The Watchmen are a Canadian rock band. They were one of the most commercially successful Canadian alternative rock groups of the mid to late 1990s. During their peak years the band had three gold records (McLaren Furnace Room, Silent Radar, and Slomotion) and one platinum record (In The Trees). In addition, they have toured Canada numerous times, were the opening act for The Tragically Hip, and co-headlined a national tour with Big Wreck.
The group was formed in 1988 in Winnipeg, Manitoba by vocalist Daniel Greaves, guitarist Joey Serlin, bassist Pete Loewen and Greaves' first cousin, drummer Sammy Kohn. Serlin was a comic fan and named the group after the 1986-87 DC comic book series Watchmen.
The band toured Canada extensively and became a popular live act, largely on the strength of its energetic shows, which invariably featured an a cappella performance by Greaves at some point in the set. Greaves often covered songs by Billy Bragg, Simon and Garfunkel, Lyle Lovett, The La's, Tom Waits and others during these solo spots, and fans came to look forward to them as a highlight of each show. On rare occasions, Greaves performed more than one a cappella song in a set: at one 1998 performance broadcast live on radio, Greaves entertained the in-person audience during commercial breaks by singing Nicaraguan folk songs in addition to performing Billy Bragg's "Between The Wars."
The band was discovered by producer Chris Wardman while playing at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern. Wardman offered to produce the band, and they released their debut album, McLaren Furnace Room, in 1992. (The album was named for one of the band's rehearsal spaces, the furnace room of the McLaren Hotel in Winnipeg.) The album was released by Wardman's Sumo Productions and distributed by MCA records. The single "Cracked" garnered the band significant airplay on rock stations, but was quickly eclipsed by the anti-spousal abuse anthem "Run and Hide", which became the band's breakthrough hit.
In 1993, Loewen left the band amicably to spend more time with his family. At the urging of Watchmen manager Jake Gold, Newfoundlander Ken Tizzard auditioned and replaced Loewen as the group's new bassist. Members of the Watchmen have commented that Tizzard's recruitment sparked a change in band dynamics and songwriting: before Tizzard joined the group, most the songs were written by Serlin alone; afterwards, the majority of songs were group compositions, with Serlin and Greaves sharing lyric-writing duties.
In October 1993, the band won the annual Discovery To Disc contest held by Toronto's CFNY-FM radio station (better known as 102.1 The Edge). The contest, which aimed to support new Canadian alternative rock artists, awarded the group $100,000 to go towards recording expenses.
The band's second album, In The Trees, was released on MCA records in July 1994. The record was a major success, confirming the band's place in Canadian rock with the hit singles "Boneyard Tree", "All Uncovered" and "Lusitana". The album was certified Platinum in Canada after selling over 100,000 copies.
Their 1996 album Brand New Day was not as well received by critics or audiences -- "Zoom", "Incarnate" and "Shut Up" were moderately successful singles, but none achieved the kind of success that the band's earlier singles had. Nevertheless, the band launched an extensive tour of Canada and Europe which lasted into 1997.
Following this album, the band left MCA records and was signed to EMI. 1998's Silent Radar was the band's return to commercial success, with the hit singles "Stereo", "Any Day Now", "Brighter Hell" and "Say Something". The album was produced by Adam Kasper in Seattle's Studio Litho (owned by Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam fame), and was released in March 1998. That autumn, the band won a MuchMusic award for best use of new technology, owing to the inclusion of innovative web- and CD-ROM-based features on the Silent Radar CD. On the strength of the album, in 1999 the Watchmen also toured Australia for the first time, where "Stereo" received airplay on Triple J. They toured the nation with The Screaming Jets, and also made an appearance on the ABC-TV show Recovery, performing "Say Something."
Following the Silent Radar tour, Sammy Kohn amicably left the band to work in the music business. The band had been experimenting with electronic and industrial textures prior to Kohn's departure, and performed tracks with electronic features live during Kohn's final tour with the band. After Kohn's exit, the Watchmen moved sharply towards electronica, using programmed electronic drums on new recordings rather than recruiting a new live drummer.
The Watchmen's 2001 album Slomotion saw the remaining members experimenting with more industrial textures and making use of a drum machine to replace Kohn. The band also packaged the album with a second greatest hits disc. The album was, however, poorly received, with only the single "Absolutely Anytime" gaining any radio airplay. Drummer Ryan Ahoff joined as an auxiliary member for the subsequent tour, and the band performed with a mixture of live drums and programmed drum tracks on its newer, more electronic material.
Their fans showed their love for the band when they won the Entertainer of the Year Award at the 2002 Prairie Music Awards, an award that is decided by online voting.
In September 2003, prior to splitting, the band held a benefit concert to raise money for the Israeli Bobsled Team. Daniel Greaves' brother, David Greaves, who has dual Canadian-Israeli citizenship, is a member of the team. The team needed to raise $500,000 so that they could try to qualify for the 2006 Winter Olympics but the team failed to qualify.
In November 2003 the band decided to go their separate ways. However, they decided that before they did so, they would perform one last short tour across Canada as a "Thank You" to their fans. The tour was called "The Watchman's Last Road Trip" and included 9 concerts in 6 Canadian cities and 1 American city. Ahoff again joined the band for the tour which also saw a guest appearance by original bassist Pete Loewen during the encore of their last show in their hometown of Winnipeg on December 20, 2003.
The band subsequently disbanded. Greaves went on to form Doctor with Rob Higgins, Tizzard joined Thornley, and Serlin appeared on Ryan Malcolm's debut album before forming his own new band, Redline. Greaves and Tizzard occasionally perform together as the electronic duo Audio Playground High + Wide.
In 2008, the "classic" lineup of Greaves, Serlin, Kohn and Tizzard announced a small reunion tour. Kohn convinced the other members to take part in the reunion tour after showing them a myspace page where fans still talked about their favourite songs, and performances. The Watchmen played at Maverick's in Ottawa on September 19, 2008 and Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto on September 26 & 27, 2008. They played a short 45 minute set as part of Powerball in Winnipeg at the MTS Centre on October 30, 2008. They played another show in Calgary on October 31, 2008 at The Gateway.
The Watchmen continued their reunion tour into 2009. They performed on June 16, 2009 at the Red River Exhibition in Winnipeg. The band subsequently released two brand new songs which were available for download through their official website. "Miss Monday Morning" and "Trampoline," marked the first two releases of the re-united original foursome. Both songs were recorded at Vapor Studios engineered and mixed by Julian Rudd and produced by Joey Serlin.
In September 2010, the band performed once again at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto for back-to-back nights. Watchmen songs 'The South' and 'Sleep' were included in the 2010 TIFF selected film "The Whistleblower" starring Rachel Weisz.