It’s better to be late on the bandwagon than never at all, right? That’s how I feel about my recent discovery of The Black Watch with John Andrew Fredrick (go ahead, judge me if you will)…After extensively going through their back catalogue, I find it hard to imagine a world without The Black Watch, but that’s exactly where I’ve been for the past 30 years or so. They’re a true diamond in the rough that should have been brought to the mainstream surface decades ago!
For those who have just joined the party like myself, The Black Watch sits on the shelf somewhere between Joy Division, The Dandy Warhols and Echo and the Bunnymen with an added dash of Beck to top off the uniquely theirs indie pop sound. My own personal category would be ‘music that I could easily work to that helps spark the creative.’
Their latest release ‘The Gospel According to John’ comes out on the heels of a mile high back catalogue consisting of 15 albums, not including several EP’s and singles, starting with ‘St. Valentine’ on The Eskimo Record Label in 1988. If that’s not enough to reach out and grab everyone’s intrigue, the tenacious John Andrew Fredrick is also an author of 6 books, earned a Ph.D. from UC Santa Barbara in 1985, and today works as an English lecturer at California Lutheran University. Additional accolades include teaching Writing About Film and Literature as well as Freshman English at UCSB, the University of Southern California, Loyola Marymount University, and Santa Monica College. He is also an exceptional abstract painter, avid tennis player and a true in all aspects latter day Renaissance Man!
TM is thrilled with having had the opportunity to sit down and chat with John Andrew Fredrick about recording ‘The Gospel According to John’ with Rob Campanella and Scott Campbell, finding inspiration in L.A. gridlock, bringing music into the classroom, and finding love when you least expect it. Read on for this fantastic exclusive!
TM – You spent 11 months recording ‘The Gospel According to John’ with Rob Campanella of The Brian Jonestown Massacre producing and Scott Campbell mixing. What was this experience like for you?
John – It wasn’t 11 months consecutive but over that span of time. We have known Rob a long long time–way longer than he was in the BJM, a band we despise. Well, Anton Newcombe only, really, and his ridiculous hubris. Rob is so much more than just a member of that band. His band, The Quarter After, we always loved: they’re sort of like a modern Byrds and hardly got anywhere with two LPs to their credit. They’re a well-kept secret and that’s a pity. Rob and his brother Dominic are busy with other things but those of us who think they are top songwriters are really hoping they reform. Rob’s studio is a delight on account of he has a thousand and one things in it we love like Vox amps and Rickenbachers. I’m sure he has top gear too but I am a total Luddite and have touched the mixing board all of five times in 25 years! He says he has some pre-amp (I am not sure what that is) from Abbey Road? I gave him a white coat like the engineers wore at Abbey Road! Haha. I made him wear it in the hot hot summer heat of the day when we were recording. He knows so much music! Our tastes collide (and clash) sometimes. We both love the Wedding Present and the Church and of course the Beatles. We tussled a bit on account of Rob has strong ideas about overdubs and I do to as in I had hoped to make this new LP along the lines of a Joy Division record–in other words, minimal! Well, that didn’t happen! Rob would come up with more and more ideas for the other guitarist (whether it was Andy Creighton or Tyson Cornell) to try. And so many worked. How could I resist that! And then there’s his melotron. Who who worships the Fabs could resist that?! He gets such good sounds. Now Scott Campbell who has produced any number of other TBW LPs is equally our longtime friend and ally. Then he and Rob became friends. That is one of my greatest pleasures–to see my friends become friends with each other. Scott is brilliant. He makes our stuff glisten as you listen, to put it rhymingly. We love our Scotty. He’s mixing a new LP we just finished with Rob–another one! It’s called Witches. It’s a dance record without drums. Or with just a kick drum. We’re very excited and scared. Hahaha. We really challenged ourselves. It will be brilliant or total cack! Haha. I am hoping of course for the former.
TM – Do you find creative inspiration while in LA gridlock?…if so, what tends to come to you in these moments?
John – I drove to my day job as professor for 5 years, one spell, without a stereo. I am a Volvo guy and my Volvo stereo got nicked and, kind of angry about it, took it out on myself and just didn’t replace it. So I started writing songs in my head.
TM – You say that you often like to listen to classical music, does this have an impact on your writing style, musically and beyond?
John – When I did get a bit fed up and replaced it, I only listened to classical KUSC for a year. I had had enough of indie rock and only tapped along to Mozart and Vivaldi and Bach and all those dear old fellows. Sounds pretentious and all but the melodies there are so catchy. It was as good if not better as listening and being inspired by the Beatles. Which is my go-to and I didn’t REALLY only listen to KUSC. I still listened to Beatles LPs. I can’t seem to get over them.
TM – Do you feel like all of your creative adventures and teaching flow together…for example, do you take your music into your classroom and your classroom into your music?
John – My students sometimes know TBW. Their parents sometimes know my band and have our records in their collections. Those kids get an automatic A. Hahaha. Kidding. I hope to stop professing one day. Soon, actually. And just write music and more fiction. Every once in a while we will do free-writing and I’ll put on, oh, Cocteau Twins or Labradford or Mogwai and say “Write about this music! How does it affect you? Is it saying anything? What?” And they will do it–after looking at me like I’m a madman or something. Which I am, of course. Completely.
TM – As a big music enthusiast, I’m a little surprised at myself for not knowing who you were. I find myself really enjoying your latest release as well as your extensive back catalogue. What do you think are some of the reasons for your steady midstream as opposed to mainstream success?
John – This question again!!! Haha. I could be flippant and say: “Because we aren’t good enough to be mainstream” but that would be flippant. We don’t know. We think we’re very accessible–sometimes. I suppose it’s because we aren’t on Capital or Warner Bros. Guys at Capital and Warner Bros? Oh they aren’t cool enough to be reading your zine, Judy!
TM – Is there a main theme that you are trying to convey with all of your tracks on ‘The Gospel According to John’?
John – There is sometimes–because we are so influenced by books–a theme to a record. But The Gospel? I don’t know. Have you ever heard of The Intentional Fallacy? It’s to do with the fact that the writer is just another interpreter of her work–no matter what she thinks she was trying to get across, her opinion is just one more opinion. Know what I mean? You tell me what the theme is, please. I often write about love and about “altered states”–drugs and things, though I never was a big druggie and only have one pint of good beer a day these days! I am so boring! Love is the greatest altered state, if you ask me. I am totally in love with someone right now–after three years of hiatus from love. She’s an avant garde composer who lives in NYC. Boo! She lives too far away. Her name is Christina Campanella and she makes great music for art shows and theater. You can hear her at http://www.xtinasworld.com and she and I will make a very out-there but accessible record with Scott Campbell sometime next year, we hope. I wrote a song about meeting her that is called “When We First Met” that will be the first single on Witches. She bewitched me, surely. I like that she did it without even trying, and without being a witch! If she’s a witch, she’s a good witch. Yeah, good witches! I had not met any nice good avant garde or not avant garde pretty and lovely and well-educated witches or not-witches for so so long. I’m a
Virgo–we are super picky. My last girlfriend was a bad witch. A very very bad one! Boo, bad witches. I’m a good witch, me. Can you sense my good witchyness? Haha. I don’t believe in witches. I believe in sandwiches. With nice mustard and perfect turkey and perfect bread.
TM – Who or what are some of your artistic influencers?
Oh gosh, our influences are so at once narrow and vast. The Beatles, natch. The Velvet Underground, natch. Sly and the Family Stone. Dylan, Neil Young, and Joni Mitchell. MBV. Always MBV. Sonic Youth. Our friends from London Damn Vandals. Lots of good beats. Every new guitar I play is an influence. Guitars are witches too. The whisper new melodies to me. Shhhhhh. Hear that?