Somewhere between light and darkness emerges synth pop duo Watch Clark. Founded in 2012 by musician Paul Furio, Watch Clark is an electronic band that has it’s roots firmly planted in the heyday of Seattle’s indie goth/industrial scene of the early 2000’s. Formerly of Static Engine and Invisible Records artist SMP, Furio honed his music writing craft for two decades before releasing his first album ‘Perfect Imitation’ under the moniker Watch Clark. This has since been followed up with their new release ‘First Week of Winter’ which truly captures the very essence of early influencers like Depeche Mode and NIN. Today, Watch Clark is Paul Furio and Megan Shear.
Late nights in the studio in front of digital keyboards, analog synthesizers, retro beat boxes, and twiddling software settings years later led to the second release ‘First Week of Winter’. “This is an incredibly personal album,” says Paul Furio. “The last two years were filled with turmoil, politically and personally, and only through music could I really express my feelings. These are songs about love and loss, seduction and betrayal, self-loathing and transformation.”
Photo By Christy Wiseperson and Jim Graham
“The album, and in fact the band name and titles, pay homage to my favorite horror movie, John Carpenter’s The Thing,” admits Furio. “There are obvious allusions to dialog and taglines, and the first and last songs bookend the events in the film. It’s very much about paranoia, questioning who and what you are, but there’s a hopefulness that comes through the despair.”
Torched Magazine is pleased to have had the opportunity to talk with Paul Furio of Watch Clark on his personal journey and creation of ‘First Week of Winter’, paying tribute to John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’, and sound advice for those who are just starting out..plus more!
Thanks for chatting with us Paul. Your latest release “First Week of Winter’ is enthralling – a great kickback to synthpop of yesterday, while feeling totally fresh.
TM – You say that your latest release “First Week of Winter’ is an incredibly personal album for you. What are some of the feelings that you touched on and why?
Paul – Thanks, and it’s great to speak with you as well!
The last two years of my life have been filled with turmoil, both professionally and personally. I shut down a startup that I had been running when the cash dried up, switched jobs a bunch, and then had a series of relationship problems that culminated in a divorce. Everything was a mess.
I really wanted to get out this analysis of who I was, what was important to me, and how I was evaluating the choices I made. Was I thinking of my life as just an open world video game, where the goal was just to rack up points or quests? Was every woman who hit on me worth pursuing, regardless of the personal cost? Were things so dire that I just wanted to completely give up, or was there still some hope for something more?
I knew I wasn’t alone in these feelings, and reflecting back on the way albums by other artists had helped assuage my fears when I was younger, I wanted to get these thoughts out in an effort to connect with people, not just to express myself. I wanted whoever listened to this album, and related to it, to know they weren’t alone.
Photo By Christy Wiseperson and Jim Graham
TM – How would you explain the sound of your music and your process in creating a song?
Paul – Ha, that’s a great question. There’s a song on the first Watch Clark album, “Perfect Imitation”, that’s called “Baseline”. It’s a song about setting high standards for yourself, but the opening lyric was really a homonym joke about how I write songs: “You have to start with the bassline…”
I wouldn’t say there’s any one process. Like many musicians, sometimes I’ll just start singing lyrics in the shower or while walking, and then scribble them down. Sometimes I fire up the studio and just noodle around with one synth or another, and then these 8-measure experiments wind up in a folder literally named “noodles”. I go back and listen to these later to see if anything can be expanded into a full song.
“Seduction on the Dance Floor” started out that way, with the intro riff, a few measures of what turned into the verse as just drums and a bassline, and then the chorus guitar. It wasn’t more than a minute of music, but I kept coming back to it and then it turned into one of my favorite songs on the new album once the lyrics came to me.
Finally, I like to listen to a lot of new music and think “how would I do this song better?” or “what does this song try that I would never think to do?” The track “Missed Opportunities” was actually completely different up until about a month before I handed the tracks off to Kasson (Crooker, of Symbion Project and Freezepop) for mixdown. I was listening to some new music by Golden Halos, which is my friends Chris and Garrick in Oregon, and one of their songs had this great cadence to the verses. I thought “what if I tried something like that on this track?” and that’s what wound up as the final version.
As for our sound, I’ve been classifying it as Synthpop since that seems like the best fit, but I don’t really know what it is. My ex-wife used to call it “the sound of robots pooping”, mostly affectionately, I’m sure.
TM – In what ways does your new album pay tribute to John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’?
Paul – The Thing is my all-time favorite horror film, and I’m sure days when I watched it alone as a teen while snow fell outside contributed to my love and absolute fear of the premise of this masterpiece. The film is really about paranoia, becoming something you’re not and probably don’t want to be, and survival at all costs. With what I was going through personally while writing this album, it felt like the film spoke to me more than ever before.
The opening track, “The Warmest Place”, grabs its chorus from the tagline on the original movie posters for the film. It’s told from the perspective of this husky dog that is really an alien in dog form, just trying to fit in and hide in relative safety from beings it knows wants it dead. There were definite aspects to myself in the last year where I found myself becoming someone I wasn’t particularly proud of, and I just felt that I had to blend in as the relatively normal guy that everyone knew, hiding the aspects of my self-loathing, and that I had a lot of issues with anger, loneliness, and depression.
The closing track, “Sit Here for a While”, also uses some of the closing lines from the movie, and conveys this sense of defeat that everything we did was for nothing. That was on both a personal level, and going back to the earlier track “New Revision”, which was written before the election, but out of this place of fear that a Trump presidency would result in this right-wing, divisive dive into fascism, how hopeless everything seemed and that the entire Nation was just becoming more and more selfish, as if we were moving into a Post-Consequences Era. At the end of the song (Sit Here), I turned it around, and realized that I wouldn’t give in to defeatism. There’s still more left to try, and I hope that despite everything I can still go back to the well at least one more time.
TM – Did you grow up in a musical environment? When and where did it all start for you? How has your music evolved over time?
Paul – My mother was an artist, but growing up no one really played instruments or performed in my family. She listened to a lot of disco and pop music, though, so we went to the record store weekly and I usually came home with a 45 single or two. There was always music in the house.
As a young geek growing up in the early 80’s, of course I was deeply into video games and video game music, the repetitive electronic soundtracks to everything when there were no MP3s, and the best you could get was some bleeps, bloops, and rough noises out of a Commodore 64. I had scored well at some musical aptitude test in school, but of course I couldn’t get an instrument because my mother and I lived in an apartment complex and we were very poor. We didn’t want to disturb the neighbors through the thin walls, and I actually don’t think we could have afforded an instrument at the time.
Much later in High School, this technology called MIDI was starting to become popular, I had a better computer, and I was hounding my mother for a $150 Casio synthesizer for Christmas. She did one better and got me a reasonable Roland D-5, which was the baby brother version of the very popular D-50. It was much more powerful than the Casio I wanted, and I remember plugging it in to play it and realizing it had no built-in speakers! I had to go hunting for headphones to hear what I was playing.
I wound up writing some really awful, rough stuff on that keyboard, but I had caught the bug. In college, I started an act called Static Engine, did some mediocre work there, then moved to Seattle and played a few live shows, did a second album. Through friends, I met Jason Bazinet of SMP, and he asked me to join his live lineup as a keyboardist. I wound up writing two good dance songs for SMP that were hidden tracks on two of their albums, but then got really disillusioned with music after live shows really burned me out.
After taking about five years off from music, the itch came back, and that’s when I started work on the first Watch Clark album.
TM – What kind of advice would you give to a newer musician who is just starting out?
Paul – Yeah, there are definitely a few things to convey. First, don’t get caught up in the gear. There’s this joke about GAS, Gear Acquisition Syndrome, and lots of people equate more gear with better music. It’s a myth. You can do so much with good software, or just a few instruments, and being limited is actually a blessing in disguise because it can be highly focusing.
Second, really learn theory and get proficient at using your instruments and studio. This means practice, practice, practice, and read the fucking manuals! Yes, there’s an originality that comes from naivety about how to write a song, and that is great and can be harnessed. But being able to really understand the fine nuances of what is and is not possible, to get the sound you want, will take time. The result is totally worth the effort.
Finally, this is something I was talking about with my friend Tom Shear (Assemblage 23) and his wife Megan (who is also my bandmate). We live in this age where people have unprecedented access to the musicians they love via facebook, twitter, email, and various other online venues. Back when dirt was new, we had to join fan clubs, write physical letters that would get dropped in the mailbox, and the chances that you might ever hear from a musician you liked was next to zero. But these days, it’s actually common for artists and fans to interact freely. So the advice here is don’t be a dick. You’re not going to agree with every personality facet or political opinion of the guy or gal who wrote your favorite songs, but that doesn’t mean there’s not something you can learn from them. Be respectful, know that they’re engaging with good intentions, learn what you can from your idols and don’t encourage us to crawl back into the studio and write songs about how our fans are assholes.
TM – Who or what are some of your creative influences?
Paul – Nine Inch Nails has been a huge influence from High School to present day, so over two decades. Yes, I’m old. Depeche Mode, as well, and a lot of the television show themes and soundtracks that were heavy on synthesizers, like Jan Hammer from Miami Vice.
More recently, it’s been artists that are really different musically than what I would choose to do. Haujobb is great, I find Daniel’s choices of chord progressions and rhythmic cadence to be incredibly inspiring. Deadmau5 and Daft Punk are a good go-to’s for funky and instrumental stuff, and I find myself coming back to my friend Kasson’s work as Symbion Project and ELYXR over and over again.
There are tracks on the album that are definitely inspired by other bands I like. One track was me asking “how would Fall Out Boy write this song?” Another was playing a game of restricting myself to only using hardware instruments (most of “First Week of Winter” is softsynths from Propellerheads Reason) and trying to do the song in the style of the band Kodacrome. So I definitely try to think about what I like from bands I respect, and emulate liberally.
Speaking of NIN, back in college, I managed to squeeze up front and center for a show, and at some point Trent reached out to the audience. Like the fanboy I was, I reached back and was one of the dozen people to touch his hand before he pulled it back. I remember thinking “Oh, it’s just flesh and bone, like any other hand.” I’m not sure what I was expecting, really. But it was a moment of realization, he’s just a person, and maybe this dream of being a halfway-decent musician is attainable for mere mortals like myself. It wasn’t necessary to be a god, or an alien, like we all know Bowie was.
Photo By Christy Wiseperson and Jim Graham
TM – Do you have any hobbies outside of music that help to rejuvenate your creativity?
Paul – I used to run long distance, but now I really only run when chased.
A few years ago I got into fitness, as I was overweight and tired all the time. I wound up dropping 20 lbs and getting nicely toned. That’s a thing I try to maintain, but it’s more difficult with each passing year.
I used to have a ton of hobbies, but found I had trouble completing projects, so I’ve been paring things down a lot lately. Mostly these days are just doing the day job, working on music, riding my motorcycle when the weather is nice, working out, and reading.
TM – Any plans for the new year, including live shows?
Paul – We’re definitely planning on doing live shows in Seattle in 2018. Megan and I have been rehearsing, and I think we’re almost ready to hop on a stage again. She has a more extensive performance history than me, doing live shows with Nocturne, Noxious Emotion, backandtotheleft, SD6, and I’m sure some other bands I’m forgetting. I’d love to play a show in Portland, and anywhere else within a few hours drive that will have us. I am not looking forward to a more extensive tour unless our fan base grows dramatically, but we’ll see what happens.
I’m also starting work on the new album. There’s a new “noodles” folder already set up with some tracks in it, so we’ll see if any of those go anywhere.