The Watchmen were formed in 1986 and were active until 1989. The group was initially formed by vocalist Paul Santori and guitarist Brian Gay after Gay, formerly of Government Issue and Savage Beliefs, saw Santori performing at a loft party as a solo acoustic act and suggested his songs would translate well into a rock band format. The two were already acquainted from their time as students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from which they had both recently graduated.
The group intially consisted of Santori, Gay and various art school friends, with Eric Cassell from Savage Beliefs on drums. They went through several personnel and name changes, including such names as "The New Searchers" and "The Purpling Item." Cassell eventually left the band to concentrate on his other band, Perma-buzz.
After Cassell left the band, Stuart Grais, another Art Institute alum, took over as drummer for a brief stint. He suggested the name "The Watchmen" after a comics series (later to become the famous graphic novel and movie) that he was reading at the time. The other band members were unaware of the comic, but liked the name, never anticipating that it would achieve cult status and go on to inspire several other bands to use the same name. By this time Steve Ross, formerly of the Subverts, was on bass. He enlisted Ahndi Coffey, a co-worker at Rose Records, to join the band on drums. With Ross and Coffey, who also became a major contributor as a backing vocalist, the band finally became a cohesive unit with a unique identity and began gigging as often as possible.
Although half its members had roots solidly in the hardcore punk genre, the band chose to combine a range of influences in its sound and identity. Santori was originally inspired by Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground and later the Chicago Blues scene. Coffey and Ross were both fans of classic country music. The band as a whole were inspired groups like Husker Du and the Minutemen who were consider "punk" but whose sound did not reflect a formulaic approach.
In interviews, the Watchmen described their music, not entirely accurately, as "cheerful songs with grim lyrics." In truth, Santori's lyircs ranged from grim to surreal to poignant. Although the Watchmen became known for their almost manic delivery of their loud and speedy tunes, they interspersed their sets with slower, softer, more spacious songs, often with bizarre or ambiguous lyrics. This combination, and their use of cleaner guitar tones than their punk peers, made them unique in the Chicago scene.
Coffey left the band to form the alt-country band Rodeo Riot in early 1989 and was replaced by Matt Waller, who was the drummer for the band for the remainder of its active period. Coffey continued to perform with the group from time to time as a backing vocalist.
During the few years they were active, the Watchmen played many shows in Chicago, the Chicago Suburbs, Dekalb and Champaign, Illinois as well as in Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin. They appeared with well-known local and national touring groups. They were a regular fixture at the (now defunct) club Batteries Not Included, where they often performed "on call" when scheduled groups cancelled. They performed live on the air twice on WZRD, the college radio station of Northeastern Illinois University. These performance were recorded and were rediscovered by Gay and released online under the title "Ain't Life Grand" in 2013. The band also released an 12-inch EP, "To You", backed with an EP by Perma-buzz in 1989. This was re-released by the band in 2013 as well. Both can be accessed online at thewatchmenchicago.bandcamp.com. They also have a page on Facebook with many archival photos of the band and flyers from the period at www.facebook.com/watchmenchicago. Additionally, plans are in the works for a reunion show to be played at the Empty Bottle in late June, 2014.
- To You EP (1989)
- Rereleased in 2013
- Ain't Life Grand (2013)
- Live performance from WZRD