Even before anybody knew who they were, the Watchmen were confident.
Take the 1989 edition of the Labatt Blue Band Warz (please). At the time, this reporter was in an Edmonton band competing at the western Canadian semifinals in Winnipeg. As soon as the Watchmen hit the stage, the winner became obvious. Everyone knew - the other bands, the crowd and even the Watchmen themselves, by all appearances.
And the Watchmen won all right - by a landslide. The band blew the competition away with the same style of smart songs rendered with energy and soul you can hear in a rather more focused form today.
We didn't stand a chance.
Nine years later, guitarist Joey Serlin laughs, "Yeah, because the heavy hitters were there, the home-town heroes!"
Of course, this Winnipeg rock quartet has come far beyond acing cheesy talent contests, but confidence is still running high for its fourth and latest album, Silent Radar. Serlin and singer Daniel Greaves sat down over a wee dram of scotch last week to talk about it.
"We knew we had a good record going into it," Greaves says. "And we knew we'd be proud of it. Our confidence is overflowing. It's a success already, whatever else it does now. No one can bring us down off that cloud."
They had more time to write and road-test the songs, for one thing, thanks to a seemingly seamless record label change. (From Universal to EMI - no one really cares except maybe for staff at Universal and/or EMI. "It was pretty amicable," says Greaves. "We could make some s--- up if it makes for good reading, but it was just a business thing.")
Another key factor was that the band was able to get over its instinctive perfectionism and let it all hang out in the studio. They recorded the album in Seattle - not for any desire to jump on the grunge-wagon (it's a little late for that, in any case) - in Pearl Jam's studio. Located in a Bohemian area of Seattle, with "lots of coffee shops and fabulous women walking around," it was a comfortable environment that contained a basketball court, a ping-pong table and even windows. It all had a beneficial effect on the results - "If you're not happy where you are, it may not be in a tangible way, but you'll hear it," Serlin says.
More than any of the band's previous albums, Silent Radar captures the Watchmen's live magic. Almost.
"We balanced the scales a bit this time," Serlin says. "We knew that's kind of what we wanted to do on this record. And that's kind of why we sought out (producer Adam Kasper). He's a real one- or two-taker. He's really good at saying, 'It's good! Move on!'
"When you first start recording, you think that everything's got to be perfectly in tune and perfectly in time. This time, we just wanted to make sure that capturing the vibe and the essence of the song was more important. That's why the mistakes don't matter."
The Watchmen is one of these lucky bands, like the Tragically Hip, that developed in a vacuum. The band members have literally known each other since kindergarten, learned to play their instruments together and were chiefly influenced by each other.
Their sound, therefore, is unique.
"We jammed every single day," Greaves says, "It would be minus 40, we'd go to our rehearsal space at the McLaren hotel and jam for hours with a case of beer and discover our craft together. We influenced each other. I'm sure there's other bands with that relationship, but it's a special thing we take pride in."
Says Serlin, "We didn't know any better. We were just Winnipeg kids doing what felt right at the time. Looking back on it, I think it definitely affects things if you're from a community that's far away from anywhere else, especially the whole Toronto thing."
Of course, Randy Bachman and the "Wheatfield Soul" sound came out of Winnipeg, but as Greaves says, "There's no way when we're writing or playing or jamming that we're thinking about Randy Bachman - much as I love the guy."
Yet another thing for the Watchmen to be proud of.
Formed: Winnipeg, 1988.
Personnel: Daniel Greaves, lead vocals, harmonica and keyboards; Joey Serlin, guitars; Ken Tizzard, bass; Sammy Kohn, drums.
Albums: McLaren Furnace Room (1992); In the Trees (1994); Beach Songs (live EP, 1995, for fan club members only); Brand New Day (1996); Silent Radar (1998).
Ethnic background: Jewish (all except for Tizzard).
Sound: "Modern rock with soul."
Look: Greaves and Serlin are currently sporting the "no hair" look.
Cyber stuff: The Watchmen have launched a special Web site on the Internet (www.silentradar.com) that's designed to interact with a CD ROM portion of the Silent Radar CD. The band claims it's the first venture of its kind in the world. It is not, however, Apple-compatible.
Next local gig: Edgefest, Commonwealth Stadium, July 8, with Green Day, the Tea Party, Foo Fighters and others.
The Watchmen are headlining the "Bear" stage. Tickets are now available at all Ticketmaster outlets (451-8000).