Being art, and creating music that encourages and inspires self-discovery with musician Wes Watkins
Wes Watkins is a Denver-based musician and “cosmos crusader”, formerly houseless, and constantly countering systems of indoctrinated oppression. Wes strives to be everything he imagines the world could be, perfect in imperfection and constantly seeking to be better. His music will make you dance, think, cry and (he hopes), strive to be better. In this episode of How Art is Born Season 2, host R. Alan Brooks and Wes Watkins recall their history of performing and collaborating together on stage, discuss who their favorite orators are, why they both make music, self-discovery, and more. We hope you enjoy this fifth episode of How Art is Born. There are only five more episodes left in Season 2.
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ABOUT WES WATKINS
Wes Watkins is a Denver-based musician and “cosmos crusader”, formerly houseless, and constantly countering systems of indoctrinated oppression. Wes strives to be everything he imagines the world could be, perfect in imperfection and constantly seeking to be better. His music will make you dance, think, cry and (he hopes), strive to be better. Watkins wants a world that is steeped in accountability, honesty, forgiveness, and reform. "I was told a long time ago that the human connection can water any seed and what are humans if not imperfect. Music is the tool I use to encourage experience of self."
R. Alan Brooks (00:04):
Welcome to How Artist is Born, a podcast from the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, about the origins of artists and their creative and artistic practices. I'm your host, R. Alan Brooks, artist, writer, and professor. Today I'm joined by Denver-based musician and Cosmos, Crusader, Wes Watkins. Say hello.
Hi. I'm Wes.
So, uh, I wanna say, uh, I don't talk about this a lot on this podcast, but like, for a lot of years I fronted like, I, I would hired Jazz musicians to back me up, you know, you know this from, uh, rapping on stage and stuff like that. And, uh, one time I was doing a show at Ophelia's. Now the thing being a band leader, um, who's rapping is that I can't really like, cuz I has a whole bunch of syllables to say. So it's hard for me to turn and be like, Okay, let's speed up or let's go down, or something like that.
Right. But I've learned like, my communication with the eyes or, and uh, Right, right. Yeah. But one time you showed up and it was when I had, uh, Alex on drums, Alex Tripp on drums. . and, uh, Tania on keys. . . And you showed up and you did a couple songs and you just directed them so well, I was like, how is he directing my band? Better better than me. But it was really dope though. Cause it was like, you, um, you got them like, uh, doing hits at the right time and stopping at the right time. And, uh, I felt like you, um, called them sort of to a higher level. So that was just a dope experience.
Wes Watkins (01:23):
Well, I feel like that's a little easier on a trumpet, I could be like, "Boo boo ba boo. Hey, hit one." Like, it's different, you know? Right. Rapping, it's kind of hard, like you to drop, you know, when I think about dropping like two beats in a rap verse . that, that's, that's fucking difficult, you know?
R. Alan Brooks (01:43):
Yeah. I say, uh, one of the, one of the dopest things about having like Jazz musicians with me on and stuff, cuz obviously Hip Hop, you know, there's a lot of freestyle and so Jazz musicians are trained to improv. Right. So there was a period where I was performing where at least once a year, some random drunk chick would walk on stage and start trying to talk to me while I was rapping. You know? And I, there was one, one point where I would like have to bonk is right, Right? Yeah. Like, I was holding the mic and I was rapping and like, this one girl was talking so loud that I had to like, put my hand over her mouth cuz it was getting carried in the mic. But with Jazz musicians, I can be in the middle of a song, cue them to go into something else, freestyle, make fun of her, get her off stage, and then go right back into the song, you know? Uh, so that brings me to wanting to know.
Wait, wait. Can I,
Wes Watkins (02:32):
You're okay. Look, you know what's fun about funk music? Yeah. No. Like, I shouldn't be doing this and I shouldn't really be repping this, but I'm sick of it. So like, what I like to do is I play, I play trumpet. Yeah. So, playing in funk bands, when I'm not rapping, I'm not singing . , I don't gotta worry about queuing a band. I just turned to them. I turned the bell of my horn straight to their face, and I start playing real loud.
R. Alan Brooks (03:00):
. That's great. I wish I had that.
Wes Watkins (03:02):
Well, hire me for more gigs. You got it.
R. Alan Brooks (03:06):
Right, right. Like trumpet security. Nice
Wes Watkins (03:07):
Chance. Now once recently, El Chapultepec closed, you know? Yeah. Sad. So once recently, I'm like feeling sad. One day I go and busk in front of El Chapultepec. . , I'm busking there. I'm, I stopped busking the homie on the peddy cab walk up. We, talking Now there's a big lane. Everybody walking in between the lane, and me and him talking, you know, this lady walks up, but I'm like maybe a foot away from the wall of El Chapultepec. And my case is right in front of me. . in a lot of cash in my case, you know, I'm busking, you know. And, uh, this lady walks up and I stopped playing. I go, "Hey, like, please don't walk behind me, lady."
R. Alan Brooks (03:44):
Wes Watkins (03:45):
And she pretended like she didn't hear me. She pushed past me. I said, "Oh yeah, that's it. Go figure. White lady, go figure." And this lady turns back. "Why do you think you could talk to me that way?" And I said, "Well, you should listen to me. I asked you not to walk behind me. I told you my case right there. I didn't feel you comfortable walking by there. Everybody else been walking there." She says, "he's in the way." I said, "He ain't in the way. What's going on?" She says, "Well, I don't understand why you can talk to me like that." So what I do, I've been busking my horns in my hand. Look at my homie. He says, "No, Wes." I said, "Oh yes." I turned to her when I blast, I go, la da with my horn Right. I go, La da, go away, la dah, go away, la da. Go away. La go away. Black people walking down the street, they go, go away. Like, you know what I mean? Like, I think it is so inappropriate. Spatial awareness is a thing. There is no reason anybody should ever be walking up to an artist such as yourself. . assuming they can just come and talk.
R. Alan Brooks (04:48):
Wes Watkins (04:49):
R. Alan Brooks (04:50):
While mid performance in the middle of a song. Yeah.
Wes Watkins (04:52):
Get outta here. Yeah. Go home. You drunk Becky
R. Alan Brooks (04:55):
. All right, man. So let me, uh, when did you, when did you first start playing trumpet? Like, how'd you get into this?
Wes Watkins (05:00):
Okay. I could never remember a time when I didn't want to play trumpet. Huh. The, my earliest memories before I wasn't play trumpet, I was asking my parents to play trumpet. Okay. Love Stevie Wonder. Big part of Sly and the Family Stone and gospel music. Yeah. Trumpet always hit me. I don't know why. Huh? I was singing, I was playing keys. And then in middle school, um, you know, out in Green Valley Ranch, I went to MLK. You know, I'm a Montbello kid. Okay. So I went to MLK and I was like, can I be in band? Right. They said they can give instruments to us. And my parents were like, All right. So I get into band and there was a dude by the name of Martin Martinez. Now Martin used to play, uh, uh, with, um, Lou Soloff. Lou Soloff being the lead trumpet player from, uh, Blood Sweat and Tears. Okay. Lou Soloff was that trumpet player. And he played Tonight Show Martin played with him on the Tonight Show or Letterman. Okay. In Vegas at the time, I think. And, uh, I think, I'm not sure, but I think that's, I, if I recall correctly, it's a long time
R. Alan Brooks (06:08):
On a prominent talk show. Yeah. , he played on a prominent talk show.
Wes Watkins (06:12):
Yeah. And, uh, so I ended up, that was my middle school band director. . . And my sister, sister right above me got into DSA as a drama major when I, and she was in ninth grade her freshman year. And everybody said, Why don't you go to DSA? Yeah. I said, I don't wanna leave Martin Martinez, he's a trumpet player. And, uh, I really like kicking it, even though like there was ruckus to be had . . And then I went to DSA for high school. Okay. And then Martin was kind enough to like, grace me with some lessons. And my, my parents did what they could, but we couldn't do a whole lot. You know, like, and um, he kind of blessed me and taught me a bunch of shit. And. That's trumpet.
R. Alan Brooks (06:56):
See, you know. Okay. So there's a lot of musicians, uh, performers, period, who, um, who perform through like a filter. Right. Like, um, they don't exhaust their souls completely. The reason I bring this up is because when I see you, the times that I've seen you play or sing, or really just anything musically, it feels like there is no filter. Like you were just coming completely outta your soul. Do you feel like I got that right?
Wes Watkins (07:22):
Well, yeah, because I'm not, I don't mean to hurt nobody's feelings, but I'm not making art for anybody else. Mm. Sometimes I hate playing music. . It's miserable. It makes me feel miserable. It just exaggerates all the things I relive traumas, past traumas. . . But for whatever reason, I feel like it's the right thing to do, so that I have to do it. Yeah. It doesn't mean I want to do it. .
R. Alan Brooks (07:46):
So then what is, what is the act of, uh, playing music, creating music in the moment? What does it do for you?
Wes Watkins (07:52):
Well, it depends on what's happened in the day, I suppose. Huh. You know, um, I would like to say it depends on the gig, but I suppose if I wanna be candid and a critical thinker, the gig depends on what's happened with me. . If I'm gonna be a front man, I have to admit, like everything I do is going to be dependent upon how I'm feeling. Yeah. And not just that, obviously, you know, being in any live band, there's collaboration. . But like, I'm lucky enough at the end of the day to have such amazing musicians who would not only intuitively know me Right. But will follow me. I'm lucky in that regard. You know, there's not a whole lot of, uh, non-consensual s a phone on, Look, I'm serious. I'm so sick of non-consensual saxophone . Um, like, you look at me and you play intentionally. That's one thing. You look at me and you just playing over everybody. I don't give a fuck. Go home drunk Sally.
R. Alan Brooks (08:57):
I've definitely fired musicians for doing that.
Wes Watkins (09:00):
I haven't. Yeah. No. I believe in a world of reform,
R. Alan Brooks (09:04):
It can reform in another band. I'm trying to trying to get my gigs handled. Yeah.
Wes Watkins (09:09):
Well, I mean like, like, okay. Like recently I had a cat. I really, one of the best musicians I've I've ever known. Okay. He bails on me on a gig that he doesn't know how much it means to me. It's one of the first gigs I played when I started the Other Black. Okay. He doesn't know. Like, I, I cried, huh? He was supposed to be my ride. He had the bail, He had another gig, gig, got pushed back. Woozy, woozy, blam, whatever. But, you know, you find out five hours . before a gig that's two hours away. Right.
R. Alan Brooks (09:45):
Wes Watkins (09:46):
How do you find a quintessential member of a rhythm section?
R. Alan Brooks (09:49):
Wes Watkins (09:50):
It's very difficult. Now, don't get me wrong, I've done it before. Yeah. And that cat's been one of the motherfuckers Yeah. Who has shown up in that situation for me before. Nice. But he bailed too, too late, you
R. Alan Brooks (10:02):
Wes Watkins (10:04):
Now it made me sad, but at the end of the day, I wasn't making that music for those people. . . Just that those people believed so much of the music that I was making that like, I felt what, however I was feeling I had to show up for if I couldn't 10 years later, you know, it'd been about 10 year. It was one year I didn't make it. And it was one year I was on tour. So this would've been the seventh year. . .
R. Alan Brooks (10:36):
Okay. Well, so you, you were talking about like, you believe in redemption, which I'm interested to hear more about. Cause for me, if I have an artist that's, um, playing over everybody like that, I don't, I don't think you can train somebody out of that. That's ego and the security
Wes Watkins (10:51):
Usually. Well, the thing I, I guess my point of that entire story is this, I'd hire the motherfucker again any day of the week. Yeah. Because he's bad at, and because as long as you can admit that you made a mistake, even if you make the same mistake again, as long as you're working actively towards not making that mistake, I'm with dad, I hire you again, you can make the same mistake again. And I'm gonna have the same conversation. I'm gonna be the same loud ass motherfucker on the microphone, like this motherfucker fuck me over. But I'd hire 'em again.
R. Alan Brooks (11:22):
Yeah. I mean, I, I don't know that I would do it indefinitely, but I am with you for like a number of chances. Also, I feel like if somebody's given their best effort and trying to do better, I'm down for that. Yeah. But there are people who are like, sort of milit, uh, for themselves, you know? And so, uh,
Wes Watkins (11:38):
I just think those people don't, they're so conflicted about who they are that they don't
R. Alan Brooks (11:43):
Know. Yeah. Well, cuz like, uh, the heart, uh, of, for me, like having Jazz musicians is that we all create something that could not have existed without this specific group of musicians. Right. Like, it's all a different experience every time. So if somebody's not committed to having that experience and they're just about themselves, it throws everything off kind of.
Wes Watkins (12:02):
Well, absolutely. Also, this brings up, a question I had for you that I thought about.
R. Alan Brooks (12:07):
Wes Watkins (12:08):
Kenny G is Jazz, Miles Davis is Jazz. Oh, Robert Glasper is Jazz. I don't know that I definitively agree with all those statements, but that's what our world says. . . So my question that I have is, what is Jazz?
R. Alan Brooks (12:27):
That's a big question. I actually don't feel like I'm qualified to answer that.
Wes Watkins (12:30):
Well, I just mean to you, I feel the same way. Like, I don't know. I'm not qualified to answer that question.
R. Alan Brooks (12:35):
Well, I, I would say more you more than me. Right. Because like, uh, I'm hiring Jazz musicians to back me up. I'm much more of a Hip Hopper.
Wes Watkins (12:41):
But I think Hip Hop is Jazz.
R. Alan Brooks (12:42):
I mean, they're certainly close cousins.
Wes Watkins (12:45):
Well, I think about, I think about origins of Hip Hop, right? Yeah. I think about sample based culture, right? . I think about DJs playing records that are instrumentals and MCs coming up on the park in New York and rapping over that. And then I think about, uh, Charlie Parker. . and Ornithology or Ella Fitzgerald and How High the Moon . . And it's the exact same thing. . Contra fact, you know, to rewrite the melody over a tune that already exists. . And that is Hip Hop. And then I think about the last poets .
R. Alan Brooks (13:21):
Wes Watkins (13:22):
Yeah. When the revolution comes. Right. And then I think about Gil Scott Heron, the revolution will not be televised. Right. It seems like the same thing to me. .
R. Alan Brooks (13:32):
Well, it feels like you answered the question way better than I could have. Well done.
Wes Watkins (13:36):
Well, I just think that oral history is Jazz.
R. Alan Brooks (13:38):
Yeah. Huh. Okay.
Wes Watkins (13:40):
R. Alan Brooks (13:42):
Uh, specifically Black American oral history. Does that feel?
Wes Watkins (13:50):
Yeah. But I also think about Ife from Yoruba of Nigeria and I think about oral history.
R. Alan Brooks (13:56):
Wes Watkins (13:58):
I think that I had a buddy . say to me years ago, Nick Hamberg, I mean Nick J Pedals of Spade he says the human connection can water. And he seed, he writes his songs, says Human connection to water seed. I was the only black dude in Pedals of Spade, but it was Nick J who said that to me. .
R. Alan Brooks (14:22):
Wes Watkins (14:24):
And, uh, I think to connect on the human level makes it really interesting. When I started thinking about it was safer, probably always. .
R. Alan Brooks (14:24):
Wes Watkins (14:36):
To pass things down orally to pass him to your community and your kids, your family in general, orally then to write it down, even though we knew we had to write it down . We said maybe this is a wiser option. . Because of what if the wrong people get their hands Yeah. On the right wisdom.
R. Alan Brooks (14:58):
Wes Watkins (14:59):
And I think that's Jazz. . . And that's why collegiate, Jazz is a fucking joke.
R. Alan Brooks (15:05):
I'm really waiting for you to come out of your shell and tell me what you think about things. So stop, stop. You know, being so...Nah man. Uh, you know, uh, like it's interesting for me to watch the same process happen with Hip Hop. Right. Because they're, uh, things that are like, um, spiritual about like how you freestyle your delivery and stuff like that. And then to have people break it down to like, this is how you spit bars. You know, like have college courses on it on the one hand, I
Wes Watkins (15:36):
Think. But this college course is about how to spit bars.
R. Alan Brooks (15:39):
Wes Watkins (15:40):
Wait. Okay. Continue on. We're just gonna skip over that.
R. Alan Brooks (15:41):
Wes Watkins (15:42):
Thing. We'll talk about that later,
R. Alan Brooks (15:43):
But I think on the one hand, like writing it down gives it a different place in history. It helps to sustain it, but it's like a diminished version of it, sort of.
Wes Watkins (15:57):
Now we can record it.
R. Alan Brooks (15:58):
Wes Watkins (15:59):
Jazz didn't always have the option.
R. Alan Brooks (16:02):
. Yeah, that's true.
Wes Watkins (16:03):
Blues didn't always have the option. Yeah. Ife from Yoruba of Nigeria. What were those folks songs like when that started? Right. That Atlantian-ass religion. They didn't have the option. You didn't have the option.
R. Alan Brooks (16:17):
So you think you're saying that sort of like a recording is better than, um, making it like a course in a college or something like that?
Wes Watkins (16:24):
Much rather that people listen to what I was saying
R. Alan Brooks (16:24):
Wes Watkins (16:29):
Than they read it off of piece of paper and pretended like they listened.
R. Alan Brooks (16:33):
. That's interesting.
Speaker 3 (16:39):
Hi, this is Valerie Cael Oliver curator of the exhibition, The Dirty South Contemporary Art Material Culture and the Sonic Impulse occupying three floors at MCA Denver. The Dirty South makes visible the roots of southern Hip Hop culture and reveals how the aesthetic traditions of the African American South have shaped the visual art and musical expression over the last 100 years. This exhibition features an intergenerational group of artists working in a variety of genres. From sculpture to painting and drawing to photography and film, as well as sound pieces and large scale installation works. Head over to MCA denver.org/visit and use the code TDS 20. That's TDS two zero for 20% discount on general admission for this exhibition, which is on view until February 5th, 2023.
Wes Watkins (17:45):
Who's your favorite orator?
R. Alan Brooks (17:47):
You say orator. . , Uh,
Wes Watkins (17:50):
Or just like, gimme like three of your favorites. Doesn't gotta be no order. Just like in general,
R. Alan Brooks (17:58):
Who do I like hearing speak?
Wes Watkins (17:59):
We can go one and one.
R. Alan Brooks (18:03):
One of my heroes. . , Melvin Van Peebles.
Wes Watkins (18:07):
I don't know. And I'm familiar.
R. Alan Brooks (18:09):
Oh, do you know Mario Van Peebles?
Wes Watkins (18:11):
No. I don't
R. Alan Brooks (18:11):
Know. He was like, uh, Mario Van Peebles was the ambassador of light skinned pretty dudes in the, in the nineties he was in New Jack City and stuff like that. But his pop, Melvin, Gil Scott Heron said that he was an influence for doing like spoken word
Wes Watkins (18:27):
R. Alan Brooks (18:28):
Yeah. He just passed away last year, but he was one of my biggest heroes.
Wes Watkins (18:31):
Hear Melvin Van Peebles
R. Alan Brooks (18:32):
There's a documentary on him called How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company and Enjoy It.
Wes Watkins (18:38):
I love every bo- This sounds like some Robert Cole Scott shit right there. Yeah. I love that. Yeah.
R. Alan Brooks (18:45):
Wes Watkins (18:46):
What is it? Say that one more time.
R. Alan Brooks (18:47):
How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company and Enjoy It. I love that you're taking notes, man. That's... But Melvin was one of the one,s like he was Yeah. And there's a movie about him making his first movie that's called Badass with a whole bunch of "s" after it Badassssssss. But, um, Yeah. Yeah. He's somebody to look into. He had a tattoo, a dotted line across his neck that said, "cut here". Like he was not here to play man, but he put out albums, he made films, he did stage. And uh, the thing that was most inspirational to me about him was that he was not gonna make any condition stop him. . , just small example, which I think is relevant to the kind of stuff we're talking about. Uh, when he was in his, I'm say thirties maybe early twenties, late twenties, he wanted to make film. He saw nothing that was supporting him as a black man making film in the U.S. He heard a rumor that in France, if you published three novels, then you automatically get licenses from the city or the, you know, state or whatever to, to make film. So he moved to Paris. He didn't know French.
Wes Watkins (19:57):
R. Alan Brooks (19:58):
This would've been like early sixties. Learned French. Wrote three novels. Started making films. They got so much international acclaim that they heard of him here. And because he was Melvin Van Peebles, they thought he was a white Frenchman. So they flew him back in for film festivals. Yeah. Right. I hope
Wes Watkins (20:22):
R. Alan Brooks (20:23):
I'm glad that we have some kind of camera to see what you're doing when you're doing the bonk . Anyway. You say we were exchanging. So who's, who's one of your, uh, heroes are favorite orators?
Wes Watkins (20:32):
Okay, I gotta throw, I gotta throw Muhammad Ali on the list, right? Yeah.
R. Alan Brooks (20:36):
Wes Watkins (20:36):
This is why this bit of Muhammad Ali alone. . He says, let's say this cuz you know, he was friends with this Irish interviewer, you know?
R. Alan Brooks (20:48):
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I've seen that. Yeah.
Wes Watkins (20:50):
Right. And so they did a bunch of interviews together. . . So they talked when he was in prison a bunch. And so when he gets outta prison after Vietnam War, shit, he comes out Irish. Well, well Muhammad will you say, you know, the Muslim religion says, you know, you don't, you don't like white people, like you hate white people. Why is that? You know? And he goes on and on.
R. Alan Brooks (21:13):
I just wanna say, I love that you committed to the accent, but.
Wes Watkins (21:16):
I had to commit. It was terrible, but whatever I had to commit, but you, Anyway, he goes, he goes, uh, after a bunch of shit, however it goes, Let's say you got 10,000 rattlesnakes, right? . And he goes, uh, and he goes, Okay, so you got 10,000 rattlesnakes. They all coming up to your door. Now, you know, 100 of them are good and pure and got your back. They got your back rat or die, you know, now, so do you open up your door and let 10,000 rattlesnakes in on the hope that the 100 will save you when one bite will kill you? . Or you just close the door and say, I'm sorry lady, I can't let you in . But that bit by Muhammad Yeah. Alone Right. Was gold. But also, I mean, he was a great poet. He was a great singer. . that bit's gold. Yeah. And all, I think all of his bits are, are pretty gold. You know, like he just was so good about saying the hard truths . and making the people that he was saying hard truth to laugh about it.
R. Alan Brooks (22:17):
Yeah. I agree with that. And yeah. That's, that's a, that's a hard balance to strike. Like hold your boundaries, say to things that are real to you. Um, without, without backing away from it, but still without destroying the people around you. You know, there's a lot of people who hide behind that idea of, uh, I'm just real. I'm just telling the truth. If you can't handle this and it's just sort of an excuse to, to be a dick, you know, instead of like, uh, trying to actually give truth to somebody.
Wes Watkins (22:49):
Oh, well that's not our job anymore. I love to be a dick.
R. Alan Brooks (22:52):
Wes Watkins (22:55):
Well because of this,
R. Alan Brooks (22:56):
Uh, speaking of pull quotes for this episode, I just wanna wait.
Wes Watkins (23:00):
Look, I just don't, like it's not our job to teach nobody anymore. I don't believe in a microaggression. You're on social media, right. Ignorance is a farce, the internet exists. So like, I don't believe in microaggression, it's just aggression. I have no responsibility to be nice to you. I grew up in Denver and you're from Oklahoma. Go home.
R. Alan Brooks (23:27):
Well, it's interesting. I'm glad you say that cuz So for me, um, I do not find, I do not take the responsibility on for educating a stranger who tries to force themself into my space. Yeah. Right. There's no way. Um, but people who I'm interacting with or I need to interact with on a regular basis, in those cases, uh, I'm going to at least educate them as to like what my boundaries are.
Wes Watkins (23:50):
If I like you, I'll do that. . But I don't like most people, I like you. Thanks. I like everybody in this room. But like no, no, no. I don't like most people. Yeah. So like no. If I like you. If I trust you enough that I will let you in and I assume that you can hear what my boundary is, I will tell you my boundary. Otherwise. Bonk.
R. Alan Brooks (24:15):
So you're basically hitting unsubscribe. Like I'm not, you know, Do you just like remove yourself from the space or you just like, you know?
Wes Watkins (24:21):
Well, yes. I would much rather do that. I would much rather do that than get into an argument that I can't possibly win in a country that refuses to represent us.
R. Alan Brooks (24:31):
Yeah. That's real.
Wes Watkins (24:32):
I would much rather just kick it with you.
R. Alan Brooks (24:35):
Wes Watkins (24:36):
Why would I kick it with them when I could just be kicking it with you? Right. I don't even gotta worry about that with you. We could have good time. Go soul dancing. It also, I would like to say when I really started really, really messing with this cat, I was watching him slide across a wood floor, at Goosetown Tavern. And it was one of the flyest things I've ever seen in my life.
R. Alan Brooks (24:56):
Funny cuz almost every guest that we had, like, at least half the guests, either I met on the dance floor or I've encountered on the dance floor. You know what I'm saying? So it's like
Wes Watkins (25:05):
Yeah cause you bad ass man. You groove!
R. Alan Brooks (25:05):
I appreciate it. Yeah. Yeah. I was joking about, uh, like when I'm working on like a story or something when I'm dancing, like, you know, working on like Michael Jackson spins or whatever, like suddenly things become clear, you know what I'm saying?
Wes Watkins (25:21):
Or whatever. Yeah.
R. Alan Brooks (25:22):
Like mid spin, I'll be like, Oh, and then I have to like go to the side of dance floor and like write down, you know, the notes or whatever. Huh. Okay. So you work in an art environment. Your life is playing music outside of that. Um, I don't know man. Like what's, what's important?
Wes Watkins (25:38):
Wait a second. Hold on. I work in an art environment and what?
R. Alan Brooks (25:44):
Uh, your life is music outside of that, right? Because so, um, cuz you have to work in the structure of a place, uh, that is not the art that you create, but it is an art environment. You were talking about some of that frustration cuz a lot of people I think that are gonna be listening are gonna be people who, um, who have their passion, that's their art and then have like their day job, they don't care for as much.
Wes Watkins (26:06):
R. Alan Brooks (26:06):
Um, so I'm, the question I was getting to was like, how do you balance that, Right? Because you're surrounded by art and your day job, but it's not necessarily like, um, it's not your art. It's not your expression. And then outside of that you get to go fully into your expression. So what is that? I don't know. What's that like for you?
Wes Watkins (26:25):
I would like to say, You don't live in art environments. You. Are. Art. I think genre was made to intellectualize what musicians intuitively do genre of any art form Uhhuh is made to intellectualize what art intuitively does. . , an artist was made to intellectualize the character that art holds. You are art. I don't exist in an art environment. I am art. And so between music and there and I'm unapologetically myself, either way. . I have no time to play games. I know the stories of Courbet and Jonas Burgert and Leonor Carrington and Max Ernst and I sit and I research. Every art I encounter, I sit and I research De-gas. I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Degas
R. Alan Brooks (27:24):
So what does that do for you when you're research and, and you're encountering? Is it like, is it feeding your soul? Is it like Yeah. What, what's the effect?
Wes Watkins (27:31):
It's made me decide that I cannot remove the art from the artist because I don't believe in artist. I think artist is the intellectualization, of what those who are art are. And then there's product. . I think that I, um, unfortunately now when I find out about the characters of some of these people Yeah. Especially in an art museum or any museum, I cannot eliminate the things that, that Degas did to women, especially. I cannot eliminate the fascism of, uh, Dali, which we don't even have any Dali on display, you know? . And in the same way I think about activism, cuz activism and artistry I think are very similar. I cannot eliminate the, you know, the racism of a, of a Gandhi. And so working at the art museum has made me decide that I need to be better.
R. Alan Brooks (28:43):
Wes Watkins (28:44):
Because I, as an artist, look, I want to have a damn good story by the end. But that does not mean that I want some grandiose thing. It just means I, I want a good story, you know? Like, I don't want that story not to be tainted with years of mistakes. So like, I'm in my thirties, I gotta make it at least another 40 years so that I can have 40 years of hopefully less mistakes.
R. Alan Brooks (29:14):
Okay. So you brought up, uh, not being able to separate the art, the person, the creator, from the art. Um, and you brought up activism. Are those things connected for you as a creator?
Wes Watkins (29:28):
Absolutely. I think about, uh, Nina Simone. . who says, uh, well the artist's job is to reflect the times. Yeah. Part of why I think museums are silly because it's a humans negating that their nature things last forever. Conservation teams like, don't get me wrong, I love museums. I'm a museum junkie, but like, it doesn't make sense to have things last forever. But for me it is that Nina Simone or that Robert Cole Scott, that Courbet. I have a quote. Would you like to hear a quote?
R. Alan Brooks (30:02):
You came equipped.
Wes Watkins (30:03):
I was doing, doing some rsearch
R. Alan Brooks (30:04):
Wes Watkins (30:05):
Uh, at the museum earlier, Uhhuh, because I, I've fallen in love with Courbet Let's see, uh, um, Gustav Courbet says. In our so very civilized society is necessary for me to live the life of a savage. I must be free of even governments. The people have my sympathies. I must address myself to them directly. There is no separation from being an artist to art. Yeah. You are art activism, artist meant to reflect the times. And we have no choice. You are art. You will always be an activist whether you want to be or not, because your opinion matters to those who are not art.
R. Alan Brooks (30:48):
So then what is your vision when you're creating art? Um, for how it affects people? Like what, what do you want to happen when people encounter?
Wes Watkins (30:57):
I'm never thinking about affecting people.
R. Alan Brooks (30:59):
That's interesting. Okay.
Wes Watkins (31:01):
I make art because something is on my mind or something is going on with me. It is. That is the language. Music is the language, you know? So then I just, um, I just write, you know, and whatever comes out is what's coming out. Yeah. I don't care how people perceive it. If they don't like it. Okay. You don't like it? I don't care. Somebody's probably gonna like it and people don't like it. I don't actually care. I didn't write it for anybody else. I never write for anybody else. I'm just writing. I'm not writing even for myself. I'm writing. And, um, but also, you know, many, many artists have said it's not the artist job to be the critic. Even though I encourage everybody to be a critical thinker. Be a critical thinker.
R. Alan Brooks (31:45):
Well, so it's interesting to talk about like, uh, creating art for yourself, but then also being an activist. And I wanna let you know, I wanna know what you think about that link. Uh, or if it's linked or what, you know, just what your thoughts are around that.
Wes Watkins (31:59):
I'll say, um, I'll say George Floyd gets assassinated. Now I didn't want to go to the protest. But I ended up there cuz the homie was going out. And that homie is in a lot more danger going out to those things than I was. So I went and then I saw what was happening physically. . . And you cannot deny your eyes, unfortunately. You can try. And I have terrible vision. These are sunglasses, not glasses. Uh, and uh, yeah. So like seeing it, I was at the protest for a while and then I found myself sitting at the piano in my apartment. I said, for a ship or a sail made of cotton for a chain on brown skin bodies to a land unknown, it belongs to me real life stories of history. Cause we built you your shit for free. It wasn't a thing where I was like, I need this to affect people. Yeah. It was a thing where I was like, uh, yo, like this is affecting me like this. Right. I had a young 20-something year-old white woman, call me a Uncle Tom. Holding a Black Lives Matter sign the day after the ceasefire at the George Floyd protest. That was my reaction. It wasn't for to affect her. It was for me to write this because that's how I was feeling. You know?
R. Alan Brooks (33:29):
Yeah. So that's, that's dope that you said that man. Cuz so for me, some part of art is catharsis. Right. It's like working out whatever's going on in my soul. Um, but then another part of it is how do I communicate these subtleties of humanity to someone else? You know? Um, and I, I don't think one is more valid than the other. Like, some people are committed to one or the other. Some people do both. But I think it's just about like what's important to you and your artistic journey. You know?
Wes Watkins (33:57):
Why do you make music?
R. Alan Brooks (34:00):
Ugh, I have such a hard relationship with music man.
Wes Watkins (34:03):
Me too. I hate it.
R. Alan Brooks (34:04):
Yeah? It feels like a, an an abusive spouse or something.
Wes Watkins (34:08):
You can only hate something so fiercely that you love so much. Oh,
R. Alan Brooks (34:11):
It's true. Yeah. I mean it certainly the biggest part of my life, but, you know, uh, for me it, it starts two things that I was saying, like the one part was. So I might often say that art is a way to take something intangible and make it tangible so that you can wrestle with it, think through it, et cetera. Right. So like I'm writing in any form, whether it's music, whether it's comic books, whatever it is, is me trying to grab onto this thing that is intangible. One that so that I can wrestle with it secondarily so that I can work through whatever my emotions are around it. But then a third so that someone else can benefit from the fact that I've made this intangible thing tangible. How about you? When you're writing what's going on?
Wes Watkins (34:57):
I want to encourage people to experience themselves. . The only way that found that makes sense to me to be able to do that is for me to be sure of who I am first and foremost. And the only way I found that I can communicate with myself unabashedly, candidly, obnoxiously myself about is music. Yeah. And so logically it seems like if I talk to myself that way with that language and I put it out into the world, some people will feel encouraged to be able to talk to themselves that way. And I can encourage people, I can't help 'em to do it . , but I can encourage them to experience themselves.
R. Alan Brooks (35:43):
I love that
Ad Read (35:50):
MCA Denver at The Holiday Theater is a hub for the arts located in its historic 400 seat theater. We aim to realize one of a kind creative experiences for audiences that spark curiosity challenge conventions, inspire and delight. Visit MCA denver.org to learn more about the robust schedule of museum driven and collaborative programming.
R. Alan Brooks (36:13):
We said that we would talk about fear. So in that process, because you've talked about like, once you create something, people might not like it, they might like it, you know, you're okay with whichever. But, um, at what point in your process do you experience fear? And when you do, what do you do to get through it?
Wes Watkins (36:30):
I think the biggest fear that must exist is that I'm not being as truthful with myself as I can be. . Which then all of a sudden exists in like this weird insecurity that I'm questioning. Are you just being like insecure or not? Is this Ego versus Id or not? What's going on? Are you feeling okay, like go sit down. You need to do break, you know, , Now how do I get through it? I think, I think I play shows. . That is the one part of the process where I find that I need some sort of a relationship with an external source . Is when I get to that darkest point of fear. Yeah. But I struggle with depression pretty hard anyway, you know? Like, and like I think we talked about that before you know, like, but like in that, like, the only thing I know that really a is a is a reasonable counterweight to depression Yeah. Is homies. And so like if I'm playing a show. Like it's Wednesday night. Right. If it was last Wednesday or next Wednesday, then Eman would be there. If I was feeling depressed, I can go down to the Meadowlark and sit in with Eman.
R. Alan Brooks (37:50):
Wes Watkins (37:52):
And if Eman goes, Ooh, even once, then I'm like, okay, maybe I'm not doing the wrong thing.
R. Alan Brooks (37:59):
That's cool. You know, so for me, I'm fundamentally an introvert. Um, but it's interesting that you say the thing about like shows being a cure for working through the fear. Uh, because I was surprised to find out how much I love doing shows. Like, have me at a party making small talk. Nah. But like, no. Right. But connecting with people outta my heart, uh, from the stage. So, uh, one of the first ways that I learned that was, uh, it was shortly after I moved to Denver and um, I saw, I was like, Okay, I need to do some shows. I need to, I had a dread. I didn't wanna do shows, but I was like I to get on stage. And so I went to Dazzle cuz they had a poetry open mic with a Jazz trio
Wes Watkins (38:42):
R. Alan Brooks (38:43):
Yeah. Yeah. It was when it was on Lincoln. Yeah. And they were, uh, the Jazz trio would improv behind everybody. Right. And so I go there and there's maybe like six people, uh, performing and a few people and like not a lot of people there. So I go on stage and uh, I do my first poem and it is terrible. Like, I really bomb. Like
Wes Watkins (39:03):
I Do you remember the poem?
R. Alan Brooks (39:04):
Wes Watkins (39:06):
I wanted to hear it.
R. Alan Brooks (39:07):
I scorched it from my mind. But, and I don't think the poem, it was just, uh, I think maybe I hadn't, you know, I just hadn't been on stage in a while, so I was really rusty and I just didn't connect with the crowd. Well, but it was so bad that like, uh, one of the waitresses was like, Oh, it'll be okay baby. Like that kind of thing. Right. You know, uh, she was a sister and so, uh,
Wes Watkins (39:26):
R. Alan Brooks (39:27):
uh, she had short hair
Wes Watkins (39:29):
R. Alan Brooks (39:29):
Wes Watkins (39:30):
I used to work at Dazzle.
R. Alan Brooks (39:31):
Oh, word. Okay. Yeah.
Wes Watkins (39:32):
On Lincoln. Yeah. That was Mo, guarantee ya.
R. Alan Brooks (39:34):
Well, so she was very like, encouraging, but at the same time I was like, Oh, she has pity on me right?
Wes Watkins (39:40):
R. Alan Brooks (39:41):
Right. But there were so few people that I could go again. Right. So I got to go again. Um, second time I went, it was great. Like,
Wes Watkins (39:51):
Do you remember that poem?
R. Alan Brooks (39:55):
Man. We're talking like 14 years ago. Nope.
Wes Watkins (40:01):
R. Alan Brooks (40:01):
I remember some of the chorus, but it was, it was a love poem
Wes Watkins (40:03):
I'm just trying to bully you into doing a poem.
R. Alan Brooks (40:05):
Oh cuz you sang, is that what we're doing? Okay.
Wes Watkins (40:07):
No, I don't get a fuck about that. I just, I like your poems is all cause your art.
R. Alan Brooks (40:12):
Wes Watkins (40:12):
You know, if I can like weasel my way into hearing some of your art, I would love that.
R. Alan Brooks (40:17):
Well, yeah, it was most definitely about heartbreak cuz that was my whole life.
Wes Watkins (40:21):
But you got a good poem about heartbreak. Now
R. Alan Brooks (40:25):
I have plenty of raps about it. I will do something, I will share something with you. But what I'll say is that to end that story, I went that second time and uh, it went so well that the guy who was hosting, he was coming down from Boulder to host and he wasn't really digging it. So he was like, uh, hey man, that was really cool. Like, uh, if, if you like to do like a, like a co-hosting thing or like you host every other week kind of thing, I'd be totally into that. So I went from like not doing shows to hosting the show and that was terrifying. But I did it and it made me like, I loved it and I felt like healed and restored. And so like, the fact that you're bringing up, like being on stage, being something that heals you through fear, I think is really dope.
Wes Watkins (41:08):
I love to hear that. I, that's why I started the whole residency game, man. I started doing residencies just cause one musician who I really respect told me I was too bossy on stage.
R. Alan Brooks (41:21):
Wes Watkins (41:21):
Which is true.
R. Alan Brooks (41:24):
Wes Watkins (41:25):
I've just decided I don't care these days
R. Alan Brooks (41:28):
At least you're aware I guess
Wes Watkins (41:30):
Well, the thing is I've a definitive division is something that most people don't have. That's definitely true. So if I can look over and be like, you need to break on two and come back in on the end of three, that's something that most people can't say definitively. You look at a band and go do that.
R. Alan Brooks (41:44):
This is the confidence that I was alluding to when you came on stage with, uh, my musicians. Like, that's the thing that I admired is that you came up so clearly and were able to like bring them into the vision of what you were doing very quickly. I thought it was dope.
Wes Watkins (41:57):
Yeah. I mean like James Brown was an asshole.
R. Alan Brooks (42:00):
Yeah, and Miles Davis
Wes Watkins (42:02):
Ay look, that Cicely Tyson book, you read that?
R. Alan Brooks (42:04):
Wes Watkins (42:05):
I'll give it to you. It's a bummer. Don't know if I can listen to Miles really, ever again.
R. Alan Brooks (42:10):
Wes Watkins (42:13):
Uh, but I will say I got into residency gigs cause that one dude said you too bossy. He didn't say it like that. He said, You too bossy. And uh, so then I was like, well I've been rehearsing the band for about a decade, but if I started doing residencies, no rehearsals, like four hour gigs, no rehearsals. Pay 500 bucks. But you don't rehearse a band. So like Right. You get you getting a hundred bucks, you don't gotta do no rehearsals. That's a different game. And then I feel like I had to learn how to communicate in that. So like it, look, the live aspect of that definitely made me who I am. Huh. Right now. And also it was always composition with the crowd like I was writing on stage. So it was always like how they were reacting. Yes. Inherently was probably involved with that. But I truthfully, I mean, they could have been boo when I would've been happy . Like, I like, Oh, you hate that I'm singing an Elvis song. A weird right now. I love it . I love it how you doin' Gerrard's?
R. Alan Brooks (43:26):
I do love the idea of, um, making the audience feel like this is our thing. I'm directing it, I'm doing what I want to do. But it's, we're doing this together because, uh, I think the, the end result of that is like, you know, you might have had experience but like to do a show and then have like strangers come up and hug you after the show.
Wes Watkins (43:47):
Please don't touch me.
R. Alan Brooks (43:49):
Especially in these days. Right. But like,
Wes Watkins (43:51):
R. Alan Brooks (43:51):
But you know. Okay. Word. But it's a very interesting thing to me that, um, people can have an experience where they're like in the audience and feel like they know me or they feel like they're connected to me in some way before, which they didn't have before they came. You know,
Wes Watkins (44:10):
I don't like that
R. Alan Brooks (44:11):
You don't like them feeling connected to you or you don't like them feeling like they understand you in a different way?
Wes Watkins (44:16):
I don't like them feeling like they know me. Okay. Which is what you said.
R. Alan Brooks (44:19):
I said that is. Yeah.
Wes Watkins (44:20):
I don't like them feel like they know me. No, it's different. It's a cultural thing. There's some folk I meet and they say, Hey, nice clothes. They keep walking down the street and there's some folks who are like, I really like your coat
R. Alan Brooks (44:33):
Wes Watkins (44:34):
I'm like, Thank you. And they're like, No, I really like your coat. Yeah. I really like your coat. I really like your coat.
R. Alan Brooks (44:39):
All those voices. Okay.
Wes Watkins (44:41):
Yeah and I'm like cool, thanks. Like, you know what I mean? Like, you know, and that, that's how I kind of feel at shows is like there's some folks who can come up and be like, move.
R. Alan Brooks (44:50):
Wes Watkins (44:50):
But you could feel that energy.
R. Alan Brooks (44:52):
That's what I'm talking about.
Wes Watkins (44:52):
That vibration exists. Yeah. Exists. You could be like, Oh yo, thank you. Blessings. Blessings. You know? And then some folks who are like, Oh my God, you're so badass. And you're like, Thanks homie, No, I mean like you're seriously so badass and those are the people who usually wanna hug me. And I don't like them.
R. Alan Brooks (45:08):
Nah, I feel you there. That that means nothing to me because, uh, you know, like, it, it is, it's empty. It's they're just gassing you up and uh, they want something more. They're not actually like feeling a connection. It's just like either it's um, you were just on stage and they wanna feel important to their friends or they're like, Oh yeah, I talked to that person. Or they're trying to steal your attention or approval or cool or whatever. But there's a lot of co-opting of "Black Cool" all over.
Wes Watkins (45:33):
Yeah. Okay. I have a question. . What's the difference between jam bands and funk?
R. Alan Brooks (45:40):
Uh, one is good.
Wes Watkins (45:42):
R. Alan Brooks (45:43):
Wes Watkins (45:44):
One pretends to compose black music. Huh. One composes black music. One pretends to compose black music. And there there's, there is white funk bands. That compose Black music. But then there's those who don't compose
R. Alan Brooks (45:59):
and it just goes on.
Wes Watkins (46:00):
Yeah. We're like funk jam. Shut the fuck up.
R. Alan Brooks (46:02):
No form. No, it doesn't go anywhere. It just goes on forever and ever. Random solos. Yeah.
Wes Watkins (46:10):
I think about it often.
R. Alan Brooks (46:11):
I swear after people listen this episode, you're gonna give so much stuff to Google between all the names of artists and like different, uh, styles of music and history. Like, this is, this is dope man. I appreciate this conversation.
Wes Watkins (46:23):
I appreciate you having me. You know, look, you wanna hear something cool? Yeah. So there's a new, there's a new photography exhibit at the museum. And there's a picture of a lady I, I never heard of and I, I felt like a fool. I should have been known about this lady before there was Sarah Vaughan before there was Ella Fitzgerald there was a woman called Maxine Sullivan. She's sang with both of the Dorsey's band. She's sang with with Frank Sinatra sang with everybody. She's like the OG of that entire before Ivy Anderson sang with Duke Ellington, she's like the OG. There's this picture of her. So I look at what happened. I find out about all, all about her. And um, I listened to her quite a bit today. She has the cleanest voice. She was a flugelhorn player. You know what's in this box? That's a flugelhorn. It's so funny. You don't, you don't think about somebody, First of all, I knew, cuz I've researched it. I know quite a few ladies who played a horn. But could anybody in this room name a Black woman trumpet player or any woman trumpet player?
R. Alan Brooks (47:24):
Wes Watkins (47:26):
The first one I think about is Cynthia who played with Sly and the Family Stone.
R. Alan Brooks (47:30):
Wes Watkins (47:30):
Cynthia Williams. Cynthia Go, you know, Dance through the music. Cynthia. Yeah. That's the first one I'll think about. But yeah, I didn't know about this woman. Maxine Sullivan and the flugelhorn also, this is, we're talking before Ella, we talking like forties, thirties, you know, and she was playing flugelhorn with her dad's band. That's cool. That's before Chuck Mangione went. Like she's sitting there playing with the big band with her pops playing the flugelhorn.
R. Alan Brooks (48:00):
Wes Watkins (48:01):
R. Alan Brooks (48:01):
Wes Watkins (48:02):
I like to represent that. Cause that's a good thing about you know something.
R. Alan Brooks (48:06):
Okay. So what are you drawing inspiration from? What are you listening to? What are you watching? What's inspiring you creatively these days?
Wes Watkins (48:14):
Everything that's not me is inspiring. The, the sound baffles on the wall are inspiring. The museum taught me how to look at things. Huh. Music taught me how to listen to things. And you cats like you taught me how to, how to move with things. You know, like, so like everything is inspiring. That's not me. That's what I draw inspiration from. Simple Pleasures are the best.
R. Alan Brooks (48:37):
Ah, we just went through a whole Bobby McFaren thing just recently.
Wes Watkins (48:41):
Oh yeah. I love Bobby. Yeah. Simple pleasure are the best
R. Alan Brooks (48:45):
Wes Watkins (48:47):
I love Bobby.
R. Alan Brooks (48:48):
How that dude man. All right. Uh, okay, well what, what, what do you, what you got coming? Like is there anything you wanna promote? You got stuff coming out, You working on stuff, What you're doing? What's next?
Wes Watkins (48:59):
I might have a piece in the Denver Art Museum that's kinda wild. It's um, it's just, it's the second. I don't know if it will be or not. Maybe it will be, maybe it won't, but
R. Alan Brooks (49:10):
That's good. We're making it mysterious.
Wes Watkins (49:12):
What that thing about , it's a series of things I've been working on for a while called Attention Span. Cause everybody lost their attention span, you know? Yeah. And so they're all like, they're like these 45 second songs, 3o second songs really. I say 45 seconds. I'm lying. They're all 30 second songs and uh,
R. Alan Brooks (49:34):
Wes Watkins (49:35):
And so I think my buddy Asher, he, he made a video after Gerard passed. Okay. Um, to one of those. And so I submitted it to this showcase the Art Museum has coming up of, of our museum cats, which is hip kinda like Baltimore. Okay.
R. Alan Brooks (49:51):
So that's a possibility to look forward to, uh, where can people find your music and
Wes Watkins (49:57):
Look Bandcamp, Spotify is trash.
R. Alan Brooks (49:59):
Wes Watkins (50:00):
R. Alan Brooks (50:00):
well yes, but
Wes Watkins (50:01):
There was that one where Bette Middler. No, it's probably like 2010, 2009. I don't know. Twitter was, Twitter was big by the then probably 2010, you know, and uh, Bette Middler does a tweet about Spotify and she posted like a screenshot of her check. It was like 50 bucks and her, her song had been like this big movie. You know? Millions of plays.
R. Alan Brooks (50:24):
Jay-Z took his music off because of that. And uh, Taylor Swift and a lot of people got a like, well-established musicians.
Wes Watkins (50:30):
Taylor Swift and I have the same birthday, December 13th
R. Alan Brooks (50:32):
Yeah? Me and uh, Louis Armstrong have the same birthday.
Wes Watkins (50:36):
R. Alan Brooks (50:37):
Wes Watkins (50:38):
August 4th. Yeah. Happy belated.
R. Alan Brooks (50:40):
Yeah. Thanks. I'm still accepting gifts.
Wes Watkins (50:44):
R. Alan Brooks (50:45):
Wes Watkins (50:46):
You want this battery that's in my pocket? Or ?
R. Alan Brooks (50:51):
Nah uh, that quick jam was the gift.
Okay. Well, uh, thank you. Thank you for talking to us man. It was really, really dope.
Wes Watkins (50:57):
Hey yo, thank you for having me.
R. Alan Brooks (50:59):
All right, well thanks To our listeners, please be sure to subscribe to How Art is Born. Wherever you get your podcasts for our episodes. If you can, leave a review, it really helps us out. Check out MCA Denver on YouTube and subscribe there too for behind the scenes clips from today's episode. Don't forget, To vis Denver's current exhibition, The Dirty South on view now.