Things continue moving onward and upward for Scotland’s Kerri Watt.
While the mighty choruses from her independently released, blues-tinged country songs helped Kerri to stamp her mark on the scene, it wasn’t until Oliver Nelson transformed her 2015 single “You” into a breezy, summery tropical hit that had Kerri Watt’s name on everyone’s lips (or, in the smartphone era, thumbs).
Now, after an incredible support slot for Coldplay in Cardiff, Kerri is back with “Old School Love”, a mellow romantic number inspired by classic sounds from the ’60s and ’70s, which serves as her first release since signing with the prestigious EastWest Records. I spoke with Kerri about all of that, plus her experience moving to California at just 16.
Could you elaborate on what exactly ‘old school love’ actually is?
“Old School Love” to me is really a whole load of different things. It’s that magical butterfly feeling when you start seeing someone new. It’s spending time dating and getting to know each other before you dive in. It’s skipping the texting and spending all day looking forward to those long late night phone calls. I think it’s getting rarer and rarer these days, particularly with dating apps. I know that makes me sound like an old woman, and I’m definitely not dissing them because I know a few couples who’ve met on Tinder and fallen in love, but I think that’s what makes “Old School Love” so special – it’s hard to find on your own.
Is “Old School Love” written about somebody in particular?
Yes, it was written about my boyfriend of two and a half years. We got together in this way and it made our bond that much more special. We have so much respect for each other and he is the inspiration for a lot of my writing.
“Old School Love” is the first single you’re releasing with East West Records, a division of Warner Music. What’s it like releasing with a major label, as opposed to indie?
Releasing with a major label means there’s a few more people involved, so you’ve got a lot of extra help in making things happen. It also means there’s someone else taking over more of the finances. With my previous releases, I’ve put a lot into it myself so it feels good to have a label like East West believe in me that much that they are willing to invest in my music.
What inspired the ‘timeless’ sound of “Old School Love”?
I listen to a lot of music from the 60’s and 70’s, when often they would just record a few live takes with the band and there wouldn’t be any added production later. I wanted to pay tribute to that sound, and I also wanted the feel of the production to relate to the title of the song.
When you were studying in California as a teenager, what did you learn about yourself and the world?
Going to Orange County, California aged 16 for school was really my first proper introduction to music. I’d grown up listening to the charts and my parents listened to a lot of 70’s disco but I’d never really heard Jazz, Blues, Folk or Gospel music. At music school over there, I learned so much about the different styles and I really think that had a huge influence on me as a songwriter, although I didn’t start writing until a good few years later.
Studying over there also showed me a whole other way of life that I’d never experienced. Everyone woke up super early, our first class was at 6.30 in the morning and we could be finished lessons by midday. Then you could go to the beach, surf, or just hang out in the sun. I absolutely loved living by the sea and the happy, relaxed attitude everyone had – I now live in Brighton, which is the closest thing I can find in the UK. I don’t think I could ever stay in a city again. My dream is to move back to California and settle there eventually.
In 2014, your debut EP Who’s Lovin’ Me Now was met with almost instantaneous acclaim. Looking back, how did that feel?
Having such a positive response to my first release was a great feeling. I hadn’t been writing for that long and really had no idea how the music industry worked or what I was doing. That gave me a massive boost to keep going and moving upward. I remember the first time I heard “Who’s Lovin’ Me Now?” on Radio 2 – a very cool feeling.
The Oliver Nelson remix of “You” was quite huge, racking up over 1.5 million SoundCloud streams. Were you bothered at all by a remix garnering much more attention than the original version?
I was so happy to have the remix of “You” do so well. I’d actually found the producer, Oliver Nelson, myself and contacted him to ask if he would like to remix my song so I was really grateful that he liked it and gave the song a whole other life I could never have imagined. At the end of the day, I wrote the song with a pen and paper and a piano and I think it says a lot for the songwriting that it can take on different forms production wise and still be successful.
You’ve performed in stadiums as well as tiny venues. Which do you prefer?
It’s hard to compare stadiums to smaller venues because they are totally different environments. Playing in a stadium is amazing because there’s tens of thousands of people out there listening to you sing, and for me, that was quite literally a dream come true. But on the flip side, in the smaller venues you can get intimate with the audience, you can see all their faces and hear their responses. You can laugh with them and be more personal. I’d happily play those kind of shows for the rest of my life.
How do you feel about the portrayal of women in the music industry?
I think women in the music industry are leading the way right now and I’m so proud to be a female artist at this time. There’s so many strong characters singing and speaking out about what they believe and I find that we are all so supportive of each other. Of course there’s exceptions, but I’ve seen so many examples of female artists coming together for the love of music or a good cause. Girl Power is definitely present right now!
Which female musicians inspire you? Which girls are you into at the moment?
At this level I’m at in my career, I meet so many other female singers and songwriters on their way up and I feel inspired by them. Everyone’s fighting to have a place and to get heard and everyone has their own unique story to tell. It’s the girls who are like me, who have started off playing guitar in their bedrooms and somehow made their way to getting played on the radio or playing big shows, or writing for other well-known acts that encourage me to keep believing in myself and make me feel like I’m not in it alone. She’s been around for ages but I’ve been getting really into Diana Krall again lately. I’ve always played piano, but been stuck in a rut with it for a few years and not really progressed. Listening to her beautiful playing is definitely inspiring me to practice more and dive deeper into jazz piano.
Are there any Scottish female musicians you’d recommend?
I played a show with a girl called Siobhan Wilson a few years ago in Glasgow and she was amazing. I hadn’t thought of her in a while, but lately I started seeing her name pop up here and there so I checked out her latest stuff. I’d definitely recommend giving her a listen – it’s like magical, indie-folk.
What’s left on the agenda for 2017?
I’ve got a busy few months coming up with lots of shows, including my first headline tour. Playing live is my favorite part of the job so I can’t wait to hit the road and see you all in person!
“Old School Love” by Kerri Watt is out now.