The Watchmen – Interview

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The Watchmen come from Winnipeg, the same town that bred such legends as Neil Young and The Guess Who. The band’s roots trace back to 1988 (minus current bassist Ken Tizzard) where they could be spotted every weekend packing clubs across Winnipeg. From the first record, McLaren Furnace Room in ’92, to their latest release, Silent Radar , each of the records went on to reach gold status (five hundred thousand) in Canada. Even better news came to the band this year when Capitol Records signed Silent Radar for US distribution. The Watchmen have everything going for them; now they must learn how to win over the American public and learn to follow a US detour sign if they want to be successful. On a stop into Rochester on their current US promotional tour we had a chance to talk with lead singer Danny Greaves and guitarist Joey Serlin about what’s happening with the band.

Silent Radar was just released here in America, but it’s been out in Canada for a while. How did things go for the record in Canada?

Joey: It’s doing well, some records do better than others. It’s doing better than the last one (Brand New Day). As far as we are concerned, we are happy where the record is.

Building a name for yourself and being successful in Canada, then venturing in the States, do you feel like you’re about to start over again?

Danny: Hey, in a lot ways we are doing that, but we totally expected that. But it’s okay as along as you’re playing in front of some people instead of an empty room, which can be depressing. If there is twenty people there, usually nine times out of ten when people come see us they’ll be turned onto us. We’re selling CD’s off the stage at shows and stuff. It’s slow but we’re moving forward.

Joey: The record came out the 14th of September. We started touring the States around the beginning of August. We did a residency, for lack of a better word, in the Chicago area and we just did a loop in the mid-west playing every Tuesday in Chicago and every Wednesday Kalamazoo, and every Thursday playing some around there just trying to generate a buzz before the record came out.

I have noticed many of the Canadian bands are doing that sort of thing, playing a lot of the border states, and that has worked well for them. You get the support from the Canadian fans and draw American people into the music scene as well.

Danny: Hey, it’s not a bad idea. I think we are concentrating on the Midwest and the Northeast, and when we starting playing these parts (New York area) closer towards Canada, people start seeing the dates on the website and come down to see us. We are going to start to turn on some yanks.

How did Capitol Records pick up Silent Radar?

Joey: Well, to make a long story short, the record was suppose to be out on EMI in the US and everywhere else in the world but then EMI in the US closed their offices and shut down. We shopped around and Capitol was interested and we hooked up with them. So far, so good. They’re treating us well.

Do you feel this record is better in maturity? I know that’s a tough question but as far as goals

Joey: Well, it’s different for everyone in the band.

Danny: I like to think that the songs are better and we are further along. It’s hard to say because it’s hard to say where you were at with the second record (In the Trees), how you were feeling at that point, but looking back on it, on the third album (Brand New Day), I feel this new one is better. At that time back then, maybe this is what The Watchmen felt they needed. I feel on this record we definitely accomplished what we set out to do. The record (Silent Radar) definitely sounded the way we wanted it to sound versus the second and third. I’m happy about it.

With Silent Radar, who came up the great idea for CD-Active? I think it’s a sweet interactive tool for fans to use with the website.

Joey: We have always been into the net and computers. Ken (Tizzard, bassist) designed our own personal fourth website and that we totally redesigned. Our record company in Canada (EMI) knew that we were into that stuff and made us a connection with a company named Digital Renaissance and they approached us about it. There are two appealing things about the deal, one that it’s never been done before

Yeah, I’ve never seen anybody with this feature and it’s a cool marketing idea

Joey: Yeah, we were the first band to do that and we have won industry and computer awards, we were in tech magazines, and it’s interesting that way. Secondly, our fans love that type of stuff and it’s an exclusive thing, making them feel they’re inside the band.

Thanks to MTV in the States, we don’t get to see any of your videos. I don’t know if videos are a big aspect of the band, but have you thought of putting the videos on the CD-Active?

Joey: Yeah, we’d love too! The DVD thing is really hot right now; it would be great to do that. We are always up for the new technology stuff, we do have videos in Canada and that’s apart we what all bands almost have to do, but the DVD thing is something we have been talking about for a while.

One thing I always like about The Watchmen is the songs are simple but have deep meaning and are truly about everyday people. I was wondering if you reading comes into the equation of songwriting?

Joey: On the road you have to read because you have so much time to kill and it’s a great way to escape. I’m sure influences creep in the music, influencing us lyrically.

What do you like to read?

Joey: I like everything from horror novels to life on the 80’s genre, everything. I’m not a big magazine guy, mostly novels.

Danny: I have not been doing a lot of reading as of late because, I don’t know, there is many times where me and Joe are just driving and I cannot concentrate. It’s hard to drive and read at the same time. I like the same sort of genre stuff but I like the story telling aspect. My mom usually suggests some books to read and I read them.

Joey: I just read a great book called The Underworld by Don Dellio, a great read, killer. A recommended read by me.

What’s that about?

Joey: It’s about the generation that went through the Cold War mentality; that fear of nuclear war. It jumps all over the place into different lives of people and the author intertwines all these characters. It’s kind of indescribable. It’s a massive nine-hundred-page book.

The band name comes from Alan Moore’s The Watchmen. What kind of inspiration did the book provide?

Joey: We all read the book and all like the title. We wanted a band name with ‘The’ that signifies a bunch of guys with camaraderie, like a super-hero group.

Back to the songwriting for a moment, I know Ken Tizzard writes short stories, did he help write any songs lyrically for this album?

Joey: I have read a bit his work. He is pretty private about it, but it’s a little early. I think he’s still developing as a writer. I think he’s still waiting until he’s ready for everybody else to read his work. I read some of it and it’s good, it’s a difficult world he’s entering into. Back to your question. Lyrically he has not written anything, but musically he’s a big part of us.

What do you think about comparisons?

Danny: I think that’s the sign that as an artist you’re turning people on, when they start to talk about the band and compare you to this or that. I think that’s the first step. We went through that, it’s called ‘the new band syndrome.’

I have seen the band on two different tours, one with The Tragically Hip and the other you guys were headlining a club tour in the summer. During that stretch, the band played some newer material. Does the band use the road as an open studio to write new tunes?

Danny: The road can be grueling at times, you’re not always in the mood for it. The road is definitely a good opportunity with all four of us together sometimes at soundcheck when we do have an hour onstage to definitely at your best to try and put it to work with a couple tunes. We just wrote one the other day, we have been trying it out on stage for a couple weeks. It’s getting better than when we wrote it. It’s definitely a bonus when you got time.

I caught the show in Buffalo over the summer when the band played at The Tral. What was the fifth song in the set called? It had a really upbeat tempo.

Danny: Oh, yeah. That’s a song called “Everywhere is Gray”. It’s an up-tempo, two minute pop song with a Zep type groove.

How many new songs have you got compiled together?

Joey: We demoed before we went to Australia in July, and before that we had June to do some demoing with about ten or twelve new tracks. Those songs are ready to be mixed. On the road we have written another three songs. Then there are kind of half-baked ideas running around that were touched on.

So you got more than half the record done?

Danny: Yeah, but we usually take thirty tracks into the studio with us. Thirty is kind of the magic number for us to go into the studio.

Joey: The only record we did not do that on was Brand New Day; we went in and wrote a lot of the record in the studio. That was fun and exciting too, but it’s a little bit more comfortable when you’re a bit more prepared.

What was the name of the song that the band was playing during soundcheck?

Joey: That was a Nick Cave song.

I know some people that are into Nick Cave but I’m not

Danny: Neither am I, actually. I’m just suppose to learn it and demo it.

Who came up with that idea?

Danny: It’s a potential opportunity that came at us to do some movie music, so we just throw it in our bin to see what whips up.

In concert, Danny, you perform vocal solo. Where do you come up with the material? Is it lyrics of songs left of off prior records or just jams?

Danny: Most of them are covers; actually all of them are covers. There are usually songs that I like the melody of, and if the melody is strong enough where it does not need any music under, I’ll do it. It doesn’t work for all our tunes but for the ones it does work for it is pretty powerful and effective. It sort of a dynamic thing, you break it down and (pauses) it gives the song a concert feel instead of CD feel. It works out nice.

If you’re doing covers then what music are you listening to?

Danny: I like a lot of Billy Bragg tunes, a couple that I sing, I do a Tom Waits tune, and a Lyle Lovett, Simon and Garfunkel as well. Just songs that words or the song can just stand on its own.

I remember the Lyle Lovett tune from “Say Something”, back when you performed at the Landmark Theater in Syracuse, NY. One of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

Joey: Yeah, we get a lot of people telling us that. That was a pivotal show for us because

Danny: Is that the one where the dude was up?

Joey: Actually that’s the show that got us our US record deal.

Fill in the blank. Your music is rock ‘n’ roll with a touch of.

Danny: Rock ‘n’ roll with touch of soul.

I was looking on our website and saw fans trading bootlegs. Are you cool with that? Do you feel that bootlegs might kill the releasing of a live record?

Joey: I was talking to some guys yesterday who say that they have thirty different shows or something like that on tape. We try actually in between records, if we know there is going to be a long lull when we are in the studio and people won’t be seeing us for awhile, people will actually go up to our fanclub for the live stuff EP’s.

Danny: If it propitiates us when we were not touring or putting new records out, it is good to know that other people are doing it for us.

What about a killing a live record?

Danny: I don’t what the numbers are, but I think still we could make more of an impact if we put out a live record with the record company and the promotion machine that they do.

Joey: What do they say on the site?

Don’t worry, there are no rumors! (We all laugh in unison). Basically, nobody’s selling the bootlegs, just people trading for shows that they went to or shows they have missed.

Joey: I think it’s flattering!

So the plans for New Year’s stand as The Hip New Year’s show! What are your thoughts about the big event?

Joey: It’s going to be a crazy few days for us. New Year’s Eve we are playing in Winnipeg at our hometown at the Convention Centre, then we are going to fly out at 6:30am to Toronto for The Hip at Air Canada.

It seems to me that the band and The Hip have made a strong friendship over the years.

Joey: Yeah, they have helped us out a lot over the years. We have known them for a long time. First time we played with them was back in the States in the fall of ’98 and four nights in Chicago, but I think this will be the first time we have played with them in Canada.

Danny: Since like ’89 when they put Up To Here out. We were just a high school band then.

What’s it like going back home and performing in front of your friends?

Joey: Different. A little bit more stressful, the phone ringing off the hook with guest lists and running around. It’s fun to show off in front of your friends though, for sure.

Danny: New Year’s shows are more stressful in general. With it being New Year’s, everyone wants to do something special, especially this one. With family and guest lists, it’s cool but more shit to deal with.

Are you freaked about Y2K and all this other shit?

Joey: I’m a little paranoid, but I’m kind of paranoid in general. But I’m nervous. I swore I wouldn’t fly on New Year’s and going into the new millennium for a few weeks until the bugs are worked out. Yet here I am flying six hours into the new year. I’m a little nervous about that. I want to stay home and protect my shit. (laughs)

The band has traveled through Canada and that can be a long drive with great scenery. What’s the weirdest thing that’s happen during a trek?

Joey: One tour a moose ran in front of the bus and I was in the back, I look to the right and there was a face of another huge moose coming up out of the ditch at me. It’s treacherous. You’re risking your life for music when you’re touring Canada. Any band that survives a winter Canadian tour has earned their stripes!

+larry sarzyniak

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