For almost 25 years, John Andrew Fredrick and a revolving cast of characters have been issuing records as the Black Watch. The California-based indie-rock institution is back with 11th album Led Zeppelin Five (Powertool), and it’s the first LP to feature the rock-solid lineup of Fredrick, guitarist Steven Schayer (ex-Chills), bassist Chris Rackford and drummer Rick Woodard. When Fredrick isn’t busy writing and recording songs, he’s teaching English at the University of California, so we thought he’d a be a natural choice to guest edit the MAGNET website. Fredrick, with some assistance from Schayer, will be doing exactly that all week. Read our brand new Q&A with Fredrick.
Fredrick: Like my heroine Susan Sontag, I’m against photography, but I’m all for TBW’s friend and mine Steve Keros, who took the shot of Steven Schayer above. Steven had a fine L.A. band in the early ’90s called Clay Idols whose lone full-length, Falling Down Backwards, you ought to hear. Though it’s long out of print. After he was in the Chills during The Soft Bomb tour, Steven quit playing music officially for well more than a decade; he moved to Portland and started working with mentally challenged adults and kids. Not a month went by when I didn’t ring him up and urge him to get back out there. But my not-so-secret hope was he’d join TBW. And 15 some odd years later, he did at last come in—and, goddammit, hate us all you want for saying it, but we are the happiest band in the world. Steven recruited our new bassist, Chris Rackford (Irish, a great guy and so easygoing), and became fast, famous friends with Rick Woodard, our even easier-going longtime drummer. That I love and am close friends with my bandmates is enviable, I know. Not gonna apologize for it, however, as TBW was a fucking miserable band for many, many years. I’ll just say this: Don’t have a band with your girlfriend (my ex is now happier herself, as she gets to tour the world playing violin in a classic-rock star’s group). And don’t have a band with someone who really needs solely to focus on his own songwriting (as was the case with our “old” mercurial, volatile bassist) and not on sabotaging things from within the group.
Get this: Steven’s a singer, I’m a vocalist—what’s the difference? A singer’s voice owns him or her; a vocalist owns his voice. I’m glad I’m not that sorta slave. But in TBW, it’s pretty symbiotic, our approach to vocals—and there are few or no joys like singing with Steve (even when he drowns me out: we call him The Pavarotti Of Pop. Ha ha.) I’m superchuffed I got him to write a song expressly for our new LP—yes, we are already working on the follow-up to Led Zeppelin Five. Steven saved my band, and on tour in New Zealand last year, he saved my life by running incessant interference with all the crazy Kiwis. Those folks, to whom (as he was in a legendary Antipodean band) Steven’s an honorary tribe-member, are absolutely the nicest zanies I have ever come across. They are all of them “sweet as” but bonkers as can be, really quite hatter mad. Excepting Kilgour of the Clean. He’s (all) right as rain. (Hey, Dave!) Maybe it’s cause like me, Steven’s a little “off,” he can: a) work with the mentally handicapped and b) deal with most New Zealanders. I love them, I do, but they’re total kooks. Go on holiday there, and see for yourself. In the midst of making LZ5, Steven turned to me when things were going unreally well and said, “You know, John, it’s your band, it always will be … But it’s my record!” I loved that. I love that he claimed that, seized that. Steven’s voice may hold sway over his every everythingness, but boy does he own his own artistry, especially on guitar. Making the latest album, he made a discovery: He found out that he is a great, a simply superb, lead electric guitarist. He never knew it until he joined up and plugged in! Seriously. How nice is that? For a folky-acoustic, Love-damaged singer/songwriter of yore (who, curiously, declares his fave band is the Germs) not to know he had this dormant talent to play a Telecaster like his life depended on it. Our publicist, Michelle V., seeing him go into utter outer space at her first TBW gig, said, “I have honestly never seen anyone play like that!” And she’s—believe me—seen everything; I mean, she used to manage the Flaming Lips! You know she’s seen it all! On “Kinda Sorta” from the new album, it sounds like he is playing two guitars at once. I was there: it’s only one: a Mexican Tele, black, with his Vox amp on nine, the reverb on six, and one Boss distortion pedal and one Boss tremolo pedal.
Video after the jump.