Have The Watchmen sold their rock and roll soul?
First impressions of the ethereal walls of electronica soundscapes emanating from disc one of Slomotion, the ex-Winnipeggers latest half-new, half-best-of, double album, would validate singer/frontman Daniel Greaves, bassist Ken Tizzard and guitarist Joey Serlin have ditched the alt-rock raw power.
On the phone from Calgary, Greaves plays devil's advocate of the new sound.
"I understand why people might think this is a radical departure," he says. "But to be living in our heads in the last three years and seeing what we've been digging collectively and individually, it makes perfect sense to me to come up with a record like this.
"A lot of it was born out of the ability to record ourselves in our own home studios. I didn't really think it would change the sound of the record as much as it did, but it was one of the main factors."
Greaves, Tizzard and Serlin -- whose Congress Centre show tomorrow night (with By Divine Right and Smoother) marks their first appearance in these parts since a headliner at 1999's ill-fated Lassitude festival -- have been 'digging' a lot of what the digital age has to offer. Live, they go even further by incorporating loops, samples and Tizzard working double duty as resident DJ.
While a remix of their 1998 hit Stereo (which closes the Fast Forward portion of Slomotion) works with the digitized tinkering, Greaves admits the band's careful not to over apply technology when it comes to much of their early-'90s material.
"There's a lot of that taking the paintbrush to, or keeping the paintbrush away from, some of the older tunes," he says. "Often we'll say, 'We could play with the dynamics of it, but let's not throw in anything else. It sounds good with just bass, guitar, drums and voice.' "
In an unconscious way, the seeds of the Fast Forward disc, produced by DJ Iain and Rhys Fulber (Delerium), can be traced as far back as Cracked, off the group's 1992 debut McLaren Furnace Room. But as the nine songs of Slomotion's Rewind disc highlight, The Watchmen reaped greater rewards with conventional modern-rock gems in the ilk of Boneyard Tree, All Uncovered, Incarnate and Any Day Now, all of which benefitted from the skillful drumming of Sammy Kohn.
After four albums, Kohn split from the group last year and now works as Canadian promo rep for roots music label Rounder Records. For this tour, the band has hired Winnipeg drummer Ryan Ahoff to keep time behind the kit.
"He just wanted to move on -- there really isn't much of a story there," Greaves says of Kohn. "We were going in a new direction anyway, and he was there with us. But that was a year ago -- now I really believe this feels like The Watchmen."