For a brief stretch of time in high school, Reggie Watts thought he might want to be an actor. By senior year, he and his friend were continually winning dramatic competitions in Montana, so with visions of acting in his head, Reggie trekked to Chicago to try out for the tough school.
700 Club, Sundays
His friend made the audition. Reggie didn't. Instead of giving up, Watts packed his bags like other hopefuls and headed for Seattle's then-burgeoning music scene. Seattle's never been the same since.
Even if you've never seen or heard Reggie Watts (which would be no small miracle considering the sheer number of bands and projects he's been involved with), you probably know who he is. Lead singer for Maktub (Arabic for "It is written"), Watt sharpened his chops in many outfits over the past eight years: Clementine with his friend, singer Heather Duby; Micron 7; and his current side projects with Unisphere and jazz musician Wayne Horvitz. And, of course, there's Watts' first claim to Seattle fame, as the front man for the mother of all cover bands, Hit Explosion. (Laughs Duby: "He's probably not gonna want that printed. He'll be happy that I opened my big mouth, won't he?")
Watts, perhaps more so than any other local, as-yet-undiscovered Seattle musician, has become a recognizable entity that people connect with. Like another local celebrity, writer, DJ, and renaissance man Riz Rollins, Reggie Watts is a Seattle icon.
Apparently, if you talk to his mother, Christiane, it's always been this way. In Great Falls, Montana, the small town of 60,000 where he grew up, Watts had a reputation as a gregarious, likable person whose immense talent and open personality drew notice and respect. His mother, a French emigrant, says, "Everybody adored him." She recalls a friend recently calling to ask if Reginald was back in town. Apparently, someone had sighted "a tall man with bushy hair walking and singing in the mall." "The only one who would do this is Reginald," said the friend. "I bet he's home."
Like all mothers, she's probably prone to embellishment, but Reggie Watts, according to his mother, came out kicking with a will to play music. His mother will tell you how he loved Ray Charles. "I put him in front of the TV, and he watched musical shows with me, and his little foot would go," she laughs.
Watts' first instrument was the same as Charles', the piano, which he started playing at age 4. At age 10, he picked up the violin. Now 26, the classically trained Watts "can play circles around a lot of people," says Duby. He also plays the bass and sings like an angel. Watts' voice acts like a chameleon: It's a silky smooth instrument with the ability to drop to deep tones and rise to more feminine pitches.
"His voice is amazing," says Duby. "He can do anything with it. Reggie calls me assuming a character, and half the time I can't tell it's him—10 minutes later, I'll be like, Who is this?!"
Watts' one fault—if you could even call it that—is that his personal life doesn't exactly make for dramatic storytelling. His parents love him. His father calls him the "eighth wonder of the world," says Christiane. He's exceedingly polite, extremely funny, and he wears bright, colorful clothes. His trademark Afro has recently been trimmed down to a more manageable size. He works at a nature store on Queen Anne and books bands for the Baltic Room. He just moved in with his girlfriend. The craziest drug he's done, he insists, is Robitussin DM. It's official: Reggie Watts is a Nice Guy.
Watts will never be the Tortured Artiste. Instead, he uses his voice, which he considers his greatest asset, to create characters. He builds his songs, fills them with liars and lovers, and, in the greatest twist of fate, gets to be an actor after all.
"Songs that, onstage, sound like they're about some heavy emotional thing, aren't," explains Watts. "I'll picture myself as a character, and it's not necessarily from my personal experience. Most of the time, it's just pretending."