Granted their name by a mysterious presence in a disused building, The Watchers make darkly progressive indie rock that’s been grabbing lots of attention on their native North East. In the space of just a few months they’ve supported bands such as The Phantom Band, The Strange Death of Liberal England, Twisted Wheel and one of the hottest new bands in Britain The Vaccines, where their local paper The Shields Gazette raved about their “shock-and-awe-style set”. Barry Hyde from local heroes The Futureheads selected them from a shortlist of 50 local bands to play at Sunderland’s Split Festival, and this week they confirmed that they’ll be main support on The Charlatans’ acoustic mini tour in March.
We catch up with singer Liam and start off by asking him to introduce the band….
There’s four of us in the band, Alex who drums and does most of the backing, Col on bass and other strange effect type things, which are growing; Jack on guitar and myself as lead shouter. As for writing, it’s quite collaborative really, it usually starts from me with an idea of melody and it seems to snowball from there. The Watchers have been doing this for about half a year now.
I have to say that right now doing an internet search on “The Watchers” reveals all manner of headfuck about angelic figures, “Biblical apocrypha” and UFO’s, as well as a Dean Koontz novel and some Buffy The Vampire Slayer spin-off – were you aware of any of this at the time?
I studied quite a bit of mysticism within the Theology and Religions section in my course in your beautiful city so I had known a bit about it to be honest, I love the iconography that comes with it, although some of it is a bit too gothic at points. But we never chose it as such, it was given to us. Revealed to us through an old man, his finger and a pane of glass.
An old man’s finger? Luckily the band’s manager is on hand to explain this rather unusual statement, as it’s clear they’re not going to… “It was after a gig and they were outside talking and getting some air; next to the venue was an old industrial building and they could quite clearly hear something scrapping about then something popped up at the window and scribbled something in the dirt. Thinking back, they shit themselves, but when they built up the courage to walk over to have a look ÃÂ«fuck off watchersÃÂ was written out in the dirt. It was perfect for the band, the name stuck; they were The Watchers from then.”
OK, let’s talk about the music – on Myspace you’ve picked the categories Experimental / Psychedelic / Rock – to be honest though Myspace categories are a bit bollocks aren’t they, how would you describe what you’re doing?
They are aren’t they, they offer no really understanding of the creative process or thinking of your music. To be fair, I like to leave it up to the listener to make their own mind up. Who am I to tell someone that the fifth chord of the bridge isn’t jazz? Music is such a personal thing and rightly so. We write from so many different angles, everyone in the band could be listening to not just different artists, but different styles before we create and therefore the music witholds so much more than words can place. I think it’s important that we aren’t pigenholed as such. It would be terribly stifling to go into the Watchroom and have to make music a certain way or shackle our creativity.
I’ll explain a bit of background here, I’m in my late 30s now and I was 17 when the whole “Madchester” thing took off round where I’m from. I’m guessing to look at the pictures you’re all in your early to mid 20s, so you were maybe 18 or so when bands like The Futureheads and Maximo Park were getting massive – was this a pretty exciting time for the region musically or did it not really affect you?
I don’t really think, looking in at the history of “Madchester” that we got close to that up here. However, it was great for the area when these two bands pushed on. Unfortunately I dont think that it’s done what people were hoping and created a bigger influx of more successful north east bands to the masses. There are some great bands up here to be fair, some are doing pretty well too and I think maybe with it being a bit more of a struggle to be heard so far up North gives you greater drive and a more acute awareness of how good you need to be for people to hear you. To be honest at the time of the Futureheads I was massively taken by British Sea Power, and still working out how Radiohead did what they did, so I wasn’t really as wowed as I could have been.
There are certainly distant echoes of BSP and Radiohead in your music but there’s all sorts of other stuff going on there too (as you say it’s not easily pigeon-hole-able, which is always good) – what else do you (collectively or separately) like, past or present?
There’s lots of common ground, people like Neil Young and those two I mentioned. People seem to be liking Twin Shadow at the moment and the new Brian Eno album has been getting a bit of a beating too. I’m personally really liking Neu! at the moment and most of the Eno and Byrne collaborations are playing a bit of a part, the last one (Everything that Happens..) was amazing and ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’ is currently helping soothe me as I drive. There’s so much really, Alex and Col love Wild Beasts and Jack is getting quite into his folk at the moment. It’s really cool getting to practise, people always seem offer something new to listen to.
What about the bands you’ve played with, it’s already an impressive list – was there any of those support sets where you really “hit it off” with the crowd?
The Vaccines one seemed to go down really well with the crowd, and some of the feedback after it was amazing and we had a lot of people writing to us who travelled up the country to see the Vaccines who were loving it and were full of compliments. It was nice to hear some kind words from The Vaccines too after. We love playing live and as you say we’ve played with some great band such as The Phantom Band, Rangda and Maximo Park. However, it’s some of the gigs which we don’t expect to be as big as they are which sometimes are the best. You can really let loose and even if there’s only thirty or so people there the places can transform into a symphonious celebration of sorts.
We’re really excited about these Charlatans supporting gigs in March, it’ll be great to play to a new crowd and seeing the reaction we get. It’s going to be interesting as it’ll take us out of our supposed ‘comfort zones’ as it’s an acoustic tour. It’s really exciting. We’ll be playing our more tradional electric show at The Friends of Manchester Festival which again we’re really excited about. The Watchers are looking to play as many festivals as possible this coming summer which again is going to be a great way of reaching out to as many people as possible.
Yeah I was going to mention The Vaccines – who are currently on all the tips for 2011 lists, whilst the past couple of years it’s been all about electronic music – is it time for guitars to come back?
Obviously we are a guitar band and that’s our main features and focus, but to be honest we’re not really too bothered about whether somethings played with synths or guitars, as long as it’s good music it’s fine. At the moment though we are pretty much organic in sound, but we’re happy to embrace whatever comes our way technologically speaking.
The Charlatans support must be pretty exciting – how did this come about?
Its very exciting, yeah. Not sure how it came about totally, but I think the promoter and someone close to the Charlatans seen us playing an acoustic type set and just approached our manager, we of course jumped at the chance. It’s a great opportunity for us to reach fans and maybe more people within the industry as well, and to play in some lovely venues like Brudenell Social Club in Leeds and the Deafy in Manchester, places we really want to play more.
Any plans to release anything?
Yeah, we head into the studio mid January to record a few tracks, so hopefully that’ll see light of day in the next few months. We really want to have some of the new stuff ready for people when the Charlatans tour comes round in March… or beforehand if possible.
And finally: where do you want to be this time next year?
We are quite realistic and try to keep our feet on the ground so I wont spout things like headlining festivals or fighting off labels with a shitty stick. We’ll be working on songs for our first album, whether we are signed or not, and we would like to be working alongside more great bands and artists of the calibre we have worked with in the last 12 months. Ideally if we could all be doing this full time and not having to do 2 jobs to pay the bills it would be great. We just want to get out there and play for people as much as we can in as many places as possible around the UK and beyond. The Watchers need to be watched.