Long Hair Does Care: Talking Fashion and Family with Watsky

Watsky Photo by Mike Squires, courtesy of Watsky

George Watsky’s longtime fans will spot a noticeable change about the rapper when he visits their respective hometowns on his current tour. He’s sporting a new ‘do, a scalp full of long, luxurious locks that would have even Samson a bit envious.

“I had basically one haircut in various lengths my entire life until I turned 30 and then I shaved all my hair off for the music videos I did in 2016 and that was freeing and I felt like, ‘Oh, I can just do whatever I want.’ And I figured well, I shaved it all off, why don’t I just grow it all out now?” he good-naturedly explained, as if he was being interviewed by Vogue rather than Houston Press. “I love these old pictures of my dad from the ‘70s with his hippie hair. I never really saw what I was capable of in terms of a mane, so I’m going for it now. I’m trying to get it below my shoulders before I cut it off. I also started finding some gray hairs too, so I figured this is my moment for me to really go for it.”

Watsky would be the first to admit the hairstyle gives him no true muscleman strength, but it might be symbolic of where he’s at in his life and career. Now in his 30s and an established name in hip-hop and spoken word poetry, he’s in the midst of a growth spurt at that go-for-it point in life. He’s thinking about his future as an artist and as a man and those ruminations can be heard in new, just released tracks, the lead singles for a full-length project he’s still piecing together. Those songs and old favorites can be heard in Houston when Watsky’s Welcome to the Family Tour stops at White Oak Music Hall this Sunday.

He’s sharing the bill with Chukwudi Hodge and Feed the Birds, acts which are part of his touring group. The lineup and the tour moniker - which is also the title of one of the new tracks – offer some hints at what’s happening with the rapid-fire rapper these days.

“Well, ‘Welcome to the Family’ as a song was supposed to exist on a few levels at once. It’s explicitly about my family, about a serious relationship that I was just in and the idea of literally welcoming a new person into your family and what that means. But also, this idea of shared values and what it means to be part of the human family,” he said. “When I go to concerts and the concerts that I try to throw, what I want is that everybody in the room feels connected to each other, feels part of this big ball of humanity that we’re all rolled into together.

“I feel like that’s largely the vibe I have at my shows,” he continued. “It’s not really where I saw myself ending up because I started out by writing a lot of really funny material and the more I look at my catalog over the years it’s gotten pretty serious and pretty emo, but I think that’s just where my heart is at and where my head is at. My concerts are kind of like these group therapy sessions to let people know they’re not alone in the universe.”

We’ve felt that vibe on his past outings here, in rooms at Warehouse Live and House of Blues. He says Houston is a favored stop and a place he’s getting to know a little better with each visit.

“I love Houston. I was just there this past summer at the Brave New Voices National Poetry Slam. I try to mentor there every time I can and for the first time in it’s like 21-year history it was in Texas this year, it was in Houston at the University of Houston campus. And, I had a really great time. I got to explore the city a little bit, I was staying on San Jacinto street, got to eat a lot of great food, meet cool people. And I’m excited to be back in the city, I always have fun.

“First Houston show I ever played was a tiny little thing at Warehouse Live, had no business being in this big room where we were. I remember it being a fun show, the crowd being really energetic and us trying to fill up, with our energy, that big space. I remember taking my shirt off,…that’s pretty much what I remember. I remember having a good time.”

As he noted, his writing has taken a serious turn of late, especially on 2016’s x Infinity and, more recently, on his jazz side project, Invisible Inc. He says the new songs aren’t as explicitly political as those, but they do reflect the times. There’s an unfinished track about “trying to navigate the MeToo movement in the context of a heterosexual relationship.” He’s interested in examining white privilege on a track. Having that go for it moment, he feels he can’t shy away from any material that’ll help him grow.

click to enlarge Watsky's antidote to "Trumpworld" is kindness and compassion - PHOTO BY MIKE SQUIRES, COURTESY OF WATSKY
Watsky's antidote to "Trumpworld" is kindness and compassion
Photo by Mike Squires, courtesy of Watsky

“Now, I’m feeling in this moment like I want to express my politics and my values a little bit more in terms of what I think is the antidote to 'Trumpworld,' and I keep just coming back to, like, kindness and compassion and as a man just being able to embrace sensitivity alongside your masculinity and so I’m writing about that a lot.”

We ask about the new videos for “Welcome to the Family” and the latest release, “All Like Whatever.” Search YouTube and you’ll see he’s done ample video work, which seems a little counter-intuitive when his job is to paint pictures with his words.

“It’s convenient that I really love to make them because I do think it’s a great way for people to discover my material and get it out there. There’s a part of me that’s a strategist and needs to figure out how to get my work in front of people and video these days with the Internet is a great way to do that. But, it’s not forced because I legitimately love creating videos, I love being on set,” he said, with a nod to “the theater kid in me.”

“So yeah, I love making them. It’s become a bit of an obsession. I also have aspirations, at some point, to make feature films, so it’s a way for me to learn, too. It’s basically getting a graduate degree in film by just doing them over and over again.”

He also enjoys the collaborative effort video production requires, he said. He’s aware of the circles he keeps drawing around these groups of people he works alongside, respective families in their own right. And, he sounds downright paternal when discussing them. When we ask how he prepares for tour, for example, he spends a few minutes talking about the safety and comfort of those hitting the road with him.

“We had a big sit down cross-legged in a circle conversation with everybody at the end of our rehearsal and just went around talking about our expectations, our worries, personal boundaries, physical boundaries,” he said.

That’s real Papa Bear stuff. We asked Watsky if all this family talk has him considering starting one of his own sometime soon.

“Probably not anytime soon. My dad was in his early 40's when he had me and I always really appreciate the kind of dad he was and that’s what was modeled to me. I love being on the road, I love being able to travel around and do this vagabond musician thing,” he said. “I feel like I could see it just happening one day, but, if I had to guess right now I’d say if I were to have kids it’d probably be about 10 years from now.

"I love kids, I would love to be a dad someday. I could see myself adopting, too. I really don’t know; but, I went from believing vehemently a few years ago that I would never have kids to then, some biological switch flipped in me and now I have trouble picturing a future where I wouldn’t be a dad someday.”

Watsky brings the Welcome to the Family Tour to White Oak Music Hall 7 p.m. Sunday, September 30. With Chukwudi Hodge and Feed the Birds. All ages, $20.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.