You would be hard pressed to find a musician who has had a more expansive and eclectic career than the illustrious Mike Watt, who started during the last waves of the original punk scene in California during the late 1970s and gained his original prominence as the bassist in the post-punk trio The Minutemen, which became one of the more well known bands of that genre and helping SST records (along with Black Flag, Sonic Youth, and the Meat Puppets among others) become a major player in the DIY music scene that was crystallizing itself as the 1980s rolled on. With lead singer/guitarist D. Boon and drummer George Hurley, The Minutemen spanned genres within the post-punk genre, adding dashes of funk, jazz, classic swamp rock like Creedence Clearwater Revival and the hardest edged swords of punk proper and released scores of albums and EP’s which have become highly influential and spawned many other bands which followed in their wake.
D. Boon died tragically in December 1985 and it marked the end of an era for The Minutemen. The rhythm section of Watt and Hurley thundered on however, and a new band, Firehose, with Ed “From Ohio” Crawford” was born, which also had their own cult niche as they released three sonically challenging records as the 1980s winded down. Since then, Mike Watt has been on scores of projects, many of his own solo bands and bands with like-minded musicians and also on big league ensembles such as Porno For Pyros and his new gig, which has been doing for almost ten years now, being the bass player in the Detroit Rock City powerhouse The Stooges.
I had the golden opportunity to conduct a lengthy interview with the man via video Skype, in which he waxed incredible about all the aforementioned topics and projects, and plenty of others, including his propensity for analog and digital when it comes to recording, some of his favorite bands and genres, life as an “econo” musician (a term he coined and which in essence, the man refreshingly still is) and of course, the upcoming Stooges album, Ready to Die.
To talk with Watt is a joy, he’s embracing, intelligent, witty, full of musical knowledge and acumen, still willing to learn, down to earth and almost dare I say humble about all he has done and wants to continue to do musically; he talks with you like you’re an old friend, for someone like me and thousands of others who grew up with him, he certainly is the old friend indeed on record. Dressed in his inimitable flannel shirt, Mike Watt is a passionate man, who manifests that passion tenfold in everything he does, which is no doubt a large part of why he’s been able to conquer so much on the musical landscape in terms of originality and in his art.
Geeks of Doom: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, bro. So how was the tour? I know you just came back, I know you were away.
Mike Watt: Well, it was two tours, one was with The Stooges, one was with Il Sogno Del Marinaio, and they both were good. I did diaries on them, they are on the Hoot page [Watt's official website]. On the Hoot page, you can read diaries that I wrote about them, they went good and they were good people to play with. I am very grateful.
Geeks of Doom: And I am sure they are grateful to be playing with you too without question. You are like a luminary man, you are kind of a Mingus to this post-punk generation, you have run the gamut, you’ve played with almost everyone in that kind of genre, so how do you feel after all these years, still kind of on top in that way?
Mike Watt: Well, I have still got a lot to learn, the bass has got a lot of possibilities, it’s an interesting place to be in music. I’m going to practice with Perk [Stephen Perkins] and Peter [DiStephano], they want to do some more Porno for Pyros, a couple of songs. I haven’t played with them in 17 years.
Geeks of Doom: You were on the second album, Good God’s Urge.
Mike Watt: There’s a couple of songs with me on it. Also, I got to meet some people out in Australia, Beast of Burden opened up for us, and the bass man there, Brian wants to have me play some bass on some songs, so there’s stuff out there much different nowadays where people can send me songs and I can put bass on them from my pad here. I’m doing it with an Italian guy named Marco right now. But I have some real life recording stuff too coming up, where you are actually in the same room with the people coming out, I have a project named Kaz with a man named Sam in Brighton, England and we are going to get more together for the second album, they are almost done with the first, probably be out in the fall, the first part of this tour I did this year with these two Italian guys Andrea and Stephano, called Il Sogno Del Marinaio, and they almost went like side by side with The Stooges.
Geeks of Doom: How was that for you?
Mike Watt: Interesting. Two different types of music. You have to jump on another boat, but it’s good, it’s all good training, it’s all about what I consider important [laughs]. I don’t know, my life philosophy is that I am here to learn, so put me in these situations, thank you, I am grateful. There’s another thing we recorded, somebody came and saw The Stooges come and play in Germany last year, and this man Larry [Mullins] has been playing for Scotty [Scott Asheton], who is getting better you know [Asheton was ill], and he said, why don’t you let the bass player and the drummer make an album together? So I am going to do that with Larry in Berlin. So these are the upcoming things I got coming. And here in my pad, I got the bass here and I’ve got a bunch of different things. That’s where I’m at right now. Now, this month makes 10 years I’ve been playing with The Stooges and usually what they do is, in the Summertime play festivals in Europe, so that will be a lot of my gigs.
“I have still got a lot to learn, the bass has got a lot of possibilities, it’s an interesting place to be in music.”
[During this portion of the interview, we talked about Record Store Day and Watt's Top 6 Favorite Records.]
Geeks of Doom: How do you feel about the digital culture?
Mike Watt: For things like recording on other people’s records, sometimes I don’t even meet these guys. So there’s possibilities [with digital] that way. But the idea that we had to get rid of these stores and vinyl,I don’t know why vinyl and digital can’t exist at the same time, and also these stores, because these record stores were also like culture. I’m part of this documentary called I Need That Record, and it was made a few years ago, Noah Chomsky is in it. I mean, people find out about stuff from the internet now, but this was people talking to people, see, I just have this idea that one doesn’t have to replace the other, both sides lose. It’s sort of like vocabulary, you just add more words to what you can say. So there’s good things about digital, there’s good things about the old days, I don’t see why one has to be sacrificed for the other.
Geeks of Doom: So if at the time, when you made those first records for SST, if it was done digitally, you would have embraced it as well? Basically you aren’t like an analog, vinyl snob, like a lot of people are.
Mike Watt: No. There’s something neat about vinyl, it’s the look itself, there’s album cover art, I think maybe it even sounds different, maybe it sounds even better in some ways, if it ain’t too scratched up [laughter]. I remember D. Boon [the late lead singer, guitarist for The Minutemen] had these Creedence Clearwater Revival records and we had to put several quarters on them to keep them from skipping, [laughter] so that wasn’t as good in that respect. Each of these things are in their own world. The idea of me sending bass over to someone to put on a record, you couldn’t do that in the old days. Also, things were much more expensive. The Minutemen always had to record Midnight to Eight, on downtime, and I am glad we did what we did, but maybe digital can give you something different. I don’t know, it’s all like rock and clay to the hands, what is to be done. See, I think the creative thing is important, and maybe that mystery should never be solved. But these ways to do stuff, whether it be analog or digital or some kind of hybrid between the two, I am all for that.
Geeks of Doom: What was the first record that you ever bought when you were a kid?
Mike Watt: It was a 45 of “American Woman.”
Geeks of Doom: The Guess Who. The long version?
Mike Watt: No, it was the single.
Geeks of Doom: Were they one of your big influences? I know T-Rex is pretty big for you.
Mike Watt: Yeah, they were my first gig I saw live. Me and D. Boon, Joe Boon, we went and saw them when we were fourteen.
Geeks of Doom: That must have been amazing.
Mike Watt: Yeah, we liked them. But still, it was arena rock, there wasn’t clubs yet, I wish I could have seen them in a club. We didn’t know about clubs until punk.
Geeks of Doom: So, was someone like Steve Currie [T-Rex’s bass player] one of the influences to get you into playing or were you playing already?
Mike Watt: He was their bass man, he was killed in a car wreck. He was like Stu Cook in Creedence Clearwater Revival, you couldn’t really hear the bass that well on the recordings. I could hear it better with R&B guys like James Jamerson or Larry Graham and maybe even some of the rock and roll guys like John Entwistle, Geezer Butler, Jack Bruce, those guys. But yeah, when I was first starting, it was tough, because coming from arena rock, it was hard to know what the bass was.
Geeks of Doom: What about Geddy Lee?
Mike Watt: No, I didn’t hear him too well. I saw him and Rush a little later on, it was still the 1970s, my friend Tony took me, he was way into Rush, and I feel asleep. Actually later on, this lady came on a tour to take pictures, and she liked them a lot and I toured a gig with them maybe two or three years ago and I fell asleep again [laughter]. They are good musicians and stuff, but…
Geeks of Doom: That’s such a true punk answer. What about the jazz guys, I am a huge Coltrane fan myself.
Mike Watt: I found out about jazz from Raymond Pettibon, from punk people, see, growing up, I didn’t know a lot about that stuff, I knew a little more than D. Boon, the only rock band D. Boon knew about was Creedence when I met him, so we were both pretty ignorant, especially of jazz, so when punk came around and we met these people like Raymond Pettibon, and I actually thought John Coltrane was an older punk rocker, I thought he was still alive.
Geeks of Doom: He kind of is punk rock metaphorically.
Mike Watt: Cause of his emotional stuff you know? I had no idea that he had been dead for ten years (Coltrane died in 1967) and there was a whole other scene. I just didn’t know and Raymond got me hip to a lot of stuff and got me to see the guys that were still alive, I got to see a lot of other people who had played with Trane, like Elvin [Jones, Coltrane’s drummer] and McCoy [Tyner, Coltrane’s piano player], Archie Shepp…
…when I was first starting, it was tough, because coming from arena rock, it was hard to know what the bass was.
Geeks of Doom: Reggie Workman [Coltrane’s bass player]? I think he might have been alive at the time, Paul Chambers obviously wasn’t.
Mike Watt: Art Davis, who is on Coltrane’s Ascension, I got to see him.
Geeks of Doom: Nice. What about Jaco Pastorius? In a lot of ways you are like the punk version of him.
Mike Watt: Yes, all us bass players owe a lot to a lot of guys. The number one guy I think is James Jamerson.
Geeks of Doom: Yeah man, he was unbelievable.
Mike Watt: Like all of us and I think Jaco would tell you this too, there was something about that guy that, I think he came over from stand-up bass, but he brought a lot of possibilities to us.
Geeks of Doom: Jamerson is knockout on the Stevie Wonder and Motown stuff.
Mike Watt: Sure, I think he’s on 200 Top 20 singles.
Geeks of Doom: Easy.
Mike Watt: Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”
Geeks of Doom: Yeah, he’s on that whole record.
Mike Watt: The guy who took Jamerson’s place at Motown when it went to LA, was Bob Babbitt, he just passed away, he was kind of from the Jamerson school, Bob Babbitt, a great bass player. And then there’s [Donald] Duck Dunn, both of those guys passed away last year.
Geeks of Doom: You kind of put those elements in that post punk thing, right away on those Minutemen albums, especially that first full-length one [The Punchline], and you are singing on that first track too [“Search”] and it’s like right away, the prominence of you is immediately there. Same thing with the Firehose records.
Mike Watt: Well with me man, D. Boon had a lot to do with that. D. Boon thought we should put political ideas in the makeup of the band, he didn’t like the guitar being so dominant, he wanted more equal between with the bass and the drums with the guitar. So he played really trebly and he didn’t play power chords, he asked me and Georgie [drummer George Hurley] to be very lyrical and responsive to make a dialogue. A lot of our style comes from playing with D. Boon.
Geeks of Doom: Was it sort of the reverse thing when you were doing it with Ed [Crawford, known as Ed From Ohio] in Firehose?
Mike Watt: Well by the time Firehose came, the only other band I knew was The Minutemen. So yeah, there’s a lot of Minutemen influence on Firehose. But obviously Ed and D. Boon were different guys. Also, I didn’t grow up with Edward, I didn’t know what songs to write for him, so I threw a lot of songs I wrote for Dos at him, to see what he would do. I have a band also called Dos, doing it for about 28 years now with K [Kira Rosseler], she played with Black Flag.
Geeks of Doom: She’s won an Emmy Award for her work on Game of Thrones [for dialogue editing].
Mike Watt: Yeah, she’s won two Emmy Awards now, she won for that and the John Adams miniseries.
Geeks of Doom: Just as a sidebar here, do you like that stuff?
Mike Watt: I’ve never seen it. But I’m really proud of her, she taught herself that stuff. She did 25 years of computer programming, she got tired of it, taught herself this Pro-Tools stuff, and started doing sound for movies and TV. It’s freelance and it’s like a hardcore boys club, so she had to go break her leg off in everybody’s ass which she did [laughter], she’s intense! And she’s got no ego about it, it’s just work, but she likes to be creative, she likes challenges, she’s a very interesting lady.
Geeks of Doom: I saw the two of you jamming in that video Number Eight with the dogs…
Mike Watt: Oh yeah…
Geeks of Doom: [laughs] That was pretty fun stuff.
Mike Watt: That’s actually a song from our fourth album.
Geeks of Doom: It looks like you guys had a fun time doing it.
Mike Watt: Yeah, recording it, we had a little dog, barking, and so the people who made the video, wanted to key on that. She loves her little dog you know.
Geeks of Doom: So with Firehose, to me, your second album If’n is like a crossroads for you, because it’s like you just said, you kind of were still doing the Minutemen stuff on the first Firehose album, Ragin’ Full On. Then If’n comes along, and it almost seems like there’s a dynamic kind of growth going on now, where you definitely come into your own.
Mike Watt: I started to know Ed a little better. Ragin’ Full On was done real quick after he came here. So when If’n comes, I know him a little better. I wrote some songs for him that were a little more, there were still some songs that were Dos songs, like From One Comes One, both of those came really early, they were done with Ethan James, this guy who did Double Nickles on the Dime [a Minutemen release]. He passed away. He was a great guy.
Geeks of Doom: How was it reuniting with Ed and George again last year? I know you still play with George here and there…
Mike Watt: Yeah, it was last April, I did two weeks of gigs. I hadn’t done that music in 18 years, and it was very difficult. We practiced for two weeks and then did two weeks of gigs. It was hard. I got better towards the end, I had to really focus on Georgie, I don’t really play that way anymore.
Geeks of Doom: Do you feel the pressure when you know people are going to gigs knowing what to expect from you, from what they have read and heard and, rightfully so, the kind of reputation you have?
Mike Watt: You always want to play for people. They have worked hard all week to come see you play, so of course you don’t want to take them for granted. I don’t usually do the old stuff, Edward asked me a couple of years ago if I would do some gigs and I said okay. But usually, I do some old Minutemen songs, a couple of times I did a duet thing with Georgie where we tried some old songs, with The Stooges I do some older songs, but they are not my songs, so it’s a little different thing there.
Geeks of Doom: Did you grow with The Stooges too? Did you dig them in the 1970s?
Mike Watt: Yeah, I found out about them in Junior High School through Creem Magazine. Most people my age did not like them. They hated them.
Geeks of Doom: Yeah, there’s a stigma about that. I know today people think they were huge back then, but most of their albums wound up in bargain bins originally.
Mike Watt: Yeah, people were saying bad things about them. They liked Grand Funk Railroad and bands that nobody even cares about. (laughter) But yeah, it’s a trip, you would think that they were huge, but they weren’t. They took major blows. But without The Stooges, I don’t even think we would have a punk scene, they were very important. But to most people back then, yeah, they didn’t give a shit. But with a lot of revision stuff down the road, people change their tune.
Geeks of Doom: How about your radio show and podcast, I know you have been doing that for a little while too.
Mike Watt: Next month, it will be twelve years. I try to do it once a week, when I am on tour it’s a little tough, so it’s been a couple of weeks since I did the last one.
Geeks of Doom: How do you find the time to do all these projects?
Mike Watt: I try to make the time, like anything. You have got to organize yourself you know? I like the radio show, because people give me interesting music, I like spreading the music of John Coltrane, I like talking to people about their journey through music, everybody has got a different journey through music. Last show I had on was David Yow from Jesus Lizard, I like doing radio. When I was in college and shit, I didn’t even know we had a radio at the campus, I just went and got a degree in electronics, I had no idea. But when I started touring around, I was on the interview side of the microphone, and then in the late 1990s, there was this pirate station up in Silverlake and they asked me to take over for some cat who was out touring. It was the first time I ever did that and I did that for two years and then the Government shut it down, and then I was on tour, and these cats in Portland told me they could put my show on the web. And that’s how I got in with it. It was a kind of an accident, like a lot of stuff that’s happened with me, but once it gets going, I try and work at it.
Geeks of Doom: And obviously you have been doing good, you are more than a decade in it. You are more than a decade almost in The Stooges too. How was it when they asked you to join the band?
Mike Watt: I was in Tallahassee playing in a place called The Cow Haus, and there was a phone call, here Watt, it’s for you, so it’s Ig, and he says, hey Mike, Ronnie (the late Ron Asheton) says you are the man. I couldn’t imagine a call like that ever.
Geeks of Doom: (laughs) Had you ever met Iggy before in the circles?
Mike Watt: I did, I did meet him before. I played with him in fact, he was a judge at some contest, and they wanted me to teach some Stooges songs to these two guys in a Swedish band called The Hives. Pete Yorn was the drummer. So I actually played with him for that thing. It was a practice and then that gig.
Geeks of Doom: What tunes did you play, do you remember what songs you played?
Mike Watt: I Wanna Be Your Dog, No Fun and TV Eye.
Geeks of Doom: Songs from the first two Stooges records.
Mike Watt: Yeah.
Geeks of Doom: With The Stooges, Ron was obviously the original lead guitar player, then he moved over to bass by Raw Power, then James came in.
Mike Watt: Well there was a version where Ronnie and James both played guitar for a few months.
Geeks of Doom: They played leads together.
Mike Watt: Yeah. It’s before Ig and James went to London, but it’s after Dave Alexander [the original Stooges bassist]. It was this in-between phase. And then Ig was asked to go to London and he said, oh, I got this guitar man with me, so David Bowie’s management company wanted them to make an album. And they were trying out people there and they didn’t like the way they played with them, so they asked the Asheton brothers to come over there and be the rhythm section.
Geeks of Doom: Now who do you prefer? You got a chance to play with Ron before he passed away on The Weirdness and with the tour, and now you’ve got Ready To Die with James Williamson. How do you compare the two?
Mike Watt: They are different because both the guitar men are different.
Geeks of Doom: Do you have a preference?
Mike Watt: No. Ronnie learned his way, James learned his way, both of them you could tell didn’t learn by copying other guys, they both have really distinctive styles. Yeah, I really like both of them, and I really like Ronnie’s bass parts too with James on Raw Power, Ronnie did good with the bass also. But he goes way back on bass, like The Chosen Few or something, James was telling me when he first met Ronnie he was a bass player. But Ronnie was a great guitarist too, they were just different. I don’t even think James used a wah-wah until he tried doing Ronnie’s song with this new version.
Geeks of Doom: Like “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”
Mike Watt: Or the solo in 1970.
Geeks of Doom: And you got Steve Mackay on the sax as well and you have Scott Thurston, too.
Mike Watt: Yeah, Scott plays some piano on the record.
Geeks of Doom: Other than Dave Alexander, who died when you were pretty young, you have played with everybody in The Stooges.
Mike Watt: 1975, he died when I was 18.
Geeks of Doom: Any of that other Detroit sound you grew up with, like the MC5?
Mike Watt: Yeah, I got to see them and I played with Brother Wayne Kramer (MC5 guitarist) a couple of times.
Geeks of Doom: We were talking about the digital stuff and you came from a DIY era, you came on SST and Greg [Ginn] making that label, and all you guys together, like Black Flag, The Meat Puppets and Sonic Youth and you guys kind of forged the whole niche.
Mike Watt: Well you have got to understand that punk in the old days was really small. So you had to be self-done or it wasn’t getting done. It wasn’t like in England where it got really big quick. It might have helped us. We owe a lot to Greg and SST for sure. Chuck Dukowski helped build the tour circuit that we still tour on. He had a phone book, and the old punk scene was about people, very small scene, the fanzine people were really important, they were kind of the fabric and that’s how you knew what was going on in everybody’s town.
Geeks of Doom: What about Richard Meltzer?
Mike Watt: He was before that scene, we know Meltzer because of Blue Oyster Cult. He wrote lyrics for them. He lives up in Portland, he always comes to my gigs man when I play up there. Yeah, I love him, he’s a big hero of ours. He had a punk radio show called Hepcats From Hell and he would play all kinds of wack music. A lot of those first people in the punk scene in the 1970s, the Hollywood scene, were really influential on us.
Geeks of Doom: How about the New York City side?
Mike Watt: Well of course, but we weren’t there as much, we were buying their records, Richard Hell was the first punk rocker I put on my bass, he was the first hero, my punk hero was Richard Hell. I loved him. And Johnny Thunders and TV, I remember Television, that record came out the same month as that Boston album. You couldn’t find two more different fucking records [laughter]. But New York was very important. San Francisco had a big scene too. Our scene was kind of smaller. And then of course, there was that shit happening in England, bands like Wire and The Pop Group, we were influenced by a lot of stuff that we couldn’t see until much later. But, sounds are sounds you know? And I was talking about the fanzines, a guy named Andy Schwartz made this fanzine called New York Rocker. It was incredible, I loved that thing. And Legs McNeil had his punk ‘zine [Punk Magazine] and his book Please Kill Me with Ronnie and Scotty and James, Richard Hell is also in there, so yeah, the New York scene was very important. We first found out about the punk way when we first started playing there. I remember the first time was with Black Flag, The Great Gildersleeves I think, in 1982. And then we played our first gig at Danceteria, we played discos at first, Peppermint Lounge and The Mudd Club and it was trippy. I remember even playing in Brooklyn back then, but it was in this place called The Zoo, they were square, they were not hip to punk people. I remember the first Minutemen headlining gig was at Folk City West. We played with a fusion band. It was a big deal for us to play New York City, believe me. And also the East Coast with the Bad Brains in D.C. and the Philly scene and all that East Coast was really important to us. But you knew them by going there, and then it connects, especially with Thurst [Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth], Thurst had let me come to his apartment there, and just walk around and explore the town for a week. He was very cool, he helped me learn about New York, instead of just the one gig, you hit there and then you go to the next town. I actually got to spend some days in a row just hoofing around. That happened a few times, he’s a beautiful guy. He would drive into the city, kind of like us in San Pedro driving into Hollywood or something. A lot of these things with the East and West, we didn’t know what each other was doing, but we were doing a lot of things close, because that’s the way the scene was.
Geeks of Doom: And then you kind of bridged it all together in recent times, certainly helping the grunge movement which is over 20 years ago now, you were sort of a big part of that glue to help bring all that together and bring that sound back in the forefront in a lot of ways in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Mike Watt: I think Jane’s Addiction had a lot to do with it, too.
Geeks of Doom: Yeah, they did, too.
Mike Watt: Cause after they toured, you heard all these people playing hard rock, kind of like from the Northwest but also places like Chicago, there was always the sound of Dave’s [Navarro, Janes Addiction guitarist] big guitar, Perry’s [Farrell, Jane's Addiction vocalist, frontman] high singing and they were a big influence too, but it’s all a chain, we are all tied together and it’s interesting that way. I like that about music. John Coltrane said music is a big reservoir, and everybody is drinking from it.
Geeks of Doom: So you mentioned you are going to be doing some Porno for Pyros stuff.
Mike Watt: Yeah, in a few days is practice and then on April 15th, they want me to record some new songs. Songs from a long time ago, seventeen years ago. One is called “Me” and one is called “Agua.” They are already recorded.
Geeks of Doom: They were written then around the time of Good God’s Urge?
Mike Watt: Yeah, Peter [Destefano] wrote them with Perk (Stephen Perkins). It’s interesting. I love that band, that was the first time that I worked for another guy, cause I didn’t do much of that. I still don’t. I did it with J. Mascus [Dinosaur Jr.] and then the third on with The Stooges. I’ve really only done it three times. Session work I have done, but the side work where you actually play gigs.
Geeks of Doom: Now, out of all these drummers you have played with, who stands out to you as a favorite?
Mike Watt: Well, everybody has got their own thing. As far as like a rock and roll thing, that’s got to be Dave Grohl. But Stephen Perkins is a beautiful drummer, I love Stephen Perkins. I did this Banyan thing with Nels Cline for a few years [with Stephen]. George Hurley of course, signature, nobody plays like George Hurley.
Geeks of Doom: And you and him had that thing in a way, when you were jelling, you had that kind of proto-jazz-punk thing in a way. You are locked in with everyone I hear you with, but with George…
Mike Watt: Yeah, but a lot of that comes from D. Boon man. D. Boon really thought a band is more than one guy. And him being the guitar player, he was in the position where he could lay down some of that power because it really was a hierarchy. Punk changed things in that way, it really did. It’s hard for people to know unless they were there in both movements. It was a bowel movement before that [laughter]. But it was a lot more egalitarian. D. Boon had a lot to do with that. But we would try hard for him man, somebody gives you the opportunity, says, do you want to be part of this, you work hard. So Georgie is up there. We are the oldest in our families, the oldest sons, and in some ways we have similar personalities. So Georgie is right up there. I got to do fourteen months ago now, I got to do the fourth Unknown Instructors album with him. The other three were all improvised, but this one, we wanted songs, so I gave Georgie ten songs and I wrote bass just for him. And for a month here in the studio in (San) Pedro, called Casa Hanzo, we went at it. And it was good because a month after that was the Firehose reunion with Edward.
Geeks of Doom: Who has all those Minutemen tapes, SST still?
Mike Watt: Yeah. They are still in print. I would like a complete CD version of Double Nickels on the Dime to come out, because in those days, they didn’t have enough time on a single CD, so some songs had to be cut. And Columbia put out some Firehose stuff last year. They put out everything that they had as a two-CD thing.
Geeks of Doom: What is your favorite album that you have done out of all of your different waves and levels of your career?
Mike Watt: Probably Double Nickels on the Dime. If you look at all the things that went down on that record, it was a total accident, but it came out really good. But those other parts, everything is important to me, all these places I have been with music. But if you ask me my opinion, there’s something about Double Nickels that’s a trip. We were very at this creative thing where it was like whoa! It was very interesting that record. It would have never happened if Husker-Du didn’t do their double record, it was totally by accident. But I like all the things I have done. I like the first Firehose album.
Geeks of Doom: I love that first Firehose record man.
Mike Watt: Yeah, there’s something weird about the spirit. Edward has got such a fire.
Geeks of Doom: Songs like Chemical Wire, Brave Captain obviously, you guys are smoking on it.
Mike Watt: Yeah, it was small, but there’s a fire about it, because we didn’t know Edward and Edward is coming in hard charging and there’s something interesting about the spirit of that first one that I like.
Geeks of Doom: I liked FromOhio a lot too. By that time there was a lot of adventurous, almost folk going on there with Ed and you really were in your element.
Mike Watt: That was fun. FromOhio was a strange one. We recorded it in the middle of a tour. The studio was in Cleveland, we conked out at the studio pad. I had to be with the van, Eddie and George were sick with the flu, yeah, that was a hard album to do.
Geeks of Doom: But it came out great. And then of course that first one you did on Columbia, Flying the Flannel, were you guys satisfied with that? It’s a good album, but it sounds like it has a little bit more money behind it in terms of the production. Does that matter to you when you have more money behind the production of an album compared to say when you didn’t have much when you used to do albums? In a way, the ones that were done on in essence a shoestring budget, almost adds in a way to the allure of the records.
Mike Watt: Yeah, I still make them “econo.” But the technology got more econo now. You can do more econo now, it was harder in the old days. There’s a pressure to make a record and I also feel the pressure to take chances and do things you can’t do at gigs, and not play it so safe, because you are given that opportunity to make a record, there’s things that you can do that you can’t at a gig, so why not try that? And I feel that more, again, this comes from the old days of being from a small scene, you don’t really care about having to sell billions of records.
Geeks of Doom: What about now though, now you are playing with a band that’s in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and we were saying that originally they weren’t that big, but now…
Mike Watt: Yeah, I played on that record [the upcoming Ready to Die]. James Williamson produced that record. And I tried to play my best for them of course.
Geeks of Doom: How is the camaraderie with you guys after all these years now?
Mike Watt: He’s very kind to me. Ig too, he’s good to me.
Geeks of Doom: Do they expect anything from you?
Mike Watt: They are like, play it like you mean it Mike! I want you to convince me, a convincing track! You’ll hear on this new album, he wrote a part for me man, it’s like [James] Jamerson, like a Motown thing on a Stooges song. That was incredible.
Geeks of Doom: During recording, did you ever get the urge to want to go in your own style, your past style, with the harmonics and popping and slapping and when you are playing live, do you want to throw in little things here and there?
Mike Watt: No, I don’t much popping anymore. I used to do it a lot with Firehose. But my hand now changed, playing that way is a younger man’s hand game. It could hurt you there. That’s what I found hardest to do when I did those songs on the Firehose reunion last year, was that slapping stuff, because I hadn’t done that much of it in awhile.
Geeks of Doom: Did you pick that technique up from guys like Louis Johnson [The Brothers Johnson]?
Mike Watt: Larry Graham.
Geeks of Doom: Like you had mentioned before, you were weaned on old classic R&B too. That was a big thing for you.
Mike Watt: Yeah. Well on those records, you could really hear the bass. The guitar players were playing really trebly. D. Boon was influenced by those guys too. Big time.
Geeks of Doom: So just to sum up, what are you hoping that people are going to get from this new Stooges record?
Mike Watt: They are going to get to hear James play after all those years. Like Raw Power and Ig singing his heart out man, he wrote some bitchin’ tunes too to go with James’ licks. I think people will like it, but I am biased, I am a big fan.
Thanks again to Mike Watt for the great “spiel” (another one of his cool phrases he uses) and who keeps “making the freeway safe for the freeway.”