Having featured their latest single ‘This Haunting’ a couple of days back, we then had a little questions and answers session with Alex Watts and his band The Foreign Tongue, and here is what they had to say…
First up, who are Alex Watts and the Foreign Tongue? How did you guys all meet and come together to form the band?
Well I’m Alex Watts, I’m a singer/songwriter and guitarist, and the basic band is myself, Brian Juffs on bass and Mick McHugh on drums, and then we have various other ring-ins that we get depending on the show.
The band’s line-up has changed almost completely since it was first put together two years ago. With the exception of our original drummer, Huw Elias, who used to play in a band called Dirty Sanchez with me and is playing on this current tour, I didn’t know any of these guys previously. I decided a few years ago when I felt it was time to get out performing again, that I didn’t want to be a member of a band, I wanted to build a group around myself. That way if people leave or join and the sound changes, it can still be the same project because it’s still me performing my songs, and also allows me the freedom of name recognition, so I can perform solo shows without having to advertise it as ‘Alex (singer from the Foreign Tongue)’. So I auditioned some shit hot players that seemed like nice guys and that was that. Now we’re mega-famous.
How did you come up with your stage name? The Alex Watts component is perhaps a bit obvious, but where did the Foreign Tongue Come from? Did you perform under any other stage names before finding the one that worked?
Before moving back to Melbourne to resume my music career I lived in Italy for two years, working as a ‘madrelingua’, meaning mother tongue, English teacher. It seems kind of obvious that the Italian words for language and tongue (lingua) are the same, but I guess it was just on my mind.
On my way back to Oz I stopped in Berlin, and one night I decided to get a beer at the hostel bar. Much to the delight of a bunch of young Italian guys who were there, two drunk girls, who were, embarrassingly, Australian, were putting on a show for them by making out with each other. The guys didn’t really speak English so they rushed over to me and asked excitedly in Italian what was the word for ‘lingua’. Misunderstanding, I said ‘language’, and so they turned to the girls and chanted ‘MORE LANGUAGE! MORE LANGUAGE!’. That’s where I got the name from.
I imagine this wasn’t your first foray into music, what other projects did you have?
My first real band was called Dirty Sanchez, we only lasted two years, and our final show was our CD launch at The Public Bar, supported by Cash Savage’s old band, Jim Dandy. We weren’t that great but it was fun, and a good learning experience, particularly in what not to do. When we started out I was never planning on being the frontman, I thought I’d get the group going, demo some songs and then find a great singer so I could stand at the back and play keys. After auditioning a lot of Chris Cornell impressionists, the band finally convinced me to stay on as lead singer and I’ve been doing it ever since, although hopefully I don’t impersonate Elvis Costello quite as much as I used to.
What has been your venue to play at so far? And if you could play any venue, what would it be?
Some of the places I’ve enjoyed the most are both in Melbourne – The Toff, and the courtyard at Pure Pop. Although they’re quite different, they are both fairly intimate and so the crowd tends to pay attention and respond to the music, which in turn makes me play better! If I could perform anywhere it would be toss-up between the Royal Albert Hall and The Forum in Melbourne, although I’m really looking forward to our first show at Cherry Bar this Friday. It’s like Melbourne’s version of CBGBs, but wankier.
What is that inspires you to make music?
I’m fairly obsessed with music – I’m just a massive fan of it in general. Whether it’s playing, writing, listening to, reading, or talking about music, I am always doing one or the other. Also, I’m always trying to do better than what I’ve done before, so that keeps me working.
When you’re writing music, how do write your songs? What comes first, the lyrics, the guitar patterns, etc?
I try to challenge myself all the time and vary the way I approach the writing process so as to ensure I don’t get stuck repeating myself. Although I do put a lot of thought into writing, I’ve always been almost superstitious in being careful not to analyse it too much, because I think understanding what works best 90% of the time could potentially be very limiting creatively.
Sometimes I start with a full set of lyrics, sometimes just a word or a borrowed phrase, sometimes it’s a melody or a chord structure or a sampled loop. I’ve also found that I like switching instruments when I feel I’ve got something off to a good start, for example I have a verse and a chorus written on the guitar, I’ll move over to the piano and often my fingers will fall on some interesting chords that I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. There are no rules really, I just try and treat each song as it’s own thing.
You have also released your debut EP ‘Desperate Love’ in 2011, what is your favourite track off the EP and why?
‘Sally Don’t Smile’ is my favourite of my songs off that record, but I also really like our cover of Hank Williams’ ‘Ramblin’ Man’, which we usually close the shows with. ‘Sally’ was actually recorded as a song writing demo in my bedroom and I included it in the EP because we needed an extra track. I’d had that story kicking around for awhile in a few forms and then when I came up with that quite sweet melody it just seemed a natural fit and the words came quickly.
You have just released the singe ‘This Haunting’, are there any more releases planned for the rest of 2012. What is the next big thing for Alex Watts and The Foreign Tongue?
Yes, there is another single coming out in a month and then we’ll be concentrating on getting this album done, which will hopefully have an early 2013 release. But first we’ve got the launches for ‘This Haunting’, happening this Friday at Cherry Bar in Melbourne, and the following weekend in Wollongong and Sydney with our friends The Good China. We’ve also got our first film clip in production as we speak, which is exciting, so lots more to come. Stay tuned, thrillseekers.