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Reggie Watts – Layering and looping with the VoiceLive Touch
Reggie Watts is renowned for his improvised vocal performances and “on the fly” compositions involving looping and effects as key elements to his sound. Having used instrumentally aimed and marketed loopers to perform this vocally layered style of music in the past; it’s only natural that when he heard about the arrival of TC-Helicon’s vocalist specific VoiceLive Touch he wanted to know more…
He shares, “Everything I’ve used was not made for vocalists – mainly for guitarists so this is an interesting thing because it’s made specifically for vocalists! That’s what’s exciting about it. I was aware that TC-Helicon made lots of gear for singers, but this was the first concise, super chunky, high probability machine capable of looping that I wanted to get inside of. I like the possibilities!
You can sense it when you pull it out of the box –being able to turn it on and do things straight away means this is a pretty inspirational thing.
It inspires ideas and inspires you to want to figure it out more and to master it. When I first got it, I plugged it in and it was awesome.”
Starting music at the tender age of just 5 years old, Reggie’s musical journey began with violin and piano lessons and later he studied jazz at the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. Also during his time in Seattle, Reggie worked in many different styles & genres – and in many different groups including Hit Explosion, Swampdweller, Action Buddy, Chiarrscuro, Clementine, Smell No Taste, Wayne Horvitz 4+1 Ensemble, Das Rut, Synthclub, Elemental, Eyvand Kang Seven Nades, Free Space and others. Most notably, Reggie became the front man for soul, rock, and hip hop group Maktub, with which he has recorded five albums. Reggie also composed musical scores for Northwest dance choreographers KT Niehoff, Amy O’Neal, Maureen Whiting, Pat Graney and Beth Huerta.
Reggie continues, “My jazz voice teacher and a friend of mine both did looping so I was aware of it. I didn’t start looping until around 1998 when I’d begun to grasp how to use the concept more proficiently. Now, it’s evolved and is continuing to evolve. The VoiceLive Touch is along that path of evolution. It’s a very powerful tool.”
Amongst citing some of his favourite VoiceLive Touch features, Reggie mentions the touch screen, the on/off nature of some of the key elements, range of inputs and also the ability to use headphones with the unit. He shares, “It also feels really solid which is important to me. I especially love the harmoniser stuff. I like doing harmonies and I usually have to loop them and add them one on top of the other – I really like having the instant harmonies.”
Reggie has a vast range of influences, many of which are evident upon first listen of his work. “My Influences range from definitely Bobby McFerrin, the Fat Boys, Corey Glover, Al Jarreau and Marvin Gaye. Also, the singers in the Pat Metheny group and Nancy king who’s an amazing Jazz vocalist. For beatboxing, it’s probably Roselle or Kenny Mohammed and Beardyman. However, I don’t really employ a lot of the techniques that beatboxers use; I kind of have my own thing which is good and bad at the same time but I’m influenced by all of that. Also, Michael Winslow from Police Academy really influenced that idea of mimicking machines, mechanical sounds, electronic sounds and natural sounds as well – just generally using the voice to mimic nature and machines.”
When quizzed on exactly how he approaches his looping compositions, he responded, “What I’m thinking in my head when I’m looping is really nothing. I usually start with a vibe or a feeling and then I just kind of let go. Usually when I get the first loop or initial groove going, that will tell me what the next thing is. So, I just let one thing lead me to the next thing and I hope it works out. Sometimes it can be a sloppy loop but that’s the risk you take when improvising! It’s like surfing or something; you’re just listening to the environment and letting it inform you.”
When asked what he would offer as advice to other vocalists and musicians Reggie thoughtfully responded, “I guess the important thing to think about as an artist is not really paying too much attention to all the flashy stuff. It’s ok to want to be on stage but know why you want to be on stage.
It starts with loving what it is you do and the fact that you can’t stop hearing music in your head or you can’t stop seeing colours. You have to really want that to happen. There will always be people who are going to want to be celebrities – that’s fine too. That’s a different path. But, people who become celebrities because of what they do didn’t necessarily set out designing their pathway to being a celebrity. It’s not really about that, it’s mainly just about listening to your intuition and desire to make and create music or art. Everything else just comes, and goes, but you will always have that – the relationship to your intuition and your desire to seek the ideas that are in your head in material reality and have them out there for people to listen and react to. That’s really all that matters. Work on being playful otherwise you lose it.”
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