Iain Watson is a spoken-word artist, beatmaker, MC, producer, and teacher based in Reno, NV. We spoke to Iain about all the intersections of his artistry, which lead to a thoughtful conversation that discusses how Iain uses his different music interests to defeat creative blocks, and how everyone’s growth as a creator is different (including his young students). The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity. Cover photo courtesy of De La Foto (Cesar Lopez).
Ava: What drives you to make music?
Iain: In the beginning I would say it was the need to be part of the hip-hop culture I was absolutely obsessed with as a teenager. I think currently it’s a bit of capturing a little part of my youth; but I also have something inside of me that wants to make a truly unique project that represents all the artistic facets of my being. I’m looking at what I’ve done these last few years as stepping stones to get to that “magnum opus” project.
I have to create, it’s always been part of who I am. I need to be around creative energy because that’s what inspires me: all the artists and the beauty they create.
A: What was your journey into music like?
I: When I was 15, I went to summer camp and decided to participate in the talent show by writing my own rap song. It was such a crazy rush and gave me a good deal of confidence: I was a shy, insecure kid. That experience definitely helped me come out of my shell. After camp, I continued writing and experimenting with recording on tape decks and eventually learned how to record on computer programs. Two of my best friends were DJ’s and one was also into music production and they helped me learn more. Making beats was never something I took that seriously; I was more into writing raps, freestyling at open mics and performing. But as I grew older, I became more interested in making everything myself. I was picking up some momentum with learning different DAWs and was starting to know my way around Ableton, but then my computer crashed and that really put a pause on everything. I was entering a pretty busy time with getting my teaching license and Masters so I stopped doing hip-hop music all together. I was, however, very deep into the poetry collective I started (Spoken Views), and was more into writing spoken word and competing in poetry slams at that time. Hip-hop definitely took a backseat until about 4 years ago.
I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is: progression looks different for everyone. I’m a slow learner…and I know I’ve always gotten better with time and dedication.
A: Do you enjoy collaborating? What is that process like for you?
I: Collaborating is great! The one thing I love to see in music is different artists collaborating, especially when it’s a blending of different genres. At this moment, I really want to produce projects for other emcees, singers and poets.
The process has to start with dedication to the idea. I greatly dislike when someone agrees to collaborate and doesn’t follow through. From a producer standpoint, I either make my beats available online for previewing or I meet up in person and share my music. People work differently so I have to be somewhat flexible but usually they write to the beats then they either record at my place or they record on their own and bounce the files over so I can start the editing process. I am still learning how to mix properly and use plugins to clean everything up, but I’m slowly learning and improving on those things.
A: Do you ever feel creatively blocked?
I: Actually a big reason I got more into beat making was because I was creatively blocked with writing. I hit a wall, so spending more time producing beats really helped me find a way to redirect my creative energy. Through the process of making beats I actually started to write again. I don’t want to give either up but I’m really enjoying being the musical soundscape and not the voice at the moment.
A: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as an artist?
I: I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is: progression looks different for everyone. I’m a slow learner; it takes me a while to find comfort and confidence in things I do, and I’m also pretty resilient and know I’ve always gotten better with time and dedication. Even though I have been at this for a while, I am now finally feeling like I’m moving in the right direction.
A: What’s an accomplishment you’ve made in your music practice that you’re proud of?
I: I see a clear progression and with every project I’m making, I am more proud and excited with the direction I’m moving in. I’m pretty excited to share the new project I’m working on.
A: How do you see the internet and technology impacting your experience as a musician? What was the last piece of technology or product that changed your practice?
I: It’s definitely a lot easier to share and promote projects with all the streaming services out there and I also am able to download plugins and drum kits to help with my production. I still try to keep most of my beats analogue in the sense of sampling from records, I don’t sample off of the internet with the exception of Tracklib. The cool thing about Tracklib is you can clear your samples easily with their services – so if I ever get to that point, I know how to use that resource. The internet has definitely helped with my upcoming project that I’m producing for a friend of mine – this project has been in the works for about 3 years and we’ve mainly collaborated by email.
I also need to give credit to my fiance, Jamie. She uses NI (Native Instruments) Maschine for her music, and if it wasn’t for her, I would have never purchased one and got back into music production. I have used a handful of DAWs, so it didn’t take too much time to become comfortable with Maschine software and I really love the workflow…I am also learning a lot about Logic Pro X and use it mainly for vocal recording and mixing. I have been using Landr for mastering. All 3 of those products have been awesome for my projects.
A: I see you recently released an awesome EP. What was the process of creating PAN (d) EMIC like during the lockdowns?
I: I presented the idea to my friend Pan…(I figured this had to happen with his name and my hip hop moniker (emic) both appearing in the word “pandemic”)…anyways, he agreed, we met up (outside and socially distant). I shared a number of beats, he picked the ones he wanted, he fit some of his writings to them or wrote some new ones and then he came over a few times to record his verses. It was a little weird having someone over during a pandemic, with all of the CDC guidelines/recommendations, but we found a way to do it safely. Luckily it was a six song EP so it was easy to get it done in a few sessions.
A: What is the relationship between you as an artist and you as a teacher? Do you find yourself using your creativity in the classroom, or encouraging your students’ creativity?
I: When I decided to become a teacher, I wanted to work with older students so I could do more art related things – mainly poetry directed projects. I ended up as a second grade teacher for my first three years and now I’m teaching third. It’s been tough to find a way to incorporate art into our curriculum; I feel like every year there is something new thrown our way with limited training so it makes it difficult to find a consistent groove, especially now with all the covid-19 protocol. Aside from that, it’s hard teaching younger kids poetry the way I’d like to, but I try to introduce it to them on a very basic level. As I get more familiar with our curriculum, I really am hoping to integrate more art (my Masters was actually on integrating art into the classroom).
Thank you Iain for talking to us. We can’t wait to get our hands on your next collaboration.
You can follow Iain and his projects on
and listen to his latest collaborative EP, PAN(d)EMIC, here!
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