Love Songs for Robots, the fifth album from Montreal-based singer-songwriter Patrick Watson, is essentially a love letter to scientists.
In particular, theoretical physics fascinate Watson, who has made it a hobby to read about quantum mechanics in scientific journals.
“The predictions that quantum mechanics makes are so weird that there’s not a song, or piece of art, that’s remotely as strange,” he says. “No artist has ever conceived of anything as weird as that. I just love the ideas. It’s all such philosophical questions that I enjoy. A lot of these ideas are baffling and make you see world so differently, there’s no one to translate it to show how people magical it is. When you look at it like that, their job is a very creative and beautiful job.”
After recording 2012’s Adventures In Your Own Backyard, what he calls a “woody record,” Watson wanted to explore his interests in science and science fiction.
“What about all the other stuff that I love? It’s a bit weird that I wouldn’t have that inside one of my records,” he says. “The title was a little bit of a nod and a link to the science community, just because they inspire me more than anybody else, more than films, more than other musicians. I find they give me hope.”
In addition to advanced physics, Watson talks knowledgably about genetics and virtual reality and how new advances are poised to usher in massive changes to the world.
“Usually what people think comes in 50 or 60 years comes in 15 years. It’s always exponential,” he says. “The idea of moments being able to be translated by zeros and ones, most people take it for granted. If you listen to my recordings and you hear my soul and you’re happy, it’s all translated through zero and ones because I record on a computer. Those effectively translated my emotions and my feelings. People are going to have to face that a little bit more in the future and accept it as much more real than people are prepared to.”
Virtual reality, Watson says, is going to change the distribution of music.
“I can record a song in my bedroom and then I can be playing it in your bedroom as you fall asleep,” he says. “The new thing that’s coming isn’t what crazy sound I can make for you. It’s the context of how this sound will be in your life. As a composer I’m limited by people’s feelings. They’re the same feelings people had a thousand years ago. They’re archaic. But I think the way that people receive music will be very different.”
But the stage, where Watson and his eponymous band thrive perhaps more so than they do in the studio, will remain, an experience that can’t be duplicated technologically.
“You can’t get rid of that because when you get a crowd of people together there’s this euphoric reaction and you can’t do that in goggles. People like being together. It’s still something people love to do. You’re not going to get rid of that. I think you’ll get rid of the idea of the production studio,” he says.
The challenge for Watson as the thematic core of Love Songs for Robots began taking shape was to keep the music as grounded as possible. For that, he looked to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and its soundtrack.
“Watching Blade Runner, you never think about technology or any of that, it’s at a human level the whole film. For me, that would be the go to for the record,” he says. “I wanted it to be sensual. The whole thing about the record was if I’m going to approach these subjects that for me are essential but for a lot of people are very cold, how do I keep it at a human level?”
The science and science fiction inspirations find their way into the arrangements on Love Songs for Robots. Before every record, Watson spends about a year trying out all sorts of demos, leaving the process very open. Slowly, song ideas will emerge and coalesce in a certain direction and Watson and his band will flesh out the music. Then come the lyrics.
“I’m not a lyricist who sits down and writes. I react to the music. I do a lot of improvisation until I find the right story and words,” he says. “Usually when I travel and tour I meet all sorts of people, have all sorts of adventures and I just collect those things. I’m always accumulating that weird stuff. When you do improv, you use all those crumpled up weird things that you’ve stuffed at the bottom of your pockets.”
In hindsight, Watson says, recording Love Songs for Robots allowed him to make a particularly personal artistic statement.
“It’s a bit of an intimate record for me. The science-fiction veneer allowed me to get into some songs that are pretty personal, much more than other records. Love Songs for Robots allowed me to let people listen to my diary,” he says.
That relationship between the music and the words illustrates another potentially counterintuitive point, Watson says, that the growth of technology can actually foster more human intimacy.
“Think about the invention of a microphone. Before, a singer would sing into a big hall and it has to reach to the back. When the microphone was invented, people could whisper their feelings.”