Watt co-wrote, co-produced and contributed guitar on Post Malone’s “Take What You Want” from Hollywood’s Bleeding, the single that improbably ropes in both Ozzy Osbourne and Travis Scott. He’s just received news that the song’s been put into rotation at Los Angeles Top 40 station KIIS-FM, and he is pumped. “This means that in 2019, there is a f--kin' metal song on pop radio with a tapping guitar solo and Ozzy Osbourne, and that is the coolest s--t to me in the entire world,” says Watt.
Despite his recent success on the pop charts, Watt has never made his rock ambitions a secret: one of his earliest forays into the music industry was California Breed, his short-lived band with Deep Purple and Black Sabbath veteran Glenn Hughes as well as Jason Bonham. In addition, Watt’s subsequent solo career has featured collaborations with a Red Hot Chili Pepper (Chad Smith) and a Queen of the Stone Age (Joey Castillo), and he was once tapped to perform with The Doors’ Robby Krieger in a tribute to the band’s Ray Manzarek. Watt can hang with rockers, which proved to be a boon when taking on his most daunting gig yet: performing on, co-writing and producing the entirety of Osbourne’s first album in a decade.
Ordinary Man, set to arrive early next year on Epic Records, pairs Osbourne with a band that consists of Watt on guitar, Smith on drums, and Guns ‘n Roses’ Duff McKagan on bass. Lead single “Under The Graveyard” dropped earlier this month, and it sounds like a classic ’80s power ballad. Watt, who hadn’t met Osbourne until bringing him onboard for “Take What You Want,” describes the album and its recording process as “a dream come true.” He recently joined Post Malone, Osbourne and Scott onstage at the American Music Awards for a fiery performance of the track.
Billboard caught up with Watt while he was on his way to catch a performance by someone else from his eclectic list of 2019 collaborators, Lana Del Rey, at the Hollywood Bowl. The conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How did you get Ozzy on a Post Malone song?
One night Post was at the Rainbow Bar & Grill and saw this picture of Ozzy, and he bought it and took it home. When I heard that, I had this image of him walking down Sunset with that picture, and I was like, “I gotta make a song for Post and Ozzy.” I've said insane s--t out loud before, and this was one of those times.
I'd never met Ozzy before, but I had met his daughter [Kelly Osbourne]. I told her my idea and asked if she thought her dad would be into it. She's a Post fan, so she's like, “Yes, absolutely.” Then Ozzy got really sick and was in the hospital, so it was like, “He's gonna do it,” but then his health was taking longer, and it was like, “Is he gonna do it?” I just kept staying on Kelly and [Osbourne’s wife] Sharon, and eventually they told me to come over. So we did it. That experience was incredible.
How do you wind up making a full album with him?
The day after all this, Ozzy texted me like, “I want you to make an album with me.” I was like, that would be amazing, but can I do this? I picked up the phone and called up Chad Smith. I said, “Dude, Ozzy just asked me to make an album for him. Are you down to do it?” And he said, “Are you f--king kidding me? When?” Then I called up Duff McKagan from Guns 'n Roses and he said, “Are you f--king kidding me? When?”
We wrote and recorded Ozzy's entire album, musically, in four days. There was no premeditation. The three of us just got in my basement, put on headphones, looked at each other, and wrote 12 songs, 10 of which constitute the album. It was magic. I don't even remember it.
Then Ozzy came over to my basement to listen to the music. I played him all 10 tracks at full volume, and at the end he just goes, “It's cool.” And my heart just f--kin' went into my gut. He was like, “I'll call you tomorrow.” Stands up, gets his cane, goes upstairs. I go, “Oh my God, he hated it! What do I do?”
He calls me the next day like, “Okay, so when do we start writing?” I sound like I'm making this up, but he comes over the next day, and we made Ozzy's entire album from top to bottom -- all music, guitar solos, all vocals written -- in four weeks. It's the proudest of anything I've ever been, because it brought the 12-year-old kid out of me again. Don't get me wrong, I love the pop music that I make, but this is what I feel like I was born to do: play rock guitar. I got to be f--kin' Randy Rhoads in 2019.
For the past few years, you've been rubbing shoulders with classic rock greats: Glenn Hughes, Duff McKagan, et cetera. How did you, in your mid-twenties, get your foot in the door of that world?
When I was living in New York, by chance, I met Julian Lennon at a friend's bar. A few months later, I was in L.A., working on some songs, or for a show -- I don't even remember why I was there -- but he was having a photo exhibit. I went to the exhibit, and he introduced me to Glenn Hughes. I was like, “Oh my god, I love [Hughes’ pre-Deep Purple band] Trapeze.” I guess a lot of people don't say that to him. But my dad's whole vinyl collection was my youth, and one of my favorite guitar riffs ever is from this song “Medusa” that Glenn did with Trapeze. I told him that, and then said, “Hey man, we should write a song some time.” He gave me his number, and I texted him a few songs that I had written, he called me a few days later saying, “Holy s--t, this fits great, we should write a song.” So we started writing and it was really natural, and he asked if I would ever want to do a band.
That was my first foray into the rock world, really. Glenn introduced me to Chad, and Chad introduced me to this person, et cetera. It was just one thing that led to the next. The band I had with Glenn, California Breed, went on tour opening for Slash, [when I was] a f--kin' 22-year-old kid.
And then you pivoted to writing and producing pop hits?
I was really focused on [California Breed] and my solo music for a while, and then I ended up writing this song called "Let Me Love You." I played it for Justin Bieber, because he became a really close friend of mine when I was touring with him and Cody Simpson. He loved it, and it ended up being a hit [as a Bieber song with DJ Snake]. Once that happened, I was like, wait, I can go back to touring in a sprinter van, or I can keep writing these songs that maybe I wouldn't release as an artist but people seem to like. So I started producing and writing more and more. It just became really natural, and kind of a pivot moment. It was great, because I could be like, I feel like making an acoustic guitar song, I feel like making a DJ song, whatever. I could bounce around and no one was saying to me, “You make too many different types of s--t.” It really gave me a lot of freedom to explore.
Do you feel like now, when you're writing or producing for other artists, you're getting more of your own vibe in there, or are you approaching it with more flexibility? You know, not coming to the studio with any preconceived notions about what you want to do with a specific artist?
Once I started having some songs that people liked, I was blessed enough to sit down with Rick Rubin. We were working on some stuff he was going to do with Justin, where I was playing guitar on it. He said to me, “These songs are great and really cool, and your sound is transferring over to multiple artists that you work with.” That's true -- there were gang vocals and finger-picking guitar in a lot of the records we were making at the time. Rick said, “You've gotta be really careful about that, because you're making an artist's music, you're not making your music. If you want to be a producer, you have to really spend time with the artist and their music, capture their vibe, and make sure you're giving them their own voice.” I remember a lot of what he said to me that day, but that's the most important. You might be able to hear the consistency of guitar playing style or certain tones on my records, but I try to do something different for all the people I work with.
Not just with Ozzy and Post, but also, for instance, with your work on Lana Del Rey’s cover of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time,” you're straddling a rock background and some really of-the-moment popular music. Has there ever been a time where someone from either of those worlds has raised an issue like, “This guy's worked with Bieber, so are we sure we want him producing an Ozzy album?”
You know, if they did, it didn't come to me [laughs]. Once they got in the room with me, like I said, I try to do the right thing for the artist. The right thing for “Take What You Want” was 808 drums mixed with guitars. It sounds like a Post Malone song with Ozzy singing the hook. Ozzy's album doesn't sound like that; it sounds like a f--kin' Ozzy Osbourne album. I could've been like, “Oh, the song with Post has had so much success, so we should make your whole album with drum programming and 808s and stuff.” But that would've been the wrong thing to do for him and his fans. I'm trying to be very conscious of the fans, especially with legendary artists, because I am a fan, and I always come back to that. When I made Ozzy's album, I was a 12-year-old kid thinking about, “Will I want to drive in the car and air drum to this?”
Was there ever a moment when you first got on in the pop world when you wished you were playing with a rock band?
Of course. That's where I came from. But I loved that time, and it wasn't necessarily something i was looking for. I was in New York, I dropped out of school, my parents weren't thrilled with me, and I got an offer to play guitar for Cody. I was like, “F--k that, I'm in my rock band.” And then they're like, “We'll pay you $1,500 a week.” I was like, “When do we leave?” It was a good learning experience, too -- I'd play Cody songs, and his manager would ask, “Can Cody sing that song?” And I'd be like, “No, that's my song.” I didn't really think of it any other way. But then I gave him a song, and then I got to do some stuff with Justin, and that was really successful. Then I was like, holy s--t, maybe I don't have to release these songs myself. If I hadn't gone on those tours, I never would've been in the place where I am right now. Everything is as it should be.