Watt's work in 2020 earned him a Grammy nomination for Producer of the Year.

By Samantha Highfill
December 30, 2020 at 10:00 AM EST
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Credit: Alex Kluft

The Write Stuff is EW's occasional series on songwriting

Andrew Watt's start in the music industry can be traced back to a middle-school play. His cousin's, to be exact. When Watt was 10, he attended his cousin's school production of Guys and Dolls, but he found himself watching something other than the play. "There's a pit band and there's this kid with long hair, standing up with a black Fender jazz bass," says Watt. "He's playing this music for Guys and Dolls but he's rocking out. I didn't watch the play, I just watched him the whole time. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world."

During the intermission, Watt went over to talk to the guy, who handed him his bass and taught him how to play Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." And Watt was hooked. "The second I put my hands on this bass, I was unlocked," he says. "I'll never forget it for as long as I live. I went to the store the next day and I got a bass and that was it."

One year later, an 11-year-old Watt kicked off his songwriting career with his first two songs. "The first one was called '24 Hours A Day,' which was about a girl in sixth grade with me that I was trying to confess my love for. I thought about her 24 hours a day. The second one was called 'I'm Finished' and it was about how I didn't want my mom to yell at me anymore," says Watt. "You write a song about the girl you have a crush on and the most important woman in your life, your mother."

At that young age, Watt knew what his future would hold. He was going to make music, no matter what it took. He played in bands through high school and during his time at NYU, up until he got a paid gig to tour with Cody Simpson. That's where he met Justin Bieber, who'd be part of Watt's first big hit.

Credit: Kevin Scanlon

Now, Watt's a top producer in the industry. Just this year he has produced songs on Miley Cyrus' Plastic Hearts, Ozzy Osbourne's Ordinary Man, contributed to Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia and more. Here, Watt, who's nominated for Producer of the Year at the Grammy's, breaks down the stories behind some of his biggest songs.

"Let Me Love You," by DJ Snake ft. Justin Bieber

One fateful night, Watt accidentally left his prized possession, his 1946 Martin, at songwriter Ali Tamposi's party. And when she returned it, he invited her in to write. "She came in and I played her this guitar riff and we literally just started writing 'Let Me Love You.' Brian Lee was there at my house and the three of us wrote 'Let Me Love You' on the first time we ever wrote together in the first sitting," says Watt. "It was one of the most magical experiences of my life. It was just like meeting that person. Ali's my John Lennon. She's the person that I was meant to write with."

Watt then took the song to his good friend Justin Bieber, who fell in love with the acoustic version. But when other artists got their hands on the demo, the song became something else. "DJ Snake got the song and made an incredible beat," says Watt. "When we heard the vocal over that, we were like, 'Wow, this is not a demo anymore. This is our beautiful folk song turned into this insane thing.' So when I got Justin that, he understood what it was. Eventually, we get the song recorded and the song comes out, and it was the first time I ever got to go on a tour and look out at a crowd and see 50,000 people singing the words to a song that I wrote about something in my life that meant something to them. I'll never forget it."

Credit: Connor Brashier

"Señorita" by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello

"I was with Ali [Tamposi] and a couple of others. We had just had 'Havana,' and when you do something and it has a sound, it's only natural to be like, 'Okay, I'm in this vibe now a little bit,' right? So there's a few songs that we made that were kind of in the Latin music scene that was exploding in America. We wrote the chorus for 'Señorita,' and then I sent it to Shawn [Mendes] because it just made me think of him," says Watt. "He's got that sultry, amazing voice and can play guitar like that. It resonated with him, and then we kind of finished the song together and he made it his story. We started talking about doing it as a duet, and Camila [Cabello] was the only person that made sense for him. It was really an awesome, special, cosmic time because of course they did the song together and they fell in love and they're still together now. So that whole natural thing that grew between them, I think really propelled the song to another place. And it's just a really cool thing to be a part of. Love is the strongest emotion there is for a human being and that song is their love story."

Credit: Andrew Watt

"Break My Heart" by Dua Lipa

"All you can ask for as a producer or songwriter is an artist to come in and know exactly what the f--- they want to do. That day was the first day we worked together, and Dua [Lipa] led the room. She was like, 'Here's my sound, this is what I want to do, pick up an instrument and let's go,'" says Watt. "I plugged in the bass and I started playing different baselines based on the amazing new disco sound that she had coming out, and then we just kind of wrote the song from there. We tracked the final vocal that day. That song was made in a few hours. It was just a one day fell swoop because when an artist comes in with that kind of confidence and can tell you exactly what they want to do, who they want to be and where it should go, it's the most freeing, amazing feeling in the world. And it was a really inspired, awesome session."

"Plastic Hearts" by Miley Cyrus

"I have known Miley [Cyrus] for a long time, and I've known her work and paid really close attention to all the stuff she was doing because I was such a fan. When she and her team came to me saying that she wanted to lean into her rock vibes a bit more, it was a dream," says Watt. "She's another artist who, without a doubt, always knows what she wants to do. You're on Miley's ride when you're there. And she connects to her lyrics so hard. The music of 'Plastic Hearts' was within the first three things I made for Miley. And I believe it was the second song we ended up writing for the album. And what was important to me is I wanted the music to have really modern sonics, but really cool chord changes so she could reach that Chris Cornell part of her voice. And I think that song really has that aspect."

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