Chatting with former Minuteman, sometime Stooge and always bass-playing punk rocker Mike Watt
Wed, Oct 31, 2012 (5:19 p.m.)
- Mike Watt + The Missingmen
- With The Dirty Hooks
- November 3, 9 p.m., $15
- Vinyl, 693-5000
How’s it going, man?
Good. I just got back from taking the “boat” [Watt’s name for his van] in for pre-tour maintenance. I’ve had it now seven years, and I’m still on the first round of brakes. You know, Econoline’s last year is next summer. August 2013 the last will roll off. They’re moving toward that Sprinter, European style. I might get one. If they last 10 years I’ll have one into my mid-60s.
I’ve seen you play Vegas three times over the past 10 years. Once with Hellride at the Double Down …
Yeah, with [Stephen] Perkins, I remember that.
A solo set opening for the Chili Peppers. Flea played some trumpet with you.
My Secondman [project]. And he played trumpet on the old Minutemen stuff.
And at the Vegoose fest with The Stooges.
Yeah, with Ronnie [Asheton, who died in 2009].
Did you play here back in the old days with Minutemen or fIREHOSE?
Minutemen, yeah. fIREHOSE, too. What was it called … it had panties all over the place … by the Showboat …
Yeah, Calamity Jane’s. I should be playing Las Vegas more. I always wondered about kids who grow up there. Kind of a trippy experience.
Anything special come to mind when you think back on your times in Vegas?
That time you saw me with Perkins, well, I’d just got to town, and this guy took us to the hotel there, to a room with a pole and chairs around it. And then guys come in with pillow sacks full of mota [marijuana], and it’s this battle of the Kush thing. It was a convention for, like, bongs, you know, glass. So me and Perkins end up judges for this contest. There were pictures of us in High Times a couple months later. I couldn’t tell what was what. It was all very strong. And I was telling Perk, “We gotta play!” I was leaning up against the walls just to stand up. It was the most strange, surreal thing.
Tell me about this Missingmen show you’ve got coming up here.
I put together this band for this project, my third opera, Hyphenated-Man, and it’s kinda been realized.
[Guitarist] Tom Watson was from Slovenly, which was a band that played with Minutemen. Me and D. Boon put out a couple of their records. Tom’s five or six years younger, but he was still in that scene and pretty influenced by D Boon’s guitar playing, too.
[Drummer] Raul Morales comes from … in the ’90s, I found out there was a punk scene here in [San] Pedro. I toured so much I wasn’t aware of it. They had this thing they called porchcore—it was three or four houses together, and bands were touring around the country playing these house parties. It was a whole scene of this, and Pedro had one, and Raul was from that. So in a way he was a stepchild of the Minutemen, a descendent of it.
For this third opera I kinda used elements from my old band. To make this one big song I used little parts, like Minutemen used to do.
I read that you went years without listening to the Minutemen stuff …
Yeah, it was almost 20 years. When D. Boon got killed in that wreck, it was kind of a downer to listen to Minutemen for me. I would think of him. But for the documentary, We Jam Econo, I was asked to do that. They wanted me to drive him around town and talk about the records. So I listened to it. And I really wanted to do that again, this kind of format with no filler.
At the same time, I was with The Stooges, and we were in Madrid, at this museum called the Prado. They’ve got six or seven of these Hieronymus Bosch paintings, and there’s something so weird about those creatures. I took a step back and realized it’s kind of like Minutemen—a bunch of little things to make one big thing. And that’s where I hit upon the idea of being to do like my old days without it being a nostalgia kind of thing. I could do some of those forms to talk about my life right at the moment, which was, I guess middle-aged punk rocker.
It’s got some Minutemen elements, but I did some things to try and fight that, because I owe it to D. Boon and Georgie [Hurley] not to rip off my own band. I wrote it all on one of D. Boon’s Telecasters, and then I wouldn’t let Tom or Raul hear the bass or the singing until after they recorded. You know, you can do things with records you can’t really do with gigs. You can’t tell somebody at a gig to wait a year for the bass.
One thing that might not be apparent, that I used for an image or an influence, was the Wizard of Oz. I was just tripping on Dorothy … her just looking at what guys do to be guys. I think that’s kind of a fundamental thing about this so-called midlife crisis. You that’s what guys are about, always trying to be validated. Guys can be flying-monkey-man, they can be munchkin-man, they can be behind-the-curtain man. Remember that part were he goes, “Where I come from you get a medal you’re brave. If you’re smart you get a diploma …” What he’s trying to say is, we’re letting other things validate us. And I think that’s the thing about middle age that’s kind of good. You finally say, I’m gonna start making some of these decisions myself. And I just thought it was an interesting place.
I also wanted it to be different from the other two operas. I didn’t want it to have a beginning, middle and end. It’s all supposed to be happening at the same time, but I can’t play it all at the same time—that would be very short and difficult to do. But I wanted to do that in some way, like a wheel, without a beginning, middle and end.
And when you do it live, you do the whole thing straight-through, right?
Yeah, it’s one song with 30 parts, and each of those has three, four, five parts to it, so almost a couple hundred parts [all together]. I mean, it’s hard to remember, but we really know it well now.
So we’ll do all that, and then we have some songs for encore that I’ve never played for people before, so that’ll be a little different.
You reunited with fIREHOSE for some shows this year. Any chance you guys will do more together, maybe record some new stuff?
The problem Edward [Crawford] lives in Pittsburgh. So no plans now. But maybe.
I hadn’t played those songs in 18 years, and I don’t really play like that anymore. But I think it was good training. Kind of difficult. I locked in really hard with Georgie. There were people there from those days, you could tell, people who went to Firehose gigs. So in a way it was a little bit Potsy and Fonzie. Not totally reliving the old days, … but it was about that time in their lives, when fIREHOSE was playing and they went to those gigs. It’s a piece of their life. It’s a piece of my life, too, and that was a difficult time for me, especially at the beginning. Edward had a lot of chutzpah, which helped a lot. Because I was coming from a bad place. So I felt I owed it to him. But man, it was a little difficult to play some of that music.
And The Stooges …
Stooges is a little different, ’cause there’s hardly anybody there The Stooges’ age. In fact I’m the youngest in the band (laughs). And it’s young people checking out the band—same reason I would be, because it’s just so critical to our scene. We wouldn’t even have a punk scene without The Stooges. In a way, I’m going to the gig too. It’s amazing to me, even after 9 and a half years, they still go by, like, in five minutes. Those songs, they’re timeless. It’s a very interesting classroom. It’s really helped me become a better bass player. Just the whole thing. They’re all very interesting guys. And it’s beautiful.
And when you think back on the Minutemen …
I got into music to be with my friend. That was the idea right there. Remember when I was talking about learning and sh*t, well, the hardest lesson is losing people. … I don’t know how to philosophically put it, except you’ve gotta try hard. I owe it to D. Boon. I owe it to the movement. I can’t take anything for granted. Just keep driving and pushing and try to put as much fire in it as he did.
(Quietly) You know, I ask him about so much stuff all the time. But, yeah, he don’t answer. I guess he wants me to think about it.