News updates for Black Watch

Black Watch at Blurt

Anybody’s who’s paid even a smidgen of attention to the indie rock world over the past couple of decades knows the band The Black Watch, who have issued scores of uniformly excellent records over the years. GoHERE to read a review of 2011’s Led Zeppelin Five and HERE for one of 2013’s The End of When—the latter sings the praises of leader (and literary professor) John Andrew Frederick and the group’s “instantly appealing trademark jangle… channeling Frederick’s trademark romantic frustration into ridiculously accessible music.”

The L.A. combo’s most recent release is Sugarplum Fairy, issued in February by Pop Culture Press and they also just completed a national tour. Now we are stoked to be able to premiere their new video for the title track exclusively for YOU, gentle readers. Dig it:


Black Watch at Nooga

Longevity is a luxury for most bands. But for Los Angeles outfit The Black Watch, it’s become something of a habit. They’re on their 18th release and show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Owing a large debt to the sounds of classic jangle pop and indie rock of the early ’90s, the band concocts a catchy and reverent ode to those artists who obviously had such an impact on The Black Watch’s formative growth. There’s an emotional heft and weight, not to mention a certain pop buoyancy, that give their music a completely unique and earnest musical veneer.

On their latest record, “Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy,” the band (led by songwriter John Andrew Frederick) works with aspects of shoegaze, pop and classic rock in a way that few other artists are able; they mix and match different sounds to form an insular homage to their influences. There is no pretense or affectation here; “Sugarplum Fairy” is an earnest statement of identity. It’s familiar at times, though not in a way that promotes a sense of rhythmic homogeneity. It’s simply constructed of well-worn sounds that are meticulously arranged to form something new and refreshingly straightforward. It’s pop music, rock music and a handful of other genres all rolled into a frayed package of sound that will be rebounding around in your head for weeks.


Black Watch at Snilch Report

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.

Click through for the rest!


Black Watch at Examiner

The Black Watch is a long standing labor of love for John Andrew Fredrick. He has consistently churned out quality lo-fi music for god knows how long while building a devout legion of fans in the process. Hanging out below mainstream music’s radar has become Frederick’s home as he treats listeners to songs that fit somewhere between 80’s new wave and Guided By Voices.

On the latest release, Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy, Fredrick is once again the driving force behind The Black Watch writing all the songs and playing most of the instruments. The opening track, “Sugarplum Fairy”, is almost impossible not to like. Fuzz filled guitars chug along as Fredrick’s low melodic voice dancers around the music. It is a perfect first track hooking listeners and getting them to want to travel deeper into the record. With each song on Sugarplum Fairy you are rewarded with something different from the depths of Fredrick’s cranium. On the track “Scream” you get a world built around jangly guitars, on “Quietly Now” Fredrick shows how raw he can take the music and on the sparse “A Major Favor” he demonstrates that the Black Watch is about more than just being loud and fuzzy. The song “There You Were” encompasses everything I like about Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy. Fredrick fills the initial 2 minutes of the song with repetitive static filled noise before the song transforms into something incredible. As if he knew we could only stand 2 minutes of his droning guitar the song explodes into a pop infused wonderland full of catchy melodies, jangly guitars and Fredrick’s vocals.

Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy from the Black Watch may not be innovative but it is definitely captivating due to each song offering up something different. The album never become stagnant as Frederick invites us into his musical world. So slide in under the radar and check out the Black Watch.


Black Watch at Blinded by Sound

Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy by The Black Watch takes me back to a moment in high school that I will never forget. I read a poem in creative writing class, and afterwards a girl who I never thought I had a chance with asked me out. From that point on, being called a  “sensitive young man” would never bother me again. I believe that The Black Watch’s John Andrew Fredrick once made a similar discovery. There is a great deal of poetry in his lyrics, and his music strikes an artful balance between acoustic and electric. There is a sense of cohesion in the 11 songs on this album which makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

“Sugarplum Fairy” is the brief opening track, and it is an acoustic piece with a dreamy lyric. As I discovered with the first TBW album I heard, Led Zeppelin Five (2011), they like to mix things up by throwing in the occasional dose of feedback. “There You Were” is the second track, and it opens with two minutes of feedback. Somehow he is able to control the sound to make it very melodic though, and it provides a unique prelude to the song.

The Black Watch’s music has been described as power-pop, college rock, even shoe-gazer. I am not sure about those depictions, and I do not know of a single artist who has ever agreed with the tags that critics label them with anyway. Still, we need some sort of shorthand to give a sense of what the music sounds like. In my review of Led Zeppelin Five, I mentioned the mid-’80s sound of The Church as a point of reference, and this could be applied to Sugarplum’s “Dear Dead Love” as well. The sparkling hooks and unforgettable lyrics make this my favorite track, with “Darling I’ve Been Meaning To” a close second.

From this point on, the arrangements become much sparser. The song titles speak to the tone, “Good Night, Good Night, Good Night,” “Nothing,” and “A Major Favor” are very appealing acoustic tunes. The album closes with the brief and tender “Dear Anne.”

John Andrew Fredrick formed The Black Watch in 1987, and there have been many personnel changes since. Outside of the drums, he played every instrument, and wrote all of the songs. The brief opening and closing tracks suggest a preface and an epilogue to a story, although that is pure speculation on my part. The fact that he has a PhD in English literature and is set to publish his third novel this year is another reason I think there may be more to Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy than “just” a collection of eleven songs.

The biggest test of an album for me is how often I play it. This one has been rotating in my CD player for weeks now, and I seem to find new things in it each time it comes around. Although I am no longer the sensitive young man I once was, the music of The Black Watch somehow takes me back. And that is a very rare thing indeed.


Black Watch / Mind Brains at Big Takeover

Click through for the playlist.


Black Watch at Big Takeover

After the departure of six-year guitarist/vocalist, Steven Schayer (The Chills), The Black Watch’s mainstay, John Andrew Fredrick went into a studio with drummer Luke Adams to make an album almost entirely by himself.

Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy is so memorably melodic, yet enthusiastically noisy. Buried beneath Fredrick’s brilliant pop stories rests an undercurrent of distortion, just that extra bite necessary to perfectly accentuate his mild-mannered sneer. Swirling in ’80s dream pop and ’90s shoegaze, the songs unfold lyrical narratives of discontent, frustration and failure from a voice wise enough to accept the consistent pain of living. It’s a masterpiece of emotive songwriting free of sappy clichés and naïve pessimism.

The Black Watch have been around for over a quarter of a century and, health permitting, will probably continue for another twenty-five years. Whether they ever emerge from their cult status is inconsequential. What matters is that they are here, and our lives are richer for it.


Black Watch at All Music

Named after an obscure John Lennon quip on an outtake of A Day in the Life, Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy is the 18th record by prolific L.A. indie stalwarts the Black Watch. At this point in their 26-year career, the band is (and generally has been) essentially singer/songwriter John Andrew Fredrick, who plays every instrument aside from drums on this strong, fuzzed-out collection of strident, thoughtful indie pop. Echoes of mid-’90s underground indie rock, blissful shoegaze, and wistful guitar pop are threaded throughout the album’s 11 tracks, most of which break the four- and five-minute mark with alternately lush and stinging guitar drones and experimental textures. Even clothed as such,Fredrick still hits his mark as a songwriter with standouts like the melodic “Dear Dead Love” and the stately “Good Night, Good Night, Good Night.” The unusual pacing of the album is like a backward fuse, with all of the noise and electricity in the front half eventually fading into a trio of lovely acoustic numbers which, at times, harken back to the heyday of early-’70s British folk. Remarkably, it works and the subtlety of the gently faded “A Major Favor” and the gentle “Dear Anne” create a sort of warm, late album afterglow. It’s a testament to Fredrick‘s creative choices and exploratory nature. With 18 albums under his belt, he could easily phone it in, but Sugarplum only serves to build on the Black Watch‘s reputation with another high-quality release.


Black Watch at When You Motor Away

The Black Watch is a long-standing cult band founded by John Andrew Fredrick in the late ’80s.  They have released a number of LPs with various line-ups.  The one constant is Fredrick — singer, songwriter and, forSugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy, the sole musician for all instruments other than drums.  I confess to being thoroughly impressed by the fact that after all of those years of flying under the radar and enduring membership changes, Fredrick still sounds fully engaged and vital.  His songwriting is varied and uniformly assured.  The lyrics are literate and clever, and the vocal delivery expressive and sincere.

The songs on the album are varied, with jaunty indie pop balanced with gentle near-lullabies and a few taut post-punk and shoegazy compositions.  The guitar tones are interesting and range from buzz and crunch to restrained acoustic strumming.  It is an album that deserves repeated listens, but more importantly, it rewards repeated listens.  Fredrick has a knack for simultaneously discussing relationships in a straightforward manner and displaying a cold-eyed self-awareness of the prospective dangers.  For example, in one of my favorite tracks, “Anne of Leaves”, Fredrick notes that he has only talked to to his hoped-to-be-paramour for two drinks before he had to catch a plane, that he has a bright impression of her that he knows will not last, but he nevertheless will return to her side as soon as possible.  I don’t know about you, but that could be a summary of a few dozen chapters in my life, just stated more cleverly.

Influences detected include The Beatles and The Soft Boys, but the result is so much more than the sum or its components.  It is a melodic, shimmering glimpse at the romantic corner of the human condition, and a pleasure to hear.


Eureka California / Black Watch / Primitives at The POP! Stereo

18) The Black Watch – Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy
These guys have been kicking around forever.  They’ve never really gotten the respect they deserve but over the course of their career have been fairly consistent when it comes to producing very good pseudo-noise pop with an 80’s British pop feel. Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy is no different and only serves to build upon their mythos. As if to prove the point that they don’t get the respect they deserve they don’t have one single video on YouTube!

14) Eureka California – Crunch
Happy Happy Birthday To Me never let you down.  They’ve released so many seminal indie pop and indie rock records it’s hard to keep track of.  Crunch is yet another one in their catalog.  Crunch is classic indie rock in that Merge records kind of way.  It’s noisy, shambolic and seemingly held together by duct tape but the band create melodies out of all that and make it a fun, white knuckle ride through a set of guitar strings and broken pedals.  Not sure if they’re named after the earthquake that happened years ago (Google it) but it would kind of make sense if they were…

2) The Primitives – Spin O Rama
This was perhaps the biggest surprise of 2014.  Having been a fan of this band since 1992 (and collecting every single and album in every format imaginable) it gave me goosebumps when I actually got hold of Spin O Rama.   What’s truly amazing about this album is that they’ve somehow managed to sound exactly the way they did from 86 – 92.  Tracy Tracy sounds adorable as ever and the band sound as if they haven’t left the flowers they wen’t through in the mid-80’s.  Spin O Rama is a masterwork of fizzy indie pop that serves as a reminder that you can teach old dogs new tricks.