Shootin' 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.” ‘Nough said.

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' extraterrestrial encounters.

SM: 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 quote?

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.

SM: 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.

SM: 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.

SM: 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 now?

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 it on.

SM: 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 different gigs.

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 doing.

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