You can probably count on one hand the number of artists who, 20 years into their pop-music career, have managed to stay relevant, even edgy.
Ben Watt, half of '80s Brit-pop act Everything But the Girl and now a driving force behind the Lazy Dog DJ act, is one of the rare few.
"If you get to your late 30s and into your 40s, it's much more common to be someone who's in a middle-aged sort of band," Watt, 38, said. "Kind of a Phil Collins vibe, making a horrible amount of money, but really just selling the past to an audience that doesn't really want to be challenged anymore."
Watt thanks his involvement in the internationally acclaimed Lazy Dog club for keeping him young — musically, anyway. Lazy Dog is his 3-year-old club event, a fortnightly London outing co-hosted by DJ Hannan.
"Clubbing by its very nature is more youthful," Watt said. "It's people who are looking to dance and are looking for a bit more edge in their music."
The DJ duo released a two-CD set under their Lazy Dog moniker in October. The mix set — which is a close approximation of what an evening spent at their London club might sound like — features a vocal cameo by Everything But the Girl vocalist Tracey Thorn on "Tracey in My Room."
It's been two years since their last original release, 1999's house-tinged Temperamental, but fans will get a taste of Everything But the Girl when their Back to Mine compilation, the sixth in Ultra Records' chill-out CD series, hits stores May 29.
"The original concept for it was a kind of after-hours thing to put on when you get back from the club or in the car ride on the way back home from the club. Or the few people you take home to have a few drinks with after hours. That's the kind of vibe," Watt explained.
Everything But the Girl's Back to Mine will feature 12 laid-back tracks, including "Stars All Seem to Weep," a track Watt produced for Beth Orton.
The duo, who've been married for as long as they've been making music, recently gave birth to a third child. As a result, they've had little free time in which to think about their next album.
"I think this [homebody] spirit will pass and we'll get together in a month and make another album," Watt said.
In the meantime, Watt has kept busy with Lazy Dog and by taking on the role of remix producer. His remix of Sade's "By Your Side" has been in heavy rotation in DJ sets on both sides of the pond.
"That has done really well in the club scene, particularly over here," Watt said of his Sade remix. "She's had a bad reputation for not approving house mixes. She's not a natural house fan, Sade, but we go back a long way. We were recording our first albums together in the same studio at the same time back in the early '80s."
Epic Records issued the mix to DJs both in the U.K. and in the States. Unfortunately, that's where the story of Watt's "By Your Side" mix ends.
"It got a real buzz going, and then suddenly Sade got cold feet and said she didn't want it to come out commercially. The number of people who bug me about it now — it's really hard," Watt said.
Also on his production plate are remixes for Sunshine Anderson and Maxwell; he expects his remix of the former's current hit, "Heard It All Before," will be easier to come by than the Sade mix.
Watt's weathered the life-threatening Churg-Strauss syndrome, marriage, kids and more than a few musical-direction changes, and he shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
"I feel like with dance music, the DJ/production side of it isn't at all ageist. You don't have to be a pretty boy, you don't have to be in a boy band, you don't have to be on the cover of all the magazines to survive," Watt said. "You can age gracefully and still maintain an edge to what you're doing, and that appeals to me 'cause, well, I'm certainly not getting any younger."