Andrew Watt kicked off 2020 as a Guitar World cover star for his work as guitarist, producer and co-songwriter on Ozzy Osbourne’s excellent Ordinary Man album.
Which, you would think, would be enough of an accomplishment for one year.
But for Watt, it was only the beginning.
Over the course of the next 12 months, the New York-born, LA-based artist produced (and, in most cases, wrote and played on) albums ranging from 5 Seconds of Summer’s Calm to A Boogie wit da Hoodie’s gold-selling Artist 2.0 to Dua Lipa’s pop smash Future Nostalgia.
Most recently, he helmed Miley Cyrus’ Plastic Hearts, producing, songwriting and lending a hand on guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion and background vocals. The effort saw Cyrus, with Watt’s assistance, flexing her rock chops big-time (there’s plenty of big, bright guitar riffs, as well as duets with Billy Idol and Joan Jett, for starters), and earned the singer her first Number One on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart.
Even outside all this work, Watt's 2020 didn't lack from excitement. He celebrated his 30th birthday with a killer all-star jam with members of Metallica, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, the Foo Fighters and more, got into an online guitar battle with Post Malone and even contracted and recovered from a serious bout with COVID.
Now, Watt’s wrapping up 2020 with a Producer of the Year Grammy nomination, a nod he calls “completely unexpected.” And he’s already looking ahead to 2021, with a solo album on the way, as well as a second record with Ozzy in the works.
Which sounds like a year’s worth of work already. But given Watt’s track record, he's only getting started.
For more about what Watt’s been up to, read on.
First of all, congrats on your Producer of the Year Grammy nod.
"Thank you. It was a complete shock. I just wasn’t expecting it at all. It wasn’t something I was thinking about. But it’s cool."
You had a busy year, to put it mildly. On top of all your recording work, you turned 30 and celebrated with a massive birthday jam. What's the story behind that?
"The first time I ever saw something like that, I think I was watching the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, where you have the Dirty Mac, with John Lennon on guitar and vocals, Keith Richards on bass, Clapton on guitar, Mitch Mitchell's playing drums…. and it was just like, 'Whoa, guys from different bands are just having fun.' I loved that.
"And then growing up in New York I always played in blues jams. I played anywhere and with anyone I could, from the youngest age. It’s always been my favorite thing to do. And over the past few years I've gotten to work with so many amazing people, and I've found a bunch of people in common that share the exact same passion as me of just wanting to play at any time, in any place, with anybody. And it takes a certain type of musician to do that because there's no rehearsal. You're just playing, you know? Not everyone's comfortable with that."
Who was there with you?
"Robert [Trujillo] and Chris Chaney were playing bass and Chad [Smith] and Taylor [Hawkins] were doing double drums – that was the band. Post [Malone] was there. And then a bunch of my friends, 30 of my friends, since it was my 30th birthday. We did stuff like War Pigs. A bunch of Zeppelin. A bunch of Police songs. Some ZZ Top. Some Metallica. A bunch of blues. It was great."
You recently worked with Miley Cyrus on her Plastic Hearts record, which shows her turning toward a more rock-based sound. How much of that was your influence? Or was it more that this was something she wanted to do, and she sought you out to help her get there?
"Well, Miley’s been rocking out since she was playing with Joan Jett on Oprah like 10 years ago. So she has her own mission, just like I had as a kid. And she and I have been friends for a long time. We used to party together and have crazy nights and we really built an awesome friendship that has lasted over the years. So when she was entering this phase of her career and wanted to make a rock record she came to me.
"But she knew what she wanted to do. She trusted me to dive in with the musicians that I saw fit and start making some pieces of music for her. Then she came in and wrote the songs. It was just a really natural thing. And she's someone that I hope to make music with forever. She's a fucking force of nature."
So you’re ending the year with one of 2020’s biggest rock records, and you also started the year the same way, with Ozzy’s Ordinary Man. You’re currently working on a second album together?
"Yeah. We're about halfway through. But, you know, it's been hard with COVID and everything to keep him safe. We all test every day before we work and it's just me, Ozzy and my engineer. So it's taken a little longer this time, but it's cool because the last one was made in this, like, swift love affair of passion, like, 'Oh my God, this is incredible!' [laughs]
"But this time everyone's moving a little slower and we're taking a little more time. And the songs, there's some songs on there that are like eight or nine minutes long that are these really crazy journeys. I'm really excited about it."
For Ordinary Man, you put together a band behind Ozzy with you on guitar, Duff McKagan on bass and Chad Smith on drums. How about this time?
"There's a bunch of people involved. I can't say for sure until the end, but I started doing a bunch of basic tracks with Chad and Robert Trujillo, who used to play in Ozzy's band. And Taylor Hawkins also came in and played a bunch on the record as well, which adds a different flair – it kind of harkened back to Ozzy's ‘80s era, in a great way. And I think it's so cool for a rock fan to be able to listen to half an album with Chad Smith on drums, and then you flip it over and you get to hear Taylor Hawkins.
"And you know, the last album was really special for everyone involved. And so there was no point in Ozzy or me doing this again unless we thought we could bring something new to the table. And I feel like we're achieving that."
Can you talk at all about the sound of the record?
"Well, we’re just halfway through, so it could still change. Some of these songs we have could wind up not even making the album. So I can’t really say yet. But in the end it's all Ozzy’s decision. When he tells me we've got the album, that's when I'll stop."
You’re also working on a solo album. What can we expect from that?
"It's going to be my dream collaborations all coming together in one place. I have a lot of fun bringing people together, and after I made that Ozzy/Post record [Take What You Want] I just thought, I want to make an album of shit like this. That's kind of where it started. So I'm looking forward to bringing together the people that I work with and that I love and making some genre-bending music."
To that point, you work such a wide variety of artists. What is the key to being able to give each person what they need, while also still bringing your particular playing, writing and production style to the mix?
"Well, I've been very lucky to get together with people that take me for who I am. They let me play guitar and they let me come in with a guitar player’s mentality and sit down with them and write in that way. And when I'm approaching a song in general, it always starts with a guitar for me, because that's just how it’s always been. I count my lucky blessings that I'm still making music the exact same way I was making it when I was 10.
"At the same time, when you get together with someone like Miley, you start getting inspired by her voice and you're going to write a different song than you are for someone like Ozzy or someone like Dua Lipa. Every artist is different.
"So my job is to make sure that their voice is being heard and their style of music is signature to them. And I like a lot of different styles of music, so I can play a lot of different ways. But the foundation, for me, it always starts the same – with a guitar."
Speaking of guitar, what was up with that Cliffs of Dover guitar battle you had with Post Malone earlier this year?
"[laughs] First and foremost, Post is my drinking buddy. And we always send each other little videos or YouTube clips of things we love. So I think one night he was just drinking a little bit and he had an idea to do this Cliffs of Dover video. And he just decided to start it with, 'I’m better than Andrew Watt!' And he posted it online. So I accepted the challenge."
I think you may have taken him.
"Post is a great guitar player. And he's just an amazing musician. He's one of those guys that can do anything, you know? But yeah, I hit him back where it hurts!"