ANDY WATTS has made the progression from drummer / backing vocalist in The Seahorses to singer / songwriter / guitarist of Mozer with ease. Here he speaks to This Is The Daybreak about his early career, The Seahorses and plans for Mozer. Thanks to Andy for taking the time to give this interview.
Andy kindly sent me Mozer demos and the band's promo debut EP, and this interview features sound clips of choice tracks.
Which drummers have influenced your sound ? You began playing drums with a band when you were 12 - which drummers caught your ear at that time ?
I was performing in a symphonia by that age. Ed Thigpen, Buddy Rich, Bernard Purdie, jazz guys mostly I suppose. Their flamboyance was incredible both visually and on record. Left me for dead…Influences ? I'd say Iain Paice (check out Fireball by Deep Purple), John Bohnam (Led Zep), Mitch Mitchell (Hendrix), Clem Burke (Blondie), Mike Shrieve (early Santana), Wham Bam by Black Betty - top 70's rock ! The Last Film by Kissing the Pink (military man !), Jimmy Chamberlain (Smashing Pumpkins), Mac McNeily (The Jesus Lizard) Dave Grohl (Nirvana). Jess Lidyard and Cedric Sharpley, who were Gary Numan's original drummers - some first rate boogaloo grooves !
What music were you involved in pre-Seahorses ? What were the best and worst projects ?
Best - a 3 piece - hairy bunch of cheeky monkey's from York called The Burning Wickermen was the most memorable - big barnets !, another 3 piece called Binhoker in London - top. Linus was a bizarre project (two Kathy Bates type anglo american sisters (height of fame was an article in ID magazine and single of the week on Steve Lamaq's show - cool album reviews). Least fun were a band called Sten. Sad, bad Camden haircuts bless. Follically obsessed, egos the size of Saturn. Losers.
You bought your first record aged four - what was that record ?!
Somewhat prophetically it was Hard on Me - Gary Glitter ! Morley Asda in Leeds. Me mother aided and abetted me with that one, I'd just watched Woody Woodpecker in a cartoon booth… !
You played in a band (a three-piece) with Stuart Fletcher when you were both teenagers. And you also knew Chris Helme before the formation of The Seahorses.
Yeh that helped to a degree, we had a laugh from the start - they were old drinking partners too, so on a social level it was always cheeky, and fairly lairy. I also knew Martin Herbert (John's guitar tech from way back), so it was a close-knit community in many respects.
Am I right in saying that the Roses are not a major influence on your work ? Did that benefit in the sense that you were not overawed by playing with Squire ?
Well you have to acknowledge that if it wasn't for the Roses, The Horse would never have existed - so to that extent I'm indebted to John and his history. And without that, I wouldn't be answering these questions today. But bands like Led Zep, Ten Years After, Helmet, the Jesus Lizard and Fugazi meant more to me back then, and still have more of a relevance today. We did look to John for his opinion and experience on occasion.
Prior to being called up to The Seahorses, you were working full-time doing graphic design and had not played in a band for about eight months. Had you given up playing music for good in your mind at this point ?
No. I'd had enough of struggling financially and design was much more viable at that moment in time.
Did John Squire say at the audition that you were the first drummer he'd seen "who sang and looked truly relaxed behind the kit." ? High praise from someone who has worked with one Alan Wren……..
Something along those lines. I probably looked relaxed because the night before the audition I'd been up most of it working - glued to a computer, so I was fairly lucid and not remotely uptight at the prospect. I nearly gave up on the trip as I was so exhausted from the previous night's shennanigans...
What are your thoughts now, looking back on the album ?
On completion I felt we'd produced something that was basically an expensive demo, and I was in doubt as to whether Geffen would release it. Was very unhappy with my playing. I thought it lacked drive and soul. I'd been in the band a matter of days. Today I'm much more comfortable with it. Ain't listened to it for quite some time but it sounds much more valid than it did in '97.
Many see Do It Yourself as the complete antithesis to Ian Brown's Unfinished Monkey Business, with the former tending to steer clear of experimentation. Would you liked to have seen a few more risks being taken in the creative nature of DIY ?
Oh yeh without a doubt. I've always had a preference for experimental sounds since I was a nipper, discovering Kraftwerk, Devo, Numan, John Foxx, Kissing the Pink, etc. I was surprised as to how 'safe' John perhaps felt it should sound. A mix of the two would have perhaps been exciting.
Who, musically, was each band member listening to most at this time ?
Andy Watts: numerous (went to see a great band play at the Rainbow LA - Stanford Prison Experiment - so perhaps them).
John Squire (had his Jimmy Page obsession mellowed ?): Led Zep bootlegs ahoy ship mate !
Chris Helme: Jeff Buckley I think…you'd have to ask him.
Stuart Fletcher: Jacko Pasturization or whatever he's called (Jaco Pastorius - your more accurate, but less funny, Ed.).
Did John attempt to write bass-lines for Stuart as he did with Mani circa Second Coming ?
No. Stuart is the nuts on bass. He needs no help with his homework - unlike me !
Early on in The Stone Roses, John and Ian insisted that they themselves would take the majority of band royalties. Was there a similar setup with John and Chris here ?
Well that doesn't surprise me in the slightest. Socialist values out the fukking window there eh ? Let's just say there was a large amount of naivety on my part, and that I should have been more pragmatic in the arena of finance.
Am I right in saying that Tony Visconti was one of four producers interviewed for the job of producing DIY ? Can you tell us who the other three producers were ?
There was a meeting with Tony, he flew in from the States specially I believe, but that was some time before i joined. As for other three, lord only knows. No one could trace Albini. I think the Pope was easier to contact direct.
It must have been a great experience to work with Visconti ?
Yeh he has a few stories to tell. He knows his strings and things.
He was not the first choice of you or Squire, though. Squire said that he originally wanted Steve Albini for the job, as he explained to Guitar Magazine in 1997:
So with a slight twist of fate, we could be sitting today listening to a Do It Yourself along the lines of In Utero as opposed to T-Rex ? You would have preferred that obviously ?
Do bears shit in woods ? Are the Kennedys gun shy ?
Do you see parallels between The Stone Roses' and Seahorses' debuts in that the production of each should have been heavier on the bass and drums ?
I always felt we'd have had a much more honest sounding album had Albini recorded it - lotsa live takes, not too many overdubs - that's the way he works, hits record and lets the band graft. No regrets though - life's too short ain't it ?
You are now coming to the fore as a songwriter with Mozer. Would you like to have contributed some songs to DIY ? Did you attempt to at all ?
I was writing and performing tunes way before The Horse appeared on the horizon. Some Mozer songs go as far back as '95. Never attempted to push my songs. They were for me and Mozer. That was gonna happen way before that opportunity arose. The fish were in a different kettle.
Did the band and John Squire pay much attention to the negative reviews in the press ? VOX magazine in June 1997, for example, gave DIY 4/10.
He was always ambivalent - said the press never liked what he did.
What was your reaction at hearing such lyrics as "Happiness is eggshaped / A penis is egg-shaped" ! A groan or the proverbial thumbs-up ?
Not quite what I'd expected, a tad cliched for my liking I'm afraid. Yeh a deffo groan…yawn…
On leaving The Seahorses, Helme stated that he was unhappy singing Squire's songs, stating that the new material was not up to scratch. Is this a justifiable view, or perhaps sour grapes on Chris's part ?
I remember I expressed a severe dislike of 'my penis is eggshaped' and 'stale of the century' - really disliked the latter - so did Chris I think. No vibe to them. No sour grapes involved on Chris' part - how can you really mean it when you're singing another individual's lyrics ? No matter what the content ? It comes from within. Not from some other soul.
Mani has stated that the Squire-penned Seahorses tracks on DIY were written by John while in the Roses. Can you shed any light on that ?
No light on in me shed there. The dittys were at rough demo stage.
Squire's work has a long gestation period (approximately one album every five years in his career), whereas Brown is hitting his stride with a solo career. What are your thoughts on this contrast ?
The songwriting progress can be a long and winding road (!). Every individual has their own unique approach, it's a craft and this deserves time, love and patience…but yeh fukk me…five years eh ? Can't you rocket out to Jupiter and back or summet in that amount of time ? I can fully understand why the press are digging the magic of the monkey man - 3 top albums with some banging tunes, loadsa' cool sounds, pushing all the right buttons…versus 1 trad rock album. Gimme the Ian Brown gig any day. As I think I previously stated, I was expecting some big beats circa Fools Gold, but they never came.
Were you at Knebworth to see Squire perform with Oasis ?
Never seen it…you'd have to ask Chris and Stu…they were by the side of the stage I believe.
In the Second Coming era, The Stone Roses morphed into 'The John Squire Experience'. Did this seem the case at times with The Seahorses, particularly live ?
Ha ha ha ha !!!!!! Pardon ? What did you just say ??! I'm sorry ?? On occasion it could feel like we were in the Johnny Squire All Star Show !
Did John socialize much with the rest of the band after gigs, etc ?
Yeh we all partied together 7 times outta 10. As I said we had a pretty good time on the whole. Touring is a beautiful way to see the world. Hotel rooms beckoned you early every now and again.
Who would you cite as the best drummer of the last 15 years ?
I'd say Dave Grohl for his energy, drive and ferocious live power - incredible. Not the most technical player, but I'll never forget seeing them live in 1991.
How do you rate the drummers that succeeded you in The Seahorses ?
'Twas a Spinal Tap-esque succession was it not ?! Toby Drummond (1st replacement - played in Mozer briefly) is the fukkin nuts technically - great groove merchant. Dunno about the other guys, heard Mark Heaney is efficient.
While it appears unlikely the Seahorses will reform, do you think that you will ever work with any of the other Seahorses again ?
Never say Never. Funnily enough, just been offered a gig with Chris' band Superzero in North Yorks…should be fun.
A demo of the second album has popped up but has yet to be released in the public domain. Is there much else in the vaults ?
Sorry, no idea.
What were your options post-Seahorses ? I know you had Mozer already in the pipeline to a certain extent. But what else did you consider ?
Nowt really, auditioned for a coupla bands, but my heart wasn't in it - couldn't play someone else's tunes any longer.
Are there any producers in particular that you would like to work with in Mozer ? Who in particular epitomizes the sound that Mozer are striving for ?
Danny Saber, Steve Lironi, Steve Albini - a combination of the three. Not that we could afford any of 'em. Me dad's available I hear…
How much material do you and the band currently have written ? How would you describe the range of style of the songs ?
Approx 2 albums worth. Corpulent bloated prog rock techno pop to urban hill billy ho-down hicksville.
When can we expect Mozer's debut album ?
I'd anticipate something by next year. We've got a few labels / publishers sniffing about, it's fairly healthy, as well as airplay in the States.
What show(s) with Mozer have you enjoyed most to date ?
A nostalgia fest in Bristol supporting The Complete Stone Roses funnily enough. 'Ian' had a fine Manc acccent for a Glaswegian. Complete cabaret. Loadsa' bangin shows round London recently.
Do you hope to play some more gigs before entering the studio to make the album ? Is a full UK tour on the cards ?
I very much hope so. Live I feel is where we really excel. Much heavier and more err corpulent ! I love that word ! Not that I've gained weight or owt ! We haven't yet captured that energy on tape - it's a tough gig. Music is about experimentation for me, we push the boundaries of the songs live on occasion, when it feels appropriate.
I have heard the four track demo of your work and was very impressed. Do you intend to release this as an EP or will these tracks form part of the album ?
I'd imagine they'll wend their way onto the album, but it's a group decision at the end of the day.
Here are sound clips from the excellent 4 Track demo CD that Andy sent me.
All four songs have the potential to be singles for me. Are any of these intended for release as a single ?
Thanks for the compliments - I'd imagine the first three mentioned - HOMEFROMHOME is a great album track in my opinion. A deal would help !
You have a website for the band - http://www.mozer.co.uk. What new features can we expect to see on there in future - what are your plans ? MP3s for instance ?
Indeed - we'll have more sounds and pictures available as time moves on. It's a question of finding the time. It'd be great to have a message board like yourself. I'll have to brush up on me programming skills…
On Mozer, you are responsible for vocals, programming and guitars. Do you still drum ?
Yeh I still play - got a coupla kits in the attic studio - I tend to demo stuff at home first, lay basic parts down for most of the instrumentation, then we work on the song as a band. Nothing is set in stone at that stage - so it's really up to the group as to what they want to bring to the party. I'd like to play (drums) perhaps one song on the album, dunno which one.
The drums are more prominent here than on Do It Yourself.
Well, there's two drummers in the group, so they're gonna be prominent ! I adore weighty, full sounding and rounded recordings a la Golden Gaze (it's one of the best recordings I've heard in years). But DIY was no yardstick - apart from the strings on that album I think the production is fairly weak, considering the time and studio involved. The demo is a reasonable representation of how we sound as a band today - a lot of it was recorded live and self produced.
Are there any artists out there who you would like to work with in the future ?
Might ask John to do a turn on our debut - shake a tambourine or summet ! Maybe Mondrian. Possibly Picasso. Definitely Degas.
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