Eddie Watkins, the founding drummer of the influential indie rock band Polvo, passed away on April 24, 2024, at the age of forty-eight. The cause of his death has not been officially confirmed, but some sources suggest that he suffered from a long-term illness. Watkins was remembered by his friends, bandmates, and fans as a talented, creative, and fun-loving musician who helped shape the sound and style of Polvo.
A Unique Drummer for a Unique Band
Watkins formed Polvo in 1990 with guitarists Ash Bowie and Dave Brylawski, and bassist Steve Popson. The band emerged from the vibrant Chapel Hill, North Carolina, music scene and quickly gained a cult following for their experimental and eclectic approach to rock music. Polvo combined elements of noise, math rock, post-punk, and psychedelia, creating songs that were complex, unpredictable, and catchy. Watkins was a key contributor to the band’s distinctive sound, as he brought his own influences and ideas to the drums.
According to Exclaim!, Watkins liked “weird jazz” and used his understanding of the genre to adapt to the band’s frequent time changes and unconventional structures. He also had a playful and humorous personality, which he expressed through his drumming and his interactions with his bandmates. According to INDY Week, Watkins would sometimes adopt different characters and accents, such as “the guy from Charleston” or “the good ol’ boy from Johnston County”.
Watkins recorded three albums and two EPs with Polvo, all of which are considered classics of the indie rock genre. The band’s debut album, Cor-Crane Secret, was released in 1992 by Merge Records, the label founded by Mac McCaughan of Superchunk. The album showcased the band’s raw and adventurous sound, with songs like “Bend or Break” and “Vibracobra” featuring Watkins’ dynamic and inventive drumming. The band’s second album, Today’s Active Lifestyles, was released in 1994 and further refined their sonic identity, with more melodic and angular guitar work and tighter rhythms. The album included some of the band’s most popular songs, such as “Thermal Treasure” and “My Kimono”.
The band’s third and final album with Watkins, Exploded Drawings, was released in 1996 by Touch and Go Records. The album was the band’s most ambitious and diverse work, incorporating elements of Eastern music, folk, and pop, while still retaining their signature noise and dissonance. The album featured songs like “Bridesmaid Blues” and “Every Holy Shroud”, which demonstrated Watkins’ versatility and creativity on the drums. Shortly after the release of the album, Watkins left the band to focus on his family and outside career. Polvo disbanded in 1998, but reunited in 2008 without Watkins. The band released two more albums, In Prism and Siberia, with Brian Quast on drums.
A Lasting Legacy
Watkins’ death was met with sadness and shock by the indie rock community, as many musicians and fans paid tribute to him on social media and other platforms. McCaughan, who had worked with Watkins as a label owner and a producer, wrote in a statement: “Stunned and saddened to hear of Eddie Watkins’ passing. It took a unique drummer to make those Polvo records & they are some of my favorite records, period. Classics. Sweet guy to be with on tour and in the studio. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”
Watkins’ former bandmates also expressed their grief and gratitude for their friendship and collaboration with him. Bowie, who had remained in contact with Watkins over the years, told INDY Week: “Everybody’s talking about the band now, but that was just sort of the setting in which we became friends, you know?” Popson, who had played with Watkins in another band called Idyll Swords, said: “He was always fun to be around. Always lighthearted. Never down in the dumps. Never a bummer. He just had a good spirit about him.” Brylawski, who had not seen Watkins since the band’s breakup, said: “He was a great drummer and a great friend. I’m really sorry to hear that he’s gone.”
Watkins’ legacy lives on through his music, which continues to inspire and influence generations of indie rock fans and musicians. Polvo’s albums are widely regarded as essential and influential works of the genre, and Watkins’ drumming is often praised and admired for its originality and skill. Watkins was a unique drummer for a unique band, and he left a lasting mark on the indie rock world. He will be missed by many, but his music will never be forgotten.