Watershed is rock-n-roll.Â The band members arenâ€™t stars by any means, but if the essence of rock-n-roll is getting up on stage, night after night, playing your heart out for whomever shows up, and then throwing back a few brews with the fans, thenÂ WatershedÂ is on par with the Rolling Stones. And now they have the book to prove it. "Hitless Wonder"Â may not wallow in the depths of Keith Richardâ€™s â€śLife,â€ť but then again, â€śKeefâ€ť never slept in a rental van in his forties. Not out of necessity, anyway.
After seeing their beloved Cheap Trick in 1985, the teenage Colin Gowel convinced his buddy-since-grade-schoolÂ Joe OestreichÂ to form a band. Colin played lead guitar, Joe slapped the bass, they split the singing duties, brought in a couple more pals, and called it Watershed. The Columbus Ohio-based kids had no idea that they were embarking on the rock-n-roll fantasy/nightmare of a lifetime. In 2012, Watershed embarked on their umpteenth tour, playing fourteen dates behind their latest albumÂ Brick & Mortar.Â
Watershed may not be a household name, but that doesnâ€™t mean they havenâ€™t humped the same footlights as the bands in the pantheon. Theyâ€™ve had the highs, signing a $250,000 deal with Epic Records and playing big-time concerts, and the lows, getting dropped by Epic eighteen months later and drunkenly stumbling through a show with a dozen fans. In a true testimony to following their collective heart, Watershed released seven albums, played more than 1,000 gigs, and sold fewer than 20,000 albums.
Below the video, see our chat with Oestreich, who captures it all in his hilarious and ultimately moving memoirÂ â€śHitless Wonder.â€ťÂ Â It's the amazing story of a band that started out as buddies in a basement and continues to this day, adulthood be damned.
Your father was a priest, and your mother a nun who left the church to get married. Is there anything that youâ€™ve taken from your parentsâ€™ unique background that applies to your life in rock-n-roll?
Although both of my parents no longer believe in Catholicism, or in organized religion at all, they both still have a lot of faith and optimism. I take that from them, the idea that weâ€™re working towards something better, something more positive and enlightened -- all the time. That kind of faith keeps Watershed going on those dark nights in Detroit when fifteen people show up and weâ€™re playing for no money. I always believe thereâ€™s something better around the corner. My parents leaving the church instilled a spirit of rebelliousness, and of finding whatâ€™s right for me. The best example being when Colin and I dropped out of Ohio State, with only one year left, to buy a crappy van, hit the road, and do this for real. There are parallels to my parents for sure.
The famous sportswriter axiom â€śThe real stories are in the losing locker roomâ€ť is what makes â€śHitless Wonderâ€ťÂ so appealing. Tales of sleeping on the floor of a van are vastly more entertaining than ones of flying in a private jet. From a writerâ€™s standpoint, could you have written this book if Watershed was a much bigger success?
Iâ€™m a huge fan of Gay Talese, and he always writes about the losing side, like when Floyd Patterson lost that fight and had to wear a disguise. Iâ€™ve always been a fan of those stories because theyâ€™re more interesting, and lesser known. If we were winners at rock-n-roll, there would be less reason for introspection. People who are rich and successful have their troubles, everybody does, but thereâ€™s something about being less successful that lends itself to tension and questioning oneâ€™s place in the world. The second thing is, if we were bigger, Iâ€™d have a lot more to lose in writingÂ â€śHitless Wonder.â€ť I wouldâ€™ve pulled punches so I didnâ€™t piss off our record company, or managers, or fans or whomever. I had nothing to lose, which enabled me to get to the truth of the thing.