George Watsky took a moment at VANS Warped Tour 2014 to talk with PopWrapped about live performance, his YouTube channel, his upcoming poetry book with Penguin, and more. Check out his interview below.
Zachary Jaydon: Bands like We The Kings started off on Warped Tour and went to YouTube, and you kind of did the opposite--you started off on YouTube and went to Warped Tour. What do you think the difference in audience is with that and how do you feel about the transition?
George Watsky: Well, a lot of people might not know this, but my first professional experience was way before YouTube. I was on a TV show called Def Poetry Jam in 2007, and I was a spoken word artist growing up in San Francisco. For five years I actually did college gigs… [I had] no online profile whatsoever and I played campuses. I played like 400 gigs; I was a live performer. So, my background is in live performance...you don’t have to be good at performing to make great videos [and vice versa]. However, I love to do both of those things, so I work really hard to try to have both of those be part of what I do. … Now I just view them as two facets of what I do. Being on Warped [Tour] is great. We, because we’re not the core [audience of] Warped, I think that we don’t fit right down the middle here, but we have enough in common with what they do to fit and be an interesting act, which means we fit in a lot of other places too. So, we can play in LA and San Francisco. I play a festival every year in LA called VidCon which is for [YouTube] content creators, and I think it’s great. I think it just makes us more versatile.
ZJ: You are one of the most versatile performers at Warped Tour, and even some of the other conventions... I think one of the things that makes you so interesting is that you work with everybody, and you kind of don’t give a shit, you just do what you like to do… and you just don’t care about how people view that...It all flows so great, and it works so well together, and I think it’s sort of an important lesson that you’ve taught artists in general…. That you don’t have to think about it a lot and make records based on expectations of other people… For me, I would want to know, what is next for you? What are you going to do next to stir the pot again, because it seems like every time we think you’re done doing one thing you come back and you’re like, “Oh, no, no, no. I’m not done doing that, I’m going to do something totally different.”
GW: Well, thank you. I don’t want to get pigeonholed… I was doing poetry stuff in college because I loved doing it. I found myself playing the same kind of gigs five years later and I wanted to have a new challenge for myself. And it can be really tough, you know, when you don’t fit into a box and you can’t be like, “yeah, I’m pop punk or I am a hip-hop act who can play just hip-hop festivals"… and, we’re not like that. Like I said earlier, that weakness is our strength also because it means we fit in [more places]. And I say 'we' because my band is a big part of what I do, the video creation team is part of what I do; It’s not just me by myself as the whole operation. But after this, I’m trying to figure out, if rapping dries up or if I get the rug pulled out from under me in music, to ensure that I have a long career after that. So, I actually have an upcoming deal with Penguin to write a series of humor essays, kind of observational humor stuff, so that’s what I’ve been working on for like a year before this; trying to get my foot in the next thing so that once rap is done. I can still make a living as a writer and a performer. Because I don’t want to view myself as just, “I’m a rapper,” and then when music’s over i’m just going to count my money. First of all, I’m not making a ton of money doing it…I wanna keep challenging myself so I think being more of a traditional writer… is something I’m interested in doing, but i’m gonna ride the music road for as long as I can.
ZJ: You did a program with Vidcon [this year] where some poets got to go to VidCon and VidCon attendees got to go to a poetry event. How did that work out?
GW: So, I started this charity program called Bridge Exchange earlier this year because I have a foot in the poetry world and a foot in the video content creation world. I feel like the two communities have so much in common, but no connection to each other. How cool would it be to create a program where kids get to go, for free, who are already involved in one to the other one… So [we] raised $10,000, sent 4 kids from VidCon over to Brave New Voices, which is the national poetry slam I was heavily involved in growing up. Then [we] sent 4 kids from the national poetry slam to VidCon in order to experience the other people’s conference, make connections with each other, and then come together through these collaborative projects. So, it was a collaboration with Soul Pancake, VidCon, and Brave New Voices. And Soul Pancake did a video series with kids collaborating with each other on poetry … it was awesome. Kids came from all over the world… we had someone from South Africa, someone from the UK, people from the South, Midwest, LA, East Coast [of the US] and they all got along great… It was very gratifying and a lot of hard work, too.
ZJ: Is [Bridge Exchange] something you’re planning on continuing next year?
GW: I don’t know if I can continue the Bridge Exchange next year. It was so much work for me. I loved doing it, but to be coordinating that from Warped Tour was the most stressful thing I did this summer. Because I was literally on my computer and [people are telling me], “she doesn’t have the right visa in the Capetown [South Africa] airport,” and i’m getting ready to play a set in half an hour and I’m trying to interface with the travel agent to make sure the person can get from South Africa to here. And I felt very responsible for them to have a good time, because I promised them a transformative experience. So, if I have help I can do it next year, but it was a lot.
ZJ: I think that’s a call out for help, everyone…. You mentioned that during Warped Tour you’ve been working on [Bridge Exchange] but you’ve been releasing a few new songs on video right now. Has that been kind of crazy [to coordinate] too, or was it all set-up and prepared before you started the tour?
GW: So, I have an album coming out in two weeks called All You Can Do on August 12th, right after Warped Tour ends and definitely planning the launch of an album while on Warped Tour is really hard. I shoot a lot of videos, so I had to get five videos in the can before I left, which was a ton of work. And the editing process is happening while I’m gone and I’ll be shooting two more when I get back, so I’m in pre-production for those. And yeah, it’s just like I’m not partying on Warped at all because I’m on the bus e-mailing people about video production schedules and what blogs we’re going to be launching our album with. So, in some ways I can’t take in the Warped experience in terms of raging with everybody, but it’s just the way I view this is an opportunity to get myself in front of people and launch the album for more people. So yeah, it’s a ton of work, it’s a lot to be thinking about at the same time, but I think it’s going to be all okay. And I’m loving [the tour], I’ve made so many friends, I don’t regret it but yet to be planning an album launch while on another tour is really, really challenging.