It was a sad day, indeed, when John Watts took the decision to leave Native.
He loved the band, but the schedule was punishing. And, it has to be said that, at this time, there was a bit of friction in band – some of which is my fault, so I bear a piece of the blame for driving him out.
When I met John, I was chuffed and delighted to bring him in for an audition with the band, and when he joined the band kicked up another notch in tightness, and our sound became even more musical and rich.
He was our most joyous, upbeat member, and that’s saying something considering we had the sparkling Mike Jaimes in the band.
On a personal level, he encouraged me to take my writing more seriously (to the bemusement of other members, who, I think, would have rather well-preferred I take it a lot less seriously!)
One example of how he helped me, was when he championed my newest song, Sweet Intensity, over the disinterest it had received when I played it for the guys. I really don’t think it would have become a Native song without his support.
I’ll readily confess – my general displeasure over how my material was being judged led to a bit of a bad attitude on my part in the later days of 1996, but there was another music-related factor that led to some inner-band conflict which disturbed John a lot.
I had started to feel a pain in my hands, stemming from my vice-like grip on the drumsticks. My punk-rock drumming approach had been getting more streamlined and sophisticated, but I retained the too-tight grip that, after long gigs, was leading to an aching soreness in my thumb joints.
John suggested I see a drum teacher he knew, and I very quietly started to take instruction which gave me all kinds of insight into how my grip was defeating my intent – why my drum fills were heavy-handed and sloppy, and how it contributed to an overall laxness in my playing, despite my high energy-level. I was working twice as hard for half the effect! Finding a better grip not only transformed my style, but the lack of pain was an enormous relief.
The problem was, I didn’t tell anyone else in the group about my lessons, and rather than increase my ability, the immediate result of my new grip was a drop in precision. It was going to take some time to get used to it, and in the meantime, I was playing very sloppily.
Then came a big band meeting, where I was confronted about my playing. Having already made moves to up my technique, I was angered by the interference. I sort of reflexively reacted to being provoked in a very confrontational band meeting, and was appalled that my playing had obviously been the subject of discussion behind my back.
The tensions in all this ultimately pushed the always convivial John Watts away from the band, and his era came to a sad close. The following months were what Chris Wyckoff has dubbed, ‘The Scary Time’, where Native soldiered on as a 5-piece. Fortunately, the first six months of 1997 saw very little taping at our shows, so there is scant evidence of my progress with the new grip.
The good part of the story is that I got my drumming problems sorted, and Native went on to continue our schedule of a hundred or more gigs per year, constant song-writing (which I was able to be a larger part of, thanks to the success of Sweet Intensity), and the recording of our best album – Exhale On Spring Street. During the recording of that epic, the reserved and tranquil Mr. Wyckoff joined our ranks, and all was well in the little town of Inisfree, once again.
So, the ending was happy, but when it comes to the subject of John Watts’ departure – I can’t think of anything funny to say about it. I wish he had stayed, and lord knows how we might have evolved if he had.
Bottom line — today’s tune brings Nativology Vol. 3 full circle. It began the era with a brilliant demo tape, and ended the era with a masterful performance at our home base – McGoverns Bar. We were much better than we were giving ourselves credit for.