you resource for all things shoegaze & dream pop.

26 June 2012

Interview: John Andrew Fredrick of The Black Watch.

When The Sun Hits
John Andrew Fredrick of
The Black Watch

The Black Watch is a band based in Santa Barbara, California, and is known for their dreamy, literate pop sound. Since the band's inception, TBW's only constant member has been singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter, John Andrew Fredrick, who, as the legend goes, formed TBW in 1987 - one day after seeing the London outfit The Lucy Show play to seven people at a State Street club (read WTSH's interview with Mark Bandola of The Lucy Show HERE).

The Black Watch has recorded and toured consistently throughout its history - a history nearing 25 years now - except for a brief period in 1997 when the band broke up. During this hiatus, Fredrick wrote The King of Good Intentions, a semi-autobiographical novel about an indie rock band. The band recorded a CD of the same title intended as a companion piece to the novel. To this date, TBW has recorded and released 14 full length LPs full of charming and clever pop songs.

The Black Watch has been on my radar for many years now, and I've never quite understood why such brilliance has largely gone unnoticed by so many. I fondly recall playing a track by TBW during my very first dj set (ever!) - for Rice University's now defunct radio station, KTRU 91.7fm, years and years ago. I didn't know it then (and I surely never would have fucking guessed), but one day I would have the chance to interview the illustrious John Andrew Fredrick. Well, that day has come. When The Sun Hits is honored to present the following interview with the man himself - John Andrew Fredrick of The Black Watch. Enjoy.

How and when was The Black Watch formed?

The band was formed in Santa Barbara in 1987 when I was teaching at UCSB, having just finished my doctoral dissertation and made a vow never to set pen to paper about anybody else's work ever again (Virginia Woolf was my topic) but to become an artist somehow. I started by writing 400 pages of a novel set in London and realized that I could write 4 songs in the time it took to write five pages of fiction. So - more than 20 years later I still have a band - plus I have gone back to writing fiction.

Can you tell us what the band has been working on and what you've got forthcoming in the near future (new releases, tour, etc.)?

We've just finished a new LP, the follow-up to last year's Led Zeppelin Five. It's called The End of When and it's coming out on Laughing Outlaw in Australia and New Zealand first. we were hoping-against-hope to be sued by the Zeppelin Trust for our irreverent title but that hasn't happened yet! I hope someone's lawyers get on that toute de suite! No: we didn't call the last record that in order to get sued--record clerks (the 14 and a half who are left) find the title funny, however. we just supported The Clean here in LA at The Echo; and we are meant to tour Australia when the new LP comes out!

Do you consider your music to be part of the current shoegaze/dream pop scene, or any scene? Defining one's sound by genre can be tiresome, but do you feel that the band identifies closely with any genre? How do you feel about genres in music, in a general sense?

The Black Watch have no problem being identified as a sort of dream pop band--after all, the original dream pop bands were The Beatles, The Pretty Things, and The Velvet Underground. we are chuffed to find that we have never (it wasn't a self-conscious move on our part) been a part of any scene here in Los Angeles--we have friends who are in bands, of course, but our attitude perhaps has been that scenes fade and good records last; hence, we've just concentrated on making artifacts (the new LP will be our 17th CD, I think--I’ve lost count).

Unabashedly, my favorite band of all time, aside from The Beatles, is My Bloody Valentine. I saw them play to ten people at the Club Lingerie in 1989; five of those people are, to this day, my friends! I have a vast collection of bands that were influenced by the Valentines. I am never not moved by dreamy, guitar-driven, transcendental melodies and breathy vocals. Although there are some rip-offs (The Pains of Being Pure at Heart come to mind) that irk me no end, and others (Ringo Deathstarr--very, very derivative) that don't chafe in the least! Isn't that interesting? It just goes to show you how very subjective music-following is--and how mercurial tastes can be. I have nothing against The Pains or their fans--and moreover, what do they need my approval for!? They've got many more followers than my band has!

As far as music genres and pigeonholing goes, I can't say that it's anything nefarious; people do need a reference point. As a rabid music fan myself, it has probably hurt me somehow. You see, I like reading reviews and interviews more than tuning in to alternative radio here in LA as a way of finding out about new music. Maybe if someone labeled a band like (back in the day) Gang of Four as "agropop dance" or "skronk" or something silly and reductive, I'd have missed out on a key discovery.

What do you think of modern shoegaze/dream pop/psychedelia artists, any favorites?

Let's see: current bands I like? That are shoegazy. There are occasional tracks I like that've come my way via Clairerecords, but I can't name anyone I’d fully endorse! sad! Beach House are for people who've never heard the goddam Cocteau Twins, and Yuck (an admitted guilty pleasure) recycle the obvious obligatory Dinosaur Jr and MBV. They are really good at it, however!

I wish I liked more things from today's scene. There are a number of Deerhunter songs I admire. They're hardly shoegaze, however. Idaho keep making, sporadically, good music. I love Idaho to death. I am more than ready for Kurt Heasley to release a new Lilys. They are something wonderful!

What is the most important piece of gear for your sound? Any particular guitars/pedals/amps that you prefer?

I bought Steven Schayer, the other guitarist and singer in The Black Watch and ex-The Chills member, a Holy Grail pedal that he's been getting some ridiculously quote-unquote out there sounds out of. I have never been an effects person: I have a Fender Bassman and a distortion pedal and I just turn it up up up. I can't play with something as simple as reverb. I like Jazzmasters and all my hollow body double-cutaways (Gretsch, Gibson ES 335, Harmony Rocket--for all you geeks out there).

What is your process for recording your music? What gear and/or software do you use? What would you recommend for others?

In the studio, 13 albums into it, I think I have touched a knob or fader maybe ten times. Honestly, I reckon that engineers and producers do what they do because they've mastered (ha-pun!) [WTSH falls down on the floor laughing] something special and that they're best left to do what they do. We use and have used ProTools since 2000 and that is a shame! And a boon, because it's so easy. It's too easy to make a record these days. It's still hard to make a great one, however.

My advice to other bands: make a great record. It's got to have songs! Not fucking jams or just nice parts or a concatenation of bits or a quote-unquote cool synth sound - it's got to sound like someone felt it, okay. Someone studied their Beatles and their Stones and Velvets and reached deep and wrote something!! More and more we tear the songs I write apart in rehearsal, then reassemble them in the studio. Steven's written two tracks for our new LP--which is good. He is much more meticulous than I am, much less prolific. And I love the way he writes.

How do you feel about the state of the music industry today? There is no doubt a massive change underway; how do you see it and do you feel it’s positive at all?

The state of the record industry is a welfare state. Full stop. Or a fiefdom. We're the serfs. No one knows what to do! That makes it sort of a melee, doesn't it? Should we put out a 7" just like in 1994? Should we give away everything? Try to get 10,000 likes on Wastebook? You tell us what we should do--cause we just keep on doing gigs and making songs up and recording could get into a wax about it all day long, if one wanted to die an early death!! That's it! I should just die! (Our old lead guitarist and producer, Tim Boland, great Irish guy, used to tisk tisk John, The Black Watch will be massive--only you'll have to die to get the recognition you deserve as a songwriter! I love that Tim--such a pepper! He's maybe right though; the thing is, we don't care about being massive: we'd like to be big enough to tour constantly but we're okay. We're pretty happy and grateful for the cult-amount, very small, of fans we do have!!)

Do you prefer vinyl, CD, cassette tape or mp3 format when listening to music? Do you have any strong feelings toward any of them?

I just installed a tape deck in my Volvo and it has opened up a whole world of music that I bought 15 years ago! I prefer vinyl.

What artists (musicians or otherwise) have most influenced your work?

I think I talked about the biggest influences. One might add The Church and Robyn Hitchcock, The Jazz Butcher and Jesus and Mary Chain. The Zombies above all. Loads of poetry informs much of my writing. Favorites: T.S. Eliot, Shelley, Plath, Philip Larkin, Chaucer, Shakespeare, John Donne, Li-Young Lee. Plus - the films of David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, Hitchcock, Wes and Paul Thomas Anderson.

Can you tell us a little about what you are currently into (books, films, art, bands, etc.)?

The book I am most into is the one I have just finished revising!! I have a second novel coming out on Full Court Press this year or early next: it's called The King of Good Intentions and it's about an indie rock band!! Surprise!!

It's very Martin Amis x Samuel Beckett x J.D. Salinger--meant to be very funny (and I hope people laugh out loud when they read it). There's going to be a CD included with the book by the "band" The Weird Sisters, whose formation and flowering the book chronicles. Yeah, it's a bit of a gimmick, but I hope it'll be fun. Henry Rollins was supposed to put it out 12 years ago but he was told by his lawyers and accountants he couldn't do (just as my book was going to be typeset) any books other than his own. You see, he lost 8 zillion on a hardback coffee table Metallica book or something! Like Metallica fans want a $50 book!! They want a t-shirt and a program to get signed and that's it. It was heartbreaking to have a novel accepted and then suffer such a fate; but things work out for the best, I believe, and 11 years later I revised it, made it funnier (I think) and more poetic and spritely and now it's gonna be issued!

What is your philosophy (on life), if any, that you live by?

I reckon that's my philosophy of life, as well. I don't trust people who ascribe to the "everything happens for a reason" pseudo-philosophy!! That's for lazy fuckers who have no ethos!! Or who can't deal with the essentially chaotic nature of things. Read Lucretius: that's my philosophy. Read Samuel Johnson. Then go play guitar!!