Patrick Watson: The Sound Of Bottles And Bicycles Patrick Watson and his band The Wooden Arms defy easy categorization. The group from Montreal takes inspiration from contemporary indie rock, cartoon music from the 1940s and impressionist composers. Depending on the song, you'll hear pots and pans or bottles and barrels.
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The Sound Of Bottles And Bicycles

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The Sound Of Bottles And Bicycles

The Sound Of Bottles And Bicycles

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GUY RAZ, Host:

I'm sitting in NPR's performance studio 4A here in Washington, D.C., with four musicians - you can hear them playing behind me. The band is called Patrick Watson and the Wooden Arms. It's Patrick Watson on piano, Simon Angell on guitar, Mishka Stein on bass guitar, and Robbie Kuster on percussion.

The band is touring their new record. The record is also called "Wooden Arms." They're from Montreal. And I'll just stop here for a moment so you can hear them play a little more.


RAZ: Patrick Watson and the Wooden Arms, welcome to the show.

M: How are you doing?

RAZ: That was an absolutely amazing sound that we were hearing. And in a lot of the songs of this record, there's this kind of lush soundscape using some pretty unconventional instruments and tools. And I want to start by asking you about some of the things that you use - pots and pans, or bottles, or a barrel, or a plastic - something.

M: Yeah. I mean, we were really into a lot of cartoon music for the old cartoons in the 1940s.

RAZ: Cartoon music?

M: Yeah. Just how the instruments really telling narrative stories. You know, someone falling would be like (makes noise).


M: So we just tried to let the instrumental music help tell the story with the words as much as possible. And if that means we need to bring in - you know, if it's in "Beijing," when we bring in the bike sounds, we're trying to help tell a story like you would if you're doing a film score.

RAZ: I hear that very - sort of come through in the song "Beijing," because it has this sound of a busy city. I mean, there's this - you actually use a bicycle tire...

M: Yeah.

RAZ: this song, right? And there's this sort of cartoonish piano riff and other sort of special effects kind of sounds in it. Actually, can you play a bit from it and then we'll talk some more about it?

M: Yeah, let's do that.

RAZ: Cheers.


RAZ: That's Patrick Watson and the Wooden Arms performing the song "Beijing" off their new record "Wooden Arms."

That was such a powerful sound, absolutely beautiful song. It seems to really capture something that you must have seen or experienced there.

M: I 'd spent more time in more like places like Indonesia and Vietnam, so it makes me think of more Asia in general. But I mean, for some reason, like, 7 o'clock in the morning, the city's got, like, this on switch and going from being, like, dead quiet to, like, mayhem. But honestly, like, within seconds, it'd be like, honk, honk, (makes noise), you know, thousands of scooters and bikes and rock and roll right away. It was immediately noisy, like, never before.

RAZ: I feel like in a lot of your work, I hear a classical music sound, Patrick, seeping through.

M: Yeah. For me, my favorite would be composer Erik Satie and Debussy and stuff. I like the impressionism era. So I think, you know, that really comes through. So not all classical musical. I like Chopin, too. That's more romantic. But I mean, my era is more of the impressionism era, and I think that's also the beginning of the music that inspired film music, you know, funny enough.

Like, Debussy is kind of one of the - you know, you can also maybe argue that Liszt was like that, too. But he's one of the very visual composers. When you listen to "La Mer," like, it looks like you're on the ocean, sounds like it. And there was a story of him - he was practicing people walking to his, you know, his composing, he was doing it really chromatic like, you know...


M: ...really chromatic stuff and be like, what are you doing? And he's like, well, I'm imitating all the characters going by and the people going by in the streets. So he was someone who started trying to capture those types of things in his orchestrations.

RAZ: Patrick Watson, when people say, describe the Wooden Arms, describe your band, what do you say?


RAZ: Uh-oh.

M: We're storytellers, that's how we sound. Depends on the story, sometimes a story is going to take us to country music, sometimes a story's going to take us to a classical music.

RAZ: You're telling stories through sound versus words?

M: Yeah. I mean, I'm not the best lyricist in the world, you know? It's not one of my first talents. It's something I have to work really hard for, you know? So a lot of times, I'm very happy to have really good instrumental support to help give the depth to the lyrics, and maybe, like, you know, somebody like Bob Dylan wouldn't need in his lyrics.

RAZ: I actually have a few things that I brought here.


M: I saw that little box of toys that you have there.

RAZ: And I'm wondering if there's a way - let me - I've got a glass vase here.

M: Oh, wow.


RAZ: And...

M: Now, you're really putting us to the test.


RAZ: ...and a cereal box.

M: Awesome.

RAZ: And a tin can, a little tin cookie can. So I want to see if maybe you can integrate these sounds...

M: Robbie, get over here.

M: Oh, I can do it.

RAZ: ...and do what you do.

M: I'll come grab it.

RAZ: I also have a pump here.

M: Oh, that's cool.

RAZ: Oh, the pump, okay.

M: I like the pump.

RAZ: This is a pump, all right.

M: Okay.

RAZ: So, do you know what you're going to play?

M: We're going to make one up.

RAZ: You're going to make one up. All right. Great.


M: Okay. Give me a song title. Make one up for me so I can make up words with.

RAZ: All right. The song is going to be called "The Nurse Left Work at 5 O'Clock."

M: That's a cool name. I like that. I'm into that.

RAZ: It's from a fiction contest we had a couple of weeks ago on the show.

M: So "The Nurse Left Work at 5 O'Clock."

RAZ: Right.

M: All right. Let's do it. One, two, one, two, three.


M: (Singing) Nine o-five, walked out to the sun. She heard the clock ticking in the back of her mind, 'cause she leaves at five, the hospital runs right out of time. And she waits for the man, sitting in the (unintelligible). She waits for the man, the beat goes down till the beat goes down. And she looks at the clock, looking for the good time. Is it five? Is it five? Time to leave again.

And she walks down the hallways, a lime green stain in the back of the door. She walks down the hallways, while the gown's just dragging the floor and she looks at the clock again. She can't handle no more of the time again. Wait for the time to leave at five, wait for the time to leave on time. Waits till five and leaves on time, waits till five and leave on time. Waits till five and leaves on time.


RAZ: That was absolutely incredible. We gave you a song to make up - "The Nurse Left Work at Five O'clock" - that was the title of it - and you just produced a song completely improvised using a cereal box, a cookie tin, a crystal vase and an air pump.


M: There's cereal everywhere.


RAZ: That was amazing. Patrick Watson and the Wooden Arms, before we let you go, I want to ask if you could play us out. The song is called "Big Bird in a Small Cage." Earlier in our interview, you talked about - you described the band as storytellers.

M: Yeah.

RAZ: What is the story of this song?

M: The story of this song - it comes from a trip I was on five years ago and I went to this musician's house. And the musician was a bird collector and his family were, like, musicians for generations, like, five or seven different generations of musicians.

And in, like, this big kind of bird collection, there was this kind of smaller cage with, like, a blanket over it. And when you lifted the blanket, there's this huge bird in this small cage and I was like, man, you know, why would you put such a big bird in a small cage? And he goes, if you put a big bird in a small cage, he sings.

RAZ: Patrick Watson and the Wooden Arms, thanks so much for coming in.

M: Oh, thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here.

RAZ: Thank you.

RAZ: Thank you for having us.


M: (Singing) There was a house halfway around the world, and I was invited in for a small taste of gin. There was a hallway a thousand birds long, but the biggest one of all was in a cage too small. I asked the caretaker because he was the maker, looked at me and laughed, another sip from his glass and said, open up your ears and eyes, you put a big bird in a small cage, it'll sing you a song...

RAZ: That's Patrick Watson and the Wooden Arms performing the song "Big Bird in a Small Cage" from their new album "Wooden Arms." You can listen to one of their live concerts at our Web site,


RAZ: And that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Have a great night.

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