Posted by: Necci – Sep 11, 2012
Many have come to know Dave Watkins for his prowess as a musician, but this is only one small fragment of the creative desires within him. With the space made available to him at the Richmond Ballet, he has helped to engineer several exciting releases for many Richmond bands. The Low Branches initially approached Watkins about utilizing the space for their EP Sinking, Rising. The space existed as an adequate embodiment of the band’s sound--a light and gentle expedition through the whimsical, tempered by the anxiety that can grow with excitement or fear. Their sound seemed right at home within the realm of a ballet studio.
Watkins worked closely with Allen Bergendahl on The Low Branches’ release. The late night recording sessions allowed all parties to work succinctly and devote necessary time towards capturing the delightful intricacies of the band and their fellow collaborators. Watkins recalls being more of a go-to for building necessary apparatus during the process. If they needed something to make the recording equipment mobilized, Watkins was on it, and this knowledge came as a great asset to the process. The only initial downside was when a perfect take would unknowingly be soured by traffic passing outside of the confines of the building. Despite these moments--which were few and far between--Sinking, Rising can easily be seen as a success for Watkins and everyone who worked on the release. For his next project, the approach would take a different form, which has continued to inspire his work to date.
Lobo Marino exists in a similar realm to The Low Branches. Yet, there is a bit more of a rambunctious nature to their sound, which initiated a dissonance on their Reincarnation EP and helped carry a narrative throughout the release. This EP provided an opportunity for Watkins to work by himself on the release, and established an idea of what he tries to accomplish with each recording project. He seeks out the best way to truly capture what a band sounds like live, and focuses on the elements of the sound they create that he loves. For their recent full-length release, Kite Festival, Lobo Marino decided it would be intriguing to do the session live. The venue of choice was the second floor of Gallery 5, which has stellar acoustics. They invited their friends to come by and be a part of the session. Watkins feels like this was the closest he could get to developing an accurate depiction of the band and their appealing qualities.
Aside from production, Watkins has also developed a reputation for his dynamic projections. When he created projections for the First Friday Courtyard shows, the backdrop was always a visual spectacle. This creative outlet has become a reoccurring activity for Watkins, as more bands have approached him about organizing visuals for their shows. He has worked closely with The Snowy Owls in developing a specific design for their live sets. The projections swirl and spiral, reacting to the songs. One of the neatest things about Watkins’ set-up is the incorporation of a built-in sound trigger that reacts to specific sounds within the songs and warps the images in response. One of his most recent presentations was at the White Laces LP release show. This presentation showcased images from the television program Twin Peaks. By utilizing color sequencing and distortion, the show looked even weirder than usual. Watkins' projections were a delightful element of the evening's overall experience.
In all of the experiences Watkins has had doing projections, one of his favorite bands to work with is Navi. The two-piece instrumental act is right up his alley stylistically. Navi caught him off guard at a house show in February and he rose to the challenge of seeing what he could come up with on the fly. Watkins has always been drawn to the exchange of genre ideals and how they can be blended together to create something incredible, which is much of the reason that math rock has always appealed to him. Navi's music perfectly fits what he tries to accomplish with his visual accompaniment. Their frantic bursts of instrumental glee inspire him to create apropos reactions and develop an all-encompassing experience for those in attendance.
As my conversation with Watkins came to a close, he couldn't resist digging through his hard drive. He has recordings that date back practically a decade, capturing bands that were more or less just for fun, as well as demos that he isn’t completely sure what to do with. His dungeon is surrounded by an assortment of musical gear and projects that he is always tinkering with. Over the years, one thing has become completely certain about Watkins--he has ambition. In everything he does, he exudes a creative prowess full of innovative ideas. There are no dead ends when it comes to his vision of the sonic world. He only sees ways to create the tools he needs, and his mind is all the better for taking the chance to learn what he's capable of.
Richmond is expanding in a way that is tremendously exciting to all of it’s inhabitants. It’s safe to say that several of these expansions might not be possible if it weren’t for the dedicated involvement and support of individuals like Watkins.
By Shannon Cleary; top image (Dave Watkins with Allen Bergendahl and The Low Branches) by PJ Sykes