Interview – Maktub
Q & A with Reggie Watts
By Matt Brown
Once upon a time, I accidentally fell in love with a woman who reads books. She was especially fond of The Alchemist, by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, which she gave me for my birthday shortly before we started dating . About sixty pages in, I came across the phrase “Maktub.”
My first thought was “Isn’t that a band?” My next thought was “How the hell do you pronounce that?” My last thought was, “Chicks who read books are HOT!”
Maktub is indeed a band. A phenomenal one. (The fact that some clueless hack from Rolling Stone shat all over their latest album, Khronos, is not an indication of anything beyond the fact that corporate rock magazines still, and shall always, suck!!!)
Their music simultaneously oozes with honeyed soul and acid-drenched guitar. Their name is pronounced “Mock-‘toob” and yes, women in love with the printed word have a clear shot at my tiny, wrinkled little heart (especially when they look as good as my girl does when she dances to Maktub’s sexy grooves!)
I stopped wishing the curse of major label “success” upon Seattle bands almost a decade ago, but with years of regional acclaim for their two self-released albums, some brilliant Internet self-promotion dating back to 1999, and a much-deserved showcase on National Public Radio, Maktub is truly standing on the verge of getting it on.
Vocalist Reggie Watts fronts the group with an elastic voice that’s instantly familiar yet somehow incredibly unique. I caught up with him in Tucson, Arizona shortly before the band took the stage amidst the swanky sleaze of a club called Plush…
Nada Mucho: It’s been a long road for you guys, but it seems like things are finally starting to break open with the NPR exposure… your songs playing at Starbuck’s…
Reggie Watts: Yeah, little bit here and there.
NM: Tell me about how you started out.
RW: Well, the band started about 1995, but that was a different formation. We recorded an album in that formation (1999’s Subtle Ways) and then we added a different keyboardist and a different guitar player in 2000. So essentially, Maktub, the new version, has been around for about two years. We recorded Khronos.
NM: Daniel Spils, your keyboardist, worked with Super Sonic Soul Pimps back in the day, did some work with Dan the Automator (Lovage) … how did you guys hook up?
RW: I saw him around a little bit. Actually, there was a person, I believe, from the Super Sonic Soul Pimps, who suggested him when we were trying out some different people. Daniel was cool and so we’ve worked with him ever since…
NM: Did you ever see 3SP when they gigged around Seattle?
RW: Uh, I saw them a couple times. I can’t remember him in it… I barely…
NM: Right, right…(laughing)
RW: But, uh, I know they were superbad…
NM: Right… I don’t remember a lot of their shows either… just kind of a general good vibe…
RW: Yeah! Exactly…
NM: Right on. You worked with Carrie Akre (Hammerbox, Goodness, The Rockfords) on her first solo album. Do you two go way back?
RW: Yeah, one of the things about Maktub is that I’ve been trying to play with as many different types of people as possible. When Carrie went solo, she called me and I came over and worked with her on a few songs and it was a lot of fun. She and I got along. and then we (Maktub) had her open for us… I believe we opened for her once, too.
NM: Did you do a lot of session work previous to Maktub?
RW: Yeah. I played in a lot of different bands… many, many different types of bands, electronic… I had a project that I started called Elemental, which was kind of a live, improvised drum and bass group. There was a record on Sub Pop called Heather Duby and Elemental with an amazing, amazing, amazing singer. So, I did that and uh, just session work and tons of other bands. Ever since I got to Seattle I’ve been playing in a billion projects…
NM: Where were you before Seattle?
RW: Yeah, Great Falls.
NM: Uhhh… what got you into music originally?
RW: My parents listened to a lot of great music. Y’know, Ray Charles and James Brown, Miles Davis. My mom listened to Edith Piaf and Nana Moskouri and a bunch of other strange folk artists. So when I was five, I started piano lessons and took piano until I was about sixteen. And I took violin for eight years… I’ve always been in music.
NM: So, you’re still working on the third Maktub album?
RW: We did six songs with a producer named Printz Board (member of Black Eyed Peas, Nikka Costa’s band) and they sound really great. We used them as a demo. We’re probably gonna use some of them on the new record but there’s a possibility we won’t. The next record will probably be recorded in the summer or early fall. It’ll probably come out early next year.
NM: No plans to work with Steve Fisk (producer of Maktub’s first two albums) on this one at all?
RW: Don’t know… don’t know. We might want to go a different road, y’know. Try a different direction… but, everything’s open.
NM: Right on. What’s he like to work with?
RW: He’s cool to work with… he’s a big kid. Like anybody, he’s like… moody, he’s a big kid. But he makes some really interesting production calls and it’s always fun. I think the reason we chose Fisk in the first place is that we wanted someone who could do rock and could do electronic… he was the only guy in town who had done an album like Heather Duby’s Post to Wire, which is a masterpiece electronic record, and also did rock as well. Nirvana and so forth…
RW: Soundgarden, yeah… and so he’s a good guy to work with. Those are all favorite bands of ours.
NM: He didn’t do any strange remixes of your work like he did with Soundgarden?
RW: Uhhh, no, he didn’t. We didn’t commission anything like that… we should’ve!
NM: How did Starbuck’s get a hold of your music?
RW: That was a thing our manager (David Meinert, legendary promoter of Seattle all-ages shows at the Odd Fellows hall in the early ‘90s) set up. Obviously, Starbuck’s started in Seattle, and we’ve been around long enough for people there to know about us. I don’t know who contacted who first, but it was a pretty mutual thing to do that… it’s a good move, so…
NM: Well, what questions do you have for me?
RW: (Laughing) I don’t know! Ahh, (in sexy feminine voice) what’s your favorite color?
NM: Blue. Definitely.
RW: Yeah, blue! What magazine is this again? Is it online?