Charlotte Watson is looking at a crappy Herb Alpert record in an AMVETS thrift store somewhere outside of Graceland. “His record covers are great. This one has a girl covered in whipped cream on it.” She’s referring to Whipped Cream & Other Delights, an album that, while legendary for its artwork, isn’t exactly an indication of the Tennessee musician’s own collection. Currently drumming for both volatile post-punk quartet Nots and garage-punk rockers Manateees, Watson began collecting records after moving from the suburbs of Miami to Memphis seven years ago. From a young age, her parents few Donovan and Jimi Hendrix albums appealed to her. “They just sat there and I was like, ‘This is really nice.’ Just this big object to look at.” But two years after arriving in Memphis, she joined bands and found herself acquiring a diverse collection of her own.
Though Watson’s music is informed by ‘70s and ’80s Euro-punk — she cites the Netherlands’ Nixe, Belgium’s Hubble Bubble and England’s Androids of Mu of in particular — the contents of her collection is far-reaching. A quick browse reveals an unusual assortment of genres: Lo-fi psychedelia, Nigerian organ music and Zambian rock, plus Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (and she emphasizes, “Definitely only that one!”). Her habit started out small, just thrifting and shopping at local record stores when she could, but eventually her friend Andrew helped her realize how fun records could be.
“Whether it was funny or dark or mean or weird, there was just something that would strike him about a record that was worth talking about, worth sharing with your friends, worth listening to more than once,” she says. “It was super inspiring just to start doing the same thing.” Watson likes borrowing and lending vinyl and she and Andrew enjoyed the shared listening experience. She’d go to his house and they would smoke pot and listen to whatever strange record he was hooked on at the time, whether it was country, soul, rock ‘n’ roll or just some offbeat Memphis band. He’s since moved away, but their friendship continues to influence Watson’s record-buying habits. “I still think about him when I’m shopping and I see something weird,” she says. “I think, ‘What label is this? Where did it come from? What’s weird about this? Would Andrew buy this? Does he already own this?’”
Andrew owns one of Watson’s most sought-after records — Johnny’s World, a ‘60s Memphis musical performed by the St. John Catholic Youth Organization — but she’s been able to obtain some rare items through her job at Memphis’ Goner Records. Goner is an independent Memphis label and record store that boasts quite a few lauded releases (from Ty Segall, Nobunny, Ex-Cult and the late Jay Reatard, to name a few) and hosts annual music festival, Gonerfest. Watson admits to blowing her cash there weekly ever since she got hired two years ago.
Watson isn’t concerned with hunting down top-condition items or obtaining records with the highest vinyl weight. She’s gone through a few cheap record players and right now her needle needs to be replaced. For her, it’s more about owning the music itself because, as she’s learned the hard way, one day you may not be able to. “There’s this Velvet Underground bootleg that I should have bought a year ago and I still kick myself all the time for not having it,” she says. “These days if I like it, I really want it and I can afford it, I should find a way to get it, because I might not see it again.” And once she does own it, Watson always gets her money’s worth. She’s not buying records to keep them intact and unused on a shelf. She’s buying so that she can listen to it over and over again. “I just want it so that I can listen to it whenever I want. It’s more about the freedom of listening to things that I like and less about just amassing stuff.”
Accessibility is key for Watson, in more ways than one. She’s anything but a format snob. “If you find a cool tape and it’s weird and it’s what you want, you should get that. If you find it on vinyl, you should get that. If you find it on CD, get that too! It’s really just about listening to it.” As long as you have the album in some way, shape or form, that’s really all that matters to her. Right now she’s in the process of ripping all her vinyl to cassette so that she can play whatever she pleases on her boom box and take it anywhere. “My receiver is fucked up, so I’m using this Radio Shack one but it’s decent for now,” she says. “I had this really great tape deck that I stole from my high school Italian class. It was one of those language-learning, one channel, like you have seven outputs for headphones and one input, you know? I’ve made a ton of mixtapes on that. It sounds kind of shitty but it’s pretty good.”
Unsurprisingly, four out of the five records she chose to talk about were from the ’70s: Coloured Balls’ Ball Power, Paul Tornado’s Van Agt Casanova, Raxola’s self-titled album and the Velvet Underground’s Etc. On the opposite side of the spectrum, however, she also picked the Space Lady’s Greatest Hits, which might seem on its surface like a bizarre choice. But Watson’s attraction to the outsider musician is a sign that whatever music she makes next — whether it’s with Nots, Manateees or another project entirely — could come from an unexpected place. “I’d like to one day really switch it up and make something with the same people that sounds totally different,” she says giddily. “Like, if nobody plays the instrument that they’re ‘supposed to.’ I’m really into diving into something and not really knowing what it’s going to be like. Sometimes that’s when magical things happen!” You can hear Watson’s methods at work on the corroded, synth-laden tracks that comprise Nots’ debut full-length, We Are Nots.
We asked Watson to expand on what these five albums mean to her.
Coloured Balls, Ball Power
This was a reissue that [the] Sing Sing [label] did a couple years ago. Coloured Balls is awesome. I listen to this a lot. It’s not a punk record, it’s just a guitar rock, kind of macho — but not really. Kind of boogie record. Their song “Human Being” is one of my favorite songs ever. So stony, but still kind of boogie. Lobby Lloyde is the guitar player in Coloured Balls, he was in a bunch of Australian bands. He’s like an Australian guitar hero, for lack of a better word. I got this record because it was reissued and was playing at the [Goner Records] store all the time — and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to Coloured Balls at Goner. Constantly. We listen to it all the time.
I heard it was going out of print and I was like, “Well they’re going to press it again because it’s great.” But eventually you might not be able to buy that. And I think maybe what attracted me initially to buying records is not the same as it is now. At first it just seemed like something cool to have and I liked the idea of having the artwork, and putting it on. Not listening to things just in my car or just in my headphones. Now it’s more just like, “Man, if you don’t buy this, you might not see it again.” For a long time.
Paul Tornado, Van Agt Casanova
This is one of my favorite records ever — like my favorite record, my favorite song of all time. It’s Paul Tornado’s Van Agt Casanova. It’s a 45, and John Hoppe, the store manager of Goner, bought it as an early birthday present. I just kind of left Discogs open at work and he just…you know [laughs]. I constantly talk about this song and play it all the time on YouTube. Just such a good rock ‘n’ roll punk song, and it’s the only record he ever put out on this label De 1000 Idiotens, which is supposed to mean “at least a thousand idiots will buy this.” Paul Tornado fuckin’ rules. That song is so good and funny and fun and it’s a protest song. It’s hilarious, with all the quacking. The quacking is awesome! And the rhythmic laughing! Like “Ha ha ha ha!” I love it. The dude has a real sense of humor. John got it off Discogs from someone in the Netherlands. It wasn’t really that pricey either, except for the shipping costs from the Netherlands. Probably one of the best vinyl gifts I’ve ever received.
The reason I put Raxola on my list is because it’s such a well-rounded punk record. You have these really amazing, fast punk songs and then at the end of the A-side you get to “Thalidomide Child,” which is really dark and isn’t afraid to slow down. When I think about how I want a record to flow or make sense, I definitely think about the Raxola self-titled record. It takes you into a lot of different places, but it all makes sense. It all comes from the same place.
It’s something I can listen to all the time. It makes me think about how [songs] can sort of blend themselves into each other. You can think about it when you’re making a set list too, but it’s different when you’re pressing it to vinyl. In terms of [knowing that this is] how a lot of people are going to first encounter it, and that’s [the running order in which] a lot of people are going to listen to it. It’s something that set off a light bulb for me, thinking about how important that can be. You want every song to be the best that it can be and whatever it’s [sequenced] next to can have something to do with that. It’s not the most important thing, but it is an aspect of being in a band and putting out records. It’s definitely something that’s worth thinking about. I think the Raxola record really made me think about that, because it did it so well.
It was re-issued a couple of years ago, it might be out of print but that was also a gift. Madison Farmer who plays bass for Nots gave it to me. I’ve got good friends. I’m really lucky because I’ve got real good friends who have real good taste. We’re just nerdy and talk about it a lot.
The Space Lady, Greatest Hits
The Space Lady is obviously not a rock or punk record. It’s a mass of recordings from this woman who had been playing on the street for the majority of her adult life. She was kind of a flower child who grew up in Colorado and met this guy who was a musician and he got really paranoid about his identity, so they moved to Boston and she started playing on the street. You read her story and you listen to her versions of these massively popular songs and it feels really special to me.
I live in Memphis, Tennessee and I got the Space Lady Greatest Hits LP. I mean, would I have ever been able to hear her versions of these songs if vinyl hadn’t made a comeback? Or if her CD hadn’t circulated enough in Boston and San Francisco and made its way to somebody who was like, “This is really special. I want to be the person who makes sure this gets pressed to vinyl”?
Her versions of these songs are really beautiful. Her covers of songs like “Born to be Wild” and “Fly Like an Eagle.” When she talks about it she’s like, “I’m just trying to do the song exactly the way it sounds but it just sounds like the way that I do it.” And if you listen to them back-to-back, you’re like, “Yeah, she is really trying to do a cover.” She’s not like, “Oh I’m going to make this one really far out.” It’s not that self-aware. But that someone decided in 2013 to put out the Space Lady’s Greatest Hits — what the fuck? That’s amazing to me.
She’s one of my heroes, because she seems like she is herself. It’s not about being weird. It’s really, truly being one’s self. Being fearless. It shouldn’t be so hard to express yourself and be fearless and make noises. It’s very human, it’s very animal to do that. I admire people who run with the freaks — with the tangential and what is unusual. It’s not unusual to them — it’s very natural for them. It’s weird for the listener, because it’s outside of all the other stuff that they’re exposed to. I just admire that level of fearlessness and genuinely being one’s self and expressing one’s self musically.
I’m into [her alien abduction stories] too. I’ve never seen a UFO or been abducted, and I don’t read a lot about it or think a lot about it but if the subject comes up I’m very open to aliens having been near earth for a very long time. I’m totally into that, and she’s just being honest about her experiences and how she expresses herself.
The Velvet Underground, Etc.
I can listen to this record every single day. I can listen to it when I’m incredibly fucked up and I can listen to it when I’ve just woken up and am totally sober. I can listen to it in the shower, I can listen to it when I’m cooking, I can listen to “Foggy Notion” every single moment of my life. On that song, Lou is so casual and so perfect. And since it’s a never-before-released Velvet Underground track, people want to cover it a lot. Modern Lovers did it, Real Kids did it, Rocket from the Tombs have done a cover. I love the back-up vocals and the pop elements. At the end [of the record], when Lou and Nico are talking about Andy’s book, [Andy Warhol's Index], there’s Velvet Underground playing in the background while they’re talking. It’s just so cool. It’s got a great feel. I can listen to it constantly.