Mike Watt: Avant-Garde Rocker Stays Real Busy

Mike Watt performing with fIREHOSE at Crescent Ballroom in April, 2012.
Mike Watt performing with fIREHOSE at Crescent Ballroom in April, 2012.
Melissa Fossum

Mike Watt answers the phone the same way he plays music and jumps into creative endeavors: without hesitation.

"Watt!" he bellows, and within a moment he's off, sharing details of his creative process, and detailing his multitude of projects.

See also: Bassist Mike Watt Reps Blue-Collar Ethos See also: fIREHOSE @ Crescent Ballroom, 4/17/12 See also: fIREHOSE's Ed Crawford: "It Was Our Job. We Fuckin' Showed Up Every Day."

His bass playing is legendary, known for his work with the Minutemen, the reformed Stooges, and his combo The Missingmen, the trio that recorded his opera, hyphenated-man, comprising 30 short songs inspired by the fantastical creatures of Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch.

"Yeah, I've got a lot of things going," says the prolific post-punk multitasker. We chatted in advance of tonight's show at Crescent Ballroom.

Up on the Sun: I caught the fIREHOSE show at Crescent Ballroom earlier this year. You guys sounded great.

Mike Watt: It was difficult. I hadn't played those songs in a long time, with Ed [Crawford, drums] and [George] Hurley [guitar]. It was difficult, but that changed the way I played those songs. It was a good mission.

We talked with George about the reunion shows. He seemed excited and not all that nervous about doing fIREHOSE shows again. But it was a challenge for you in some ways?

I don't really play bass like that anymore. But it's always good to go back -- it was a little while ago -- but it's good to re-learn you own stuff, to try and play it again with the old bandmates. Yeah, that's good training. When you get ready to play a gig, you're actually getting ready to play the next gig.

You guys seemed to be having a lot of fun. You played with M.Ward, which some folks found a surprising pairing, but you got up and played with him, and I thought it sounded great.

Yeah, he told me he was into fIREHOSE when he was growing up and learning to play. He's a great musician, and a really nice guy. I think we did 3 or 4 shows with him. We did Flagstaff up in your state, and Southern California also. I liked playing with him. I had a lot of eye contact with Georgie. I was trying to play tight with him. I hadn't played with him in forever. He picked the songs, and he kinda went in order.

Did you guys discuss the idea of doing more work?

We got together two weeks before, which was kind of tough, because when he sang those two weeks, by the time we got to the gigs, he was kind of hoarse. It was the toughest on Edward -- me, some, but Edward, physically, because we had to do all that practice.

[But] I've got many different projects. I'm getting songs ready for this thing I'm going to do with Nels Cline [Wilco] and Greg [Saunier] from Deerhoof, along with this guitar guy from a Sacktown [Sacramento] band called Tera Melos, Nick [Reinhart]. Nick just wanted to play with Nels Cline, you know? Guy's an amazing musician. So we just gotta organize that. There's an album I have to mix that's recorded with Nels, the new Black Gang record. That will be out soon. I've got one last tour with this third opera, with the Missingmen, and then I'm going to start on a band with my second band, the band I put together for my second opera, two Pedro guys. They're longshoremen, it's going to be an album about work.

I got a lot of things. I'm going to make a second Hand to Man album. One came out a few months ago, here in December.

You keep incredibly busy. There's the Stooges stuff, too.

You've got to be pretty sharp on the bass. Practice a lot of songs. I've recorded on nine James Williamson songs, James is writing songs for Iggy, so I'm going to put some more bass on other ones he wrote. Those aren't my songs, but I'm kind of part of it. That's what I've been doing all summer: touring in Europe with the Stooges.Yeah, I've got a lot of things going. I've been trying to juggle as much as I can. I put my bass in different places, and maybe I keep growing, and keep learning, you know? That's the whole idea.  

Mike Watt performing with fIREHOSE at Crescent Ballroom in April, 2012.
Mike Watt performing with fIREHOSE at Crescent Ballroom in April, 2012.
Melissa Fossum

I recently finished 40 Watts to Nowhere, Sue Carpenters book about her pirate radio stations, KPBJ and KBLT. You did a show for her, which sort of started you into doing radio, correct?

Yeah, that's the first time I got to be a radio person, on that side of the microphone. KBLT, the underground FM station in Silver Lake. I countinued after the government shut them down finally. I do the same thing on the Internet, but I learned it from here.

The Mike Watt from Pedro Show.

I've done it for 11 years now. They're all archived there. I try to do it once a week. I even do it on tour now.

Like the music you play, it's fairly all over the map. No format.

I don't usually play commercial stuff. It's usually stuff people give me. There's a lot of people making independent music out there. I find it interesting.

Seems that listners do too. In general, radio programmers don't give listeners enough credit for wanting to hear new and exciting things. Do listeners respond to that creative, freeform presentation?

Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. It's very young people, too, it's not just old guys like me [laughs]. There's a lot of those [DIY] ethics. I came out of arena rock. You know don't until you get turned onto the punk scene. What I found about "the scene," [is that it] wasn't really a style of music, it was more of a state of mind. You had very interesting people who liked all kinds of different music. They turned me on to all kinds of stuff. [Raymond] Pettibon turned me on to Coltrane. That's one constant thing I do on the show, I start it off with a Coltrane song.

As punk become more packaged, it became less about that freedom.

Oh yeah, that marketing. People do this. They get all orthodox about stuff, no matter what the original intention was. Humans have a kind of herd nature they give into. Sometimes they react against it, though.

You seem to really relish defying conventions.

For me, that's part of the movement. The tradition that developed right after high school. Other people come on into it in their lives, and I'm happy for it. It's hard to push on people. They have to find their own way around it. By example, I try and put out a bunch of different sounds because that's what I enjoy.

Mike Watt and The Missingmen are scheduled to perform Friday, November 2, at Crescent Ballroom.

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