Boy meets guitar. Boy spends most of teenage years learning the art of rock. Boy plays with lots of other musicians, but isn’t sure what he wants to do — just that he loves to play. Then boy, now man, finds what he was looking for in his friends. Man is now rocking, along with other men, in a rock ‘n’ roll band. And all was well.
That’s the extremely abridged version thus far of the career of Joel Watson, a 20-year-old guitar phenom performing in the band the 220s. The Belfast-based four-piece also features guitarist and keyboard player Ian Maddocks, bass player James Taylor (no, not THAT James Taylor) and drummer Jason Dean. They’ll perform an acoustic set Friday night at Ipanema in Bangor, and a full set Saturday night at Bowen’s Tavern in Belfast.
Before the 220s, Watson performed with the country-rock band Steel Rail Express. In spring 2009, Watson had the opportunity to play a solo gig at a local venue, and decided to put together a pickup band for the occasion. Those friends were Maddocks and Dean, along with former guitarist Gordon McLaughlin.
“I needed a band, so the people I first thought to ask were, of course, my friends,” said Watson, who also covers lead vocals for the band. “I’d never even really played with any of them before, except when we were hanging out sometimes. But we did the show, and we realized afterwards that we really, really liked what we were doing.”
That chemistry was something Watson remembered, and when he decided to leave Steel Rail Express to pursue different musical avenues, he knew that was the band he wanted to be in.
“For starters, the musicianship is really high. Everyone’s playing is just excellent,” he said. “We all get along when it comes to different genres. They get where I’m coming from. We can try whatever we want. It’s really freeing.”
The band name comes from a long day of trying on different names and not liking any of them — until they passed by a house with an address of 220, and Watson suggested, out of sheer frustration, that they call themselves the 220s. It stuck.
“It was really just a joke. But it just sounded so good,” said Watson. “People expect some kind of really cool story, but it’s not. We just liked it.”
The band’s sound comes from all four members’ voracious appetites for music of all kinds. Watson name checks bands and artists such as the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, Harry Nilsson, Radiohead, Soundgarden and Pink Floyd as big influences — especially the guitar work of Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood.
“We do extended jams like the Dead, but we’re all huge fans of alternative rock and even weirder, more experimental stuff,” he said. “Our original music has that dark, melodic kind of feel. We do a lot of covers live, but once we’ve done a really popular song, we do an original. Once you get the crowd going with a really good cover, they’ll listen to what you really have to play.”
Next weekend, the band will enter Acadia Studios in Portland to record their debut EP. A few demo songs are available to listen to on the 220s Bandcamp website, at the220s.bandcamp.com, but a fully produced album is something the four musicians have been waiting to do for a while.
At just 20 years of age, Watson already is a formidable force on the guitar. His weapon of choice is a gold-top Gibson Les Paul; his long hair and leather jacket gave him a rock star vibe. His expressive fluidity on acoustic and his raw rock edge on electric show that he’s well ahead of his years in terms of natural talent. Maddocks, Taylor and Dean provide ample rhythmic muscle, and each has a different perspective towards making music that gives the band a unique edge.
“Before I started playing out, I didn’t know how to work well with others,” said Watson. “I’ve learned so much with these guys. I’ve learned band dynamics. And I’ve learned that less is more. It’s made me a better musician all around.”
For information about the 220s, e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find them on Facebook.