Watershed may now be South Africa’s leading acoustic rock group, with a string of platinum and gold albums and awards to its name - but when its debut single ‘Indigo Girl’ surged up South Africa’s charts back in 2000, it was hard to predict just how successful the group would be.
At the time of the song’s release – on Watershed’s debut album ‘In The Meantime’ - the country hardly seemed a place to give real traction to a band who found their footing in the melodic notes and rhythms of acoustic rock. Kwaito was still in its chest-beating prime, hip-hop was finding a homegrown form, Gospel remained a compelling drawcard, Afrikaans pop was more popular than ever and, if anything, rock music seemed most likely to succeed when it came to global chart genres.
But, a decade after the release of that first album, Watershed are striding ahead, in 2010 alone playing the prestigious South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, Canadian Music Week and a number of dates in Europe, racking up more international releases for their studio albums and unveiling a hits compilation that really does live up to its name.
Titled ‘A Million Faces: 20 Hits, 10 Years’ the album features 20 songs taken off Watershed’s award-winning, platinum and gold-selling back catalogue of albums that began with the release of ‘In The Meantime’. That album, featuring the now iconic ‘Indigo Girl’, earned Watershed attention right out-of-the-gate, notching up two South African Music Award nominations.
Watershed’s debut was followed by ‘Wrapped In Stone’ in 2003, which earned the band its South African Music Award for Best Pop Album the following year – and confirmed its standing as a pop outfit capable of writing and performing material that easily stood shoulder-to-shoulder with anything emerging from the global music scene. ‘Mosaic’ arrived in 2005, and among its sonic gems was the hit song “Letters”, which held the top spot on Johannesburg regional Hit station Highveld Stereo’s Top 40 chart for five weeks – an infrequent accomplishment for a South African act. It was no surprise then, when the album won the Best Pop Album award at the 2006 South African Music Awards and shifted in excess of 55 000 units. With a trio of acclaimed, top-selling and award-winning albums to their name, it seemed natural when Watershed began gaining traction in international waters, releasing and touring in Germany (where ‘Indigo Girl’ became a radio hit) and turning (alongside SA producer J.B. Arthur) to several international producers (Ali Thompson, Elliot Kennedy and Mark Hunter and Saul Davies from the British rock group James) for fourth studio release, ‘Staring At The Ceiling’.
Listening to Watershed’s first hits compilation, what’s remarkable is how well the material on the four studio albums stands up, many years after it first grabbed the hearts and minds of fans (who remain as devoted now as in those early days if the band’s following is anything to go by). Continued radioplay and consistent live requests for Watershed’s breakout hit, ‘Indigo Girl’ confirms the enduring appeal this melodic pop masterpiece but it’s not alone: ‘Lovely Day’, the opening track of the South African Music Award-winning album ‘Wrapped In Stone’, is as terrific now as it was on its debut; Falling’s elegant flowing river of sound drags you along with ease and ‘Future Sunshine’ is sparse and quite beautiful. And those are just some of the 20 hit tracks included on ‘A Million Faces’.
Indeed as a record of one band’s decade-long creative outpourings ‘A Million Faces’ is astonishing. Whether it’s the gorgeous, old-fashioned pop of “Letters” or the twangy-guitar lines of “Breathing”, there’s a musical sensibility at play here that simply can’t be taught.
At the centre of the songwriting stands Craig Hinds. Watershed’s singer and songwriter has an enviable and intuitive feel for a classic song – and, because of this, it’s no wonder he’s regarded as one of South Africa’s most accomplished and acclaimed songwriters. It’s a gift that Hinds often attributes to his family. 'Love It' was recorded by my Dad years ago – and it's still a song I often hear on radio. Both my parents made a huge contribution to my career and my intense focus on the importance of real melodies!" Hinds’ belief in his ability as a songwriter and musician wasn’t always at the fore: If the Watershed frontman had not taken a leap of faith into music, he may still be chalk in hand, in front of a blackboard, putting his teacher’s training to use.But thankfully, he made that change – initially starting in a covers band but soon “throwing in” his own compositions. And, as hit songs like “Shine On Me”, “Close My Eyes”, “Fine Way” , “Southern Cross” and the many others on ‘A Million Faces’ prove, the reaction to Hinds’ own material from those early audiences was instant and proved to be the spur the former teacher needed to plunge headlong into a music career.
From the start, Hinds was convinced he wanted to be part of a band and over the years, the Watershed line-up has shifted. But for some time the band has been based around the tight unit of Hinds (vocals, piano, acoustic guitar, harmonica), Nic Rush (lead guitar and vocals) Peter Auret (drums), James Sunney (bass and vocals) and Hylton Brooker (keyboards) – and their full live calendar is testament to the incredible live show mounted by Watershed which takes the melodic pop of the studio albums into breathtakingly beautiful, and often hard rocking, zones!
The sum of Hinds’ personal growth, the band’s multi-faceted career at home and the international experience it’s notched up in recent years touring Europe in particular has played into the music, with Hinds viewing the coming decade as a second journey for Watershed.
‘A Million Faces’ is like drawing a line on the first part of our amazing journey, and, with the album cover art saying thank you to the fans who have accompanied us on it so far,” Hinds says. The ‘A Million Faces’ cover art Hinds is referring to is drawn from the specially created web and mobi platform, http://www.amillionfaces.co.za/, which has seen fans post their photographs together with their most poignant ‘Watershed' moment for inclusion in the artwork. The idea of people working together is also something Hinds and the band want to keep moving ahead. As the singer puts it, “The idea of a million faces is something we would like to keep going, after the album comes out – particularly around social awareness campaigns like ‘Feed A Million Faces’, ‘Teach A Million Faces’ and more.”
The album’s title track is – along with ‘The World Needs You’ – one of two new songs on the release and both reflect the more pared down, less produced route Hinds and the band are headed into. “In a way, it’s back to our roots,” the songwriter says. “We started off with very simplistic production and somewhere along the way, we worked up to albums that are very highly produced. Obviously that worked at the time, but we’re back to focusing on the songs – their melodies and lyrics and bringing out their very essence through the production.”While ‘The World Needs You’ is more rock-orientated, ‘A Million Faces’ is an astrologically-themed ballad whose lyrics (“about the faces of a million stars looking down on us,” Hinds says) are nothing short of inspirational – much like everything this exceptional band does.
Craig’s comments on his Taylor guitars endorsed by Marshall Music - “Both my 12 and 6 string Taylor acoustic guitars have been great instruments to perform with! For the more intimate acoustic venues they create a warm yet clear sound but I really feel they perform best open air, where there sound is crystal clear and cutting! For the type of music we play it is the ultimate instrument..” Craig Hinds. Watershed