Anthony Watkins II aka Mobley doesn't seem proud to be an American. Part of that is because the Austin-based musician has encountered racism. He's a black man from the South, who has lived in parts of Europe, where he feels his skin color didn't define him as much as his nationality did to onlookers – unlike in America, where he feels color comes first.
"I guess I would say that the particular form of racism that is found in America is different from the kind that I've encountered in other parts of the world," says Watkins. "In much of my traveling throughout the world, I've often found that I'm greeted and understood as an American first. I found that to be true in parts of Southern Africa and in the parts of Europe that I've been to."
There's no denying that these impressions have shaped the singer personally, and left a mark on the songs featured on his debut album, Fresh Lies.
Born in North Carolina, Watkins moved around repeatedly as a child. His father was a Marine stationed in England and Spain while Anthony was in primary school. Later on, after the family moved back to the states, Watkins returned to the Tar Heel state for school — he went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University in Durham — before moving to Austin, Texas, where he honed his musical craft and what would become a solo project.
After releasing 2012's Some Other Country EP, Watkins began searching for a drummer to tour with him. He found his cohort Alfredo Rios, a drummer who moved to the states in 2013 from Mexico, on Craigslist. Rios will join Mobley on the current tour, which stops in at The Milestone in Charlotte on April 24 and continues on with stops to Austin's renowned South by Soutwest and parts of Mexico.
But aside from a touring-only drummer, you won't find Mobley working with others. That's because he's currently flying solo. For Fresh Lies, co-produced by Bryan Ray, he plays all the instruments on the entirety of the album. The track "Solo," ambiguously touches on his do-it-yourself approach. But more so, in the video, fame and popularity trends are addressed. Watkins walks alone while being approached by fans, media and police who accompany him as he experiences the effects of being a celebrity. In the end, Watkins runs away from everyone. The song clearly explores the way that different needs and wants change people in the spotlight, who often feel like they're being pulled in different directions.
Over the course of that song, which Watkins highly recommends listening to with headphones on, he uses keyboards, synthesizers, drum machines and other instruments and devices to create a mix that blends genres like R&B, rock and electronica.
Songs like "Tell Me," feel even more intimate with lyrics that capture the emotions behind a relationship that's on a downward spiral. Lyrics leave him pleading to his partner, in a quest to find out what exactly it is she wants and what he's got to do — or change — in order to save the relationship.
Thematically, his songs lean towards love and romantic relationships, but Watkins says love/romance is just a metaphor for shaping his songs, which actually play off his own questioning of and experiences with racism and blackness in America.
"When I started writing, I thought that these songs were love/relationship songs, but they didn't really resemble any relationship I'd ever had with a woman," says Watkins, who had an epiphany about the songs' real meanings when the Staten Island grand jury refused to indict the NYPD officer caught on video in the heated case surrounding Eric Garner's death.
"It came out and a lot of things visualized for me at that time. I realized that what I'd been writing about was more of my relationship with America," says Watkins.
Like Garner, the untimely deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown subtly influenced tracks on the album.
The track "Victoria," focuses on the violence of arresting someone at a traffic stop, while "Ercolano, Michigan," nods to the Southern Italy town, built on the volcanic material left by the eruption of Vesuvius that devastated Pompeii, and to Flint, Michigan and its ongoing water crisis.
"It points to the ways in which so called natural disasters and so called manmade disasters are really not all that different," says Watkins.
"Swoon," another song on the album, blends hip-hop/R&B vibes with a high dosage of dub step and electronica melodies. Watkins admits that the lyrical content came unconsciously.
"I had no idea what it was about when I was writing it. I wrote it in a kind of stream of consciousness where I was just pulling words and free-associating. When I went back and listened to it once I was done, I realized the kind of themes that were inspiring me at the time," says Watkins. "There's so much there to point to that metaphorical relationship that I was talking about between romance and America."