Cubicle Concerts: Watson Park
The four-piece indie/dad-rock band from Merrimack discuss the cathartic, sometimes painful nature of making music, getting COVID from King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard and unabashedly loving The Beatles
Watson Park notices the little details. The indie/dad-rock band from Merrimack — named after a park in their hometown — creates deftly emotive songs totally honest to their experiences and influences, songs that bleed with transparency and humility and vulnerability. The mid-20s foursome — consisting of Ryan Sinclair, 25, on drums; Christian Raabe, 27, on bass; Troy Hartmann, 26, on lead guitar and vocals; and Evan Ringle, 24, on rhythm guitar and lead vocals — effuse a humble and soft-spoken energy, while harboring a thoughtful, amiable eloquence in conversation. It’s a refreshing and admirable way for a band to carry themselves — but then again, nearly everything about Watson Park is refreshing and admirable.
The four friends started playing together while attending Merrimack High School but first met in their junior high years. “My earliest memory of Ryan (Sinclair) is seeing him play at the eighth-grade talent show,” Ringle says. “Ryan was drumming with some kid who had a really elaborate drum kit, and Ryan’s was very modest and limited, and I thought Ryan just blew it out of the water. Ryan killed it. He was amazing.” Holding frequent jam sessions through their teens, it wasn’t until their university days that the band started recording originals. With Sinclair majoring in audio engineering at Keene State College, Ringle, Hartmann and Raabe would trek the hour-and-a-half drive once a week to practice in the school’s recording room. They released their first music as Watson Park in 2018, and played their first shows in 2019. In the subsequent years since, a distinctive sonic style began to take shape, inspired equally by ’70s classic rock and modern-day indie. Ringle’s intimate, measured songwriting (“Gently, washing away all the memories / Of when you were wretched and lonely / A wound that had always been sore,” from “East of Eden”) blends seamlessly with the band’s gentle-but-fervent instrumentation, an ebb-and-flow of passion and subsequent consideration. Their performances track as a tight-knit cadre who not only radiate an excellent musical chemistry, but genuinely enjoy one another.
Ringle and Hartmann stopped by New Hampshire Magazine’s office in late-December to perform three songs for our newly-rebooted Cubicle Concerts series. Watch their performance below, created by videographer Alex Kumph (@akumph), and stream their latest single, “East of Eden,” on Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify and more. Follow them on Instagram (@watson_park) for updates on where to catch them live, and look out for their upcoming, yet-to-be-titled album currently in the works.
Video by Alex Kumph
The following conversation has been lightly edited for content and clarity.
New Hampshire Magazine: If we can imagine your style as a reanimated Frankenstein monster made up of the body parts of your influences, who would be the arms?
Evan Ringle: I think Adrianne Lenker (lead vocalist and guitarist of band Big Thief) deserves one of those arms. And I think Charlie Martin (lead vocalist and guitarist of band Hovvdy) probably deserves one of those arms. Big Thief and Hovvdy each get an arm. Troy loves Adrianne Lenker and Big Thief as much as I do. A lot of their music involves (Lenker) dealing with things from her past that have affected her a lot — and she’s not the only artist I’ve been influenced by who does this — but it’s always been impossible for me to write about anything other than what I’ve been feeling or thinking. Every song I’ve ever written is directly about something I’ve been dealing with in my own life. It’s impossible for me to write a song about a fake story or a yellow submarine or something like that (laughs). But Adrianne does that a lot, and from what it sounds like, she had a really awful past, like, much worse than mine, but the way that she’s able to process that using music and explore those things and even figure out how she feels about something even more by writing about it, I think that’s really profound. If songwriting can be magical, that feels like magic to me. Also they just absolutely rip. They’re so good. They’re good at whatever they do.
Troy Hartmann: I feel like I can’t even approach (Adrianne Lenker) as a songwriter. I think she’s the most amazing songwriter of recent years. She feels like a presence that’s beamed in from a different universe. She’s very emotional and raw but talks about it in such a colorful way that’s very unique. I really like their guitar playing. They have a very interesting style. On the guitar solo of our song “Indian Summer,” I was directly trying to mimic their song “Not.” Well, not really directly mimic — because that’s a very messy, noisy, crazy solo — but I copied the feel of it even though I was a lot cleaner in terms of what I was doing. They just have a very raw energy about them that’s very exciting to see.
ER: It feels like the purest a band could be playing together. Just pure, distilled energy shared between four people, and you hear that in all the music. The hooks are crazy, the lyrics are incredible. We saw them play in western Mass last year; it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen in my life. It was amazing.
TH: It feels like they play together every single day and just totally know each other and understand each other.
NHM: The legs?
ER: When I think legs, I think foundation, drumming, and I know Ryan has shown a lot of influence as of late for the drumming off of George Harrison’s album “All Things Must Pass.” He’s really looked at how those drums are produced as something he can emulate and incorporate into his own deal. And I think — because Ryan’s not here — for legs, we should also say King Gizzard (& the Lizard Wizard), because Ryan loves King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, so that’s a part of it, too. They’re prolific.
TH: They make like seven albums a year, so they’re all over the place. It’s very prog, psych…
ER: It’s like nerdy psych rock. There was one night I was at Ryan’s place in Keene, and I’m not the biggest fan of King Gizzard, I think it’s mostly funny what they do. So I was really drunk, and I was like, “Every King Gizzard song sounds like, ‘Psych-e-del-ic Pter-o-dactyl!'” But Ryan absolutely loves them. I think one of them might’ve given him COVID by accident at a show. Ryan got COVID after he saw King Giz, and he did say he fist-bumped one of the members, which is wild.
TH: They’re very psychedelic, experimental rock music. Weird time signatures and tunings. They have a whole album called “Flying Microtonal Banana” where they use guitars that have microtones on them, which are tones in between normal Western tones, so it had a very Eastern-sounding thing to it. They just do weird stuff like that for a whole album. And then they’ll put out another album the next month that’s, like, a metal album.
ER: I mean, they’re cool as hell. Ryan loves them. I gotta shoutout something Ryan loves.
NHM: The torso?
ER: The Beatles. They were the first band I ever fell in love with. And they’re still my favorite band. I’m unashamed. There are a lot of people now — especially when I went to college, there were people who were like, “Oh yeah, The Beatles. Yeah, we know. You like The Beatles.” It’s like, yeah, they are that good though. They are. Sorry the most famous band in the world is also the best band ever. Sorry that they deserve it. It’s a point of contention between me and my girlfriend too (laughs), because she does not mess with them. At all. She’s never been able to.
TH: I was a late-comer to The Beatles. I didn’t grow up with them at all, my parents didn’t listen to them or anything. I remember listening to “Sgt. Pepper’s” with Evan at Ryan’s house and we were just dancing in the living room, because one of my uncles gave me a bunch of his records after I bought a record player. They’re not a super important band to me, but I love “Sgt. Pepper’s,” and George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” is definitely one of my favorite albums.
ER: George’s solo record (“All Things Must Pass”), that record’s my favorite. But The Beatles — they were everything to me. For a while, when I was a kid, I didn’t know there were bands other than them. I knew that, like, Queen existed once I turned 10. But when I was really young, I thought that The Beatles were the only ones who ever made music. As I got older their music became more interesting and complex and even more of a labor of love. I learned more about them and I grew with them as I got older. I could always explore something new about them.
TH: There’s infinite Beatles material.
ER: When I was a kid — they have a greatest hits album of just their number one singles — and in my family’s living room I would play “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” and I’d be air-guitaring to it and clapping to it and pretending I was performing. I wouldn’t even be interested in music if I had never listened to The Beatles.
NHM: The brain?
ER: Can we just say Ryan? Ryan’s the brain? In terms of creative direction and where I’ve wanted to go, I think of Will Toledo, who’s the songwriter for Car Seat Headrest, and I think of Elliott Smith, because he was a huge influence on my songwriting and where I wanted to take our music originally. Just really brilliant people and artists who I admire and who I love. When you’re making stuff, it’s really as simple as, “I want this to sound a little bit like this. I want what he does here, here I want what she does, here, here…”
TH: Neil Young. When I was in high school, Neil Young became a huge influence for me. I read his autobiography and I just love how he thought about music. He did not care about doing anything other than what he wanted to make. He said something like, “Whenever I had any success, it was just because it happened to line up with what people liked at the time. It’s not because I was trying to do anything that was popular.” And he’s also made a lot of stuff that’s messy and not trying to be super precise or high-production or anything, and then he’s also made a lot of stuff that’s really pretty and beautiful. I like his approach to music — that it doesn’t always have to be super serious, and that you should just make what you want to make and not care about trying to achieve popularity or trying to sound like something else that you’re not.
ER: Well said man. I totally forgot about him.
TH: His voice can be pretty rough, but that’s part of the charm of it, I guess.
ER: I need to remind myself of that more. I’m so hard on myself when I’m recording vocal takes.
TH: I feel like everything — all popular stuff — is supposed to sound perfect now to a certain extent, and it’s so easy to sound perfect because you can just lock things into a grid so that it’s all on-time. And there’s pitch-correction and auto-tune, so doing something that isn’t perfect is…really brave. It’s really brave to not do things right (laughs).
ER: We’re showing a lot of courage.
TH: But you have to do it in the right way. It has to be tasteful. You don’t just want to sing badly. I was listening to an interview with Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins recently, and he was like, “I recorded with this guy who said I was singing sharp, so then I sang it in-tune, and he was like, ‘It doesn’t sound right.’ We found out that I have to sing a little bit sharp in order for my voice to sound good. That’s what my voice sounds like in all of my recordings — it’s slightly sharp.” So it’s like, stuff doesn’t have to be perfect to work. Certain things just give it a different character.
NHM: The eyes?
ER: The arms and legs were so easy, now you’re talking about the eyes! Well, for me, the eyes are how I’ve felt whenever I’ve written one of the songs, because everything I’ve written, it’s been tunnels of feelings that I’ve had at that specific time that capture that moment — and how I’ve seeeeen all of them. So I guess the eyes would be the different perspectives and experiences I’ve had while writing each of the songs. Different moments in time.
NHM: When you listen to your old songs, I’m sure it brings you back to that time — the things that you were going through, the emotions that you were trying to channel into that song or album.
ER: And sometimes you don’t want to do that. There are plenty of songs that I’ve written, that I’ve recorded, that it really hurts to hear them. Because I can tell that day why I sang it the way I did in that vocal take. I can remember what I did that day when we made that little arrangement on the guitar. It can even be as specific as that, so sometimes it’s really hard. It was really hard with the songs we’re recording now, because they’re some of the most honest songs I’ve written about things I’ve gone through, and it’s not always fun. It’s not just entertainment. It’s a way to channel how I’m feeling about something. If I didn’t have this, I don’t know; I’ve been prone to destructive behaviors. Hopefully songwriting takes the edge off of wanting to be self-destructive when I’m going through something hard. It’s a productive use of my time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s fun. It’s give-and-take.