Batman's Treaty - Interview
published: 4 / 2 / 2019
Denzil Watson, the front man with long-serving Sheffield punk pop group RepoMen, talks to John Clarkson about forming Batman's Treaty, his first new band in twenty-five years.
Recent years had been good for pop-punk act RepoMen. In particular, 2015 and 2016 had been fantastic times for the band. They saw the release of ‘Occasional Sensations’, a documentary film about RepoMen. They had officially become Sheffield’s longest-serving indie act; the group, which formed in 1991, celebrated its 25th anniversary. With fourteen EPs, a compilation and two studio albums already behind them, RepoMen put out their third album, ‘Futuristic’, in 2017, which, like many of its predecessors, came out on vocalist Denzil Watson’s Phantom Power Records. Before ‘Futuristic’ came out, however, bassist Simon Tiller decided he could no longer continue with the band for the foreseeable future. Having played in the same line-up for over twenty years, the three remaining members – Watson, guitarist and main songwriter Ric Bower and drummer James Hughes – decided that, rather than carry on with a temporary bass player, they should put RepoMen on hiatus. Instead, they formed a new band, Batman’s Treaty. The band takes its unusual name from a 1835 deal that explorer and colonizer John Batman struck with a group of aborigines, to buy an extensive area of land near what became Melbourne. With Bower splitting his role between guitar and keyboards and Hughes switching from drums to guitar, they teamed-up three other Sheffield musicians, bassist Paul Hoyland, drummer Andy Wood and the newest addition to the line-up, third guitarist Tommy Binks. Demos of new material sound highly promising. They include ‘Goodbye Harry Dean’, a grungy garage rock number which pays tribute to the late film actor Harry Dean Stanton, and a swirling lo-fi cover of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ ‘Fault Lines’ – a stark contrast with the more clean-cut original. In his first interview about Batman’s Treaty, Denzil Watson spoke to Pennyblackmusic about beginning again after twenty-five years. PB: When did you first form Batman’s Treaty? DW: In February of last year. We knew that Simon was going to have to take some time out, but we didn’t know that it was going to be indefinite with no end point in sight at that point in time. We did one gig with Jon Groves from Screaming Mimi, a former Sheffield band and label-mate on Phantom Power, filling on bass to launch RepoMen’s last album ‘Futuristic’, but it didn’t feel right doing it without Simon on an on-going basis, so we decided to form another second band. PB: Batman’s Treaty is more alternative rock based than punk pop. Did you feel a need to do something different as well? DW: Yeah, we have moved from punk pop to alt. rock and even skirt round the edges of prog rock a bit. If you are going to do a different band, you might as well do something a little bit different. Ric, in particular, was very conscious that he didn’t want Batman’s Treaty to sound completely like RepoMen, and both James and I agreed with him. The intention from the start was that Ric and James and I would carry on working together. Ric suggested that James witched from drums to guitar and he was up for that. He is very versatile and also a very good guitarist as well as a drummer. When we first met him back in the 1990’s he had more experience of playing the guitar than he did the drums. Then three became five and then six. We had known Paul Hoyland who plays bass for quite a while, and had been friends with him and Dave Woodcock and the Dead Comedians, the other band that he is in. Dave is like a mixture of Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer and Paul was the bass player with them, but Dave has not been well recently and they have been on hiatus for a while. Andy Wood, the drummer, was in Pisco Sour Hour, a fab alt. rock act from Sheffield. They were also in hiatus. Andy has another band called Waldo Reset, but he was open to offers of doing something as it doesn't take all his time up. He has also drummed for RepoMen before when James hasn’t been available, and has been on the drum stool for the Repo's a few times now. We were originally going to be a five-piece, but have just expanded to a six-piece. Unfortunately James’ wife has been unwell, so while he has been rehearsing with us he hasn’t actually played any gigs yet. We got in Tommy Binks initially on a temporary basis to cover for James. He is also in Dave Woodcock and the Dead Comedians, but he also does solo stuff. He has done all our gigs with us except the first one and has now joined us full-time. PB: In what way have the songwriting dynamics changed now that there are six of you in the band? In RepoMen Ric did most of the song-writing. Is that still the case? DW: No. It actually takes some of the pressure off him. Ric is still very prolific. He is writing a lot of good stuff, but Andy also is a good songwriter. He is good at writing lyrics. He thinks a lot about drum patterns. He imagines the songs in his head and a few of the songs are his. PB: How many songs do you have? DW: We have got about eight originals and two or three covers, enough for about a forty minute set. There are more songs waiting in the wings also. PB: Have you made a conscious decision that you are not going to do RepoMen material? DW: This is a new band and, to be honest, where would that end? Everyone could say, “We will bring some of our songs of our previous bands in.” We made a completely conscious effort to write a new set, which is what we have done. To go from fifty or sixty songs has taken a bit of effort but we have a good set now. PB: How easy has it been starting over again with a new band? How much of the RepoMen fan base have you taken with you? DW: It is not a vast fan base but quite a few. I think most people who were interested in RepoMen are also interested in Batman’s Treaty, and our last gig in particular had a good crowd. There is still the loyal faithful who were into RepoMen. The three other guys also bring their friends and fans from their other bands in. We are all getting exposed to new people, which is good. PB: You have put a demo of ‘Goodbye Harry Dean’ online, which is about the death of the actor Harry Dean Stanton. As he was the star of ‘Repoman’, the film which gave Repomen its name, do you see it as a nod to your other band, a way of saying farewell to it however temporarily as well as to him? DW: To be honest, that was the one song that we brought over. It was the last song that we wrote as RepoMen and we played it just once live, so because we hadn’t recorded it we brought it in. That has been the one cross-over song. PB: Who is the fan of Harry Dean Stanton? DW: I guess that it is me really. I love ‘RepoMan’. It was me that was the catalyst, but Ric is very good at picking up on things and making really great lyrics. We also mention ‘Alien’ and ‘Paris Texas’ in ‘Goodbye Harry Dean’, as we decided that those were his two other best films. PB: You have also posted a cover of Tom Petty’s ‘Fault Lines’ it is not the most obvious choice for a cover and not something RepoMen might have done. What was the appeal to you of that song? DW: When we got together, the five of us picked a song to cover each. Some of them have fallen by the wayside, but that was Andy’s choice. Andy has an incredibly eclectic taste, and it is a really good song. We did it justice and it stayed in the set. PB: It pays tribute to the Tom Petty song and yet it does something different as well. Is that what you aim for when you do covers? DW: Not consciously. If it works, it works. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. We also do a cover of the Saints ‘(I’m) Stranded’. It was my idea to do a Saints song and Ric suggested that one. The way we do it, it is fairly true to the original. It is not that different to it, but it is a song that people need to hear. It’s a fantastic song. PB: It must have been a learning curve playing live with three new members. What have you learned? DW: That if you have the same mentality, it's easy to sync with new people. It just feels really natural. Andy is a great drummer. Paul is a great bass player and Tommy is a great guitarist. We have just locked on. Ric is on the same wavelength as Andy when it comes to songwriting. In that sense, it has just been really easy. It was quite daunting at first, but it has come together very naturally. PB: Why do you think that is? DW: We have all been around the block a bit. We are all doing it for the same reasons, and there is no one trying to dominate. There are no egos. Everyone is doing their bit and contributing. It is all very easy going. PB: Do you hope to bring out an EP or an album in 2019? DW: We obviously want to do some recording. We have got enough songs that we can do some recording. We have kicked them around for a bit, and the songs are fully formed and ready for recording. It would be nice to do an album. We're taking the first step next month [February] when we will record three or four tracks. PB: Do you know which songs you will be recording? DW: ‘Goodbye Harry Dean’ is a strong contender. There is ‘Waiting for Batman’s Treaty’ as well which is almost like our theme tune. It describes what happened with the original Batman’s Treaty and takes the viewpoint of the aborigines who struck the treaty. It is one of Ric’s lyrics, and looks at their land rights in Australia and surrounding Batman’s Treaty. I also really like ‘Dude Ranch’, which is a new number and synth driven. We really like how that is standing. All eight songs we have written are, however all up to a standard, and we hope to have something ready for release at the back end of 2019. PB: Thank you.
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