Montreal folk warbler Patrick Watson isn't built like the rest of us. Sure, he might view the world a little differently — namely, rife with inspiration for his vibrant, cinematic chamber-pop — but physically, he hints, there might be some, uh, deviations. "Hats, for me, are what keep your brain in your head," he says over the phone from small town France where he and his band are playing a festival date on their European tour. "So they're really important."
Cranial matters aside, Watson's beloved collection of headwear plays an important role shielding him from the vulnerability of performing. "When I play shows I'm a pretty generous performer. I talk to the audience. It's fun, easy going stuff like that. I definitely wouldn't do that if I wasn't wearing a good hat. It's like I have this space on stage when I need it. Without it, I feel naked."
After three albums, including the band's lush, dreamy Domino debut Adventures in Your Own Backyard (out May 1 in the U.S.), and countless tours across his native Canada as well as Europe, Watson has gone through hats like tissues. The 2007 Polaris Prize-winner estimates he's lost somewhere between 25 and 40 of the beloved (though disposable) accessories over the years. "Usually the hat wants to go," he reasons. "He's sick of me. He's like, 'Fuck this man. I'm leaving.' But I never know how I've lost any of my hats. It's a mystery."
The case of the missing cap has sent him racing through the streets of foreign cities in a desperate search for a replacement — ideally one that's light and breathable ("If it's wool, I'm fucked") — before his set. His favorite country in which to hat hunt? Japan. "If you go to a hat store there it's like four stories tall, one million hats or something ridiculous. I had a really nice newsboy cap I bought off an old man in Japan," he says, adding, unsurprisingly, "I lost it. Now I have a train [conductor] baseball cap combo. It's got a regular brim and wool texture."
That find, fittingly, came from his own backyard. The old, reliable shop in his home city is an example of the local treasures that led to the title of his latest record, which he and the band spent a year recording in a sprawling loft studio attached to his apartment. "I think when you travel you have a certain open curiosity to meeting people that you wouldn't necessarily have in your own neighborhood," he says. "Because I was going to make a record at home, we couldn't travel anymore. So I kind of had that same type of feeling at home, that curiosity in your neighborhood, the stories, surprises around you."
If home is where you hang your hat, as the adage goes, maybe Watson finally has a shot at holding on to this one. "It's a nice cap," he says, "for now."