Tough crowd, this funeral

Sophie Heawood meets Canadian songwriter Patrick Watson

For somebody who says he needs to learn more about writing stories, Canadian songwriter Patrick Watson certainly knows how to tell them. As he sits waiting to go on stage in Charing Cross Road, London, manically winding a pair of earphones around his knuckles, he ends up telling me about the first woman he ever loved, who went off to become a notorious New York call-girl and publish exploits of her dalliances with high-ranking politicians. Did he know at 18 that his girlfriend was destined for such, er, greatness? "She had that spark that can go either way," he says, grinning.

Then there's the one about him and his band recording most of their new album, Closer to Paradise, really quite far from paradise: a disused city church in their hometown of Montreal. "Some rich guy owned it and wanted people to take care of it. We had a trampoline in there and a 30ft inflatable bubble; it was completely shambolic." Watson took to ringing the bells at 5am, an exhilarating feat (how the neighbours must have loved him), and he ended up presiding over a squeegee punk wedding. A squeegee what? "They're punks who did a bunch of stuff and later wanted to make up for it by washing windshields. And the wedding was hilarious - all these punks with hair like this," he gestures an enormous Mohican shape, "and the vows were like, promise you're gonna sleep in this guy's puke for the rest of your life."

Watson had already been freaked out by churches: as a child, he was singled out by his vicar, plonked in front of the whole congregation and told to sing a solo. "I was like, you've gotta be out of your mind. Stop smoking the drugs, sir!" Next thing he knew he was performing at funerals. "It was kinda heavy for a nine-year-old. I was all by myself, in front of all these strangers bawling their eyes out, and I had to sing for them. I remember that first funeral being one of the toughest gigs of my life."

Don't be misled by the name of the band. Patrick Watson may be the name of the frontman, but there are three other musicians - and hired guns they are not. Theirs is a collaborative effort, says guitarist Simon Angell: "We play off each other's dynamics". On record, there is a beautifully contained sadness to their multi-instrumental sound, but it's the live shows where things really take off, with the band building layer upon layer to heartbreaking and -warming effect. They are also happy to improvise, "and fall flat on our faces when it doesn't work out," Angell says. This sense of freedom might be why they were asked to support James Brown at the Tower of London.

So why don't they get a real band name? They say it's because they can't choose one they all like. "We can never agree on anything," admits Angell. So why not choose one that none of them like? "Hey that's a brilliant idea!" he says. "We could be united in our hatred, so when people ask us it can be something we all dislike. Oh wait, no, we already have that. Patrick Watson."

· Close to Paradise, Patrick Watson's new album, is out on September 17. Their UK tour starts the same day at London's ICA (020-7930 3647)


Sophie Heawood

The GuardianTramp

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