Austin “Watts” Garrick [Interview]
Toronto, ON – He’s been making music since he was 5 years old and has dedicated his life to the understanding and creation of powerful production. Coming from a very influential musical background, Austin “Watts” Garrick is quickly becoming one of the most recognized emerging producers coming out of Canada.
It’s taken a while for him to receive that deserved recognition but ultimately Watts isn’t concerned about the props that come with making a big record. He’s focused on advancing his career and providing for his family through consistency and hard work. Big records like the track with Joe Budden or the collaboration with the Blunt Brothers, Red & Meth (“Blow Treez”) have put Watts on the map as a go to guy for quality bangers.
From being part of his father’s reggae band to working the boards with Jacksoul, Watts has developed an impressive resume at a very young age and has already accumulated the experience that most only achieve well into their careers.
HipHopCanada caught up with Watts to discuss his latest developments and how he originally set himself up for a career in music. Check it out!
HipHopCanada: You grew up in the Vaughn-Oakwood region of Toronto. Briefly explain, what was your upbringing like?
Watts: I started out there. I lived on Eleanor Avenue, that’s right off the strip. I come from a big family and 95% of us still live off the Eglinton West strip in various spots between Marlee and Keele. When I was about 9, I moved to my Grandma’s in a part of Hamilton called Westdale, which is an upscale white neighbourhood. I lived back and forth between those two contrasting areas throughout my teens so it kept me balanced as an individual in many ways.
HipHopCanada: You were raised in a bi-racial household. How does that affect your overall perspective?
Watts: Immensely… My dad’s side is from St. Vincent in the West Indies and my mom was born in Poland to Greek and Russian parents and grew up in the UK shaving so many different cultures around me enabled me to understand where people from all walks of life are coming from.
HipHopCanada: Your father is a musician, and you started playing drums professionally by the age of 5. How much influence did he have on you? Do you play any other instruments?
Watts: Musically speaking, he laid the foundation. He taught me the fundamentals of music. He was a drummer in the reggae band Messenjah, so I used to spend hours watching what he would do during rehearsals and shows then try to do it myself. I also play piano which for the most part, I taught myself. I’ve been writing songs on it since I was 6 and I still use it to come up with most of my ideas.
HipHopCanada: Wow, 6 years old and writing songs on the piano, very impressive. I learned that you played in front of a crowd of 50,000 at the Roger’s centre at 12 years old. What was that experience like?
Watts: It was me playing with Messenjah because they had this song about the children. The whole show was for the children of the world with Nelson Mandela so it just came together. What was cool about it for me was sharing the stage with Nelson Mandela. With all he’s done for Africa and the world, it was an honor to be a part of something with him.
HipHopCanada: So what made you decide to drop out of high-school and move to New York? And how did your parents react to that decision?
Watts: It was in 2002, I was 16 just about to start 12 th grade. It got to the point where school for me just wasn’t making sense because it was clear what was going to work for me occupation wise… and it didn’t require or benefit from being in school. I decided moving to New York would be beneficial so I went to stay with a family friend in Brooklyn but I was only there a short while before I came back to Canada. It was crazy though because not until I came back to Toronto, did I meet K-cut from Main Source who became my first manager. Then, together, we started making trips to NY every month which is when things really started happening. As for how my parents felt, I’d been making money for myself and my family through music since I was 5 and was always serious about anything I did… so they knew I would be successful and were supportive from the start.
HipHopCanada: Looking back, do you wish you stayed to finish school or are you happy that you made that decision?
Watts: Education is the most important thing in laying a foundation for success, period, but school is not the only place the education can come from. Anyone who knows me would say I’m very well educated, but that didn’t come from school, it came from a thirst for knowledge of all kinds and seeking it from all things. That being said, I’m happy with the decision I made but that doesn’t mean I encourage others to do the same though. I was blessed to be able to teach myself much of what I know today which allows me to be good at what I do. Had that not been the case, school would have definitely been the answer.
HipHopCanada: So briefly take us through the steps that you took to arrive at the point you are now, producing for the likes of Redman and Joe Budden.
Watts: I spent a few years straight just working on beats not trying to put any of it out there. When my friends were out partying and chasing girls, I’d be working on beats. I wanted to make sure that I’d be on point with that aspect of producing before I made any attempt to actually start my career. Once I had that covered, I began recording with some friends and family to get comfortable with the recording aspect and that is when I met K-Cut in a Studio downtown. He had heard some songs and beats through the wall in a different room and was impressed so he set up a meeting with me to hear more. I met with him and brought 100s of beats for him to hear but when he put the first disc on he only listened to like the first 20 seconds of 2 beats, stopped the disc and was just like, “aright cool, you’re rolling with me now.” From there, I started making the trips with him to New York. He taught me a lot about making great records, and the business in the US as well as getting me working with major artists. The first time we worked on a record together, in the studio for a major artist, was with Foxy Brown. A couple years later, I was introduced to Mo Jointz of The Joint Squad/Relentless Management who manages me, gets my records placed and makes sure things on the business side get taken care of properly which has been essential.
HipHopCanada: What kind of equipment do you use?
Watts: Pro Tools; I’m really into old drum machines and vintage synths so a lot of sounds from those but it all comes together in Pro Tools.
HipHopCanada: What’s your approach when you actually sit down to make a beat? Do you start with a sample? Drums?
Watts: It varies but usually I start with either a melody on the piano or a sample I want to use. It’s rare that I start with drums but on occasion I might catch a vibe from a break beat and go from there.
HipHopCanada: How would you describe your sound?
Watts: To me, it’s a blend of the past, present and the future; the past being my main influences of synth-pop of the 80’s, and the golden age of roots reggae… present being what’s going on now in music that I feel and can relate too, and the future being what I process that into to make something fresh and new.
HipHopCanada: No doubt. Do you have an idea of a sound you want for a particular beat or do you just let your creativity guide you?
Watts: Well, once I have a melody or sample I like, I craft the beat from start to finish in my mind, sometimes I’ll work on a beat for months in my mind. From there, I make the transfer from in my mind to into the beat machine which is the part that takes precision. Once I feel that’s done, I might add or take away from what’s there a bit and tweak it slightly till it feels right. The Redman & Method Man record “Blow Treez” is a perfect example. I had that beat finished in my mind, including the hook with Bob Marley singing and the chopped and screwed “Round here we Blow Treez” part like half a year before I actually put the beat down.
HipHopCanada: What do you do to make sure your sound continues to evolve and that you grow as a producer?
Watts: I keep my ears open to good music coming out and closed to trash. I stay open to people’s reactions to music and to the fact that I can always learn something new and apply it to what I do, whether it comes from a veteran producer or little kid who thinks a certain sound or rhythm sounds cool.
HipHopCanada: What role does the influence from your father and your upbringing play in your career?
Watts: On the music side of things it’s been a big influence. Even though my dad was in a Reggae band, he was always listening to different music from Phil Collins and Level 42 to Steel Pulse. It’s a trip because to this day most of my favourite artists are the same ones he used to listen to when I was a kid. My whole life I’ve been around people of all kinds, from many different walks of life and extremes. I have close friends and family who’ve been very successful and made millions but there’s also the ones who are locked up on drug and murder charges so when I apply all that I’ve seen and know to my music, its made it versatile and real which has helped a lot in my career.
HipHopCanda: When you’re working with artists, do you sit with them in the studio and guide them through the beat or let them do their thing?
Watts: It depends on the situation. If it’s an experienced artist who’s good at what they do, especially with rap records, they might not need much guidance at all, often times I won’t even be with them in the studio, but if it’s a newer artist then I might have to step in and help them play their part in transforming it from just a beat into a finished record.
HipHopCanda: Is it a just coincidence that you worked with two of New Jersey’s finest, Budden and Redman?
Watts: Yeah, just a coincidence. Both situations came together under entirely different circumstances even though they come from the same place and are both on Def Jam.
HipHopCanda: You also collaborated with Jacksoul, who has a very jazzy, soulful sound. How would you describe that experience?
Watts: The record that ended up on the album was something I did with K-cut and Haydain Neale, who is Jacksoul’s front man. Haydain was one of the first artists to embrace my music, when I was starting out, so I always appreciate that one. It started with a beat I did, then vocals were laid down, then replayed everything with the Jacksoul band so the process was different from most other records I’ve done thus far. It was cool.
HipHopCanda: Who was your favorite artist to work with and why? And who do you hope to collaborate with in the future?
Watts: I can’t say I have a favorite cause I’ve enjoyed working with every artist that I’ve made great music with. In the future I hope to continue to work with more major legends, both inside and outside of hip-hop, as well as the legends of tomorrow meaning the independent artists of today and those on the come up who are serious about what they’re doing. I’m open to working with anyone on the come up who is serious about what they do, whether they’re from the US, Canada or anywhere else.
HipHopCanda: So what projects are you working on right now, what can we look forward to?
Watts: There is going be a gang of records coming out with my involvement as part of Tumblin’ Dice Productions along with the founder, Rashad “Ringo” Smith from Brooklyn. For those who don’t know, he’s the producer behind classics like Busta’s “Woo-Hah” and “Dangerous”, LL Cool J’s “Doin’ It”, and countless others from Biggie to Seal. So, when we put are heads together, you can imagine the music. I’ll just leave it at that.
HipHopCanda: Lastly, How do you feel about Canada’s hip-hop scene? Who are some of your favorite Canadian artists and why?
Watts: I feel like the more artists in Canada with talent that find a way of doing themselves that works, the further it will progress and I think it’s being done. The ones using the same standard thug-rap template are going to stay stuck in the same place though because on an international level, not too many people want to hear that coming from a Canadian. You look at the artists in Canada’s hip-hop scene who’ve had the most success, like K-os or Swollen Members and, whether you’re a fan or not, the fact remains they don’t sound like anyone but themselves. Rappers who come from the hoods in Canada will naturally talk about what they’ve seen and done, which is cool, but their disadvantage against rappers from hoods in the US is the fact that most people from elsewhere don’t realize what goes on in Canada’s hoods or that they even exist so they’ll tune out if its not done in a way that’s thorough and creative as Nas or Jay-Z. For the successful growth of the Canadian Hip-Hop Scene, mass appeal beyond the border is vital because we really don’t have too many people in our country, that’s why to go Gold here you only need to sell 50,000 units. That’s not a lot of money. I’d love to do whatever I can to help the progression. Some of my favourite Canadian artists, hip-hop wise, are Kardinal for what he’s doing on an international level and Maestro for what he did. “Let your Back Bone Slide” was 1989 and 18 years later it’s still the biggest Canadian rap record of all time. You’ve got to respect that.
HipHopCanda: And what advice would you give to up and coming producers in Canada trying to make a name for themselves?
Watts: Try to make sure that before you start putting what you do out there that you’re thorough with it cause if you’re not really ready but people start hearing what you do anyways, they might form an opinion on your music that’ll be hard to change later on down the road.
Written by Atkilt Geleta for HipHopCanada