The Black Watch began in 1987, the brainchild of primary songwriter and frontman John Andrew Fredrick. The band history until 2011 is detailedhere; their 2013 album was my favorite of that year. This interview took place over email in January 2015 into February.
The Snilch Report: I just listened to the album [2014’s sugarplum fairy, sugarplum fairy]. It’s very good, but I find it confusing — it will take some more listens (perhaps many) to get to the heart of it. My initial impression is that you were in a dark happy place when you made it, if that makes any sense.
John Andrew Fredrick: Yes in a very very dark happy place. It is meant to be very much a “fuck off” record — made by a person who was, in effect, heartbroken…by music itself. If that doesn’t sound too terribly grandstandingly hyperbolic…
SR: That’s a very interesting idea… is it the process of creating music or the business of creating music that’s leaving you feeling heartbroken?
JAF: The metaphor of heartbreak is even more applicable, in that The Black Watch are over it, their heartbreak — as one gets over it in life — and are recording a follow-up EP to sugarplum fairy, sugarplum fairy. Probably not surprising to those who said: “You’re a lifer, you won’t quit,” but I was mostly talking about feeling how I had a very bad time in the studio, on account of I did all the instruments save the drums myself, all the singing, all of it. And it was very not-enjoyable.
Tyson, Chris, and Rick and I are rehearsing four new songs for the forthcoming EP. It’s a nice space to be in. I still think I may not make another LP, but obviously I kind of don’t know what I will do, am confused and such, and should just shut up and sing. Haha! [Editor’s note: Since this interview, John has written other new songs, so now this release is going to be an LP. Which is great news for Black Watch fans!]
For so long The Black Watch has been, in the picayune-scene indie press, “The band that never got even marginally as big as they deserve to be.” That got to me too. I shouldn’t have let it do so, but I did, more’s the pity. Tough luck and sucky hurts and disappointments, bandly-wise, music biz-wise, can be, or feel, at least, cumulative. If you let them get like that. Which I did. More’s the pity. Now I will stop going on about stopping. And go on.
SR: You can’t let the bastards drag you down! Don’t let them win! Forsugarplum fairy, sugarplum fairy, was the “solo recording for the band record” a plan you went in with? Or was that forced on you?
JAF: I started by doing four songs that seemed like they’d be best acoustic. The engineer at the studio — guy called Luke Adams — had been Pete Yorn’s drummer, a studio session man. I showed him some other songs, and because he speaks Beatles and is a one-take kind of guy, a “one-take Tony,” as we say, he did the drums, all of them, in four hours for seven other songs. I told the band: “Look, if we rehearse and do this as a band, it’ll cost four times as much. Let me do this, and then we’ll go make something afterwards.”
Having Luke play was like finding money on the ground. How could I not use his tracks? (The drumming on sugarplum, I think, is stellar.) Steven Schayer having left the band, after 6 years, you know, I sort of did it, the record, by myself as a way of going, “Hey, I don’t need you like you always say I do.” He’d say it to me in jest, mind you, but not really. I missed him being there, in the studio, being my foil and thorn in my side. I was heartbroken over the person, Anne, many songs are about, and thinking I was going to stop doing the thing I love most: recording music.
Anyway, the work Steve did on Led Zeppelin Five and the end of when — spectacular. A great, great musician. And, inevitably, someone who became unhappy playing in The Black Watch. Someone who should do his own album — and I really hope he does. But now we have someone on lead, Tyson Cornell, who is just as good but different. Tyson actually runs the publishing company here in LA that is my publisher — Rare Bird Lit. He has a spin-off label that’s putting out a picture disc 7″ of two songs we did this summer in Santa Barbara. Geeky! Collector’s bait. I mean, I love records but a picture disc?! Haha. I woulda been happy with a cassingle!! Remember those? Of course you do. And, with Tyson, we’re back to being a happy band. Chris our bassist and Rick our drummer — they’ve become great good friends with Tyson as well. So we’re fine. Happy. Obscure as hell, still, but happy.
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