INTERVIEW: Mike Watt

[First Published at The Quietus, May 13, 2015]

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Mike Watt – legendary bassist in The Minutemen, Dos, fIREHOSE, and the reformed Stooges – is completely tireless. The man is currently in Northern Europe, somewhere between Denmark and Finland, gearing up for the home straight of his “3rd + 30” tour, the sixth airing of his 2011 opera hyphenated-man.

As well as possessing limitless energy and being one of the most talented, boundary-defying bassists alive, he also happens to be just a great guy. So great, in fact, that he took time out of his Northern European adventure to answer a few questions about the tour and the excitement that getting in a van and jamming econo still generates.

Head down to the bottom of the page for information on his remaining dates and watch this space for more in the coming weeks.

What’s the thinking behind touring hyphenated-man again? Is it purely because you wanted to reach places you hadn’t hit yet, or is there still something to explore within the songs?

My goal for this tour was to bring my third opera to parts me and my Missingmen haven’t already brought it. As far as working the piece, we’re better at now than we ever have had it, this is the sixth tour of it. I am fortunate to have Tom Watson and Raul Morales (I wrote the it specifically for them to play) who do not do connect-the-dots/sleepwalker gigs and this keeps the performance vital and in the moment. New audiences always help to stop “rerunitis” setting in, bringing it to folks personally and directly (I learned much of this from both D. Boon and Iggy). Of course the libretto is about a middle-aged punk (me) so I can relate to this still big time. I have not past into “the fourth act” yet. My buddy Lee Ranaldo refers to this middle-aged part as the “the third act” and I like that.

What’s it like to tour it again now that it’s been on the road a few times already? Do the songs change shape and take on new meanings as they travel and receive a response?

Yeah, now that the piece is ‘pert-near second nature – at least more in perspective compared with the first tour when it was total pants-shitter – we can be more in the moment and not have to search the fucking heard. We can have the memory existing more in the muscle, which makes us three playing as a united team a little easer.

I think it’s good though that’s it’s still a challenge, but when the challenge is more about how to make it happen then it’s a little more together than the challenge of what the fuck you’re supposed to make happen. I also gotta tell you it’s one big song so of course that changes every time we bring it because we ain’t a stamping machine minting out coins. We’re working a piece dynamically for people between the three of us. Thank God I got Tom and Raul!

On which note, does the album feel like a product of the past to you now? You said it was the result of some questions you were asking yourself at the time about age and life – have you got closer to answering those particular ones in the last five years?

Of course, one part of why I wrote this thing was to once again revisit my Minutemen music days without stooping to nostalgia and sentimentalism. That’s why there’s the focus on my life in “the third act.” The Minutemen would’ve never sang about the stuff I do in the “hyphenated-man” libretto.

About questions, a lot of it is about reconciling things while at the same time acknowledging stuff I believe cannot be reconciled. The bottom line though is I’ve learned that life’s for learning. So the questions never stop.

Does touring still excite you? Does the concept of jumping in a van with some friends and putting your stuff out there still have the allure it had when you started?

Absolutely, I love it because it’s like an adventure, getting to sally forth and work the towns, seeing what this life can bring you.

The tour with Sam Dook under the name Cuz is something that I thought I’d never tour and now am so happy at the challenge of realizing the album we did as power trio doing a gig, whoa! It gets my blood flowing, I’m excited. I think part of my life is like a sailor, like my pop – ain’t that trippy? I got into music to be with my friend but this is how it worked out. I think gigs and touring are very important for me and not just things I have to do. I try to show of that with diaries… damn, I should’ve done it since my first tour instead of just the last fifteen years.

In a way this is very different for me for me to tour… only with The Stooges have I had this many days off on tour. It is a challenge also to Tom and Raul, but this righteous cat Pentti we’re staying with is a geyser of interesting stuff and so generous.

Oh, and the trip to get here? It was thirty hours made of two drives and two ferry rides. What did we do? Survived it!

Read more about Watt’s travels in his regularly updated tour diary.

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