It’s a new week, and Serlin Greaves are coming in hot! The duo, consisting of Joey Serlin and Daniel Greaves, well known for their work as part of Canadian alternative rockers The Watchmen, saw a return to live shows (sort of) as part of The Horseshoe Hootenanny streaming concert series. The iconic Toronto area venue, along with nearby Lee’s Palace, has been hosting bands this summer as part of a special series of shows that are livestreamed online. Meant to financially support bands, stage crews, local technicians and videographers, and venues, the series is professionally filmed, using all of the venue sound and lighting production to create the next best thing to a live music experience.
Serlin Greaves has had a busy year, writing and recording their latest album Sad Songs For Sale, which saw its release on May 28th on Fifth Kid Records. It’s an album that feels very contemporary, with themes that include life lessons, the concept of time, the decisions we make that affect our futures, and the glory of each passing moment. In comparison to some of the more upbeat, heavier sounds of The Watchmen, Serlin and Greaves have composed more of an acoustic-based record, with the global pandemonium of the last 18 months having a significant effect on the duo’s approach to writing this record.
We recently caught up with Joey Serlin himself to discuss Sad Songs For Sale, the thematic structure of the album, how they started working together again, and the potential for a Watchmen reunion.
Let’s start with the most natural, perhaps obvious question. What led to you both starting to work together again as a musical duo?
Joey Serlin: “I was feeling very inspired and had written three to four new songs in a very short time. It just felt natural for me to reach out to Danny to see if he wanted to sing on them. He helped me finish a few more songs, and then we started to work on his songs. I have been very fortunate to have a friend like Danny sing my songs. His voice and interpretations of the lyrics, brings them to life. His voice is so vulnerable and genuine, that he instantly makes them his own, which gives them a real credibility.”
You first started writing and recording together over 30 years ago. How would you say working together now compares to when you were just kids starting out?
“We have both definitely matured at our craft. We have had the opportunity to work with some incredibly talented people over the years and we have both learned so much. There was also no ego and a lot of trust. I think this comes with the confidence that reaching a certain age gives you.”
How do you typically write and record together? Do you come up with your own ideas individually first, or are you more likely to get some guitars and write together in a room or a studio?
“Most of the songs on the record were worked out and arranged at motel in Parkdale, with an acoustic guitar and piano. We then took the songs to our drummer Ryan Chalmers and bassist Dustin Anstey and worked through the full band arrangements, and then started the recording process. Ryan also engineered and mixed the album. Danny really let me do whatever I wanted with guitars, and I did the same with his vocals. Like I said, there was a lot of trust.”
The debut Serlin Greaves album Sad Songs For Sale was released at the end of May. When did you begin working on the album, and what were your original intentions for it?
“Start to finish was just over a year. After we had four to six songs, we thought that we could potentially put out an EP, but we just kept going and before we knew it, we had an album. We actually decided to cut a few songs in the end.”
Would you say the finished product is a lot like what you originally envisioned when you started writing and recording?
“It really surpassed my expectations. I knew that we had some very strong songs, but I didn’t expect the sonic experience to be as solid as it is. A lot of this has to do with Ryan Chalmers, not only is he an amazing drummer, but he is also a meticulous engineer and mixer. Dustin also brought a lot of great ideas to the table.”
What effect, if any, did the pandemic have on the writing and recording process? Did it really throw a monkey wrench in your plans and force you to refocus how you were doing things?
“From a writing perspective, the fear and isolation of the pandemic definitely made its way into the songs. It did shut down the recording process for a bit but we used that time to write more songs.”
“I think it’s mostly a result of having had so much time since the last Watchmen album. Personally, I hadn’t written songs that prolifically in a very long time, which left a lot of life experience to draw from. Both Danny and I had kids, went through difficult divorces, found new amazing wives, had failures and successes. It all made its way into the songs.”
I like that you’re trying to really raise awareness of the importance of mental health in young people and how current events are affecting today’s youth, like with your call to action for fans to donate to Kids Help Phone. How did this become such an important issue to you both as songwriters, musicians, and activists?
“The song ‘Teenage Heart’ was written about my oldest daughter. I watched her trying to navigate her path to finding herself, while under the scrutiny of social media. I really dislike how kids are growing up now. Given the amount of social media platforms, it takes a lot of strength and confidence, to disregard the need for external validation.”
What side of you musically do you think shows through with Serlin Greaves that you were never able to really pursue with The Watchmen?
“I feel that this may be my best guitar work on record. There was no committee and I was free to explore and follow my own instincts. We could also mix the record exactly how we wanted, without debating over levels, etc. I had all of my amps, effects, and guitars permanently set up in one of my studios and Ryan and I went to town, experimenting with parts and tones.”
Although The Watchmen are technically still together as a band, it’s now been 20 years since the release of your last record, Slomotion. Could you see The Watchmen writing and recording even a song or two together again?
“Yes, I could, and I think that would be great. In a lot of ways, it would be more difficult, but in a strange way, the recording process for Sad Songs For Sale has given me the confidence to do it. I would also be more comfortable working within a democracy, knowing that I have an outlet where I can do whatever I want.”
I know touring is still up in the air, but do you have any hopes of taking this project on the road as a touring act?
“Absolutely. I would especially love to do a Serlin Greaves show in Winnipeg.”
What else do you have planned for the near future? Are you looking to do some more writing and recording soon?
“I have already written a few songs. Just trying to decide what the best home for them is.”
Upcoming The Watchmen Tour Dates: