Reality Soldier: Mike Watt - Part Two

Minutemen legend speaks to ClashMusic
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You recorded the album in two separate sessions.
That’s what I mean. The other two did it in the middle of a tour, we took a few days off and they did their thing. Then a year later – when I had time, I was touring with The Stooges - I recorded my bass parts and the spiel. In fact just in June, about six months ago.

Was that designed to hark back to The Minutemen approach?
Yeah. The thing with D Boon was, I never had to teach him a song. I would play the bass and he would immediately come up with the parts – and vice versa. We had grown up together playing. You didn’t teach people how to play in The Minutemen. Me and him both taught Georgie, we would want him in it – the last album is called ‘Three Way Tie’. I still have that, even at gigs I have my drummers way up close to the stage I don’t put them in the back. I know we would have probably done that with The Minutemen, we just didn’t know about that. Too much tradition. But the idea of George Hurley in the back is insane. George Hurley is a guy who is right up there with you, his personality and style of playing music was perfect for The Minutemen. What were trying to do was create a successful dialogue, we weren’t trying to contrast hierarchy that we were used to. D Boon would say that it was political ideas that we were putting into the band. He was the guitarist, which was a thing in that arena rock stuff but he said: “No, no I’ll play treble and I want the bass and the drums to come up”. Make it more of like an egalitarian thing. That was very strong and it’s still strong in me.

Does that punk ideal still inform your music?
For one thing, it wasn’t a style of music – it was more of a state of mind. So in that way it can never get old. The style of music, we thought that was up to everybody doing it. Punk was this idea that if you don’t fit in try then something outside. That’s all it meant. It wasn’t really a music term in our time, it was a guy who got fucked in jail for cigarettes! It was such a weird thing to call music. But when we say it, and were going to gigs and shit it seemed that people were doing anything they wanted to get what was inside out. They didn’t let anything get in the way. Like being able to play, experience, or formal ideas. A lot of these dudes had incredible knowledge, I mean those cats were not stupid at all. They were incredibly interesting people. A little wacky but we were wacky. Everybody’s wacky, when they use words like normal and shit it just scares you! I’m not being abusive on people but it’s just this idea that people aren’t all the same.

How do you balance the punk ideals of The Stooges with avant garde recordings?
Well shit I don’t think there’d even be a punk scene without The Stooges I mean they’re the original daddies. Iggy has probably helped my bass playing more than anyone. It’s like he’s operating a machine, he’s this guy who is out the front acting like a conductor. He really gives me a good perspective. Those tunes are in me since I was a boy, so that music is such a fuckin’ trip on me to be able to play it. It’s not that hard of a balance in a way. Also the way he works a gig? Aw fuck man. It’s kind of like D Boon in that they do ‘em like it could be their last gig – no half way. It’s easy to get caught up in that shit. I was talking to his wife after a gig one night, and I said that if a giant garbage disposal opened up onstage after a gig then I would jump in their after him. I was just so caught up in it. The guy is like Captain Ahab. He gets drawn into the experience! He really does, he’s just a motivator. His approach to music is just totally where The Minutemen were at. Again it’s nothing to do with the style so much as the mentality.

It’s closer than you would think. Even though we’re from worlds apart – he comes from 60s music and we were only boys in the 60s. But there’s big resonances in the emotion and the intent. The guy is about integrity as far as music goes, so for me it’s not quite a stretch it’s almost like being in the same mindset. I do play a lot more fundamental, maybe more traditional bass player like role in The Stooges but that ain’t bad for me. Yeah I’ve had a lot of the other stuff and I continue to do the other stuff but life is all about taking turns. You can’t learn everything – The Stooges is one of the most excellent classrooms I’ve ever had the privilege of serving aboard. It really is, it’s like a classroom for me. I love it.

The other thing is that’s first-hand experience, they’re the original daddies – how many opportunities do you get like that? One of the most lucky things in my life getting to do that. I really can’t believe how it happened! It wasn’t like they put an ad out for a sideman, the way it happened was just such a trip. But it’s really added to my music. Playing with The Stooges – man, Scotty what a drummer. When Ronnie was in the band it just helped me a lot. So when I go to my guys and ask them to do stuff I think about what I’m asked to do in The Stooges. It’s actually part of an education program rather than balancing chores. It’s like this fuckin’ righteous thing for me – the tours seem like they’re five minutes long.

Did The Minutemen have a favourite Stooges album?
The first one we heard was ‘Fun House’. When we were young we thought it was one song – the same song done different ways. It was really wild! There was nothing like it. We thought that they had invented their own music. The only thing close to it was Captain Beefheart. In those days, for us. Sure enough, what are the two big bands from the old days? It’s those guys, Beefheart and The Stooges. We figured that they were already doing punk, they just didn’t give it a name yet. It was really all about going for it, letting your heart be a big part of it and not so much on all the technique shit. In some ways both those guys have a lot of tradition – they both know a lot about the blues. Iggy is about the blues – Beefheart too, singing like Howlin’ Wolf. So for all those guys they knew about experimentation too, but they didn’t want to be some kind of a museum piece. They wanted to be in the moment but they were not ignorant of before.

Mike Watt - Hyphenated Man is out now

Missed out on the first part of this interview? Check HERE y'all.

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