Mike Watt – [Discography]

Mike Watt – [Discography]

Monday, 07 December 2009

It has been said just often enough at this point that it could be taken as gospel: “Necessity is the mother of invention” but no one truly revels in that sentiment more than Mike Watt. First as the bass player for The Minutemen and then as the bassist in fIREHOSE, Watt helped to usher in a new approach to his instrument both in the context of punk rock and rock n’ roll in general. While other players of the same time period were developing new but formulaic forms of funk or perfecting the elementary hardcore thunder-thud, Watt was the first to present a new, melodic and expressive voice for an instrument that was chained to a strictly rhythmic capacity; Watt himself remembers when the bass spot in a band was where they’d put “the lame kid” that wasn’t particularly very good, but he’d always show up to practice on time. Watt was the forefather for an all-new breed of bass player and paved the way for others including Flea, Les Claypool, Mike Dirnt, Eric Avery and Matt Freeman among others that offered sounds integral to the designs and sounds of their respective bands and forced the instrument up into a whole new level of visibility; Larry Graham may have helped to elevate funk to a new level, but Mike Watt did more than just change the game where punk rock bass playing was concerned, he made it into an all-new and different sport. Even now, Watt’s presence is felt in every corned of the punk and pop music spectrums.

That’s getting ahead of it all though—two thirds of Watt’s history almost didn’t happen. On December 23, 1985, Minutemen guitarist, singer and Mike Watt’s best friend D. Boon died in a car accident. D. Boon’s passing was a devastating event to Watt and, for a short time, Watt considered quitting music completely until guitarist and Minutemen fan Ed Crawford travelled across the country from Ohio to Watt’s beloved hometown of San Pedro, CA in 1986 to convince the bassist and drummer George Hurley to start a new band. fIREHOSE was the fruit of that convincing and, until 1995, the band was Watt’s main squeeze (above guest spots with bands including Sonic Youth—who re-christened themselves as Ciccone Youth for the one album on which Watt played bass) and got him further exposed and the success of the band further cemented his place in the pop cultural eye.

When that band ended though, Mike Watt found himself at an impasse. With no band beside him and no player in front of him either, the field was wide open for the bassist to further develop his own voice. By 1995, the “other” solo project he’d begun with former Black Flag bassist/ex-wife Kira Roessler [who also did the artwork for Ball-Hog Or Tugboat? –ed] called Dos—to reflect the band’s ‘two basses only’ personnel status—was already an established and respected outlet, but Watt wanted more. By the bassist’s own admission, he liked playing in trios (and continues to) so he started working with some of the friends he’d made over the years on new music. As time has passed, he’s produced three albums of material that is firmly entrenched in his own life experience, interests and musical theories. In so doing, Mike Watt has forever blown the possibilities for punk rock as a dramatic medium wide open. Watt’s experiments marked the appearance of the first ‘operas’ produced within a form (punk rock) that has historically shied away from such bombast and high concept; in effect, Watt was the one that made it safe for Green Day to create American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown and garner heartfelt praise from the punk community rather than cries that the band had forgotten itself or its position creatively. The same could be said for albums like The Offspring’s Americana or even Artwork by The Used. Watt was brave enough to make his personal life and history a part of the public domain and, in so doing, totally re-established the parameters and values of punk rock as an artistic style and form.

“Yet still,” as so many of the uninitiated are no doubt saying as they read this examination of Mike Watt’s recorded output, “just three albums in almost fifteen years? Such an output doesn’t imply a diligent or prolific output at all—what’s the big deal?”
Without meaning to sound petulant, those three are just the albums released under Watt’s own name. In addition to those three albums, the bassist has leant his talents to a dramatic number of wildly varied artists since going solo (everyone from Porno For Pyros to Book Of Knots to Kelly Clarkson) in addition to extra-curricular activities like paying in the reformed Stooges until the untimely passing of Ron Asheton once again cast the future of that band into question. On top of that, Watt has joined a few bands when the music has interested him including Steven Perkins’ Banyan as well as putting together new bands as the nature and style of the music he’s writing requires, like Black Gang with Nels Cline or The Secondmen with Pete Mazich, Jerry Trebotic and, most recently, Raul Morales. Needless to say, it’s not for nothing that when a conversation with Greg Dulli turns to Watt, he’s been in an obvious state of awe:

“Mike Watt’s a freak of nature! [laughing]. I’ve been on his emailing list for years and known Mike since he snuck me into a Minutemen show when I was a kid. I wasn’t old enough to get in. If anyone ever asked me to define rock n’ roll, I’d just tell them to go to San Pedro and fuckin’ look up Mike Watt. Because that’s fuckin’ rock n’ roll right there dude. He plays every night! And he also has time to go on, like, a twenty-five mile bike ride every day and then get in a kayak and paddle out, and then write forty-five thousand words a night, go write a couple of songs, play three shows in three different counties… He’s a freak! But god, I love him man — how can you not love Mike Watt?”

He’s not alone. The list of musicians that know and respect Mike Watt could fill a phone book and knows no generic boundary. In addition, Watt has shared the stage with a who’s who of talent, some of whom are too young to remember the glory days of The Minutemen but jump at the offer to share a bill with Watt—be it as a support act for him or to have him support them. That is the sort of respect that Mike Watt commands.

…And yet, the bassist may very well be the most down-to-earth player in existence too; which is part of the reason why this examination of Watt’s output takes the form it does. Always personable and talkative, when the possibility for a discography review of the bassist’s work came together, the bassist was thrilled at the idea of the undertaking. Because his debut solo record was affectionately coined as being a ‘wrestling record’ due to the fact that it pitted a succession of musicians against Watt on seventeen of his own songs to see what kind of results would come, why not do a ‘wrestling review’ that sets critical analysis against the actual artistic intentions of the auteur? The idea was a provocative one for everyone involved, so we ran with it. In effect, what readers get is both sides of the coin; the view from the outside looking in and the self-reflexive view from the inside looking out as well as the nuts and bolts of what holds the whole thing together. It’s two points of view and, as such, readers have the luxury of taking it all in from all the available angles. I’ll get my licks in and offer the critic’s impression but, even better, the final word will be Watt’s every time.
Ball-Hog Or Tugboat?
?(Columbia/Sony Music Entertainment, 1995)??
After so many years (fourteen in total) of playing prodigious sideman to both D. Boon in The Minutemen and Ed Crawford in fIREHOSE, when the announcement came down that Mike Watt would be releasing a solo album, the interest of even passing fans of either band was instantly piqued. Sure—bass players had been known to have critically revered solo projects before (just look at Paul McCartney and Don Henley) but most more of them were patron of pop music; even after the alt-rock explosion of the early Nineties, it was unusual for a bass player to step up front—unless of course your name was Les Claypool or Lou Barlow. It just didn’t happen often that a bass player had the sand to take a turn at creative control—no matter how well-tested the player was. The uninitiated may have been skeptical, they may have been curious, they may have been excited at the prospect—but one thing is certain:they didn’t see the material or the form of it coming when they bought Ball-Hog Or Tugboat???Characterized in the original press release that accompanied copies of the album shipped to press as “A publicist’s wet dream,” Watt comes backed by a cast of fifty (so says the album cover, Watt maintains it was forty-eight) all-star players—many of whom remain regarded as royalty in alternative rock— who all volunteered their services when the bassist put out the call; members of Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Soul Asylum, Pearl Jam, The Germs, Black Flag, Jane’s Addiction, Dinosaur Jr., Meat Puppets, Bikini Kill, Beastie Boys, The Lemonheads and more all chip in, even for as little as a single song. While such a bill is obviously a very, very cool attention-getter, the double-edge to the sword that comes with such a staggering (and staggeringly varied—in sound and style) cast of characters is that no two songs on Ball-Hog Or Tugboat? sound even passably similar, thus diffusing the record. It’s difficult to nail down which direction the album is going in if one only samples a selection of songs (say “Big Train,” “Against the 70’s,” “Forever—One Reporter’s Opinion” and the cover of George Clinton’s “Maggot Brain” for example) but, if one looks past the stylistic shifts and pays attention to Watt in particular, the dots begin to connect regarding what’s at work on Ball-Hog Or Tugboat???In a less than obvious way, Watt is definitely calling the shots here, but he’s also holding a very loose leash in order to coax the best possible performances from his assistants; he guides—but does not rule —with an iron fist, and that’s the single most obvious reason why Ball-Hog Or Tugboat? sounds the way it does. After the opening ease-in and bass slide of “Big Train,” the track sprays into an expansive rave-up that includes pedal steel guitar, banjo and every other accoutrement a listener could imagine and all shipped to listeners as a solid mass presided over by Watt’s folksy baritone.??It’s not punk rock exactly, but it isn’t exactly any other genre by the numbers either; it rests in a sub-cult all unto itself. It’s fun—it’s a party as everyone involved cuts loose — but there’s no easy way to qualify what you’re hearing.??

What it is remains an open question, too. As “Against The 70’s” changes gears, Watt relinquishes the microphone to Eddie Vedder for three minutes and twenty-seven seconds, rocks out in a form that Pearl Jam would further explore later on No Code, and lambastes the notion of continuity in the best possible way. The contrasts between “Big Train” and “Against The 70’s” alone are enough to leave listeners wondering what could possibly be coming next (even the timbres of Watt’s own bass on the two songs are worlds apart) and it only gets more unusual when Carla Bozulich steals the mic for some Jane’s Addiction-esque lounge acting on “Drove Up From Pedro.”??Outside of Watt and the fact that he does play bass on each of Ball-Hog Or Tugboat’s seventeen tracks (the bassist himself only sings or spiels on four), there is no tie that binds exactly yet, in a very intangible way, the songs do interlock together—but it takes some digging to decide how that is achieved. Watt did not write all the lyrics (contributors in that regard include Thurston Moore, Henry Rollins and Joe Carducci) and can only be found playing bass on every track as well as manning production duties, but there is no doubt that it is still HIS album; it showcases a unique voice and vibe foreign to any and all of the other contributors involved, which can only leave one mastermind. Each track on the album is tight and meticulously locked down—even when Henry Rollins spits all over “Sexual Military Dynamics” (oddly, the track that’s closest to sounding like a Minutemen song) and Mike D. turns “E-Ticket Ride” into a quasi-Island jam and never loses the same enduring spirit which, while it’s never made perfectly explicit, listeners begin to assume is Watt’s; he is, after all, the man in the chair.??There’s no arguing that, in the most conventional of terms, Ball-Hog Or Tugboat? is not the greatest exposition of Mike Watt’ faculties as a frontman because he’s only actually upfront about twenty-five percent of the time—by the same token though, it is a fantastic starting point because it illustrates what the bassist is about; the songs and the ideas behind them are the things here, and there isn’t a weak one in the bunch. With Ball-Hog Or Tugboat?, Mike Watt illustrates that he is a captivating mastermind of music.??“The Ball-Hog thing was a freak out,” explains Watt on the intentions of Ball-Hog Or Tugboat? “It was right after fIREHOSE and so I thought, well I don’t want no band, so how about fourteen different bands? A band for each song and my theory was that if the bass player knew the song, then anybody could play with me [chuckling]. I thought the bass was that strong but it was just a theory so I wanted to try it out and, for most of those songs, the cats that played didn’t come out and practice or anything, we just did it right there in the moment at the studio. A couple of them — like the ones I did with Nels — were practiced, but songs like “One Reporter’s Opinion” and “Drove Up From Pedro” were just thrown together right there in the studio. It was the test of a theory: if the bass player knows the song, can anybody get on board and let the freak flag fly? That was my intention and it was kind of hard to do—getting all the people together and stuff was tricky—but watching some of those guys improvise was really, really cool. Bass guitar is a great position to be in in the classroom of music; you want to make the situations challenging enough that you’re learning something about it every time and you’re not just doing the I Love Lucy re-runs trip and work it out by rote to a formula. That’s not as interesting to me.??“I’ve actually been thinking about doing another Ball-Hog record sort of like that,” continues the bassist. “I want to go to Cleveland with some songs and just play with Cleveland musicians sort of like I did with Ball-Hog Or Tugboat? where they don’t know the songs or anything and I just go into town and find some guys and lay it down. Now, Perkins’ band Banyan is sort of thrown together like that without practicing so I’ve had that experience a few times, and then there are the situations where you do practice but you still mix it up and keep the shit interesting. Every time, I just hope I’ll learn something; that’s the whole goal in life I think—to keep in learning mode. I’ve always got something to learn—I said that when Bass Player Magazine gave me that award for lifetime achievement—and offered the allegory of it all being like a flannel shirt; through life and the things you learn in it as well as your instrument and the things you learn on that, they’re all new threads that you weave together and eventually have a pattern.??“The richer the experience and the more you learn, the richer the pattern.”

??Selected list of albums on which Mike Watt appears between 1995 and 1997:
?Porno For Pyros — Good God’s Urge (1996)?
Dos — Justemente Tres (1996)?
Lil’ Pit—Lil’ Pit (1997)??

Contemplating The Engine Room?
(Columbia/Sony Music Entertainment, 1997)
??With Ball-Hog Or Tugboat, Mike Watt had successfully orchestrated his return to active duty and made an indelible mark (even if listeners remained in the dark regarding what the mark might mean) on alt-rock. He’d come back and proven that the support of a major label wouldn’t dilute his vision but, even so, fans were still confused by Watt’s first solo album and had every right to be; it was totally outside the scope of perception for what a solo album should be and, at the time, no explanations were being offered. Was Watt’s intention to remain a sideman—even in his own solo outings? Was his ambition to be a conductor? The verdict remained out and questions needed answering. Some of those answers are offered with Contemplating The Engine Room, but the album also thickens both the plot of Mike Watt’s solo output as well as the bassist’s ambition because it is not just a first for him, it also marks the first time that anyone had ever attempted either a concept album or an opera in the (at that time) twenty-three years since punk rock had been established as a genre. Now think about what that means; no one had ever tried something like this in the punk idiom so, obviously, no one had ever pulled it off — and Mike Watt would probably be the first to admit that, when he and his friend D. Boon started playing music together, they felt that they needed to redefine everything according to their own terms; Watt laughs to this day at memories of believing that tuning an instrument was more a matter of personal taste regarding the tension of a string (“Oh, I like mine loose,” remembers the bassist with a laugh) and unnecessary extras like solos in a song were “bourgeois.” Keeping those beginnings in mind, that Watt was self-evolved to the point that he was aware what he was doing was something so grand and far-reaching as a “punk rock opera” is huge—even ignoring the connotations and history that the term implies, it’s worthy of respect. Contemplating The Engine Room wasn’t just an album, it was an event to mark time; the idea is absolutely epic.

??And there’s no doubt that Contemplating The Engine Room starts out with a monolithic intent as the stalking bass of “In The Engine Room” leads the charge. Now back in a power-trio format, (with The Black Gang, Nels Cline on guitar and Stephen Hodges on drums), Watt recalls his comfort zone but also takes the sound of it fifteen steps further as the bassist stomps and rocks these songs with a force as powerful and constant as the tide. This time out, the story behind the songs is everything and there’s no way to miss it; whether the song sways and shifts with the nautical references that dominate the album, thrills to the day-pass journeys of shore leave or just the wonder of exploring parts unknown with his crew, the one constant is always a sense of joy and camaraderie supplemented and cemented by the boisterous and almost whimsical instrumental musings of Cline and Hodges.??As it turns out (and Watt would say this later), Contemplating The Engine Room’s storyline is an allegorical dramatization of the days and nights that The Minutemen spent on the road touring, performing and honing their craft from 1980 to 1986. Watt drew parallels between the careers of his old bands, his father’s recollections of Navy life and the bassist’s own upbringing in San Pedro (harbor town) and set it all to song to tell the story of the people he loves dearly and, while some of the crewmen in the story had long since gone on extended shore leave by the time of Engine Room’s release, they’re recounted here with respect and admiration.??In addition to his growth as a songwriter, Watt’s style of playing is growing too; by turns and at different points during songs like “Black Gang Coffee,” “Topsiders,” “No One Says Old Man (To The Old Man)” and “In The bunk Room/Navy Wife” Watt loses any semblance of genre playing and the cliches associated with it and begins to pioneer an all-new approach to his instrument and its connection to his songwriting. Very melodic and more instrumental in setting the pace and mood of the songs rather than simply maintaining it, Watt’s bass conjures imagery and emotional states previously thought to be impossible for the bass (check out “Liberty Calls” and bask for a moment in the light of it) but illustrated beautifully here.??As the story finally lets out with the fading denouement of “Shore Duty,” listeners will again be left wondering what they’ve just witnessed. Prior to this point in New Rock history, no player had ever attempted to re-think the boundaries and instrumental roles in the way this album does and, as the last song begins to fade into oblivion and the bass line of “In The Engine Room” begins to creep back in to turn Contemplating The Engine Room into an expansive song cycle—more than just a punk rock opera—Watt seals his own fate in the ledgers of both punk rock and music in general. By the end of this album, the musician in charge is no longer simply a punk rocker, nor is he just a bass player; after Contemplating The Engine Room, Mike Watt would rightly be regarded as an artist of music.??“I never really dealt with D. Boon getting killed or my father getting killed,” confesses Watt on this inspiration that yielded Contemplating The Engine Room. “Actually, I was on tour with Porno For Pyros in Pittsburgh and it was early in the morning and I was just walking around. As I was walking, I found this little used book store and they had a copy of The Sand Pebbles by Richard McKenna in there. I didn’t know it was a book! It was a movie with Steve McQueen made in ’66 and it was me and D. Boon’s favorite movie, so I bought it. As I was reading it, and it’s like, “Goddamn! This cat knows what it’s like!” My father was a chief in the navy for twenty years and it turns out that it was the only book that Richard McKenna ever wrote and he was also a chief in the engine room. I kind of knew it because of the way it was written. There was another book too that had been heavy on me since as far back as Double Nickels On The Dime and that was Ulysses by James Joyce. Those two books were important, but there’s another influence to that album too and it was Perry. That was the first time I ever really helped another band and the first time I’d ever worked with a frontman — you know, who didn’t also operate a machine. When Perry teaches you a song, he tells you the story of it so that’s what I thought I’d do; I’d tell a story. More specifically, I’d tell my story and use my father’s life in the navy as a metaphor; and I’m going to put the whole life of The Minutemen in one day with all of us in the Engine Room—Georgie as the fireman, D. Boon as Boilerman and I’ll be the machinist mate like my father was. Those are the three basic guys that you need to run an engine room, and that was sort of where it started; a lot of the ideas on that record didn’t start out as musical ones. That was a lot like how The Minutemen wrote songs too; Minutemen songs would start with other kinds of ideas. Because of that, a lot of it was inspired by D. Boon. We talked a lot about political ideas in music—things we never thought of as boys going to arena rock gigs. I come from the school of tiny songs; I never thought I’d write one big song but that’s where I was in my life, and that’s why I did it.??“That had a little to do with Joyce too,” exclaims the bassist. “Because his style keeps changing all the way through Ulysses. The characters in that book are on a journey and he keeps changing the styles to reflect that and push the story along and I thought that was such a cool idea, I wanted it for my opera. That’s how I explained it to Hodges and Nels in the studio—like we were on this boat. My father said to me once when the touring started happening and I started sending him postcards from the road—because he didn’t really have musical people in his family other than me and he figured it was just the way I used to hang around with D. Boon—that I was like a sailor; traveling to all the ports like he did. I thought about that and I started to see the van like our own boat; the van is the center of the touring universe because that’s how we’d get to where we were going to play where people could see us. In a way, when D. Boon and I were first starting out, we divided the world into two quadrants: there was flyer and there was gigs. The gig was the most profound thing to us about punk: it was everything so it stood to reason that everything else you did was to get people to that gig—even the records were like flyers. That’s what punk made us do: it made us think about things like,”What is a band?” Well, a band is playing and the resolve to that is getting people to see it. Then later on — like right now with Pro Tools, I’ve never played a gig with them and they end up just recorded things. That came later though; I learned it originally by playing with D. Boon. Then I lose D. Boon — he gets killed — and that’s another huge, profound thing on me; so, in a way you asked me why I wrote Contemplating The Engine Room the way I did, the truth is that I had to. I had to. It was a part of me that needed to be dealt with and, in order to do that, it needed to be expressed. I was afraid to do it for a long time but then all these things started circling around it — Perry, Mr. Joyce’s book, Mr. McKenna’s book — and then again while we were making it with Nels and Hodges, even the people at Columbia! I mean, can you imagine going to the top of the AT&T building and sitting down with the head of the label like I did and telling him that I want to make an opera about three guys in a boat [laughing]. He looked at me and he said, “Do it!” He had a brother that drove truck or something and we talked about that and the work he did. That’s the funny thing: All you ever hear are the nightmares about big labels but the Columbia people were very good to me — they let me fly on all these crazy-ass things! I did eleven years with SST and ended up doing fourteen years with Columbia, and I never tried to push any phoney shit, just played what I played and never took tour support because I learned to jam econo — I got a lot of respect from those cats. I can’t imagine what he was thinking, but I went into the studio, I delivered the finished masters… they let me run even when they weren’t sure it would fly. In a weird way, they really helped me; it all went into the work and it turned out great! It’s not all Watt, I can’t imagine this turning out the way it did without having the people I met and worked with.”??

Selected list of albums on which Mike Watt appears between 1997 and 2004: ?
The Black Gang — This Is A Prayer (1998)
?Gov’t Mule — The Deep End Vol. 1 (2001, plays on “Effegy”)?
J Mascis and The Fog — The John Peel Sessions (2004)
?The Doers — I Can Enjoy Almost Anything (2004)??

?The Secondman’s Middle Stand?
(Columbia/Sony Music Entertainment)??
…And then, the terror of real life entered in. While Watt has always been an active contributor to other musical projects and bands, the fact that it took seven years for the bassist to follow-up Contemplating The Engine Room stands out as remarkably abnormal. Seven years is a staggering amount of time for any artist (but particularly Mike Watt) to leave between records so fans must have begun to wonder where the bassist was keeping himself or where he’d gone. In fact, when it did finally come out, The Secondman’s Middle Stand tells the story and leaves in all the gory details and tribulations. In 2000, Mike Watt was forced off the road, out of action and into a hospital bed with an abscess in his perineum. The ordeal nearly killed the bassist but, upon his return with a clean bill of health, he turned the terror into something positive with another rock opera that tells the story and expresses the near life-threatening peril he faced.

??In addition to a candid account of his hospitalization, on The Secondman’s Middle Stand, listeners are offered some insight into Watt’s working methodology. This time out (and, as it happens, this has been the case since the bassist first went solo—because Watt retires the songs from each album after its cycle is over), Watt has assembled a slightly different form of trio with Pete Mazich on organ and Jerry Trebotic (now Raul Morales, after Bass Player Magazine asked that the band be resurrected to play at Watt’s Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony) on drums and, once again, the difference between Middle Stand and Watt’s previous solo work is night and day. With Trebotic’s thunderous drums and the dramatic give-and-take between Watt’s own bass and Mazich’s organ (there are moments when the interaction between them is almost like a call-and-response) the conflict of Watt’s predicament is omni-present in these nine songs, but particularly in “Boilin’ Blazes,” “Burstedman” and “Pissbags And Tubing.”??The darkness is almost all-encompassing and all-consuming through the first two-thirds of the album as the bassist rages against his illness (the self-taunting come-ons of “Burstedman” are flabbergasting to listeners if they’re unaccustomed to hearing such a confrontational tone in the singer’s voice) and the band contrasts abrasive and atonal passages against more melodic ones to arrive at a harrowing enactment of fear and pain. Because each instrument is far more self-contained here, the additional space that gets opened up allows Watt to better develop and emote through his vocals too (the bassist flat-out bellows at points during this run time and whispers in others, all depending on the motion of the plot) and what listeners ultimately get from “Boilin’ Blazes” through the final healing of “Beltsandedman” is an emotional gauntlet to run that is equal parts fear, anger, pain and catharsis.??Of course, Watt does pull through and make it out alive in the end, and the elation is palpable in the twilight-running of the record. With his clean exit made, Watt fires back to form, stronger than ever through the exuberant blast of “The Angels Gate” and tempers that fire with the blissful happiness of “Pluckin,’ Peddlin’ and Paddlin’.” The album isn’t exactly a return to form, nor is it a gross departure from it; it’s simply an enactment of a desperate time which called for some changes to be made in order to articulate the stimuli but, with that altered state behind him, Watt begins to observe the world, renewed as “Pelicanman” fades out. There’s relief and contentment in the end that Watt shares with listeners and it is a truly beautiful and tranquil thing; this album is concrete proof that, sometimes, one has to go through hell in order to appreciate life. It worked for Watt — in the end, there’s no doubt he’s thrilled that he’s once again ready, willing and able to appreciate where he’s at.??“Well, I think everyone can tell that what happened with the Secondmen record was not planned,” says what, who still gets a little squeamish at the remembrance of the time and design of The Secondman’s Middle Stand. “The sickness came up and almost killed me. That was most definitely profound. I mean, I almost died from pnemonia at twenty-two but I got well and I never wrote a song about it. It happens to me at forty-two and I write a whole opera about it [laughing]!

??“Again, I went to the literature world and paralleled Dante’s Divine Comedy,” continues the bassist. “I had made a plan to play with a bass/organ/drum trio and I’d never really done that before, but they just seemed perfect for this. It’s different for me too, because they’re really long songs—the whole album’s only nine parts. They’re long songs, but that’s the way sickness is; it’s fucking long and time slows way down.”??

Selected list of albums on which Mike Watt appears between 2005 and 2009:
?Unknown Instructors — The Way Things Work (2005)
?The Stooges—Telluric Chaos (2005)?
Unknown Instructors—The Master’s Voice (2006)
?Estel—The bones of something (2006)?
The Stooges—The Weirdness (2007)?The Book Of Knots—Traineater (2007)?
Kelly Clarkson—My December (2007)?
Funanori—a tiny twofer (2007)
?Estel—untitled forthcoming album (2009)

???The Future:
??[Editor’s note: this interview pre-dates the sessions for Mike Watt’s forthcoming album with The Missingmen, The Hyphenated Man. The sessions for that album are complete, but no release date has been set as of this writing.]

??In regards to what might be coming down the pipe from Mike Watt in the future, the excitement builds in his tone as he lays out some ideas that have begun to come together, as well as some tentative ones. “I never thought I was going to write another one, but I came up with a third rock opera and it’s a lot different,” explains the bassist excitedly. “I noticed not too long ago that each of the records I’ve released previously have gotten smaller each time; like Engine Room has fifteen parts, but Middle Stand only has nine. The one I’ve been working on with Tom Watson and Raul Morales for The Missingmen is going back even earlier than that though. In some ways, it goes back to my Minutemen days; it’s made of thirty small parts.??

“We’re going to stop while we’re on tour and Tom, Raul and me are going to record it in New York City,” continues Watt. “It’s a lot different from the other two because there’s no beginning, middle or end. The first one was the story of The Minutemen, it had a very sad ending. The second one had a beginning, middle and end – the sickness was hell, the healing was purgatory and getting to ride my bike, paddle out and pound my bass was paradise. It was a happy ending—I didn’t die. This one here though, there’s no beginning, middle or end to it; I got inspired by the little drawings in Hieronymus Bosch paintings. I found out that those were little visualizations of aphorisms and proverbs, but I don’t know five hundred-year-old Dutch so I made up my own [chuckling]. Alongside of that was the idea of Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz and the sort of coming of age story I think it is; Dorothy’s figuring out life and there’s all these guys — the scarecrow, tin man and lion — that are going on this trip to prove they’re men. I thought it was dramatic enough to be an opera [chuckling].??”

The list of Watt’s endeavors doesn’t stop there though, with new opportunities come new inspirations and Watt has plenty of both. Without even pausing, Watt talks happily about some other projects in the works and other offers he’s been happy to take. “In addition to the stuff with The Missingmen, I’ve got The Secondmen going again and I’ve been playing gigs recently again with them,” hints the bassist. “I hadn’t played with them for nineteen months and then the editor of Bass Player Magazine asked for The Secondmen when they wanted to give me this lifetime achievement award so that’s how that picked up again. I’ve got another album planned for them too after The Missingmen one gets done; I want to do an album about work — something that I know D. Boon would be way into.??“I think I might be done with Columbia now though,” continues Watt. “I want to do indie records. I just think the whole thing has changed now and it’s back very much to how it was when we started; it’s a different field now with the way technology has gone but I also think that young people have become far more open to different music than they ever were before. It’s not the bad new days, I’m not going to piss and moan about them.??“Beyond all that too, I’ve been tied up in recording—I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. I’ve got cats sending me music and I don’t even know them you know? I just got some stuff from a guy in Holland; wants me to put spiel on one song and a fuzzy bass solo on the other. It’s interesting in a weird way; you don’t know these guys or where this music’s coming from so it’s a pretty interesting challenge. It’s something you can do nowadays that you couldn’t in the old days; you don’t know them, you don’t know where this music is coming from—you’re just feeling it out with your bass and it’s just another handle on it. You don’t have the same kind of connection at all, but music is music and it expresses itself in different ways and I like the challenge of it.” [Bill Adams]





Further Reading:
The Stooges’ Raw Power Deluxe Edition Reissue review on Ground Control.

The Stooges’ Raw Power Legacy Edition Reissue review on Ground Control.

?The Stooges albums are all available on Amazon. Buy them here .

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