From the very beginning, Watch Me Breathe has been all about honesty and authenticity. Lead singer Jake Aaron Ward formed the band in 2017 purely out of frustration. “As a solo artist, I just got fed up with trying to write music only to please other people. Watch Me Breathe is really an experiment that says: what would I write if nobody else was listening?”
The results of that experiment have been surprising. In the short time since the release of their debut LP “The Lighter Side of Darkness” in February 2018, Watch Me Breathe has already accrued well over 150K views on YouTube and over 50K streams on Spotify…and the numbers keep growing.
When it comes to making albums, this particular band has an unusual process, not unlike that of Tame Impala or Bon Iver: Ward (a proficient multi-instrumentalist) writes, performs, records, mixes, and masters every song entirely by himself, in his own California home studio. He jokingly explains “I just kind of suck at collaborating.” He cites an eclectic range of influences, including Peter Gabriel, The Police, Imogen Heap, Goo Goo Dolls, and a whole slew of underground progressive metal bands that have helped shape his unique guitar parts and complex rhythmic patterns. In concert, the band performs as a power trio, with Ward covering guitar and lead vocals, while bassist Ryan Green and drummer/baby brother Carl Ward handle the rhythm section.
XS ROCK: Tell me about the latest band news? Any new projects coming out, live shows or announcements?
Jake: Well, we just released a new single called “Feel Alright” that everyone’s really stoked about. We’re also ramping up to release a sophomore album in September called “The Strange Pull of What You Really Love,” and for the past few months we’ve been working with TAG Publicity and The Label Group to assist with PR and management, respectively. All of it is completely exciting and every day I wake up itching to work further towards the horizon.
XS ROCK: So how long has the band been together?
Jake: The 3 of us played our first show together as Watch Me Breathe about 1 year ago. I believe it was in an art gallery in Salinas, CA called Somos. However, I started the project and released our first album several months prior to that.
XS ROCK: What was your main motivation for originally starting or being in a band?
Jake: I’ve wanted to be a musician for as long as I can remember. Starting bands for me has always been more of a need than a conscious choice, so I guess the answer to your question would be “because I have to!”
XS ROCK: What is your music background?
Jake: Both Carl and I come from an extremely musical household with very musical parents (he’s my younger brother by 3 years). Our mother is a classically trained pianist and my father is a guitarist, singer-songwriter, and successful music businessman who has worked in the audio industry since before I was born. So both Carl and I were very fortunate to be completely surrounded by music and musical equipment from day one. Because of that privileged access, I’m lucky enough to be completely self-taught, and I have a totally weird plethora of different genres and random artists that I’ve grown up listening to and emulating – everything from acoustic folk to rap to death metal. As for Ryan, in addition to being our bassist, he is an excellent songwriter, lead guitar player, and a wonderful singer. He’s been a staple in our local music scene here in Santa Cruz, CA for years and we’re lucky to have him on stage with us.
XS ROCK: What image do you think your music conveys?
Jake: Good question! As a songwriter, I guess my hope is that my work conveys an accurate image of who I am and what questions I have for the world around me. I decided several years ago that I wouldn’t waste my time or energy trying to craft a persona or image-based off what I saw other people succeeding with, because (as one of both Ryan’s and my personal heroes Jim Carrey once said) “you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.” I could also cite Kurt Cobain when he said: “I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not.” To me, honesty is the core principle and the core image of what I’m trying to do. If I wanted to analyze a market, craft a product, and try to sell it to people for max profit, I should just put my guitar in the case, button up my shirt, and start interviewing for a slot in a cubicle somewhere. The whole reason I’m not doing that is that I have something to say that is more important than a six-figure salary.
XS ROCK: What are your current music career goals?
Jake: This is an excellent follow-up question to the last! While the whole point of being a musician instead of some other more stable job is to make an honest statement that I believe in, I think my current and ongoing main goal is ultimately to reach a point of stability where I can dedicate my life and career solely to music, and where I can sustain it over a long, long time into the future. To some that may sound modest, but in the music industry, that’s actually a really lofty goal, and I remind myself every day how hard I have to work to make it a reality.
XS ROCK: Which do you prefer? Writing new songs and recording or playing for a live audience?
Jake: I love playing live, but it’s hard to beat those magical moments when a new song first comes together in the studio. For every good song I’ve written/recorded, there have been at least a dozen lousy ones, but when the song is special there’s always a really wonderful moment when it hits you and you know you’ve got it. I wouldn’t trade that feeling for the world.
XS ROCK: What are your songs’ lyrics about? (What specific themes do they cover?)
Jake: Well, again, I’d say honesty is really the core principle. I’m a very existential, big-picture philosophy type thinker and observer, and I find myself bursting with questions about what I see around me. Why does everyone go through a schooling system that both the teachers and students hate, spend countless hours and dollars studying something they don’t want to know at some university, just so they can get some dumb job they don’t even like? Why do people spend their weekends in dark, crowded rooms buying $12 drinks and just standing around waiting to get laid? Why, when I walk down a municipal street during business hours, does it seems like everyone is just kind of wandering around aimlessly, waiting for something or someone that isn’t arriving? Who or what are they waiting for? Why do we all linger timidly in the shallow water of a vast ocean of experience and mystery? I could go on and on. But those are the questions I find myself asking the most, and that’s probably the best illustration of a “lyrical theme” that I can come up with.
XS ROCK: What is the single most important thing to you as a musician?
XS ROCK: Do you have any outrageous tour stories from the road? If so, please fill us in.
Jake: Here’s a crazy story – we’ve never toured! We’ve only been a band for a year and a half at most, so our quest to build our fanbase to a tour-ready size is still ongoing. We’d love to do it though! The more people who give us a listen and tell their friends, the better chance we have of making a run around the country soon.
XS ROCK: What’s the strangest request that you’ve ever received from one of your fans?
Jake: I’ve definitely gotten some surprising messages from people, but it’s hard to think of anything I would officially categorize as “strange.” People have asked to collaborate, or get feedback on their own music, or in some cases asked for tutorials on how to play our music. I even made a whole video tutorial a while back for someone who wanted to do a guitar cover. But none of that to me is “strange.” In fact, I think it’s totally freaking awesome! The idea that people are out there listening and wanting to learn/cover our music is just completely mind-blowing and exciting to me. I’m sure sooner or later someone will qualify for the “strange” label, but it’s a label I’m highly reluctant to assign – and, growing in Santa Cruz, CA (a notoriously and proudly “weird” town) I think my threshold is abnormally high on the subject anyway.
XS ROCK: Are your friends and family supportive of your choice to play in a rock band?
Jake: Yes! I’m very, very lucky to have supportive parents who love music and think what I’m doing is exciting and worthwhile. I think any parent would worry about a 23-year-old with no college degree trying to build a music career, but I couldn’t ask for a more supportive or wonderful family, and I couldn’t do it without them.
XS ROCK: What advice do you have for new bands trying to get started?
Jake: Don’t listen to anyone’s advice. Nobody knows what they’re talking about and you can achieve whatever the hell you want.
XS ROCK: What are your favorite tracks to play live?
Jake: Man, I don’t know! There’s a song off our first album called Fire that is usually a crowd-pleaser. It’s definitely the most energetic song we play.
XS ROCK: Which band or artist inspired you to perform? Why?
Jake: Oh, the list is long! Sting, Peter Gabriel, Imogen Heap, The Goo Goo Dolls, Switchfoot, The Script, John Mayer, Breaking Benjamin, J. Cole, ERRA, Invent Animate, Novelists, Roger Waters, Counting Crows, SZA, The 1975, and many more…and that’s just the musical artists! I’m also inspired by authors, painters, poets, activists, public intellectuals, philosophers…I could probably write a book about everyone and everything that I think has inspired me to be a musician and perform. I’d like to think there’s something of a common thread somewhere deep below all of these different sources, and that I reach for the same common thread in my own work.
XS ROCK: If you could design a dream tour for your band, who would be on the bill?
Jake: My running answer for this is: either The 1975 or 30 Seconds to Mars as a headliner. One of the problems that have come out of my attempts at musical and artistic non-conformity is that it’s often difficult to assign a set genre or “scene” that we fit into as a band. But those two (and some others, like maybe Walk The Moon or Lights) seem like ideal headliners because they also don’t really have a set, singular genre they fit into, and more importantly, I think their audience is mostly the same and is also made up of people who don’t fit into one box or into the conventional mold of modern society either. I think these are probably the people most likely to hear the message I’m trying to put out and to understand it, too.
XS ROCK: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment so far?
Jake: Staying true to myself.
XS ROCK: If you weren’t performing in a band what kind of career do you think you would have?
Jake: Not a clue. Something awful, I’m sure.
XS ROCK: What type of equipment do you use for live shows?
Jake: I use 2 Fender Telecasters and a simple Marshall combo amp. Ryan uses a long-scale 5 -string Ibanez bass, and Carl plays a Gretsch Catalina kit with some upgraded Sabian hats/cymbals. I also use a Shure wireless system because cables are my sworn nemesis.
XS ROCK: What do you think of the current music scene?
Jake: Which one? The people at the top of the Billboard charts are mostly horrifying, with a few exceptions. The people who come to shows in my hometown, who buy shirts and tickets and dance in the front row, are some of the most thrillingly alive and beautiful people I’ve ever met. I guess I see the overall climate of the music world, with its various scenes and subcultures, as a great raging battle for truth and authenticity. We need more artists like Billie Eilish up there.
XS ROCK: For anyone that doesn’t know you, what would they be surprised to know about you?
Jake: A lot of people are surprised to find out I’m a passionate amateur magician. I first got interested in the 8th grade, when my family took a trip to Las Vegas and I saw Mac King perform, and since then I’ve spent a lot of time learning, practicing, and reading about magic as a historical entity, an art form, and a social tool. If anyone is interested, I actually wrote an article a while back about why I love magic and why I think it is deeply undervalued in modern times. You can check it out here if you don’t believe me! http://bit.ly/334F9Bu
XS ROCK: Is there anything that you’d like to promote or say to your fans out there?
Jake: Keep an eye out for new material coming next month and the following month, and if you’ve read this article, watched our videos, streamed our music, or in any other way supported what we’re doing, I cannot thank you enough!
XS ROCK: Thanks again for taking the time to talk with us at XS ROCK!
Jake: Totally! Thank you, guys!
Watch Me Breathe:
Jake Aaron Ward – Guitars, Vocals
Ryan Green – Bass
Carl Ward – Drums