The Breeze with Mike Watt
By: Luke Fretoluco
Sidebar by Hektor D. Esparza
History Lesson: Part I
Few bands can legitimately be considered important
to rock ‘n’ roll. But without exception,
The Minutemen left a lasting, indelible impression
on the world. As rock journalist Michael Azerrad writes
in his book Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from
the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, “Their
hard work and relentless, uncompromising pursuit of
their unique artistic vision have inspired countless
bands. ‘We didn’t want to be just a rock
band,’ says singer-bassist Mike Watt. We wanted
to be us - our band.’ In the process D. Boon,
George Hurley, and Watt proved that regular Joes could
make great art, a concept that reverberated throughout
indie rock ever after.” When the band broke
up after the tragic and untimely death of D. Boon,
Watt and Hurley went on to form fIREHOSE, yet another
remarkable band. Though today Mike Watt is known for
doing his own thing, many diehard punkers, record
store geeks, and skaters all over the world take great
satisfaction in digging up Minutemen and fIREHOSE
records. You can check out Wheels of Fire For Natas
Kaupus’ ahead-of- his-time skating to fIREHOSE,
or the Anti-Hero promo for music from The Minute Minutemen.
For the uninitiated check out fIREHOSE’s Fromohio.
Or from the Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime.
To quote from a song off that album, “History
Lesson Part (II),” “Me and Mike Watt played
for years / but punk rock changed our lives.”
It's been decades since the
heyday of both the Minutemen, and fIREHOSE, and yet
Mike Watt remains a volatile juggernaut of bass playing
ferocity. Having never been a player who rests on
root notes, or his laurels, Watt has managed to establish
a persona of punk cool that aint being offered at
Hot Topic. Watt managed to set aside a few minutes
from playing with the reformed Stooges to elaborate
on air borne spent condoms, the fleeting nature of
the Red Hot Chili Peppers' trousers, and J. Mascis'
So Mr. Watt, how are you?
MW: Well, I've been busy lately. I just was in Japan
with the Stooges, and then I was in England with the
Secondmen, my bass, organ, and drums trio. And for
the first time, I played the entire new album that
will be out August 7th, it's called "The Secondman's
Middle Stand." And that was at the “All
Tomorrow's Parties Festival” in England.
SM: In the spring of 1996, I read a quote of yours
in Rolling Stone that mentioned J. Mascis of Dinosaur
Jr. being abducted by aliens. Do you remember that
MW: That's what he told me. He told me he had a mark
on his leg too to show me, and that a light came down
but he doesn't remember a whole lot. But uh, he thinks
he was abducted. He's a great guy, he's very serious
too, and so I wouldn't doubt him. He's a little shy
too. He's going to come back out on the road; he's
got a band with Dave Skools from Widespread Panic.
I'm too busy for that now, but I was in the Fog for
a couple of tours. It's very interesting playing with
J. He's very loud.
SM: You recently came thru Vegas with the Red Hot
Chili Peppers, who also dedicated "Blood Sugar
Sex Magic" to you. Why can't those guys keep
their pants on?
MW: I go way back with those guys, you know their
second gig was opening up for the Minutemen, but I
think they just like getting wild.
SM: You toured with both Eddie Vedder, and Dave Grohl
on the 1995 Ball Hog tour, and they were in your backing
band. Did you ever have to reach back and smack the
ego out of anyone in that van?
MW: That was a trippy tour for me, cause I rode by
myself cause Ed was in Hovercraft and Dave was in
the Foo Fighters, and so they would ride in their
van. But it was cool. It was a trippy kind of situation,
a little bit of hype because of celebrity-itis, I
guess. But that had nothing to do with those guys;
it was just some people coming to the shows just to
see them. But I never had to smack anyone.
You'll be touring with Iggy and the Stooges through
June. Is Iggy laying off the broken glass and peanut
butter these days?
MW: Yeah, I'm gonna play some some countries I've
never played before like Greece, Serbia, and Portugal.
Even though it'll be my 52nd tour, there's always
new places to play. But Iggy isn't cutting himself
up, but he is doing stage dives and he's fifty-seven
years old this month. That dude, man, he's the bow
of the boat. He is something else. Sings his heart
out. He tells everybody you know, by the way he plays
things, does his thing that yeah, time is gonna try
and make you old but it doesn't have to make your
mind old. Yeah, he is incredible.
SM: Are the Stooges doing U.S. dates?
MW: Soon. Yeah, I mean you would dig it. It ain't
no fucking sleeper oldies act. And this is an intense
band. And with the Stooges you go right to the source.
SM: What are your thoughts on the nostalgia rock revival
we're seeing in music right now?
MW: Well the Darkness is obviously having some fun.
And you gotta understand when I was a kid they were
pushing “Happy Days” and American Graffiti
really hard. The idea of selling nostalgia is always
gonna be around. But just because that's going on
now doesn't mean it's a new scam, or hype. It's just
a retread. And I guess the seventies are back far
enough that you can be a little nostalgic, wear bellbottoms.
A lot of it's about fashion, and it’s funny
about the word fashion. In the word fashion, the root
word is fasha, which is face. And that's about it.
Its just surface. Shallow shit, you know? I think
every era has things to teach people, but you got
to kind of live in your own times too. So it's a mixed
bag like anything else. It's always easier to try
and reproduce the past though, than forge ahead and
invent new stuff.
SM: I caught one of your first shows after you were
hospitalized for a burst abscess in the perineum,
and I was amazed at the resilience of your playing
skills. You also managed to shed a noticeable amount
of weight as well.
MW: Yeah, but I was weak. I definitely don't recommend
the program. That was a hell ride. That's why I made
an album out of it. It's so intense. That's what the
new record is all about. But I thought the only real
way to get back was to jump on the horse and ride.
It was really strange. You know I started playing
at thirteen, D.Boon and me, and had never really stopped
until that sickness. You know I'm laying in bed with
tubes and I couldn't really play bass and when I went
to play again I couldn't do it. And it freaked me
out big time. It really freaked me out. So what I
started doing was playing Stooges songs, not a lot
of chord changes, you know, it's all about feel. And
I couldn't do scales. I couldn't do rhythm. I couldn't
do anything. I was really atrophied. Lost all the
muscles in my fingers. And so the Stooges actually
helped me get better. I never imagined I'd be playing
in the Stooges. I first heard them when I was sixteen
and its weird how they came back in my life, and really
helped me out. That music is timeless. I listen to
Funhouse and can't believe it was recorded in 1970.
I feel the same way about the first Clash record,
I think it's a classic.
MW: Yeah, that's the one I like, the green one.
SM: The Minutemen never got the chance to tour with
the Clash, did they?
MW: No, I never toured with them. But I saw them play.
D. Boon and me saw them play in Santa Monica with
the Dills, and Bo Diddley. They were great. It was
1979. D. Boon and me grew up with arena rock, and
what really tripped me out, I mean we were really
close, that's the great thing about punk gigs you
know. You can get right up close, even at the Santa
Monica Civic. And Joe Strummer's eyes weren't blood
shot. It was the first rock and roller that I saw
that didn't have blood shot eyes. That was a trip.
In fact, people were packed in so close I had to piss
bad, and pissed right there between everybody's legs,
and no one could really look down. It was shoulder
to shoulder, so I pissed right on the deck and no
one noticed. But I was kinda drunk too.
SM: It's been said that some of your most notorious
tours were in the early nineteen eighties where the
Minutemen were paired up with Black Flag, who were
being fronted by a then newly added Henry Rollins.
MW: Oh yeah, the first time the Minutemen went to
Europe and our first big U.S. tour was with Black
Flag. Not only with them, but also in the van with
them. All ten of us. So it was kind of cramped quarters,
but a lot of fun. Wild adventures. It was Henry Rollins'
second tour with Black Flag. They were so good. Yeah,
it was smoking. It was right when they were doing
the "Slip It In" songs. Henry writes all
about those days in the "Get In The Van"
book. One time we were playing in Vienna, and the
first note of the first song all the power goes out.
And it comes right back on and I'm covered with used
condoms. I had been hit in the face. And a couple
of kids were throwing paper bags of shit and vomit
up at us that would rip open when they hit the stage.
It was pretty intense. But still, like I said it was
an adventure. And for any hell there was, it was well
worth it. Yeah, I was laughing. I couldn't believe
what they would throw, hanging on my bass, on my chest.
It was gross.
I've read that you have an intense respect for skaters,
and have integrated some of the spirituality of skateboarding
into your own bass playing.
MW: Well, I never got to skate. I had knee surgery
in my early twenties. But skating really changed in
the seventies. When I was a kid a lot of dudes had
to ride these things sitting down, so you had to put
so much weight, and lower the center of gravity, and
stay on the sidewalk cause even the tinniest rock
would flip you. But I have so much respect for skaters.
In fact, when I'm playing my bass I'm pretending it's
a skateboard. I love the how when you're riding a
skateboard you don't just stand there. You gotta put
your whole body into it, and that's what I try to
do on the bass guitar. To me, skating is real individualistic
expression. You know what I mean? It doesn't take
a lot of money. You can do it anywhere, on any part
of the street. To me it's so natural. So I look up
to it. I'm inspired by it when I try to make music
on the bass. Cause it's all a human being and a machine.
And some machines lend so much to the individual person.
And I think the skateboard is one of them, and just
as much as the bass guitar.
SM: How did you go about assembling the roster of
people on "Ball Hog or Tugboat?" The liner
notes read like a who's who of alternative music icons,
with Eddie Vedder, Evan Dando, Flea, the Beasties,
etc. You should Ebay your Rolodex.
MW: Well you know, a record you can do stuff like
that. It's hard to fit forty guys into a van, but
in the studio what my plan was there was seventeen
songs, so to have seventeen different bands. And it
was a theory I had that if the bass player knew the
songs then anyone could come in and play guitar, or
sing, or play drums. So that's what you had. A lot
of those guys hadn't even heard the song. They'd come
in there, and then Iâd show them the tune, go
through it a few times, and then go to take. They're
all beautiful guys.
SM: What's your view of the political climate right
MW: It's pretty creepy. But I think people in their
gut can feel they're being had. But you gotta remember
the Minutemen were making music during Ronald Regan's
regime, so I'm kind of used to this. Things come in
cycles. And any farmer would tell you if you want
a good crop, use a lot of manure. So I say he's piling
So why aren't you running for president this time
around? You seem to be more in tune with the people,
than our current commander in chief.
MW: I'm probably better on bass; I mean we all got
SM: And finally, finish this Carpenter's lyric: What
the world needs now is...
MW: More righteous tunes. But it also needs a little
more humbleness and kindness towards each other, but
that would probably come from some more interesting
music. I don't know how exactly it's connected, but
I think it would help. It worked for me. You know,
like the Clash, some stuff just changes your life.
Gives you different perspectives. But you see a lot
of cats can't choose cause they don't know about all
the choices. So when the choices get out there, then
people can exercise their freedom a little more. It
ain't real freedom if you don't know what's out there.
SM: Well Mr. Watt, it was great talking to you, thanks
for the words.
MW: Oh, much respect to you. You asked me some great
things. Keep going. You know the knowing is in the