By Octavio Ramos Jr.
Every band has its driver, its mastermind. California’s Watch Me Breath is driven principally by
multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Jake Aaron Ward, with live support provided by younger
brother Carl Ward on drums and Ryan Green on bass. The band made its full-length studio debut
in 2018 with The Lighter Side of Darkness, and one year later comes The Strange Pull of What
You Really Love. With a sound that mixes progressive rock with pop sensibility, the songs on
The Strange Pull of What You Really Love are catchy and lively but they are also introspective
without being conceited. Bangs! Caught up with Jake Aaron Ward, who provided some insight
into what makes Watch Me Breathe tick.
Bangs!: Interesting name for a band. What is the meaning behind Watch Me Breathe?
Jake Aaron Ward: “It’s something John Cleese from Monty Python said during an interview I
saw once. He mentioned that he’d just turned 70-something and the crowd all started applauding
and congratulating him on his being so old and still alive. He thought it was funny, so he kind of
mocked them by saying, ‘Yes, watch me breathe, watch me breathe!’ For some reason it stuck
with me. I guess I just think it’s a cool thing to say.”
Bangs!: Tell me about your full-length studio release, titled The Strange Pull of What You Really
Love. What can listeners expect to experience?
Jake Aaron Ward: “This is round two in my quest to just write whatever the hell I want. For
me, I think what is most exciting about this album is how it is so clearly a natural progression
from our last album. The honest, unfiltered way in which I’m creating this stuff means that
album #2 is pretty much exactly as different from album #1 as I am now different from the guy
who wrote album #1. It’s proof that the music is growing along with me—and proof that I’m still
growing! I think listeners can expect an intimate portrait of who I really am and what questions I
really want to ask the world—and some darn good pop songs, too, if I do say so myself.”
Bangs!: I understand you prefer to compose, record, and process your music in your home
studio. You play all the instruments and compose the music and lyrics. Why do you prefer this
solitary approach to composition and creation?
Jake Aaron Ward: “The less outside input I’ve tolerated, the better my music has become. I
know it sounds very conceited, but it’s just the truth. Different artists have different projects with
different visions and goals, and as an artist I just happen to have really, really strong and clear
ideas for my own material. Learning music production is one of the best decisions I’ve ever
made as a musician, because it allows me to create an entire album from start to finish by myself,
and I feel like that preserves the vision very thoroughly. If I was dependent on other people, as I
have been in the past, they might be unable to translate my vision the way I can translate my
own, or worse, they might sneakily (or not so sneakily) start jamming their vision into mine and
messing the whole thing up irreparably.”
Bangs!: Tell me about the song “Nothing Else.” What life experiences or observations led to the
composition of the lyrics?
Jake Aaron Ward: “Going to school, mostly, but also working day jobs as an adult and
recognizing that, in so many ways, it’s just more of the same thing. I’ll try to explain the concept
as concisely as I can!
“Historian Yuval Noah Harari has explained quite eloquently the concept of intersubjective
reality, a category in which many hugely important elements of our society could be classified.
Things like money, religion, laws, companies, etc., all ‘exist,’ but they only exist because we
made them up and we all behave as though they exist. They don’t really exist in an objective
sense—they are just ideas.
“The same is true of the education pipeline. There is no pipeline. It’s not a physical object, and
nobody is actually inside it. It’s just an idea. We tell students they have to get good grades, go to
college, get a degree, and get a job that pays well—and then they believe it as if it were instead
an objective fact of nature, and not just a narrative we made up. In fact, we made it up relatively
recently, during the industrial revolution in an attempt to commodify students and put them on a
conveyor belt to be assembled, just like everything else.
“What I ultimately see is a tragic confusion about how much freedom and power we really have
as individuals. Because we believe in the education pipeline, we end up behind a desk for 40
hours a week wondering why life is so boring and unsatisfying.
“I’ve also noticed a funny kind of pattern that I reference in the chorus. The whole narrative
actually exposes itself as being imaginary in that, at every step of the ‘pipeline,’ there are
particular costumes you’re supposed to wear and particular characters you’re supposed to play. It
is always against the rules of being yourself.
“In school, you often have dress codes (which are usually sexist) or worse, full-on uniforms, and
you’re supposed to be the quiet, obedient listener who is always deeply interested in whatever
the teacher is blabbering about and who automatically has great respect and admiration for their
teachers, no matter how much of a dopey loser the teacher actually might be. You also never do
any drugs or have any interest in sex at all, of course. And profanity? Unthinkable. Your
character never swears, ever.
“Then, it’s time for graduation! They give you the degree while you wear a ridiculous costume
with a goofy square hat and basically a nightgown, and you play the character of the gracious,
enthusiastic young adult ready to conquer the world.
“Then, oh boy, it’s your career! This is where the role-playing really maxes out. Now everything
in your outfit must follow rules. Dress shoes. Nice pants. Belt. Dress shirt tucked in. Preferably
no tattoos. Neat hair. And your character practically has a pre-written script to follow. Everyone
above you is ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’ (intrinsically detestable words), everything you do or say is said
‘professionally,’ which means with no feeling or personality at all, ever. You always follow
every order you are given, and the only thing you ever openly care about is the success of the
company. You must pretend that whatever stupid, useless product you sell is the most direly
important thing in the entire world and that the human race depends on its sale. And perhaps
most horrifically of all, the people who share the space with are now no longer your ‘friends.’
They were still allowed to be in high school and college, but not anymore! Now they are your
‘co-workers,’ and you have a ‘professional’ relationship that includes no actual human
connection at all.
“I think this is all ridiculous bullshit, and the song is really an attempt to encourage people to
stop participating. I’m not sure what the ramifications of that would be (probably very serious),
but that’s not my job! I’m just the artist.”
Bangs!: When you perform live, you bring together a power trio that includes your younger
brother on drums. How does the band come together for these tours? What does it take to bring
the touring members up to speed on what you have written and composed?
Jake Aaron Ward: “Well, it helps that I know how to play every part! I can usually teach both
Carl and Ryan pretty fast because they’re both really talented musicians and learn really, really
fast (much faster than I could). And since I have access to all the recording sessions, I can very
easily break down each part and send them tracks to practice to on their own time, which helps a
lot as well.”
Bangs!: Do you prefer playing live, working in the studio, or a little of both? Why?
Jake Aaron Ward: “I definitely love performing. It’s a necessity for me, although I’m picky
about doing it and haven’t made it as regular of a habit as other bands have. But there’s nothing
that can top the feeling of reaching that particular point in the studio process where you hear the
song coming together and know it’s going to be a good one. Peter Gabriel once called it the ‘old
tingle down the spine.’ That’s the best part for me, hands down.”
Bangs!: What’s next for Watch Me Breathe?
Jake Aaron Ward: “I’m already working on album #3. Hopefully, we can keep our numbers up
and start touring soon as well.”