Entertainment, On A High Note

Aaron Watson defies convention on new album “Red Bandana”

Photo by Joseph Llanes

Aaron Watson will hardly mind being called an “underdog” in the dog-eat-dog business of music. In fact, the Texas independent artist seems to relish the notion. And he’s not only an underdog, he’s somewhat of a rebel, taking care of his business with his own label, BIG Label Records, and building his brand through a grassroots, one-fan-at-a-time strategy. His new album “Red Bandana,” available now, is further proof of his rather unconventional way of doing things, which is to say his own way. Watson discussed the new album, his place in music and other topics during a round-robin press conference at the BMI building in Nashville, just hours prior to his rooftop show at BMI.

To start off, “Red Bandana” contains 20 tracks, practically unheard of today, with the constant stream of singles and artists preferring EP’s to full-blown albums. That’s precisely the idea, Watson told the gathered reporters. “I wanted to get 20 tracks because nobody does 20 in a world of EP’s,” Watson explained. “It’s been about 20 years since I started making music and I just wanted to give the fans something special. I’ve always believed in quality and quantity,” Watson added after a brief pause. “And [this album] was a challenge. I think that the lessons I’ve learned in life, both the good and the bad, have made me a better writer.”

Aaron Watson’s “Red Bandana” features 20 songs penned solely by the singer. Photo by Jimmy Fisco

What’s even more convention-defying is that Watson wrote all 20 tunes on “Red Bandana” by himself. No co-writers or collaborators –  not usually how they do it on Music Row.  “It was fun and it was a challenge,” Watson said. “I made up my mind that I was going to write this album all by myself.” Watson figures that he actually penned around “40 or 50” songs before making the final cut. “All the songs are there for a reason,” Watson noted. “I wanted there to be a lot of dynamics on the album.”

For certain, “Red Bandana” is as diverse as Texas itself, with a wide range of styles throughout the record. The album’s lead single, “Kiss That Girl Goodbye,” rocks with an up-tempo beat and plenty of sass and attitude. “Riding With Red,” for contrast, is a warm, nostalgic tribute to country legend Red Steagall, whom Watson considers a friend and mentor. The title track would be right at home on a record of Western cowboy tunes, while “Country Radio” evokes an air of nostalgia and youthful memories.

Watson described the song “Home Sweet Home” as a truly personal slice-of-life account of hitting the road while trying to raise a family and be a good, loving husband. “That is about me,” Watson shared. “It stings being gone more than it used to.” As an example, Watson recounted that he has had to miss several baseball games involving his son because he was on the road. In a similar vein, “Trying Like the Devil” opens up about Watson’s personal struggles and feelings of being misunderstood. Both are admissions of imperfection, which Watson isn’t afraid of revealing to his listeners. “I don’t think the world only needs to see your best foot,” he noted. “I think fans like knowing that someone’s not perfect. And I’ve never been dishonest with my fans. Being more transparent allows me to show off more of my heart.”

In his remarks to the media, Watson revealed that he first considered the song “Dark Horse” for the title of his new album before deciding on “Red Bandana.” As an independent artist with his own label, Watson often sees himself as the “dark horse,” forever racing against the odds but achieving success through perseverance and hard work. He’s even released an album titled “The Underdog,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart upon its release in 2015.

“I for sure feel like I’m always going to be the underdog,” Watson said with a wide smile. “In some ways, the deck is always going to be stacked against me. But that doesn’t mean that we still can’t win. You can be the underdog but also be the people’s champ.” To further illustrate his point, Watson made a reference to the Rocky movie series. “You know, like Rocky was always an underdog. And I think we all relate to the underdog.”

Aaron Watson’s new album “Red Bandana” is available now through retail outlets and digital platforms.