I was first introduced to Midriff through one of those Rube Goldberg-esque association trains where someone’s sister’s dog ran up to Kevin Bacon on the street and found their six degrees of separation. But in my case, it was my childhood best friend’s boyfriend’s friend from high school who turned out to be the lead singer of—as they were called at the time—Next Level Midriff.
What struck me immediately upon meeting [Next Level] Midriff was how familiar their music felt to me without having ever heard it before. We have remained friends and colleagues since then and have worked together (mostly at the house shows they still throw) on many occasions. Our next Emerging Artist feature is the aforementioned lead singer of Midriff, also known as Kenny Watson.
When did you start playing music?
I started gaining interest in music as a child when my family got a Casio keyboard that had about 100 different sounds on it. But I didn’t start learning anything about music until sixth grade. I signed up for an art class but it was already full, leaving me with my second choice: joining the band to play french horn, an instrument I would learn to love and play all the way through college.
Where did you grow up, and how did you end up in New Orleans?
I moved around quite a bit in my youth. I was born in south Texas and raised in the small towns of Lolita and Mission Valley. We moved to Louisiana when I was about 10 or 11. We were in Gonzales, La. for a few years before we moved to Alaska for a job opportunity my folks had combined with their desire to travel. After that, we landed back in Louisiana just about 15 miles from where we had been before. This is where I would find my friend circle, my future wife, and a deep connection with Louisiana and music. It was a natural progression to end up in New Orleans.
Describe your music.
I feel like [Midriff] gets described as psychedelic, folk, and surf rock and I’m okay with that. I like to think that we pull from a lot of genres all at once and try to come out with something cohesive and meaningful. In the end, I would say we’re definitely under the large umbrella of indie rock.
What has been your favorite performance experience in New Orleans thus far?
*Writer’s Note: Tunesfest is a festival that Midriff and I have been putting on for the past four years in New Orleans. With a bit of elbow grease and help from the wonderful Link Stryjewski Foundation, we’ve had the opportunity to grow from our friend’s backyards to full-blown block parties and perform alongside some really amazing acts like Quintron and Miss Pussycat at Music Box Village.
Which New Orleans musicians most inspire you?
I’ve met so many amazing musicians in this city who have helped to lift us up directly and indirectly. I would say that all the musicians out there grinding every day to make something they think is worth writing down and presenting to their peers is a major inspiration. That, and hearing really good tunes made by good friends. I’ve always had a lot of love for Tank and the Bangas as well as some of our hometown boys, Motel Radio, who have been crushing it.
Favorite place to catch live music in NOLA?
Without a doubt, my favorite places to see and play music in New Orleans are One Eyed Jacks and Gasa Gasa. The sound is always on point and they consistently bring in some incredible acts. Music Box Village is a spectacular spot as well.
What do you love most about this city?
I think what I love most about New Orleans is it’s a city with a small-town vibe and it has a special ability to carve everyone into a unique individual.
What is your favorite non-musical activity to do in New Orleans?
My wife and I love trying new restaurants and love the cocktail and wine scene in New Orleans. Besides eating, I love bringing our dogs to City Park, kayaking Bayou St. John, or sailing in Lake Pontchartrain. I also love one of the wildest times of the year: Mardi Gras!
Favorite place to eat in NOLA?
Bacchanal: great small plates, amazing wine, and a pretty primo atmosphere.
When is your next performance in New Orleans?
Oct. 13 at Tchouptoberfest at Nola Brewery and then our Halloween show at Sidney’s Saloon on October 30.
Is there anything else you would like to share in regards to your music?
I would really like to thank the members of Midriff: Kevin Augustine, Dylan Braud, Royce Taylor, Dustin Poelker, and Clyde Bates for being such a critical part of my life in music and friendship. Also, thank you to all of the people that believe in what we’re doing enough to come out and support us and stay involved. Lastly, we’re almost finished with our debut album, Mission Valley, and we are shooting to be released in the early months of 2019!
Where do you want to see your career as a musician take you in the future?
Making good music that we love and respect is priority number one for me and the rest of the boys of Midriff. That being said, it would be amazing to find ourselves in a position where the music we make affords us the opportunity of financial sustainability and to tour on a national or international level.