Mike Watt tackles being a middle-aged punk rocker on Hyphenated-Man
:: Mike Watt and the Missingmen ::
By Jonathan Gang
The bass has taken Mike Watt a long, long way. Coming from humble beginnings in San Pedro childhood friend and partner in punk rock legends the Minutemen along with D. Boon, Watt has steadily risen to the status of a veritable underground music godfather. He has played with a laundry list of punk and alternative music royalty —including a current eight-year stint as the bass player for punk progenitors the Stooges, and a recent gig contributing the bass lines to several tracks on a Kelly Clarkson record. In addition to his extensive body of work as a sideman, however, the Man from Pedro has maintained a steady solo career, including a trilogy of “punk rock operas,” the third of which, Hyphenated-Man, was released in the United States on March 1.
Watt, speaking in his unusually unique style of conversation that has become lovingly known by fans as “Wattspeak,” was up front and frank about the accessibility of his latest opus in a recent chat with The Marquee. “It’s kind of weird,” Watt said. “It’s basically one big song made out of thirty little parts. It’s different from the previous two [operas]in that with those I was talking about something that had happened, the first one about the story of the Minutemen, the second one about my illness [Watt was almost killed by an infection in 2000]. This one is really supposed to be about me right now, a kind of confrontation with myself for meditating on my life. This is a really trippy place I’m in right now, you know? I never thought about being a middle-aged punk rocker. So I thought, man, I should write a piece about this place, and if it’s got any kind of message, maybe it’s, ‘Everybody’s got something to teach you, and I’m just here to learn,’” he said.
Watt’s journey to the “trippy place” of being a middle-aged punk rocker began in the late ’70s when the bassist was a young teen. “[Minutemen guitarist] D. Boon’s mom put me onto the bass initially,” he said. “I didn’t even know what it was, I just saw it had bigger strings than a guitar.” After learning their respective instruments together, Watt, Boon, and drummer George Hurley, would forge a legacy of music that looked far beyond its punk rock roots into progressive jazz, folk, and classic rock territory in the Minutemen. “In the ’70s, we didn’t even think punk was a style of music,” said Watt. “We thought it was more of a state of mind. When we first heard jazz, we thought those guys were doing punk, we just thought they were older. The music sounded so wild, we thought it must be punk, too. We figured that music’s just rhythm and notes, and the whole genre thing is just limiting.”
The group’s influence in the alternative music community has long outlasted the five years the band was officially together, their career cut short after the tragic death of Boon in a car accident.
Following the death of his bandmate and best friend, Watt briefly found himself lost, before finding solace in a long list of musical projects, including his post-Minutemen band fIREHOSE, the all-bass duo Dos with Black Flag bassist and ex-wife Kira Roessler, the punk/jazz quartet Banyan with members of Wilco and Jane’s Addiction, and countless one-offs and solo projects that continue expanding to this day. “I got into music to be with my friend, then he got killed, and I just kept going,” Watt said. “It was very difficult, especially at first, and I really have to give credit to the people that I’ve played with for being very kind to me along the way. I try to not take any of [my success]for granted, not to be a princess about it.”
Despite Watt’s long list of high-profile collaborators, his biggest gig to date came in 2003, when he became a full-time member of the Stooges. “Every time I play with them it’s a mind-blow,” said an obviously reverent Watt. “I just love that music so much. The Stooges were such an influence in the old days, it’s really trippy having been with them for longer than I was in the Minutemen, longer than I was in fIREHOSE.”
In addition to his new opera and his other commitments, Watt recently formed his own label, Clenched Wrench Records, to deal with the extreme amounts of material the always-busy bassist is constantly producing. “I’ve got a buttload of shit on the way, like maybe twelve or thirteen things. A lot of collaborations with different people. But [Hyphenated-Man] is gonna be the first thing coming out,” said Watt.
Throughout his over 30 year career, Watt, has played with countless musicians across a mind-bending array of genres. However, a common thread remains the wild, exploratory freedom that the bassist brings to every project, whether as a bandleader or sideman. It’s a philosophy deeply rooted in the punk scene he came up in. “People ask me what’s wrong with music nowadays, and I say the only thing that’s wrong is the whole genre thing, because it limits things too much,” he said. “So my idea of punk is kinda throwing stuff, weird stuff, together just to be weird. It’s about not being so filtered. It’s not really just playing fast with guitars, I mean, they do that with jazz fusion music, it’s just more notes. So there’s all sorts of different ways [to be punk]and they’re all OK. In fact, that’s what makes things interesting.”
:: Mike Watt and the Missingmen ::
:: Larimer Lounge :: April 22 ::
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