Pop Producer Andrew Watt’s Mission to Bring Back Rock ’n’ Roll
This time six years ago, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d never hear of Andrew Watt again.
The young guitarist had got himself embroiled in the mire that was Glenn Hughes’ career at the time. The former Deep Purple and Black Sabbath singer and bassist had played a significant role in the collapse of the supergroup Black Country Communion in 2013. Soon afterward he announced California Breed, featuring BCC’s drummer Jason Bonham along with new discovery Watt, who was 23 at the time. They released their self-titled album in May 2014. Then everything began to go wrong.
“We are no more … another thing we couldn’t keep together,” the group announced on social media on Jan. 15, 2015. To some, it wasn’t a surprise – Bonham had bowed out the previous year, and while no complete explanation was offered, media quotes suggested some level of discontent behind the scenes. Following up, Watt posted a brief comment, saying: “I put everything I had into this band. All I can say is I was in it for the long haul. This is not the end – it is truly the beginning.” Not exactly a line that wasn't heard before, but it turns out Watt right on the money.
Soon after that, his career began to skyrocket, and he quickly became a big name on the pop scene, writing with, performing with and producing pop stars including Justin Bieber, Post Malone, Miley Cyrus, Dua Lipa and many others. He also recorded as a solo artist. Rock fans may have missed out on that Grammy-winning creative explosion because he was now simply credited as “Watt.” For them, it would have been even more of a surprise when his long walk back from the California Breed wilderness resulted with him masterminding Ozzy’s Osbourne’s life-saving 2020 album Ordinary Man.
Watch California Breed's ‘Sweat Tea’ Video
“Life-saving” is literal, as Osbourne himself admitted. The project began after he had suffered severe health issues that made him a prisoner at home; just as he began to recover, the coronavirus made everyone prisoners in their homes. “The album has saved my life,” he stated outright. “Before I started work, I was just lying there thinking, ‘Poor old me.’ The album got me out of bed. … It was the best medicine I could have, because it stopped me thinking about how I might end up a cripple.”
Ordinary Man was a natural progression from Watt’s first encounter with Osbourne, which came through Malone. After discovering the pop star was a fan of the Prince of Darkness, Watt told himself: “I gotta make a song for Post and Ozzy. ... I’ve said insane shit out loud before, and this was one of those times.”
The resulting track, “Take What You Want,” became a mainstream hit. “This means that, in 2019, there is a fucking metal song on pop radio with a tapping guitar solo and Ozzy Osbourne," Watt, also a longtime Osbourne fan, reported proudly. "And that is the coolest shit to me in the entire world.”
Watch Video for Post Malone Feat. Ozzy Osbourne's ‘Take What You Want’
Osbourne's album was written and recorded quickly with assistance from Duff McKagan and Chad Smith, both of whom were attracted to Watt's positive energy. Guns N’ Roses bassist McKagan, who knows a thing or two about difficult creative collaborations, noted: “We'd never written together, and you know that can go sideways in a hot second. But it didn’t.”
In December 2020 Watt told Guitar.com that since he “grew up in the Napster generation,” he “had so many different types of music in front of me.”
“My favorite rock music is not perfect; it has holes," he explained. "You had to know how to play your instrument to make those amazing Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Smiths records.” He said that while writing pop, hip-hop and rap tracks involved different emphasis, it was always “important to feel real.” His compositions “all start with guitar, even if the final song doesn’t have a guitar,” he added, noting how he had played in blues dives across New York City.
“What’s cool about rock ‘n’ roll is that it became so much more than a genre,” he reflected. “You can use it as an adjective. It’s the only genre you can use as an adjective, like, ‘Look at that person, they’re so rock ‘n’ roll!’ It’s an attitude and a vibe. That part of it is very much alive today.”
For a person who’s only 30 years old, and given his recent past, it would seem foolish to suggest he’s already peaked. So while working with Osbourne is a high point in his career so far, there’s likely to be more of the same. “It was a true dream,” the producer said. “When you look back on a career in music and being blessed enough to be a musician, it’s those kinds of moments that will really stick. I’ve spent so much time with someone I idolize. Ozzy’s like a family member now.”
Watch Ozzy Osbourne's ‘Ordinary Man’ Video
Work continues on a follow-up to Ordinary Man, although Watt himself suffered a health setback when he caught COVID-19, from which he’s still recovering. Still, he reflected: “Ozzy was very sick when we started the first album, recovering from his neck surgery, and this album gave him another lease on life. It was the first time I’d ever been involved in something musical that was about something greater than the music. It saved this guy’s life. I reached my childhood dream of being able to make rock ‘n’ roll with the exact person I wanted to make it with.”
Back in January 2016, Watt vowed to “continue the quest to bring rock ’n’ roll back to the people that are hungry for it.” He delivered. For those who worry rock crossovers have spent too much time crossing away and not steering toward the genre they love, Watt offers hope.
With blues in his education, the Beatles’ “Blackbird” as one of his favorite songs and a Bob Dylan quote as own motto – “If you ever feel really stuck, play your favorite song for an hour over and over” – it’s no wonder he’s held in such high regard.
Watch Andrew Watt Perform ‘High’