Torched Magazine is pleased with having had the opportunity to catch up with John Andrew Fredrick recently, who is one of the most prolific and downright coolest musicians that we know. Hailing from Santa Barbara, Ca, his band The Black Watch first hit the indie rock scene back in the late 80’s with their first release St. Valentine and they’ve been busting out one album after another ever since, EPs included. Their most recent release from Atom Records marks their 16th album to date, entitled Witches!…and if that wasn’t enough accolades for John, the list continues with his authoring of several books, spending his afternoons as an English lecturer at Cal Lutherin University and in his spare time likes to play around at the tennis courts. (I highly recommend his book ‘the king of good intentions’ by the way. I literally couldn’t stop laughing, tears streaming down my face and all!)
John Andrew Frederick stays magically and mysteriously happy these days as he finds himself in the company of witches, hence the title for the new album, Witches! This album stirs up wispy jangly guitars mixed with the perfect amount of playful melodies and vocals that’s sure to cast an instant spell on the listener. The new album falls right in line with what’s so great about The Black Watch to begin with and quite possibly the icing and chocolate sprinkles on their illustrious back catalogue. But I highly doubt that, something new is always brewing so it seems.
Photo by Steve Keros
“Dark at times—bits and bobs—as our music’s been, I don’t really have a quote-unquote dark side. I’ve only read one ghost story in my life—Henry James’s “Turn of the Screw”—and I don’t like horror pictures or any occult things or even historical stuff like the witch trials in New England. And yet all this witchy witch stuff just came out of me, you know? Perhaps it’s on account of I’ve lived with a witch or two,” Fredrick laughs, “but I don’t think of witches as exclusively a female thing. I mean, I could be one. There’s something of the magician or sorcerer in every artist, surely. Indeed we conjure themes and images as they are said to do, you know,” says John.
Witches! was written around a song called ‘The Beginning of the End’ — a sonic acoustic saga of a newly-shacked-up-with girlfriend who claims she sees a ghost in the singer’s apartment, one who looks “exactly like” her. “True story,” Fredrick says. As he was already, much to his surprise and delight, putting the finishing touches on a novel about a witch (a modern one who’s a big fan of Irish-English indie legends My Bloody Valentine), he thought he’d write a record around the same theme, but with a twist.
“We started off with an album that was all anti-romantic love songs (St. Valentine), and this one is sort of pro-everything, especially being in favor of the wonderment of Time and how we are all, if we look closely enough, bewitched by our separate and relative existences. So maybe, at last, I’ve said what I had to say and it’s all come full circle. And yet… you never know! Maybe this is, as the song about the ghost-girlfriend doppelganger goes, just ‘The Beginning of the End.’ No matter what, I hope this record, yes, casts a sort of spell on the listener. That’s the most important thing—at least I think it is.”
Thank you for spending some time with us here at Torched Magazine John Andrew Frederick! We came up with a few questions about your latest release Witches! along with a few other interesting topics that we just had to ask about…read on friends! This is a good one!
You and I grew up in the same Santa Barbara/Ojai area. Tell me about this time in your life. Were you one of the cool kids?
Oh, absolutely not. I did have friends in all the various cliques, however. I was a jock all the way, but had stoner friends, and surfer friends, and chess club kid friends. I didn’t do drugs,and quit surfing at 13 (wasn’t at all any good). I wrote a “young adult” novel at age 14—a sign of loneliness if there ever was! Young adult as in I was one! I went to parties at the rival high school on account of my best friend was a hotshot basketball and baseball player there. I listened to The Beatles and The Beach Boys ad nauseam and was rather ridiculed for it. Most kids were going to see Zeppelin and Wishbone Ash and, if they were supernerds, Genesis and Yes. No one could believe I didn’t have tickets for Deep Purple. I never got over The Beatles then—same as now.
What inspired you to start a band? If you could go back in time, would you do things differently?
I saw a London band fronted by two Canadians called The Lucy Show when I was finished with my Ph.D. and teaching at UCSB. They played a snippet of “Ephemeral (This is No Heaven)” on KTYD and it sounded like The Cure had married The Beatles. There were perhaps six people at Oscar’s that night. One was my great friend and sometime engineer Craig Costigan who now lives in Nashville. I started the black watch the next day. The week before, at some bar in midtown Santa Barbara, a cover band’s singer was too violently ill from drink to go on and the band said “Anyone know U2—we can do a bunch of U2 songs. Can anyone sing?” And I was just tipsy enough myself to get up and do some of Boy and some of October, I think, and it’s possible that War had come out so I reckon I sang “New Year’s Day.” No one booed or left. I thought, “Hmm. Is this what, at last, I am going to do?!” Then The Lucy Show inspired me further. What a lark! I got a student of mine who turned me on to the whole Athens, GA thing to drum, and a surf kid who was a Math major to play lead guitar, and a Native American guy called Kenny to play bass. And I bought a Gibson ES 335 just like Mac from the Bunnymen and we started playing parties in Isla Vista and Pat’s Grass Shack in Goleta. And the rest is destiny.
What is your favorite Beatles song and why?
Oh, Judy that’s an impossible question and you know it. If I say “And Your Bird Can Sing” well then “Strawberry Fields Forever” will be very miffed. I plead the fifth (note). Haha!
What was the inspiration behind your latest release ‘Witches!’?
I wanted to make a dance record that didn’t have drums. How zany does that sound? I had listened to nothing but the early The Pink Floyd for about a year (yes, I am obsessive—I spent TWO years listening to no pop music a few years ago… just classical) and thought “What if, by some odd bit of luck, Syd Barrett had come back… and joined New Order?” Totally absurd. But then most indie rock—if it’s interesting—is ridiculous. In concept, at least.
Are your lyrics for the first single off the new album ‘Georgette, Georgette’ based on a true story, make believe or both?
True story. A rare true one on account of most of my songs are about imaginary people, and dreamed-up situations. I did write the song for a girl, at a party, in 15 minutes. Quite true.
Witches! is The Black Watch’s 16th album release to date in a span of three decades. Which album is your favorite? Least favorite? And why?
Well, I’ll never push to have the first one, St Valentine, re-released on CD, I will say that. The songs are pleasing, I think, but the playing’s not the best and the production’s quite thin and trebly. I am not one of these types who claim they never listen to their old stuff. I think Crocodiles is my favorite. Oh, wait—that’s by Echo and the Bunnymen. (Cf. my answer to the Beatles fav song question!)
“Pat Fish and I……” Finish this story because I know you have some good ones.
Share a love of Lucretius. He’s a really funny, a really super witty and erudite guy—and a wicked songwriter who had, early enough, influenced us enormously. We did a lot of acoustic shows with him in England. Pat’s a VU guy and a soul guy and a Rolling Stones guy—he doesn’t hold much with the Fab Four, although recently he told me he was beginning (beginning, mind you!) to appreciate the guitars. The Beatles came up in conversation with our old bassist Scott Taylor (Beatle guy like me), and Pat goes: “I like the Beatles—the two or three songs THEY did was… pretty good.” And Scott would go quoting Pat around the south of England and get it totally wrong. He would say “The Beatles—two or three songs were pretty good.” And we’d needle him and say “Scott, Scott—you’re missing the diss. Pat’s suggesting the Beatles ONLY WROTE TWO OR THREE SONGS WORTH CONSIDERING!” And Scott would misquote Pat encore. Silliness, I know. And there are many other tales I will not tell. Mostly on account of my, shall we say associates don’t come off too nicely in them. Hint: the JBC party harder than any band I’ve met—or at least they did—and I live in hedonistic Los Angeles…. so there.
Is there anything that I may have missed that you would like to share? Thank you so much for your time, John!
I’d just say thanks to you, Judy. Love that you asked me to riff a bit on my work. Thanks for listening. Witches! really is—forgive the pun here—bewitching; and I hope you all go out and buy five copies and give them to your friends. We’re already recording the follow-up. I know: it’s mad!
John Andrew Fredrick
Feature photo by Brendan Holmes
Witches! was produced by Scott Campbell (Stevie Nicks, Shelby Lynne, Acetone) and engineered by Rob Campanella (The Brian Jonestown Massacre).
The Paper Boats Ep by The Black Watch was released earlier this year and can be purchased along with the highly acclaimed The Gospel According To John and The Best Of the black watch HERE.
Get your free download of ‘Georgette, Georgette’ HERE
Witches! can be purchased from Atom Records HERE