Reggie Watts, who was born in Germany and grew up in Great Falls, is back this December for a now-regular holiday performance at The Wilma. Watts is the bandleader for “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” one half of musical duo Wajatta (with electronic producer John Tejada) who released an album in 2018 and a comedian, whose improvised, musical sets here in Missoula include musings on anything and everything that pops into his brain, whether it be Taco Del Sol or the importance of moisture-wicking fabrics.
He took a few minutes to talk with the Missoulian in advance of his visit to Missoula. This interview has been condensed and edited for space.
Do you plan on doing these Missoula shows for the foreseeable future? As long as you’re coming home for Christmas?
That’s the plan. I really like it. I really like coming to Missoula, catching up with friends and doing a cool, fun show.
You’ve always donated portions of your show proceeds to the Zootown Arts Community Center. Why is that?
I love anything that supports musical education or arts education for kids. That’s really important, because, growing up in Great Falls, we had an amazing arts program and I know that that helped me out a lot. So to hear about the ZACC doing what they’re doing is very inspirational to me and definitely a personal issue for me.
It helps that friends are involved in it too, so that’s good.
How are you liking the bandleader job for “The Late Late Show with James Corden?” Did you think that you’d be a late-night bandleader at this point in your career?
Not at all, no instinct about that. It just kind of happened, which is crazy. But I’m really lucky for sure that I was presented that as an option.
And now you’re getting to branch out a little bit with hosting a game show ("Taskmaster") and being able to do some more music (Wajatta’s “Casual High Technology”).
The whole plan is just trying to make as much stuff as I can in as many mediums as I can — "The Late Late" Show definitely helps with stability and resources to put towards that goal. It’s been great.
“Taskmaster” was really fun and didn’t get picked up, but it was fun to do. I was very fortunate to be a part of that.
And I have this project going on, some Virtual Reality music video stuff and things on that frontier, which is great.
You’re doing a VR music video? What is that like?
It’s really fun — I have a song called “Runnin," from the Wajatta project that I did with John Tejada, that got a really good reception.
So I thought it would be cool to take that song and do a VR video for it.
I teamed up with Intel and they have a new capture technology that enables them to capture very large groups of people, like video clips of people moving around and doing whatever on the soundstage. And that enables us to manipulate that data for editing purposes to convert it into VR. It’s really exciting.
And (the music video) just got accepted into Sundance.
About the Wajatta album — you told NPR in an interview that you liked working very fast and not going back to edit very much after each song was recorded. Why do you like working that way?
I like to create really quickly. Almost everything that I do is improvised, so I don’t really prepare for it, I just go for it. Whatever’s in my head or whatever’s in the air for that moment is what gets put out there.
I wanted to find a producer that works really fast, is really great at what they do and has good taste and all I have to do is worry about performing and laying down cool stuff. Maybe a couple of adjustments on ideas here and there, but mostly I pick someone that I trust their aesthetic and we can make stuff super fast.
That was kind of a dream come true to find someone like John Tejada and be able to make that happen.
I just wanted to maintain the fun. Sometimes what happens in studios is you end up toiling away at certain elements for a very, very long time and that gets very boring. I feel like I’m going to fall asleep, so the faster it is the better for me.
Are there specific artists you’re really influenced by or thinking of when you’re doing musical improvisation?
I’m not necessarily thinking of anyone in particular or any group in particular. It’s more just a feeling that I have. I’m sure if I analyze it I could say “that sounds like Orbital” or “that sounds like Portishead.”
But I’m not really thinking that, I’m just trying to figure out “what does this picture say,” by which I mean, what does this track, what images does it put in my head? What is the feeling of this track and what does it inspire in me?
That’s where it comes from, and then later I can look back and see oh, it was more this or more this and so forth.
Recently on Twitter you were having a conversation about not enjoying auto tune and its ubiquity in music. You use a lot of vocal effects — what do you see as the difference between certain effects and auto tune?
I’m a huge lover of effects on vocals and effects on anything, really. Auto tune is crazy — the response was just off the charts, I couldn’t believe it. T-Pain retweeted it, it was really amazing.
To me, auto tune is an editing tool, it’s not really an effect. You can certainly use it as an effect, but it was created as an editing tool to sharpen up intonation problems with the performance. That’s really what it was meant for.
Hey music producers can you stop with the auto tune effect on singers please. It's whack af. It turns a potentially great vocalist into a mediocre one. If they CAN sing we'll never know.— reggie watts (@reggiewatts) November 17, 2018
Now that’s not to say there weren’t innovative uses for it. When Cher did “Believe,” no one had ever heard that and the closest thing we had to it was a vocoder. So that was pretty cool and definitely I still love it when I hear it.
Then it kinda cooled off and you didn’t hear it used that much. Then T-Pain came out and started really hyping use of it and then it became this weird go-to effect, a sauce that someone would throw over something. And now it’s everywhere.
To me, what an effect does really well is it creates a mood and enhances a human voice. Whereas auto tune — and this is my personal preference, I have a lot of musician friends that agree wholeheartedly — it really takes away from the human voice. It kind of marginalizes it and makes it sound mediocre. It kinda sounds like Siri or Alexa singing so you get this weird, “I entered these notes and Siri can almost sing OK.” It just sounds cheap.
Even a band like Polica — when I first heard that I went, “Oh, that’s an interesting over-exaggerated way of using it.” And you could still sort of hear her voice so you know that she can sing, but after listening to that album for a few times it kind of wore off on me. It’s not a very sustainable technology, it just feels lazy to me.
But other effects, like distortion, reverb whatever, if it’s used creatively it’s really amazing. And I’m sure there’s some great uses of auto tune out there, but in general it’s just an annoying fad.
But it does keep coming back. It seemed like it was going away, then Soundcloud rappers brought it back again.
I’m for rap, whether it’s Soundcloud or trap s---, I get it. But in the end, even though they’re just rapping, which is just speak-singing, it still sounds like this could be anybody. Who is this? I can’t tell the difference man. It’s nice to be able to hear what someone’s voice sounds like.
But that’s me, and I’m an old man, so.
A GIF of you clapping was on Giphy’s top 25 GIFs from last year.
I saw that! That was so crazy! I was not expecting that at all.
Did you feel like you were seeing that GIF all over the place?
Not really, no. I use GIFs from time to time, but most of the time I’m communicating with friends and they’re not necessarily sending a GIF of me, so I didn’t really see it that much. I guess I saw it a few times on Twitter. I guess people must use it in text messages or something, but I really had no clue.
Are you happy with the GIF?
I don’t know, it’s hard to say. It’s one of those things where you do it and you forget about it. It’s not bad, I think it’s pretty cool, but I am happy with it. It’s cute!
Are we living in a simulation?
There’s a high percentage chance that we are. I don’t doubt it at all. I really think that there is a high possibility, only because I notice these repetitions and synchronicities that seem almost impossible. The odds seem almost impossible. It’s interesting. I think so, why not?