Music Editor ROMILLY SCHULTE grabs a pint with Blake Watt of FAMILY STEREO, ahead of their Eat Your Own Ears gig at The Shacklewell Arms to discuss the universe of his lyricism, the London music scene and why he is not making country music. 


Family Stereo began in 2018 with Blake Watt recording his songs on an 8-track and self-releasing his first single, ‘Foolproof’, on Spotify in 2019. Now a full four-piece band, their sound is  pared-back, soft and steeped in something like nostalgia, with Watt’s lyricism reflecting on dreams and summer’s past. ‘My Favourite Band’, released in 2020, and ‘Robot Boy’, their most recent song released in December 2022, seem to look up into the world of aliens and outer space whilst always keeping firmly rooted in the tender human soul. This must touch something in people: with their combined streams surmounting over 70,000, a recent feature in Wonderland Magazine and a number of live dates penned in the schedule, Family Stereo is one to stick around for. 


What is Family Stereo? You started as a solo act which has now progressed into a four piece; what would you say is the core that remains?


The core thing that remains… me, I guess? (laughs). I mean, yeah, we perform as a live band now but we haven’t played that many gigs yet, so maybe as time goes on we will become more of a developed band. But I guess for now I’m still doing the songs; yeah, the constant is me I suppose.


Because of your beginnings as a solo, independent artist, it might be easy to be categorised into the genre of bedroom-indie-pop etc. What do you think of this type of label? Do you find it restrictive, do you find it productive?


There’s a definite kind of sound that is categorised into bedroom pop. I feel like a lot of artists post-Mac Demarco took on that sound, that really jangly sound. I guess it can be maybe slightly limiting. I don’t mind it, it’s just that, yeah, I record in my bedroom, so it’s going to be bedroom pop. You can record anything in your bedroom, you could be recording heavy metal in your bedroom and you can’t really call that bedroom-pop. But it’s come to symbolise a very specific style of indie, poppy music, quite jangly. 


In your lyricism there’s a great storytelling aspect, especially in your recent singles. Do you think that sense of the imagination, that creating of a fiction is a big part of your songwriting process?


Definitely. Lyrics have always been the number one, the most important thing for me. I just think if I’m singing a song and the lyrics don’t mean anything to me, or I’m singing something and I’m like, ‘I wish I could have written that better’, that would be unsatisfying to me. Some people focus more on a good groove or a sound, maybe their vocals will be pretty washed out or with heavy reverb on them, but I think I’ve always been a lyrical-based person. Not to say that the music takes a backseat, I don’t know, just getting that perfect blend… but its hard though, its really fucking hard! (laughs).


There’s quite a nostalgic, sci-fi-fantasy element to a few of your songs. There’s your most recent single, ‘Robot Boy’, and there’s a line in ‘My Favourite Band’ about your favourite band on Mars. Why do you think that is something you focus on in your lyricism?


It kind of happened on its own but I went with it because I just like the whole idea of having slight whimsy. Robots and aliens; they’re timeless, they’re cute. I feel like probably Jeff Mangum’s lyrics, the lead singer of Neutral Milk Hotel, have somehow filtered in I’m sure; he has a song called ‘Two-Headed Boy’. I just think it’s a cool little motif. 



As well as Neutral Milk Hotel, who are your other main sources of inspiration?


Song-writing wise, Elliott Smith is a big one, he’s amazing. Alex G also, he’s quite similar to Elliott Smith, I know he is a big fan of his. To be fair some of his stuff does sound like just downright Elliott Smith! But he is also a really accomplished songwriter in himself. But I’m also really into Joy Division, I’m really into John Martyn. I’m getting into a lot of these new weird Windmill bands like Squid, and I guess Black Country, New Road and black midi started off at the Windmill but they’re pretty big now. I went to the Shacklewell Arms on Wednesday to see the first night of the series that I’m playing at and there was this mad band playing called Alien Chicks. They were doing this post-punky thing and the guy was singing these demented nursery rhymes over the top, it was really cool. This band called Cowboyy are playing the week after me and they sound really cool. There’s lots of great bands coming out of London these days, especially South London, it’s such an exciting scene. But I’m making quite different music from that, I’m not gonna try and copy them, because that just wouldn’t be natural. 

Image Courtesy of @kidsfromvision on Instagram


Going back to your music, you mentioned some of your themes being timeless. Do you think there’s an escapist tone to that, like it’s protected from the everchanging, crazy world?


Yeah, maybe actually! Maybe there’s a kind of solace. I remember my mum said that when she first listened to ‘My Favourite Band’. She thought it was pretty fitting, because I wrote it in lockdown. I didn’t see it at the time but maybe it was a subconscious thin1g, she was like ‘Oh, it’s kind of a nice bit of escapism’. So maybe. I feel like sometimes your own thoughts are a bit too much so it’s nice to write about something else. 


Like a layer of something else protecting the ultra ultra personal?


A little barrier up, yeah! (laughs). Or maybe ‘Robot Boy’ is me kind of taking a step back from myself but the song still has links to me and my feelings, but seeing it through the lens of Robot Boy makes it easier, maybe there’s a bit more of a freedom there. That whole laying your soul bare, it can go a bit far and be a little bit cringe. Even though that is kind of what I’m doing! (laughs). 


The music video for ‘Robot Boy’ is crazy cool. It’s like watching a short film. Do you think this kind of visualisation of the song is important?


Yeah that was my mate Hal who did that, he’s really talented. I played a gig and Hal, he went to Manchester [University] and studied film, he came to the gig and we started talking about potentially doing a music video for it. And it started from there, he’s always done this really cool half CGI, half real life thing. I’m really happy with how it turned out. It just seemed like such a vivid story in my head, it felt like a natural thing to get it into video form. 


You seem to have a lot of collaboration with your friends, is that important to you, working with people you know?


I couldn’t do it without them, I need the help! I can’t produce it on my own, you know, producing is its own thing. Writing a song is one thing but then making it sound good, there’s an art to that as well. If I produced my own music it wouldn’t sound very good, basically. There’s a nice thing about having your friends help you with it, it’s kind of wholesome. 


As you’re currently working independently, how would you feel about management and labels? Or Is it something you want just to be having complete control of?


I don’t know, I guess it’s something I’ll have to see. If someone approached me, I haven’t had anyone approach me yet, I would like to think it wouldn’t be, you know, ‘you’re locked into a ten album deal!’. I’d hope that an indie label would be pretty nice and let you do what you wanna do.  Although the music industry isn’t what it used to be, there’s less money in it, you don’t get an advance as easily as you used to. They don’t just give you money and say ‘If you make a record for us within a year you’ll be fine’. It’s just tough because everyone’s doing it, everyone can do it, it’s so over-saturated. Spotify is  a crazy place. There’s just so many more people. 


But it would be great to get an agent because then they could book gigs for me, which would be really helpful. Because right now I’m emailing  a bunch of different pubs. I’m really unorganised, I have all the dates in my head, but then I double book myself. I need to get a diary (laughs).


You have had a lot of live events in the schedule recently, so you must be working hard, keeping at it. 


It doesn’t feel like it though, I’m always putting pressure on myself to do more! I feel like just coming out of school and uni, they put a lot of pressure on you to be productive. It’s a good thing, just stressful. But there’s not really much else I want to do! I did drama at uni and I was thinking about going to drama school afterwards. I find the world of music a lot less scary than the world of acting. I just enjoy it. I’m trying to not think too much about the future and just enjoy it for what it is. 


Do you think your experience with acting has trickled down into your music career? The being in front of a crowd, the storytelling, has that influenced the way you approach being a musician?


Yeah, for sure. There’s always going to be a link between being up in front of people, that comfortability. Just through reading stuff they gave me at uni has influenced my writing.  When I first took drama at GCSE, I remember my teacher really being an advocate for us to do it because it just helps with life stuff; it helps you be a more rounded person. Yeah, I’m really glad I did drama.  But yeah man, [the storytelling aspect] is great. I admire so many songwriters and I wanna do what they do. I just find songwriting such a good medium for telling a story in an emotional way. It’s so unique.  


How do you think the experience differs between recording and writing on your own or with your friends and then presenting this in front of other people, considering your songs are so full of heart? 


It seems like when we rehearse, we are trying to replicate how it sounds on Spotify. Although we have tweaked a few songs live and made them more exciting. One of my old songs, ‘In the Morning’, because I recorded that myself, I had these drums that I programmed that went on a loop forever like [mimics drum]. But then live we chop it up, we do slow bits. Which is nice to be able to have that freedom. You mentioned the heartfelt thing. I don’t know, what we do happens fairly organically. It’s kind of empowering, I like it! It’s nice to be able to be up on stage and have everyone’s attention! (laughs). It is vulnerable obviously but people are so supportive, they’re not there to see me fuck up or whatever.


How are you feeling about Wednesday? (the 18th, Family Stereo’s gig at The Shacklewell Arms with Eat Your Own Ears). 


I’m excited man, it’s gonna be really good. I went down there on Wednesday to see the first lot of bands and they were really good. So it kind of made me nervous, but also excited. It’s a great space. I always get nervous but it’s getting easier, I think I know that it’s not going to be a total disaster. Eat Your Own Ears do really cool stuff, they do warehouse projects, they promote people like Four Tet and Folamour. I’m on a billboard in Peckham, I think. It’s like a little pink corner and it’s got all the people who are playing the Shacklewell arms and I’m in, like, tiny print. But I’m still on there! Places like the Shacklewell seem like really friendly spaces, even though everyone there is very cool. It was very art school when I was there last Wednesday, I felt kind of under-dressed (laughs). I was like ‘Fuck, I don’t go to Camberwell!’. There were lots of people who didn’t know the bands but were there anyway. So I feel very lucky to be playing there because most of the gigs I play are just my friends and maybe a few randomers. 

Image Courtesy of @family.stereo on Instagram

What’s your opinion on a fan base? Is that something you look for, people that follow you and go to all of your shows?


What’s my opinion on a fan base? Fuck ‘em, I don’t want any fans! (laughs) Why not, I’m not gonna not ask for that. Really intense fans follow people on tour everywhere. I was working at the pub I work at and a bunch of people suddenly came in and they were seeing this bluegrass artist at the forum. And these two girls were like (in an American accent),’Yeah we’re from like Carolina’, and they had followed him to every city he had gone to. Those were some dedicated fans. This is him. (Plays said bluegrass artist, Billy Strings). They got us to put it on in the pub and literally the entire pub was like ‘yeehaw!’, people were cheers-ing pints, it was a great vibe. I kind of want to be able to play this type of thing. 


I have noticed in some of your earlier singles from 2019, 2020 a few twangy, almost country notes.


In ‘Foolproof’? The little riff in the chorus? (mimics riff). Does that sound country-y to you? Yeah I guess! I had a whammy bar, do you know what a whammy bar is? Yeah you can bend it and then your guitar goes like ‘wauu-wauu’. But I lost it so I guess I can’t do that anymore. But I’m not really a big fan of that old twangy sound now, it’s not really for me. But I respect it. 


What is your idea of the future development of your sound?


I always think differently. Sometimes I write and I wanna go in this direction and then another. I think today I was like, ‘I wanna sound more like the bands that are coming out the Windmill’, just a bit more experimental. Sometimes I wanna sound like Big Thief, or like Adrienne Lenker. But it will take its own course. 


Find Family Stereo on Spotify,  Instagram and Youtube 


Featured Image: ‘Robot Boy’ cover art by Bora Tosun-Stone