilly stuff at all. Although I like the hillbilly stuff, too. You know, it’s what I’m always trying to do when I’m writing and the music that we create is I’m trying to create a feeling to make, make somebody feel something, you know, happy, sad, whatever, whatever it is, you can touch somebody emotionally, you’re doing a good job.
Brent Hanifl 05:41
Kind of going back to Jason Isbell and kind of you know, you’re referencing to writing music like that, man, I think I got into him much later in life. But like that song, If We Were Vampires is like an exact example of what the hell is going on. Like, I haven’t heard a song from a country just like this that just made you want to almost cry, you know?
Pat Watters 05:59
Right, right. And like, who else this is, this is the perfect Jason Isbell song. Who else could have a title, like If We Were Vampires and turn it into one of the sweetest love songs you’ve ever heard? Like, there’s that line in there where he says, you know, maybe we’ll get for two years together, but one day, you’ll be gone. And one day, I’ll be gone. And if you’re in it, you know, I think about my wife and I’s relationship. And it’s like, yeah, you know, you don’t know what you’ve gotten. It’s just brilliant. It’s he’s writing on a level. I think a lot of people are writing on the surface. And Jason is both about three, four feet below. He’s digging deeper in the motion and into the emotion.
Brent Hanifl 06:34
So just reading up on the you in some iteration, the Pat Watters Band has been playing since 2008. Right? How did that band come together? Or is it basically you in some sense?
Pat Watters 06:43
We’re mostly original members. So aside from bassists, we’ve had three bassists. We had, we changed drummers out in the first year and that guy has been with us, the second guy’s been with us ever since. So it’s, if you think about that, that’s 14 years this year, together as a group, and I tell you, I was in a band when I was in college at UW Eau Claire, but the band was based in this area. We played a lot in this area, because the other two members, we’re from here and little band called Firewater. And I had a lot of fun. We weren’t that good, but we were a lot of fun. So people would come out to see us. I moved to St. Louis, after I graduated from UW Eau Claire. Sorry, I don’t have any short answers.
Brent Hanifl 07:17
It’s all good man.
Pat Watters 07:18
It was perfect. And with my then girlfriend, who became my wife, well, I lived down there while she was going to school. I planned to just work on writing didn’t plan because my goal was come back up. And I’d sort of had this plan for five years in the making, I’m gonna come back. I’m gonna start a band, we’re going to, I had a lot of big dreams and been able to reach a lot of them. But you know, planned to just write music, right. And I did write music. And I recorded an album, my first kind of fully backed band album, while I lived in St. Louis, alone with some help from a buddy Billy Hurst down there. But a lot of planned solo shows for three and a half years at this bar up the street from where I lived, kind of out of necessity, you know what I mean? Like, it was like, oh, I wasn’t planning on playing music, but they’ll give me $100 every two weeks if I go here and play and you know groceries sound good. So I did that. I went to play like 85 shows as a solo artist at that place over the course of the next three and a half years and actually really honed my chops as a frontman and kind of you know, learned how to command a stage and control and try to get people’s attention. And that’s half the battle, right is pulling people in. So we came back, it all kind of came together. Really interestingly, you know, I had a friend who I knew who knew a drummer who was looking to play in a country band. So I talked to that guy and that guy had a friend who was learning to play mandolin. So hey, would you know he’d like to come hang out jam with us when we do practices? Okay, he can come jam. And we magically found our pedal steel guitar player, Rick Kridzinger, pulled him out of nowhere. And we had an ad out there. No, you know, what it was is really for bass player. And I had a buddy who works at a radio station at Cow 97 in Sparta today, I had a bass player stop in two years ago and say if you know any bands that are looking, he gives me that guy’s name. That guy winds up living in Green Bay. He later does become our bass player, by the way, but he was living in Green Bay now but he goes I got a brother there who plays pedal steel and plays lead guitar, though, you should talk to him. So we got his name. I don’t even know if he was looking at the time, you know, but it just sort of kind of pieced together but really, interestingly, became a brotherhood. Over the course of the years. Rick, our pedal steel and lead player’s wife was coming to our practices and she was writing stuff down and she was you know, oh, no, you guys, when you were doing that song, you decided to end it like this, you know. And she came on to be our sound person, you know, self trained, basically learned how to run a board. To this day, she runs our board lights for us. She’s a fantastic sound engineer, but it’s just developed into this family. Lord knows they could find a better lead singer. You know, the big question is, well, you could probably go out and piece together this all star band, and I think we’ve got a pretty good band. But the most important thing for me is the chemistry and the friendship. We genuinely care about each other. We’re not sick of each other. That’s kind of by design. That’s kind of what the way we’ve structured things over the years, but we’re gonna have rehearsal Sunday and I’m excited to go see my friends play music for them. What a gift. So I I think to have that mentality 14 years in, I think there’s a lot of ways to screw that up along the way. And I’m really, really proud that we haven’t.
Brent Hanifl 10:06
Thinking about this sort of family that you have here with this music, but also just like seeing you at so many sort of local events from Riverfest to all the other ones in the area years ago, you know, related to COVID? How did COVID affect you? Is that, it affected everybody, but was it kind of something to get you off the road or get you from playing?
Pat Watters 10:25
it was a blow like it was to anybody who does this, you know, thankfully, I had other things to pour my head into. We wanted to buy a house very near the beginning of that, and my kids were home, so you’re taking care of them. And the interesting experience for me and for us is this had been such a big part of my life for so many years, that I didn’t realize how much time I was spending in it. I didn’t realize how much work it was to book the shows and advertise the shows and constantly stay up on social media and you know, like, I didn’t realize the grind that I had committed to until it wasn’t even when I took myself out of it for you know, that period of time. It was really last summer when I had to fire it back up. And it was like, oh, man, you know, there’s something to be said for momentum and a spinning wheel. And you know, when you stop it, how much time it takes to kind of get it going again. So that was difficult. I struggled a little bit with writing during that time, I didn’t know what to say nothing felt. It just felt like just a weird, a weird scenario. You know, we played together a little bit that first summer of 2020. We only did one show that year, we went to play, Sparta kept their Concert in the Park series, and it was an outdoor thing. So we were like, okay, we’re gonna go do that. Still, we’re trying to sort of get together but you know, it’s like it was through that time, you’re like, okay, I don’t know if it’s safe. Like should we all be in a room in a basement together? Eventually, we got like, prepping for last year and coming out of everything. And we did a full summer last year, we played May to September. Decided to kind of shut it down again in September and really just focused on we came into last year without a very tight show, who just sort of like pieced it together for the summer, you know, like, let’s throw all the parts together. And we’ve been doing it long enough that we could put together a set we weren’t as tight as we had been. So we kind of spent the offseason here, you know, the fall, just sort of tightening up the show, kind of bring us some new songs in you know, trying to get things comfortable and, and it’s good because we got a really exciting summer of music. You know, I’d like to hope that we’re done. We’re done with this. We’ll see you know, I’ve thought that before but I’m positive and I feel good about it. We all feel good. You mentioned a great batch of shows coming up this summer. Coolest part is of some of these opportunities that we’ve had and that we continue to get to open for guys, I told you what a big 90s Country guy I was, open for a big long list now of dudes that were never quite human to me. You know like they were slightly above, that was they weren’t gods or anything, but they were certainly untouchable. They were not humans you know, and to actually see them and have some of them turn out to actually be pretty dang decent humans. It’s pretty cool. Doesn’t always happen but I look at that stuff and I go man would 14 year old you think this is pretty cool. If he would, you made it you know. And he would so.
Brent Hanifl 12:53
You kind of reference new songs and new music in the mix. I’m kind of looking through your kind of catalog of CDs and EPS, you’re kind of releasing singles now. I think you got Right Way and A Kid In Their Hometown.
Pat Watters 13:05
Brent Hanifl 13:06
What was the process for writing those? Are you a quick writer, recording or did COVID get in the way or how was that process?
Pat Watters 13:12
Yeah, so it all depends on these latest projects. We recorded our first two albums. One of them was at Thatcher Recording in La Crosse which isn’t there anymore, but with a guy named Chad Wardwell who engineered that one for us. The other one up in Eau Claire. Rick our guitar player is now, has his own studio setup at his place. So the projects that we’ve worked on in the last couple years we’ve been able to do at our own pace. So you had a couple questions in there. From a writing perspective, it depends. The right way I think when I sat down to write it I think I wrote it in one sitting in an hour or two. A Kid In Their Hometown I started probably 15 times. Like I had the idea for the song and it wasn’t a kid in their hometown at the time. It was just the song is kind of is based on the fact that Deke Slayton, this one of the original Mercury astronauts is from Sparta and it all kind of originated from, you know, I was took my kids to the library and there’s a little statue of Deke Slayton down there by the museum. And my kid asked, what’s that statue for? I explained to him, this is pretty cool. One of the original astronauts, and if you think about it, like nobody went to space, you know, when this guy was a kid, yet he grew up to be somebody who eventually went to space. But what was born out of that is this whole notion that when I was growing up, and I’m sure other people have had this experience, people would say stuff like, oh, well, nobody from here does things like that. Or nobody from here becomes famous or nobody from here does this, that, the other thing and the truth is everybody who became anybody was a kid from somewhere. They weren’t all just like sprouted out of the sidewalk in New York or LA. These are people who had a dream and chased it. So yeah, people from places like this do go do cool things. And here’s an example. And, you know, don’t let anybody tell you that where you’re from as anything to do with what you’re going to do. I knew I wanted to tell Deke Slayton’s story, but it wasn’t till later on that I realized I wanted to make it about something that kids from around here, and from small towns everywhere could relate to.
Brent Hanifl 15:29
That’s a cool concept, with cool stories. So in terms of upcoming shows, you had a kind of a full schedule last year, but coming into 2022, what can people expect from these shows? Maybe they haven’t caught you in a while or maybe haven’t seen you? What can people expect for live shows from you guys?
Pat Watters 15:44
Yeah, so I mean, the biggest thing for us is, if you haven’t ever been out to see us, we try to make sure that everybody leaves there having had a good time. A lot of audience interaction, try to be pretty engaged. I probably talk too much. If you ask the other guys in the band, they’d probably say I talk too much. But man, for us, that’s really what it’s all about. And again, you know, talked about that emotional connection, it’s a little harder, sometimes in a festival setting when people are, you know, six or seven beers deep to hit them with the ballad. But you know, that’s where it is. For me. That’s what I think country music superpower is, is the ability to connect with people. And when we go out and play a show, that’s really what it’s about for us. And it’s how can we use this opportunity that we’ve been given? That we’re lucky to have to get to play in front of people? How can we use it to make other people’s lives better? And how can we use it to make the best of the situation for us? And how can we have the best time we can. So that’s the biggest thing for us. I love playing with these guys, we’ve been doing it for so long, a lot of it feels pretty natural. There’s not that awkwardness of getting up there with new guys all the time. So, but that said, you know, it’s a big goal of ours to keep things fresh. So we’ve been spending time since fall, really working on adding a few new covers to the show, bringing as many of our originals in and I think that’s going to be the future for this band. We’ve climbed a lot of mountains in 14 years, that I didn’t know that we get to climb and we got to climb a lot of them. To me, the next big one for us is how much can we lean on our original stuff? And can we be a band that is 100% focused in that direction. And so I do think there’s a future for us that looks like it looks a lot different than, than what we’ve lived so far as a band, but we’ve had a couple of opportunities to play all original shows, they’ve gone well, so we’re starting to kind of, it’s not gonna be this year, I don’t know that it’ll be next year. But I think there’s a down the road spot where we’re gonna kind of go, all right, tablet, take the training wheels off, let’s see if we got something here.
Brent Hanifl 17:28
So you’ve kind of gone from the cover band to more of a majority of originals. That’s an interesting progression this far in the game, that’s great.
Pat Watters 17:35
It’s a leap, you know, but I don’t think anybody who’s become a fan of us would classify us as a cover band necessarily, because I think a big piece of our identity has been, we’ve had originals. Like we had a song called I’m Your Buddy that’s done really well for us over the years, and that people connect with this band very closely. And I’m glad that we have songs like that we got a handful of that people think of as that’s a Pat Watters Band song, and more so than some of the covers that we’ve done for the last 14 years. But I don’t think people necessarily look at us as a purely cover band. But that’s always been a component of our shows, and there may always still be a couple of cover songs pulled in here and there. I’m at a spot musically, where I want to sort of graduate to the next level. And I think we collectively have talked about this, you know, like, you know, let’s see what it looks like things change, you may not have the same opportunities you had when you were, you know, willing to do whatever covers that you were throwing a majority of the majority of but I’m okay with that. I think I think it’s an opportunity at some point here in the future, to just sort of lean in on us as an artist and us and what we’ve created. We’ve got enough songs to do it, so there’s no reason not to.
Brent Hanifl 18:39
So man, it sounds like you just have a busy schedule. You’re kind of just kicking off the summer here. If people want to follow along, what’s the best avenue for them to go to?
Pat Watters 18:47
Yeah, a few different places to check out Pat Watters Band, two T’s in Watters, patwattersband.com. We’re also on Facebook at the PWB and we’re on Instagram at the PWB as well. So those are the primary places. Facebook will usually keep up to date with shows. The websites always get the latest shows on the schedule. So you can kind of see where we’re where we’re going to be at again. It’s gonna be a fun summer. We’re looking forward to it.
Amy Gabay 19:14
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