If known only for his work with the legendary trio known as The Minutemen, bassist Mike Watt would still have his place in rock 'n' roll lore.
But even after that band disintegrated following the death of singer/guitarist D. Boon, Watt pressed on and formed another acclaimed trio: Firehose. And, when that band ended in 1993, Watt pursued a solo career that has produced some of the most interesting music of his career.
While doing the solo thing, Watt somehow also managed to play in the reformed Iggy and the Stooges for the past eight years. The guy even found time to play with, of all people, Kelly Clarkson.
While preparing for the tour that will bring Watt and his current ensemble to The Loft this evening and to Good Records before that for a Q&A session with fans, the legendary bassist took some time to indulge us here at DC9 in our own Q&A, in which we asked him about about his famed past and his new concept solo effort, Hyphenated-Man.
See our conversation in full after the jump.
How did you come up with the concept for Hyphenated-Man?
The guys who made We Jam Econo, the film about the Minutemen, asked me to hang out with them. Those guys were too young to ever see The Minutemen. I started listening to more music by the Minutemen than I had in a long time. It was always a down thing for me since the death of D. Boon. But, the more I listened, the more I started liking the short songs we did. I got interested in doing that style again. Then I was on tour with the Stooges in Madrid, and I went to this museum and saw some paintings by Hieronymus Bosch. I picked up on this guy as a kid, and his paintings seemed really weird to me. I wanted to make music influenced by these paintings and talk about a guy who is still a punk rocker in his 50s. I was using some of my old ways with short songs mixed in with this crazy painter's visions. I was trying to confront myself in this moment.
What is it about the music of The Minutemen that makes it still resonate some 25 years after the band ended?
I like the idea of no filler. D. Boon used to say that people work hard all week so we are not going to waste their time with long songs. We got right to the point. It's hard to talk about why people like your music.
The Minutemen were around the same time as Black Flag, Bad Brains and Minor Threat. Clearly, the early '80s were an important time in American music.
It was a trippy time. I was very lucky to be a part of it. That's why I keep trying my hardest because I was lucky and I am not going to take it for granted.
Seeing that you are doing the solo thing while at the same time being in the Stooges and working as a session musician as well, could one make the case that you're one of the hardest working musicians around ?
The last few years, I've been doing way more gigs than records. I am just now starting to do a lot of records. I do have a lot of projects and collaborations in the works. My life has come to the point that I figure everybody has something to teach me. I want to learn how to do things better.
Is playing with The Stooges kind of like going to punk rock fantasy camp?
It's the most interesting classroom I've ever been in. Iggy has really helped me become a better bass player. It's something that I could have never predicted. Next month, it will be eight years since they asked me to join. It's the biggest crowds that I've ever seen. And Iggy's work ethic is amazing. He never goes halfway. There's no sleepwalking with that guy. It's infectious. I get so caught up with his charisma and enthusiasm.
You're 53 year old. Does that means punk rock can make it to middle age?
If I keep astute and I don't get too full of myself. I think any musical style can keep going. It's more of a state of mind.
You've collaborated with so many people. Is there anyone left you'd like to play with?
Bob Mould from Husker Du. I'd love to play with him. I'd love to be part of a Husker Du reunion. And John Zorn, that crazy sax guy from New York. That might be wild.
You've described your last three albums as operas. Is it odd to hear Mike Watt and opera together in the same sentence?
Totally, because I come from the land of little songs. But I did mix up a bit with this third one because I added stuff from the old days. Even though all the pieces go together to make one song, I did use the Minutemen form.
How did you come to play on a Kelly Clarkson album?
It was weird. The producer guy called me up. I knew him [David Kahne] from years back. I just showed up and they told me what to play. The songs were all done except for the bass. I only play on six of the tunes. That kind of shit is scary. You got to learn the songs fast but right. Everybody is looking at you. But she was very cool. I didn't know who she was but she didn't have a posse. I tell you this: She can sing. Fuck, there was no Auto-Tune on that voice.