Interview: Watchtower Talk Tolkien, Black Flag and Noise Control

Interview: Watchtower Talk Tolkien, Black Flag and Noise Control

Friday 21st April, 2017 12:30PM

WATCHTOWER is a quartet of beer-drinking, biscuit-munching, riff-mongers from Melbourne, whose debut EP Radiant Moon was an overwhelming exercise in psychedelic sludge that garnered sizeable props. This weekend the four-piece will be bringing their particular brand of sludgy madness to this side of the ditch as they land in dual doom force on these shores with their good pals Merchant. So, what better time to become more intimately acquainted with the mammoth Melbourne bands? For added familiarity dirge devotee Fluffy caught up with Watchtower bassist Ben Robertson to shoot the breeze about Tolkien-esque artwork, evading the noise police and the far reaching influence of Black Flag...


For those on this side of the ditch, tell us, who is WATCHTOWER and what is your buzz?

So WATCHTOWER (upper case is very important to us) is made up of Robbie, Nico, Tim and myself, Ben. I am not sure what you mean by buzz. Is that a cultural term from New Zealand we aren’t across yet? If you are asking what we are into I would say that the biggest influences that drive this band are Melbourne Bitter long necks and packets of Smiths crinkle cut chips.

The wizard on the cover of your Radiant Moon EP reminds me of Gandalf and the font on the cover looks a lot like the Elvish language Tengwar. Are you guys, like me, giant Tolkien nerds?

Not so much the other guys. I am certainly a huge Lord of The Rings and Tolkien fan so when our art came back I was really happy. There was no direction given to Henry who did the art for that release though. We did tell him what not to do. We really wanted to try and avoid generic metal stuff like upside down crosses etc but essentially the brief was just to listen to the record and run with what he felt most suited the music. I think it’s important when you are working with other creative people to let them express their vision as well, rather than be too hands on with directing them. As a band if you have the chance to collaborate with someone that’s going to interpret your work in another medium that’s a really cool opportunity. Deciding on art between four people can be hard too, so this kind of eliminates any issues there. I think it worked out really well for this release.

The EP was recorded at Goatsound and mastered at Audioseige. Tell us what it was like to work with such excellent engineers...

Working with Jason was great. You’re pretty spoiled for choice in Melbourne when it comes to engineers to work with. Not having to travel to record at a good studio or with a good engineer helps to keep the cost of doing your record down. We settled on him because he obviously has a pretty incredible body of work but he’d also just done a record for some friends of ours that sounded great. He’s recorded other folks I know as well and I had only ever heard good things so we were like “Yep that’s our dude”. In terms of working with Brad, the records he had done in the past were enough to pick him. In mastering you obviously don’t develop the relationship you do with your recording engineer because you’re not spending hours and days stuck in a studio together, it mostly email, but the best thing about working with these two guys is just how professional engineers with their experience are. They work fast, there’s no bullshit, which means that as a musician you just get to focus on doing your record. As a result you get a good record.

You guys are touring New Zealand with your good pals Merchant soon. How did you guys hook up?

We all go to the same shows, play the same bills, and drink at the same pubs so we have known those guys for awhile. In terms of how this all came together, Wilson who plays in Merchant asked us if we would be interested doing this tour, we said sure because doing New Zealand was something that we looked at maybe a year ago but it just didn’t work out. Then maybe two weeks later he gave us the dates and told us to book flights. So it went from a cool idea to actually happening very quickly. Which is not generally how music works. Wilson is more proactive and motivated than nearly anyone I know.

Recently US doomsters Windhand and Cough had their Auckland show cut short by a bunch of police officers confiscating gear on behalf of an anonymous noise complainant via the Auckland Council. Have you ever experienced such a repercussion as a result of your heavy cacophony?

Nothing like police turning up and seizing a mixing console… we have seriously upset some live sound engineers and a good handful of patrons but nothing like that. When I read what happened I was blown away. I am not across the full situation with Kings Arms, in terms of what happened that night or nights prior but incidents like that should never occur. If a venue has been informed that it’s going to be shut down if it receives another complaint they need to take measures to make sure that doesn’t happen. That doesn’t mean telling bands to play quiet or spending extra money to sound proof a venue often it’s just creating a dialogue with the community surrounding the venue to help work out a solution. It’s disappointing that a band that came from the other side of the world had their show cut short for something so trivial and people who spent money didn’t get to experience that show. It’s definitely not a cool thing to have happen.

You guys recently shared on Facebook an ‘unconventional’ tribute to Black Flag titled Half Mast – I Was A Skateboard put out by your pals at Black Death records. Do you feel that stoner/doom/sludge owes a great debt to some of the stranger Flag releases?

Absolutely. Black Flag obviously influenced a lot of underground music in a lot of different ways but those weird records are sick. There’s a tendency in heavy music to do what’s safe. Tune low, get a big amp, buy a boutique fuzz. Do something different. Do something interesting. It’s as though bands are nervous people will think what they are doing is fruity so they stick to what they think listeners will enjoy. To me those records are awesome because it’s just Black Flag doing Black Flag and not giving a shit. At the end of the day it’s your music and your record so do whatever the fuck you want.

In March, you guys played Damage Report, which was a photography exhibition celebrating a year’s worth of “live music, culture and community” with 400+ photos and a metric butt-tonne of bands. Paint the picture of that, kind sir.

That project was insane. I remember when I heard Zo talking about the idea of it I just thought that something that big could not possibly be pulled off by one person. Not only did Zo spend every night of the week shooting bands, she’s got two kids, had other photographic projects on the go plus still had to pay bills and do just regular life admin stuff amongst all of that. I helped her out for a couple of weeks while I had uni holidays last year and seeing the amount of work that goes into her day before she even gets to shooting in the evening is insane. People obviously know that project was a big deal but I am not sure they understand exactly what went into to seeing it through to completion. For us to have been included in that is really special.


Merchant and Watchtower

Saturday 22nd April, Whammy Bar, Auckland w/ NIISA, Reaving and Bloodnut
Sunday 23rd April, Nivara Lounge, Hamilton w/ Bloodnut, Sick Old Man +Wolf Wizard
Monday 24th April, Valhalla, Wellington w/ Opium Eater + Ritual Abuse

Tickets available HERE at UTR and in-store at Flying Out (Auckland) and Slow Boat/RPM (Wellington).



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