Over the past decade, Aussie singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jay Watson has been restlessly prolific: He’s written and recorded five albums as the frontman of GUM, including 2020’s Out In The World. As the co-leader of acclaimed psych outfit Pond, Watson has been behind nine albums, including last year’s aptly titled 9. And through that recorded output, the Aussie singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has treated listeners to some of the most sonically diverse and eclectic explorations of the past decade or so.
Watson’s sixth GUM album Saturnia officially dropped today. The album released through Spinning Top Music, Watson’s sixth GUM album Saturnia is arguably the richest and most coherent work of his career to date.
Coming off the back of Out In The World, Watson had a loose idea of where he wanted the project to go next. Drum sticks in hand and a rough sonic map in mind, the intervention of the pandemic and the logistics of caring for two small children meant that the songs Watson had stated to write were given a previously unprecedented amount of time to percolate in his head, and the material began to ferment and sprout new tendrils. “Because of Covid and because I had a new kid, for the first time ever I would write songs and think about them months on end,” Watson says. “I’d always been a bit of a lazy arranger, but this time I was working on different sections in my head for months.”
With his mind ticking over and creative impulses sparking off new ideas, Watson’s initial blueprint started to look very different. There were now new routes on this initial road map. “My dream was to make one coherent record that sounded the same all the way through, but it’s just so hard when you like so much different stuff!” he laughs. “I wanted the whole album to sound like Nick Drake at the very beginning, but it just doesn’t work out like that. I’ve got so much equipment and stuff to play with that even if I start with something that sounds like Nick Drake, I’ll starting adding things and playing with it and it will take it away into somewhere else immediately.”
The anchor of Saturnia‘s material is the bedrock of real-life playing and organic sounds that Watson was aiming for. But as the album evolved and grew, it became the launchpad for something more adventurous and musically nourishing.
Last month, I wrote about “Music Is Bigger Than Hair.” Built around a simple, shimmering, finger-plucked guitar melody paired with Watson’s dreamily forlorn delivery and a breathtakingly gorgeous string arrangement by Jesse Kotansky, the song for about three-quarters of its 4:18 runtime is a dusty Nick Drake-meets-Pink Floyd-like bit of troubadour folk with a narrator grappling with age and mortality in a realm where youth and youthfulness is valued above all. But the song ends with an unexpectedly, breezy and playful, samba influenced coda.
“’Music Is Bigger Than Hair’ is a funny title, I think it’s referring to me getting older and feeling my mortality a little bit more, or at least my worth as a musician being tied up in the way I look,” Watson says. “Feeling like it’s affecting my music, as if it has anything to do with it. Musically it’s one of my favorites because of Jesse Kotansky’s beautiful string arrangement.”
To celebrate the album’s release, Watson shared “Argentina,” an expansive Nick Drake-meets-Tame Impala bit of psych rock featuring a guest spot from acclaimed artist Hatchie and some incredibly dexterous guitar work that includes shimmering guitar lines for the song’s verses, buzzing guitar lines for the song’s choruses, and a mind-bending solo.
“This song isn’t really about Argentina, I just wanna say that I adore Argentina and it’s one of my favorite places to go and play,” Watson says of the song. “It’s about letting ego take hold of you and not surrounding yourself with the right people. Features some great vocal parts from Hatchie.”
Directed and animated by Alex Aulson, the accompanying video for “Argentina” features some stunning close-ups of natural phenomena near a rugged coastline.