Mike Watt: Living Econo.

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Mike Watt is a living legend that tragically, far too few people know. His Wikipedia page is 16 pages long and growing. As one of the founding members of the legendary and highly influential 80’s punk rock trios, the Minutemen (1980-85), and an in-demand journeyman for bands from Porno for Pyros, Iggy and the Stooges, to the Meat Puppets, and as an accomplished solo artist and collaborator on a multitude of projects including Dos, Ciccone Youth, Saccharine Trust, Ball Hog or Tugboat?, Banyan and many, many more, Watt is punk rock’s pioneering poet laureate and standard bearer. Mike Watt speaks in a folksy, free form jazz-style, beat poet iambic pentameter. His indomitable spirit, voracious Saggitarian wanderlust, consummate musicianship, artistic output over four decades, and econo work ethic, make him the true heir to the moniker of the world’s most interesting man. I caught up with Mike Watt, on his home turf of San Pedro, just days before he hit the road with his pals, the Meat Puppets. The hour-plus conversation that ensued, was a rich journey and tapestry of true tales, life lessons imparted by childhood friend, guitarist, vocalist and Minutemen co-founder, the late D. Boon (died in a tragic auto accident on December 22nd, 1985), punk rock history lessons, and pearls of wisdom that go beyond bumper sticker sloganeering.

What is it about San Pedro that produces so many artists, musicians, architects, writers, and other creative people?

Politically, it’s part of LA and the mayor’s office is only 25 miles away. It’s kind of its own little world, but it’s also the biggest US port. I came here when I was nine and I have lived here for 50 years. You mentioned famous writers. Yeah, Charles Bukowski spent his last 14 years living here in the same boneyard where the navy housing was. D. Boon and I both lived there at one time. Bukowski’s wife Linda came to a few Minutemen shows and she’s still a friend and lives just a few blocks away. Pedro wasn’t his first town. He lived in LA proper and when he was looking for a new place, he thought Pedro didn’t have a lot of front to the city. He really liked that. Sharon Tate (famous actress, murder victim of Charles Manson’s Family), famous baseball players—Brian Harper, he was on the Cardinals (43 games, 1985) for a while and he was a grade behind me. I can’t really speak to why something like that happens. Harbors can be kind of cosmopolitan because you have got people coming through here. This is where I met D. Boon. I belong to the San Pedro Bay Historical Society and I’ve been here a little while. I think sometimes adopting a town is stronger than just coming from one. Someone once told me: “It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.”

I couldn’t live anywhere else in California except for maybe the desert. People are people, and I’m not trying to say (San)Pedro is better, but geography can make a difference. The first union I belonged to was Local 47. That was the IBEW, my first union. I was actually doing electrical. Oddly, St. Louis may have had the first local IBEW (founded 1897) and the first Musician’s Local Union. I think coming from those backgrounds in Pedro you don’t have to be worried, ashamed or embarrassed to be a working man. Mr. (Bernie) Sanders came here to talk to the longshoreman. People are human beings and they go through trends and fads and hopefully, this one (the election of Donald Trump) will blow over.

Did you know that you have one of the longest entries on Wikipedia for a musician? With so many projects, I think there were 24 pages and you’re still going.

I guess a lot of this started because a few more things are coming out soon. That’s one of the reasons I let a new thing come out. Boss Hog or Tugboat?, that’s when I really started playing with different people, like 48 different people (including Eddie Vedder, Dave Grohl, Stephen Perkins, Nels Cline, Curt Kirkwood, Henry Rollins, Flea, etc.) on that release. Sony Legacy found some more material from Ball-Hog or Tugboat? (Columbia Records, 1995) and is releasing it.
That’s where I started playing with different people. It’s not a solo record really because there are so many people on it.

Right after finishing that, I helped Porno for Pyros (Good God’s Urge, 1996, Warner Brothers) and then I got a gig with Saccharine Trust for a live album, World Broken. That was really the first time I had joined other bands or projects to help others I look back at it, of course, I got into music with D Boon, I did that other project right at the end of the Minutemen with Kira (Roessler, ex-Blag Flag, also Watt’s ex-wife)—Dos. She was in Black Flag and recently got an Oscar (sound editing for Mad Max: Fury Road) and I’m really proud of her. She has a neck injury, so she’s not playing as much. That was the first time I did a side project. No one ever expected what happened with the Minutemen and D Boon. And then all of a sudden, Ed from Ohio (real name Edward Crawford, guitarist, Firehose) shows up and I just kind of jumped back on the horse again playing with Georgie (George Hurley, drums for the Minutemen and Firehose) again. Edward was much different from D. Boon and it was also great playing with Georgie again.

After fIREHOSE, I just decided to put myself out there and try different paths. I didn’t always solicit. I got this trio in Italy (Il Sogno Del Marinaio, Watt, guitarist Stefano Pilla and drummer Andrea Belfi). I don’t chase things and I just put myself out there. I was complaining about reruns and kvetching. If you want to stay alive, stay learning. Situations are like classrooms. Get out of your comfort and safe zone. Grow and fall down. It’s less like a chair and a desk, and more like a skateboard. I learned three different ways of doing this band stuff—with the operas, I give directions. With the Stooges, I help with the Stooges music, and with the Italian guys, it’s a collaboration. It’s good to take on different roles. It’s a reflection of being human around other humans.

You’re a wandering, curious Sagittarius, aren’t you?

Yeah, I just had my 55th in December. The bad thing about having a birthday so close to Christmas, was they double up on the presents. Everyone got me Levi’s, but I was grateful for the Levi’s. You know the 501’s came from the two guys that were making tents. It’s like this shit we’re making tents out of we could make pants instead. (laughs) My pops was telling me about getting Levi’s in the 50’s. There weren’t a lot of lengths, so that’s why you see those photos of everyone rolling them up the legs. A lot of people were moving from the country into cities. They were moving off the farms. That’s what a redneck was. My dad said you wanted to keep your Levi’s dark. No one wanted faded Levi’s back then. So, my pop said they’d wipe them down with rags, but no washing. He said he could stand them up in a corner because they were so firm and thick. If your jeans were soft, you were a farm boy, not a city boy. That was a bad thing back in the 50’s.

Now, in the 70’s, there was Fonzi and “Happy Days.” My dad said to me: “Those weren’t happy days, boy.” He was 19 years old when I was born and a third-class Navy seaman making $90.00 a month. He was not a big fan of nostalgia. It’s kind of like our tour. We’re from those older days, but we’re not saying they were better. We’re not nostalgic. You can find out about music more now and you can run econo. The 70’s was kind of a narcissistic generation to me. People didn’t even listen to anything that was even five years old. I don’t like the condemnation of the present and airbrushing of the past. It’s kind of trippy to find out things like the guy (David Gates, Bread) that produced the first Captain Beefheart Record, was in Bread {laughs}.

Part of my background, I was born in 1957, and we were in the space race, Sputnik and what have you. We didn’t have URL’s, but we had these things called Encyclopedias-A-Z. My mom got them from some traveling encyclopedia salesman and they were called World Books. I think that curiosity is one disease we shouldn’t find a cure for. There should be no solution for creativity. The means are more accessible to more and more people. I’m into that, but I don’t like shortcuts to the truth.

I don’t hear many people mention Ciccone Youth anymore. What was that project like for you?

As far as a sea change in my life, when I lost D. Boon, I thought no one would want me really want to play with me or hear me play without him. Kira (Rossler, Watt’s ex-wife and bassist with Black Flag and Dos) was offered some internship at Yale in New Haven, so we had to drive there. While we were driving out, I dropped by NYC out while Sonic Youth was recording EVOL (Released 1986 on SST Records). They asked me to play bass on some song that Lee (Ranaldo, Sonic Youth guitarist) had written a poem, I think it was called “Into the Kingdom”. It was about a car wreck, too. They wanted me to play and I hadn’t played in a little while. Later, Thurston (Moore) wanted to throw some of my poems on there. I thought, OK, maybe I should keep playing. Let’s at least put a 45 out together and we’ll call it Ciccone Youth. You do a song and I’ll do a song. I made a demo to show Thurston I was serious. That demo actually ended up on an album. I was a bit surprised and slightly embarrassed. A lot of people ask me about that album and I’m really not that involved. It’s was really about Thurston (Moore). The Ciccone 45 was what was important. Lee plays lead guitar and Ethan James played the Linn Drums (electronic drums released in 1982). That was my first real return and getting back in the saddle, even though we never played gigs, it had big consequences. Ciccone Youth was singular. It had a big impact. I did “Burning Up.” (cover of Madonna hit) We had Greg Ginn (Black Flag guitarist and owner of influential 80’s indie label, SST Records) on lead guitar and do his thing. We did our things separately. Then they played to what I recorded. There’s a cover of a Kim Fowley song “Bubblegum” that only appeared on the single. I played Thurston my version. I went to Radio Tokyo (studio) in LA with Ethan James (LA record producer). I put on some drums and bass and Greg Ginn added his lead guitar at the end. Then, I sent those tapes to Lee to put his guitars on at the end. That was the single. What came out on the single was recorded by me first. In fact, if you listen, I have to sing the lyrics quietly. I was in my little apartment. We called it the man boat, there were lots of old sailors there. I had to be quiet. I couldn’t be too loud. It came out later, but it was actually recorded first. I’ve never really explained it too much. It’s not like I kept it secret.

After that, Edward from Ohio calls. I didn’t know it at the time, but you had to pay money to keep your name out of the phone book. Ed found my number and called me up. I told Georgie (George Hurley, drummer, Minutemen and fIREHOSE), “This young guy who plays trumpet, wants to play with us, but on guitar. I have to buy him a guitar and amp” and Georgie said OK. And 7 ½ years later, 20 tours and six or seven records (fIREHOSE), Ed helped me out a lot and Georgie, too.

Georgie and I recorded our parts like five years ago for another project called the Unknown Instructors. I’ve done three albums out with this poet out of Dan McGuire, out of Toledo, Ohio. a poet. We put this together with Joe. George Huley is on there, too. Instead of improvisation, the poet man wanted me to write actual tunes. Then J. Mascis (guitarist, vocalist, founder Dinosaur Jr.) ended up joining us. That’s coming out probably in the fall.

Oh, and I can’t forget this one—Big Walnuts Yonder is coming out, too. I have another thing coming out with Nels Cline (guitarist, Wilco, Nels Cline Trio, named 82nd Greatest Guitarist by Rolling Stone, 2011), Deer Hoofing. Things have consequences. It’s kinetic. That’s how all these things come together and that momentum leads to new opportunities. Just because this young man wanted to know about the guitarist on my first album. That’s how it all it came together. What I’m trying to show you, Doug, is things have consequences. You do something and it’s all kinetic. That’s how a lot of things come together. Things get a momentum of their own and they’re not just manufactured and lead to the O word-opportunities. And don’t forget the B word-birth. That’s the way I look at it. It’s because this young guy wanted to know about our first guitarist and it led to more albums. It kind of goes back to the traditions of John Coltrane, Miles (Davis) and jazz.

Part of this new thing Music and things are more “econo” now. Like, I can trade files with someone in Canada. I made an album with a young guy in Canada. I never met the guy and we made a whole album. You couldn’t do that in the old days. I had a skipper in those days—D. Boon.

There really isn’t any Stooges. He’s still playing some shows. He’s lost a lot of the guys he started with him. It hit him hard. I served. I was the youngest guy in the band. The Stooges were a big part. I like his work ethic. D Bone had that. It was a sea change in my life. John Montarri show. I put three bands together. Cherry Trump. Two rock operas. I’m using some stuff that goes back to the Minutemen and some Roky Ericson (Austin-based guitarist and founder of psychedelic pioneers, the 13th Floor Elevators) songs. I’m not bringing out a new record. Both bands realized their missions. I still want to play them. Here are some songs I wrote for you guys. Those where I’m at with those two. The Meat Puppets asked me. They’re old friends. We’re not going down some sentimental alley.

No one expected what happened with the Minutemen. After Firehose, I wanted to try different things.

Sometimes just putting yourself out there, helps, an Italian tour. I just put myself out there. Complaining about reruns. Sometimes we kvetch and wring our hands. Stay alive and learning. Maybe grow, maybe fall down. It’s not a desk and chair, it’s a skateboard.

We haven’t been killed. You can find out about music. Better days. 70’s was kind of narcissistic. We would never listen to a band from the 30’s. I don’t like the blanket condemnation.

When I was born, we were in the space race and Sputnik (Soviet first artificial Earth satellite launched in 1957). We didn’t have Wikipedia, but we had the encyclopedia. Curiosity is a disease that we shouldn’t find a cure for. There is no solution for creativity. I’m into making the means more available to more people. I don’t want any shortcuts around the truth, though.

Of all the projects you’ve been involved in, what was most rewarding and why?

Big Walnuts Yonder, Nels Cline, and The Young album. Things have consequences. That’s how it comes about. Things gain momentum of their own. Let’s use the O word—opportunity. It came to be a whole album. That’s a tradition that goes back to Coltrane. Things are more econo. You can trade files. Some guy in Canada made an album.

Who have you learned the most from?

Raymond Pettibone (famous underground artist). He was the first person that played me, John Coltrane. He took me to Yma Sumac, Little Jimmy Scott, Sam Rivers, Elvin Jones. He had a big impact on D. Boon, too. He and D. Boon were and still are big influences. He’s still a huge influence on my life. I don’t see him as much anymore because he lives in New York City. After D. Boon, he’s the one.

D. Boon was a painter, too. That’s how he signed his paintings and that’s how he got the name. He had great fingers and finesse even though he was a big guy. He never went to art school, but he was more of an artist than some other artists. I can see why I liked Raymond and D. Boon. Raymond graduated from UCLA when he was like 19 with a degree in economics. He’s got a big show coming up in Manhattan. Most artists in that racket have to die to achieve that. Raymond’s not much of a hustler, either. Sometimes life surprises you.

People I would play with like Nels Cline, the trios. Minutemen, Husker Duo, etc. There would not be any Double Nickels on The Dime (Minutemen, released 1984, SST Records) or Zen Arcade (Husker Du, 1984, SST). You didn’t want to copy your brothers, but we were all inspired by each other. We need peers. We’re not an island. I’m still big time influenced by cats doing music, doing the writing. I still like cats doing writing, music, poetry… Sometimes I feel like it’s sacred when writing, you can’t steal riffs like music. You can make a very original novel and not copy one word. Finnegan’s Wake is still a good book but hard to read. The nuts and bolts aren’t original, but it’s how you put it together.

You’ve been active in the 80’s, 90’s, 2000’s and beyond. What has changed the most as it relates to the music business, touring and the musical landscape?

The thing-technology has changed. The idea of people using the arts as expression hasn’t changed a lot. I don’t think it should change a lot. It should always be a challenge and trippy. There are no shortcuts on that shit. We’re closer. You can collaborate easier with people. The whole thing about where the record companies ran everything is over. That’s maybe not such a bad thing. It’s returned to the idea that you have to play for people. That’s what 99% of music is anyhow. It took hundreds of years to create a piece of media and sell it.

Playing with the Stooges for 25 months and being around those guys. The 60’s had garage bands and indie labels. See, what happened is the arena rock thing got so big it rolled over a lot of it. I was 13 in 1970. We didn’t know about labels. Before the Minutemen, we were called the Reactionaries. We were reacting against the anti-culture. This big thing and trying to be counter-culture and not just spectators. I got to say, Doug, we were part of a movement. There might not have been a Minutemen without that counter reaction.

The 70’s punk was hard. You had to actually go to the gigs. There weren’t a lot of records being sold over here (in the US). Maybe the Jam and the Clash sold a few. Part of the reason the Minutemen was the Minutemen, was because we learned punk in the late 70’s from England and the movement was small. People were taking big chances. Record companies were either ignoring it or trying to co-op it. They called it new wave.

The 80’s was when more people knew about music. Hardcore came. It was more young people in bands. Before, it was from older people It was some of the same people from glam and glitter. When things stay small, you don’t have to worry about being mercenary. Nobody gets it at first anyhow. Almost all artistic movements start out small and grow from there. And there’s a reason for that–let the freak flag fly. For us to see the Nervous Gender (LA punk band founded in 1978) or the Germs had an incredible effect on us. Then, as you know, Pat Smear (The Germs, Nirvana, Foo Fighters guitarist) ends up playing with Nirvana and the Foo Fighters. For me and D Boon, the Germs was the GO, we thought they invented new music. It’s about expression and not copying records in your bedroom. You can get something off your chest. Find your own voice. It meant a lot.

When talking about the 80’s, you have to remember the 70’s and the triumph of arena rock like a Nuremberg rally. It was the stomping down of the club culture and garage bands. In some ways, the movement was like the Renaissance in Italy in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Someone once told me, I can’t remember who, I think he was from the city, that they used to spray paint their name on other people’s albums. I think they were called Black Humor. I can’t remember the song title, but one of the lines was, the only thing new, is you.

Look at guys like Woodie Guthrie working the towns or Walt Whitman that wants to put out poems and help stop the Civil War, so he put out his poems himself. I want to give you the understanding of continuity—old shit, new shit, etc. You know what I mean? I’m pretty sure that not everything has been done. Sometimes younger fans tell me that I had better music in my days. I always tell them that your own era is important and influential. What can be done? There’s potential. Keep it dynamic. Things can happen.

You don’t need to be validated by some gatekeeper or institution or whatever the fuck power elite that’s out there. I think the Greeks had an idea of the underground. I think the underground is the truth. Sometimes things get corrupted when they’re above ground. You need the underground. We were always attracted to the underground. Personally, me and D. Boon and I were boys in the 60’s and we saw people taking it into their own hands—protesting the war for civil rights, etc. When we came of age, it was already the 70’s and it was arena rock. We were attracted to the movement.

Do you view the 70’s as a lost decade for music? It was a bit disjointed.

Marvin Gaye’s single “What’s Going On” was the 70’s. There’s great music in every decade. The 70’s was big arena rock and it fed a reaction—the punk movement.

Somethings feed better things. The reaction to all that bloated arena rock was punk.

Do you remember when “grunge” came around and what did you think of it?

Mark Arm says grunge, but I don’t know anyone else that uses that word.

When I first spoke to Kurt (Cobain) and Dave (Grohl), they were fans of the 70’s punk music. Kurt was so into the Germs. He showed me his Germs stuff. They were totally influenced by a movement that was 15 years before them. There wasn’t necessarily some blueprint. You didn’t just want to put on your older brothers’ clothes. There was stuff being passed down. I don’t know that word alternative. It’s some kind of overreaching semantics.

For instance, Pat Boone sold more “Tutti Fruitti’s” than Little Richard and that was 60 years ago (released 1955). Movements are not new. That was 60 years ago. Little Richard said Pat Boone’s version was the living room and mine was for the bedroom. {imitates Little Richard’s famous voice}

Rock n’ roll was corny and marketed as a young people’s thing. Of course, music is just music. Punk was being in jail for cigarettes. It’s so strange. I don’t know if you can get too scientific about it or stuff. We’re talking about culture and connecting humans. And it can be violent. Music doesn’t require a boot on the throat. I’m going to use the e-word—ethics. We’re free. There’s the duality of the individual, but yet we have so much in common. The arts create that duality dynamic. Anyone involved in the arts has to work on his or her own fuel injectors.

Toothpaste and KY Jelly are crafted. It was just a marketing gimmick. Why does everything have to get so segregated into cliques and stuff?

Is it difficult to talk about D. Boon? There was a time where it was much more difficult, right?

I don’t know. It was definitely harder in the older days to even listen to a Minutemen record. I remember when I was asked by Tim Irwin (director) and Keith Schieron (producer) to do that documentary on the Minutemen called We Jam Econo (DVD, June 2006 Plexifilm). We ended up doing jamming econo. I have to go back and listen to those records. At the same time, I was in Spain at the Prado. It goes back to my encyclopedia days. I was into dinosaurs and I saw Bosch in person. I thought of the Minutemen. That gave me the idea for the third opera. It was hard to listen to that music and it made me miss him even more. I don’t keep it secret about his influence on my life. I think every record I do has some D. Boon in there. It always makes me miss him more.

I wasn’t really a musician. I put the cart before the horse. D. Boon’s mom wanted to keep an eye on us because it was the early 70’s. She knew we weren’t in the street and we were inside. That was the main point. Music was a way to be together. We had lucky timing–we graduated from San Pedro in 1976. We were in the right place at the right time. It’s funny how things work out. I can’t really distil it.

I think you should do a book of sayings, observations, and words to live by.

You know, I still do “The Touring Diaries” and I didn’t really start until I started feeling older. It was to keep me in focus. In 1999 or so, I started doing that. I think anytime you put something out there on the internet, you’re kind of published even if there’s not an actual book out there. Incidentally, truth be told, I have a book…or a diary, with pictures and words.

You know, last year, John Doe (bassist/vocalist X and actor) asked me to write a chapter to his new book. Our scene was so spread out. Some of us had better memories and details. And it came out. Why don’t we come down and chow with you in Pedro? When they took my shit, they put commas in there and I didn’t really like that. They said to me, “Watt, that’s because you’re really not writing, you’re doing poetry.” If you want my bio, just read my diaries and what’s up on the Internet.

Same with a bass. I wanted a Mike Watt bass. If my name was going to be on it, I had to play it. It’s not just about my name. You know what I’m trying to say here?

You said you like my saying, my mottos, right, Doug? You like what you’re hearing, right? I think I just pick things up.

The bottom line of my third opera is dealing with age and learning. You never get done with finals. You always have to get up in front of the class and deliver your book report from the heart. It’s embarrassing, but maybe that’s what keeps you living.

I’ve gone through some crises. So, some of these mottos whatever you were calling them, they are a device for Watt to keep it together.

I love the way you speak. It’s like jazz. It’s free form. It’s pure expression. I hear it in your music, too.

You dropped a quarter. Remember that thing that Shatner does? He goes back to get the ticket and says: “What’s the next move?” How about when he did “Rocket Man?”

Do you think Shatner knows he’s cheesy or is he deliberately being cheesy? He makes me uncomfortable and I dig that.

He’s an enigma wrapped…. I mean he was necessary for that show (Star Trek) (laughs}. Remember “TJ Hooker?”

What have you not done yet that you’d really like to do?

I’m still working at this. I’m moving from a four-string bass to a five-song album. That’s a lot to learn right there. The operas and they’re made for that guy. More collaborations that I want to do. The Italian project is rebirthing itself. Music is still my main thing. I still take my camera in the morning. I still do music and where I’m at. I don’t sit around.

Do you ever do any real relaxing?

I live in Pedro and I’m on the periphery—the land’s end. Sometimes it takes me an hour and a half to get up there –LA. I can see guys bombing. There’s always some dirt behind the daydream. It’s not an end. We get caught in this binary thing. Don’t be on and off. Try to not be reductionist. Life shouldn’t be reductions. Beyond that, there are challenges to the theory. The knowing is in the doing. Try hammering out some tunes. Don’t lose your humanity.

If you didn’t play music, what would you do instead?

Wow, I don’t know. I got trained in electronics and fixing things. I was using a slide rule and fixing TVs. Who fixes TVs anymore? {laughs} The reason I do my diary is I thought about what would I do if things happen. I’m always worried about hurting my hands.

Malcolm has dementia and can’t remember his own parts and Eric Clapton can’t play anymore due to his hands.

It was really hard to play 5 years ago. I feel things hurting. Those two months of Firehose shows were a pain. The pain is a warning. It’s telling you that something is really wrong.

Do you still play bass as hard as in the early days?

My hands aren’t as hard anymore. I used to break a lot of strings. Maybe that’s a good thing. It keeps the show moving.

You have to play where you have “moccasins.” I used a pick a bit more on the Stooges or J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.) I wish I could play better with a pick.

Is touring still fun for you?

I like touring. My father was a sailor. My dad was in the Navy for 20 years. He got to see the world. My dad didn’t have a punk band to join. His stories made me want to leave. We were segregated from officers. You have to go to college to be an officer. We were very mixed. The Navy seemed less segregated than the outside world. Every body’s pop was a chief where we were. It was just the situation and the way things were organized. It was a good thing for me. It turned into core values—I won’t judge anyone on ethnicity. There were a lot of negatives about growing up in the military, but that was not one. That was a huge positive. It started in 1947 with Mr. Truman (desegregation of the military). It took a long time to really come into reality. I grew up with a lot. It really took effect in the late 60’s. As a boy, I thought that all civilians were millionaires because they had their own pads. Pedro is actually mixed. That’s just the way the hand was dealt. My dad’s people were from Arkansas. I would send him postcards out on tour with the Minutemen. My dad said I was seeing the world just like a guy in the Navy.

You have a real working class work ethic.

Some people are punching the clock and some people are in music for a short time. Rimbaud only had three years of writing poems, but he accomplished a lot. He’s buried I think in Marseilles. I think that’s where he died. I’ve been to where he died—this city that’s close to the border with Belgium. They turned his house into a museum of puppetry. Elvin Jones was still kicking it with an oxygen tank on stage.

Kafka had to work a straight job and lived with his family. He was a trippy guy. He didn’t have a lot of recognition during his lifetime. He had to die. He wrote in secret and for himself.

I spent three days in Prague when I was out with Iggy. I get to go to a lot of places and I’m lucky that way.

How did you hook up with Meat Puppets for this new tour? Did they phone you?

Yep, they called me and since it was a rare time where I was available, I said yes.

I’m recording in Memphis in July with Taro Falco. I never thought I’d be asked to do something like that.

I sometimes have to say no to certain things. I hate that. As I get older, I don’t stay up that late anymore. I want to get up and get busy. I think you’re asking me a lot of good things, Doug.

If I’m being honest, your interview was one of the most daunting because you have such a long track record and history, I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything important. I love the fact I can go directly to you–no labels, no manager or publicist.

You’re doing fine.

Who made you want to pick up the bass and play music?

D. Boon’s mom. She asked me. She said we need a bass player. I didn’t pick it at first. I’m glad I grabbed the bass and took it up.

D. Boon’s mom asked me to play bass and his mom said you have to have a bass player. I was like 12 or 13 when they got me on the bass. It’s an interesting instrument.

Are there any new bands or artists that you like?

Yeah, all the time. I still have a radio show. It will be 16 years in May. There’s a band out of Texas–Mini Birthdays out of Austin. The reason I do the show is a payment on the debt. I want other people to have a chance. It just has to be an MP3. They don’t even make the iPod anymore.

Is touring still exciting?

Yes. My dad wasn’t sure how I was making a living after D Boon. My dad said you’re like a sailor–you can live in a giant cocoon or get out there. You, he said, chose to get out there.

When I was growing up, we (Navy seamen/ families) were segregated by enlisted men and officers. I grew up with a lot diversity. I grew up with people with different colors, ethnicities. We had an understanding of other people. It was a great way to grow up. It’s a core value. Don’t judge people based on color. I’m grateful to have grown up in a Navy family and Navy town. That really started in 1947 when Truman integrated the military. You just get dealt the hand. My pops was wondering why I was playing after losing D. Boon so I started sending me postcards from where I was touring. He said you’re traveling around like I did.

 

Do you have any memories of playing St. Louis?

I remember lots of Missouri gigs—Columbia, Kansas City, St. Louis. I can remember Columbia because it had two Blue Notes. I remember our first tour playing some community center in Kansas City. That sticks out in my mind. We always played by the water—Mississippi Nights, Rock Island and then by the school, the Duck Room, right? The Old Rock House will be a new venue for us. We’re there on May 20th. I just remembered, tomorrow is actually Iggy’s birthday (70th) (born April 21st, 1947 as James Newell Osterberg, Jr.)

I don’t think there really is any more “Stooges.” Three of the original guys are gone. He’s still doing things. He did an album with Josh (Homme, Queens of the Stoneage, Kyuss). It’s kind of sad, he’s lost all the guys he started playing music with. I know it hit Ig hard. I served 125 months with those guys and I was the youngest guy in the band and they were a key to my movement. The Stooges were a big part of our whole movement. I love the Stooges music and I love Igg’s work ethic and how he does gigs. I really enjoyed playing with him. It was a real sea change in my life and a great experience.

There’s also a band that I haven’t played with for 15 years. It’s made up of two trios I put together for my operas. There’s Tom Watson from the Missing Men ( a trio featuring Watt, guitarist Tom Watson and drummer Raul Morales) and (Tom and) Jerry the drummer. I’m going to play stuff that goes way back to as far as D. Boon, stuff that wasn’t even used during the Minutemen. Then I’m also going to play songs from people that a had a big influence on me like tunes from Roky Ericson (legendary and troubled Austin musician and founder of the 13th Floor Elevators). I may not bring out an album quite yet, but I think we’re realizing our missions. Even though we did it, it’s still music I wrote. It’s Hyphenated-Men. They realized their missions, but I still want to play with those guys. That’s why I play with those trios—it came out of the blue, then Grant Hart (Husker Du) wanted to do some gigs with us. It’s not like going down some sentimental alley. We’re still alive and we can still play together. I like playing with them and it’s not just a means to an end. That’s why I still do those trios and they’re trippy.—Doug Tull

Mike Watt will be appearing with the Meat Puppets and the Tom and Jerry Show at the Old Rock House in St. Louis, Saturday, May 20th.

05/11/17 Portland Port City Music Hall
05/12/17 Allston Brighton Music Hall
05/13/17 Hamden The Ballroom At The Outer Space
05/14/17 Washington, DC U Street Music Hall
05/16/17 Philadelphia Underground Arts
05/17/17 Pittsburgh Mr. Smalls
05/18/17 Cleveland Beachland Ballroom
05/19/17 Chicago Lincoln Hall US
05/20/17 St. Louis The Old Rock House
05/22/17 Kansas City The Record Bar
05/23/17 Oklahoma City, 89th Street Collective
05/24/17 Dallas Club Dada
05/25/17 Houston White Oak Music Hall
05/26/17 Austin Barracuda




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