Reggie Watts: The Ultimate Modern Renaissance Man

Reggie Watts talks about his app, music, cannabis…and his cleaning robot.
Reggie Watts: The Ultimate Modern Renaissance Man
Courtesy of Reggie Watts

Reggie Watts lives and breathes creativity. The musician/composer, comedian, talk show band leader, and actor wears many hats but, to Watts, they are all ultimately different expressions of the same in some energy. Whatever Watts is doing, whether it’s a song or a joke, it’s all about the messages being sent and the connections that are forged. Watts recently launched his own app to communicate directly to fans called, appropriately enough, WattsApp. 

Tired of the restrictions, advertisements, and eyesores that come with most forms of social media, Watts wanted to make a home for his own imaginative content. An app free of ads and that doesn’t sell data to advertisers or third party organizations. WattsApp is a free space to create and connect for the artist, who High Times named one of the 100 most influential people in cannabis back in 2018. 

Recently, Watts told us about his vision for WattsApp, staying in the moment but thinking about the future, and connecting with fans. 

What was the guiding principle in making your app more aesthetically pleasing than other social media options?

It’s just the minimalism. I want it to be clean, so it can get out of the way of the experience. It’s the complete opposite of Instagram. It’s all metrics. It’s all crowded around the experience, the picture, or the video. There are metrics everywhere. It’s just a popularity platform, you know? It’s a platform where they can monitor your behavior and target you with advertising. I just wanted something clean, where you can go on there and can’t leave a comment on anything. You just go there and see whatever I got up. There’s also a store for electronics and my own headphones. 

Now you can add an app to your resume. You’re such a productive, wide-ranging artist. Are you someone that just always has to be creating new things? 

I’m a pretty curious person. I’ll get ideas and want those ideas to exist. If it’s something I need to research, I’ll be researching something and get an idea about what I could do with future technology. After I do what I need to do, I move on. I’m always searching for ways of making things and really intuitive thought in all manners. 

What have you been curious about recently?

I’ve been trying to learn how to do streaming ‘mo better. It’s so funny, like I stream on Twitch Now. It’s just really sloppy concerts mixed with questions. It’s not anything new, in a way. There are only so many things you can do. If you have a way of transmitting ideas, whether in radio, television, or the internet, they’re all kind of the same thing to broadcast an idea. Then there’s media, picture, video, words, and maybe graphical things. Everything is just a version of all those options. 

To me, when people ask, “What’s streaming?” It’s not different from anything you’ve ever used. If you use the telephone, that’s streaming [Laughs]. Coming up with all these terms, like, “They got streaming and this and that.” It’s all the same shit, guys. You have to give it more complicated terms in order to make it more mysterious, but it’s all the same shit.

Are you more interested in the moment and what’s interesting to you now, or do you spend time thinking about five years into the future what you want to do or can do with tech?

It’s mostly the moment, but it’s in tandem with a feeling I want to get to in the future. For me, I want to live in the future where technology works for human beings and enhances their creativity and intelligence. I want to live in a future where technology is responsible and makes an environmental difference. Technology is probably the monster running rampant right now. Even on developing platforms, there’s some form of technology there driving a certain amount of society. 

For me, I’m looking for stuff now that I know will probably be good for the future, whether that’s researching fusion energy — where we at with fusion energy? — or hydrogen, electric, hybrid airplanes or all these things to bring out the maximum potential in every human being possible. It’s for a young utopia. Actually, utopia isn’t the point, but we are in a place where commerce is seeping into everyone’s lives, where you feel like, “I’m a consumer.” “What do you do?” “I’m a consumer. I consume stuff.” “Oh that’s great.” Is it?

You don’t seem like someone who has to do anything for commercial reasons. Have you always had that feeling of creative freedom?

It’s a funny thing. I guess the baseline of my freedom comes from my relationship with my fans, which basically shows them that everything I’m doing, I’m doing because I thought it through. So, there’s reliability and trust there. That’s why I don’t like advertising on my social media accounts. I don’t like advertising. 

I was a part of an ad campaign for a company I believed in, and that’s why I took the gig. Also, it might’ve been a really amazing paycheck as well, and that’s like the holy grail, right? I did a commercial for a new Firefox browser a couple of years ago, and that was super fun. It was a fun shoot, I like Firefox, and I like where they’re coming from. It was the perfect synergy. 

A big paycheck can give me more money to put into things I want to do. The baseline is having my fans trust what I’m doing is not a money grab, that it’s important. I like getting paid, but I want to make sure I believe in what I’m doing. At the same time, I love the freedom of doing the stuff I want to do, whether it’s a fan asking if I’d do something for them, and they’re shocked I’ll do it. To me, why wouldn’t I do it? It’s easy, it’s fast, it’s fun, and unexpected. It’s access to people. I guess it can demystify the whole public figure thing, if you remind people everybody is a person. We’re all fucking around and stumbling around together. We’re all improvising together. Some people are more visible than others, but we’re all here. 

Reggie Watts: The Ultimate Modern Renaissance Man
Courtesy of Reggie Watts

In regards to fucking around and stumbling around, you’ve said before that getting out of your way is the biggest challenge. Do you still ever feel that way?

Well, it’s weird. It’s always a challenge. I’m definitely always working on it. It comes down to days where I have a piece of chocolate late at night when I knew it wasn’t going to make me feel good. There’s a certain amount of getting out of your way on a very small, practical level. I can be very hard on myself when I know I should be doing something. 

You have to find a way to not be so disappointed when things aren’t working out perfectly on a creative level. That’s not to say I’ve always been a detail-oriented person, like, “This needs to be exactly like this.” I’m definitely an improviser and rolling with what’s happening. My ideal state of activity is working with a group of people all overqualified to do what I ask them to do, so I trust them. I trust them to facilitate the vision. The vision is specific, but there’s a lot of leeway to achieve it. In that case, I feel 100%. Now, I want to expand making videos and short films. I don’t quite have that crew lined up yet. 

When you’re performing live on stage, you’re so clearly in the moment—but do some doubts ever creep in?

Yeah. [Pauses] Sorry, my robot just came into the room. 

[Laughs] What?

[Laughs] My robot vacuum cleaner is coming into the room. I think it’s going to leave soon. Hey, get out of here! Yeah, you, get out of here. [Pauses] It left. But I feel pretty free when I’m on stage. There are moments I might feel a little concerned about remaining connected and not repeating things or doing things trite for myself. I want to keep it fresh for myself and the audience. Doubt rarely happens where it debilitates you, but there are definitely moments where I think, “Oh, now what am I going to do? Do I stop this or go with it?” There are moments like that, but for the most part, it’s fluid and in the moment. 

What have you been listening to or inspired by recently?

I’ve really been getting into Malaria and their early post-punk from the 80s. I’ve been listening to a lot of a band called Crumb. They’re awesome. I’ve been listening to a lot of World Party, actually. They’re great songwriters.  A band called Destroyer and their album, “Kaputt,” that’s really fantastic. Last one I’ll say is Hatchie, from Australia. 

You have a great gig with The Late Late Show. I’ve seen that show live, and it’s more technical and meticulous than most late night shows. Do you feel total freedom to experiment in that medium? 

My little piece of it is pretty free. The tiny moments I do have I can kind of do whatever I want. I’ll take advantage of that sometimes, you know, by speaking differently or responding in a different way. There’s a ton of things I mess around with, like the song at the end of the show. It’s different every night. 

I’d imagine a cool part of the job is connecting with other musicians visiting the show. Does that happen often? 

On occasion. Not as often as you’d think. Some bands will chill after in the green room and we can talk for a while. Absolutely the longest hang that I’ve had was Beck. He came and performed a song he wrote for a movie, I don’t remember which it was. I knew some of the players in the band, some of the backup singers, who are artists themselves. So, we all just had a fun time hanging out.

Another band I hang out with the longest in the green room is The Voidz. That was just great. I love all those guys. I had never listened to The Strokes at all, but Julian [Casablancas], I knew he was from The Strokes. When they played I just thought, “Holy shit. This band is just lightyears ahead.” We all talked and had so much in common. Big weirdos, tech, geeky guys. So much fun. So, it doesn’t happen often, but a couple of times a year, I’ll get to hang with somebody really cool. 

I couldn’t help but notice you smoking from a vape at your concert, which I presumed was THC. When do you smoke before or during a show, how does it enhance or heighten the experience?

It definitely can. I always experiment. I’ll do shows sober, and I’ll do shows not sober. The difference is, sometimes I’m just overthinking things a lot. When I have some weed, if it creates anxiety and I get ahead of myself, even in that moment I just have to figure out how to fucking push through it, which is a fun challenge on stage. I’ll feel like, “Oh, I’m on an anxiety high. I’m going to figure out how to make it creative, real, and groove with it. Just create music I can get down into.” For the most part, it’s fun. I love messing around in the sober state and the high state of THC. They both have different energies that are useful and challenging. 

What about when you’re home or in a studio? Creatively, is it helpful there?

Yeah, sometimes. I’ll always take breaks or try different things, like a couple of days of no THC, then do edibles for a while, and then just using a pen a couple of times throughout the day. I’m always messing with the frequency and amounts. It’s an experiment in itself, especially for tasks. When it comes to tasks, I’’ll ask, “How do I do a Twitch stream through my Xbox? Oh, that’s cool. Wait, the router isn’t fast enough and my upload speed was down. Now I’m going to buy 100ft of Cat 7 ethernet cable and run it from my house with a proper internet connection through my window to my studio.” I like the challenge of being high and achieving a technical challenge.

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