'new ways to dance and wear clothes'
The Mike Watt Interview
Location: Watt's van/Slim's/San Francisco, CA late 1998
by Eric Enriquez--> EE
(you may distribute freely - although you may gather no income from said distribution)
[By way of introduction: Mike Watt began playing music in the earliest days of CA punk, founding with D. Boon and George Hurley, The Minutemen(insert ovation here). After the death of bandmate and soul-brother D. Boon, Watt focused on his bass duo, Dos and his legendary fIREHOSE. He has released two 'solo' albums on Columbia Records. The first, a self-styled 'wrestling album', featured performances from rock luminaries as well as relative unknowns. His latest, 'Contemplating The Engine Room,' is a Joycean rock opera that weaves his experiences in The Minutemen together with his father's career as a Navy man. We interrupt this eternal spiel, already in progress. ]
..Tojo just got them angry about falling in love with jazz and American culture in the 20's. He said the same thing that helped the pro-Khomeini people in Iran. Saying that they were being swung too far to the West. That's what's dangerous about MTV, Levi's & winning the Cold War; it's such a one-way street that it's only making ammunition for their reactionary forces. It should be a two-way street for all the culture we sell them, we should buy some back, so they can't say that it's just a big imperialistic force-feed. But people are just too egoed out. They want to be on a winning team. In fact India has got one of the biggest movie industries in the world, but you won't even deal with one percent of their movies, and they let none of ours in their country. They are the only market we don't own, movie-wise. It makes Nationalism get kind of belig. If it's more of a two-way street then it's kind of harder for our fanatics and their fanatics to sway people with their demagoguery. Nationalism, in a lot of ways, is just circumstance. You open your eyes and they tell you what country you're born in. No one picks, it's just so ridiculous.
EE: I have a few questions for you: I would like to know how your health is at this point in the tour.
This is gig 46 out of 51 days, we're doing 48 in 51. I do have a slight infection behind my ear. One of my canals got infected. So, I've been on antibiotics for about a week now. Not heavy. It makes you kind of spaced out and gives you a slight fever. But, the way I've learned about antibiotics is that you've got to use them, even though you get better. What happened was that behind the ear here, it started swelling in Olympia, big time. Well, it's a lymph node, so I'm under attack. It's the stress from 3 months of touring. Because before this tour I did the European and only had four days between so in a way it's almost 12 weeks.
EE: You had 2 more rounds before that though...
That's right. It's kind of a heavy deal. But I promised myself that I was going to do this opera for a year. I want to really play it in every town I can, some towns twice, or three times, right? I'll probably end up playing it 4 or 5 times here. But, for a year I wanted just to be playing the opera. Just as kind of a commitment to myself. I've been doing years of 'let's play them the best songs we know,' and this is kind of weird, you know. It is one of the best songs, one big old song, a fifteen part song but in another way, it's organized contrary to the way most rock and roll works. You don't usually get slower and slower [laughs.]
EE: But most rock and roll isn't as circular in format as your opera.
Right, or trying to tell the story of your old band, which is what I'm trying to do. The way the Minutemen ended, I just couldn't get into a 'Long live rock' thing and Nuremberg it out. So, in a way, it's a test for me, to see if I've got enough guts. Like, even last night in San Jose, some kid , near the end of the opera when I'm really stretching it out, he's going, 'Come on.' The guy is obviously wanting to see what I'm going to do, but the patience thing is kind of a test. I don't think it's just a test for the audience, it's kind of a test for me too. Because I have been doing a lot of years of gigs and one thing about doing a lot of gigs is that you get really used to crowd response. You know, like vaudeville. So it's kind of tough not to do the things that are gonna give you the big response. Hambone and shit, you know? [all laugh] It's kind of corny but, I swear to god, that shit creeps in. No matter how sophister you are, you start hamming it for a crowd. 'Oh I should be in high gear right now,' [in a big God-as-burning-bush voice] 'Long Live Rock!'
EE: This is not just a commitment for you, You've got 2 other musicians and a soundman on for this crazy year also.
You know what, every unit has been different. The bands on tour are not the same unit that recorded the album. In a way the piece is bigger than the tunes. That's one of the things I am trying to get at...is that the piece can be independent even of the crowd. Like if the crowd is kind of impatient and wants you to get into the 'Big Train' and the fast songs. Well, no...no, let's surrender to the piece...for a year. (laughs) Not for the rest of my life. If I were doing the piece for too long it would get automatic, we would lose a lot of it.
EE: Has that happened yet?
No. That's one of the reasons I set up the way I do, so we're facing each other. I try to get eye contact...to really keep it fresh. If it becomes executing parts...man, it'll be stale as a motherfucker, I think.
EE: After this year, do you have a plan?
Oh yeah. I have some more songs that I want to do, you know? What I want to do in my 40's is to put me and my bass in interesting situations that force me to be creative. Ok, so I can't keep doing the opera. A year of it, is fully a lot of it, believe me. I think it's worth it and I think that at this point in my life it's something that I have to do. I just have to do it. The subject matter calls for it, but just the idea of surrendering to a piece of music and not so wholly to the crowd thing. It's kind of different for me. It's making me more brave because a lot of that stuff comes from fear. The stuff about just trying to play off the response...the...because you know what? Sure people want to hear what they want to hear. But in another way, in the back of their minds, they want to hear something they ain't heard yet. I mean, there's extremes. I remember Husker Du would play the whole next album always...that hadn't been released yet. No one would know any of the songs. That's one of the best bands. They inspired the Minutemen so much....a lot of the SST bands...that was something else. My next plan...? I've already done the wrestling record (Ball-Hog or Tug-Boat) my new idea...I wrote a bunch of songs for my cats and my town. They are very opposite. My cat has been around for 17 years. He knew the Minutemen. My town's getting scary. They're adding gated communities. We're starting to Balkanize and split up. It makes me very intense. I don't think this is a good thing for a town, to get scared of each other. So, I have these songs from two ends of the field and, I want to put my bass I want to play with a trio again, but I want to play with an organ. I want to be more aggressive on that bass. Playing with a guitar, I'm getting a little bit conservative because I didn't want to sound like another guitar. But I think with an organ I don't have to worry. Organs can be really full without being loud. I haven't really played with them a lot. I played with Bernie Worrel (ed. P-Funk!) and had a band called Crimony with Paul Roessler which was very strange, no drums. You know a keyboard is really weird. It's like a computer, you have a button for each note. It's much different than a stringed instrument or a horn. But, it can get a lot of notes in, this is the difference. I can't stack as many notes as a keyboardist. He can do all ten, plus some elbows (laughs). One thing I'm really backward in is harmony with chords and voicings. Everytime I make a record, I learn a little more. Especially with these last few records, because I forced myself into these weird situations and now with the keyboard. I think it'll be strange. When I think of bass, drums & keyboard, my nightmare is Emerson Lake & Palmer. No one thinks of that anymore because that's old days but everybody says to me now that it's Medeski Martin and Wood that're doing it. So, that'll be my new project. It's very alien to me, very strange. But at the same time, I'm writing about my cat, my town which are very familiar.
EE: You have a new project where you play an upright bass...
Yeah, Li'l Pit. But that's only four songs. I made a single but that's pretty hard. That's going to take me years to get good at. But, the only way to really get good at it is to make records. That forces your ass, in that people are going to hear it. So, I'm going to make another Kill Rock Stars (northwest indie label) record with 4 songs on it this time. Perkins will be on it and Petra is going to play violin and Thalia is gonna sing, she's a (San) Pedro lady. Really, that's how I learn is by doing it. I ain't good enough, really, with that instrument to take it places yet. I'm still trying to get...it's like a huge violin. It's not like a guitar at all. Where the body meets the neck is very hard to play, you've got to turn your hand up and down instead of sideways. The bow I want to get into. Some kid is sending me one. I've never tried it. So that's a new thing for me. Also, this summer, the 4th Dos album is out. That's my oldest band. Dos I have had now for almost 13 years. A lot of my songwriting comes out of Dos. I wrote almost all of the fIREHOSE songs...I'd say at least half to two-thirds are Dos songs that I wrote for Kira [Roessler, the second bass in Dos and Watt's ex-wife] first with the two basses. Two bass music is really independent. There is no one else and there's no hiding. You have to become the rhythm and the melody. These things are really strong and they are really challenging to give to a guitar player. Guitarists usually like to write the song first. To have all of this brought to them is very strange. But I loved that. That's one of the things I really liked about fIREHOSE. Edward [fROMOHIO, fIREHOSE guitarist/a Minutemen fan that brought Watt back to the 'power troika' or trio] had never been in a band anyway so he was really gung ho for all of it. That made fIREHOSE kind of a funny band because we didn't start with a guitar. A couple of songs did, but not many.
EE: Most people probably didn't know that.
That's OK. A lot of people didn't know that about the Minutemen either. D. Boon wrote about a third of the songs. D. Boon wrote most of the good songs but if you look at all our songs, he wrote only about a third of them. A lot of them were bass songs using his words, my words, Georgie's [Hurley, Minutemen/fIREHOSE drummer] words. I would get into ruts and their words would really help me find new licks. I haven't written that way in years.
EE: How do you write them now?
The opera record was a big difference. I didn't use my bass at all. I did it on a bicycle riding around my town and whistling. I had never tried that before. But if you listen, all of the melody lines are on the basslines. That's something I learned with Porno (for Pyros). Perry brought me in to do those two songs...Man, I hadn't even heard 'em. So I kind of went with the singing. I had to just make it up right on the spot. It was pretty intense. But, I'll tell you...that 'Good God's Urge' bassline is one of the best basslines I ever wrote and I had to make it right up there, man. It was hard. Some parts he just stopped. I had to make up something.
EE: Are you going to be participating at all with his new, post-Porno project?
Gobblee! He left a message about it. I haven't been home really to do that. He told me he's studying with a rabbi too. He gave me some little lesson on the phone about Moses bringing down the commandments. Because they teach the Bible in a way that they read another part of it - the first five books, and that's how they learn it.. There's a cycle that goes every year. On that day, it was about Moses bringing down the tablets and he called me up and he knows I'm interested in that stuff. I've helped him out on a couple of tours. In Australia I got book on old Jewish symbolism. He has a lot of knowledge about that stuff. He's going back to get some more, I guess. He's got a friend who studied to be a rabbi, and he's got a lot of knowledge about it too.
EE: He's Jewish, you're not.
No, well...Maybe I am, back far enough. My mother's father is from Sicily, but the family name is only two generations there. We think that they might have been gypsies from Yugoslavia. So we might be Jewish there. And if they were wandering all around...there's probably a Jew in all of us. They say in New Mexico a lot of people had to hide it. That Jews came down and intermarried and then the church got really heavy and made everybody hide the traditional names but now it's coming out. 150 years later they learn that there's Jewish in their blood. I'll tell you where Jewishness is a lot with me, is in my business, my culture, my music. Because Jews were the guys who went from town to town playing - the minstrels...that's why there's a lot of Yiddish in showbiz talk, because there were a lot of Jews in it. It's also interesting to me because of the Christians. Christ was a Jew. Even though these people won't admit it. So, somewhere, underneath all this there's a Jewish kind of background. I mean the Catholic Church finally said, just a little while ago, that you can't persecute Jews for killing Christ. And then...who's a Jew? They have arguments within themselves - it goes through the Mom, or all you need is a rabbi to agree with ya, they don't really have a central church like the Catholic Church.
The Southern Baptists right now are in Salt Lake City, causing a big ruckus. I was in town there - they want to convert people, they're calling the Mormons atheists. These are the people who want prayer in the schools...whose prayer? They can't even agree amongst themselves. Like yesterday they said that the women gotta submit. Well, there happens to be 2 pastors in the Southern Baptists that are woman pastors. So what, submit? They're the bosses. And one of them is just leaving the church here in SF and taking over a church in Waco. The first day she was there, she was picketed. Not by Southern Baptists, but by some born again group called 'God Is The Word.' And they blamed her for drugs, prostitution, the only thing they left out was global warming.
EE: The Judaic take on 'submission' of course would be at least twofold. There's the implied transfer of power, but there's a strength in that, if you learn it.
Maybe there is some strength there. It happened with me. OK, when the punk rock came in '76 I wrote on my shirt and stuff. My mother's Italian so my hair didn't really take to the Vaseline. It just made a big puddle on the top of my head. I found real early that you can't really dress this way and have any power. These motherfuckers are gonna stop me right at the door. Sop, I learned to go back to my high school clothes which look very unassuming. I found there was a power there, because now we could get in the door and play our gig. It's the power of the mindblow too, because then when you go in and deliver your art, people would never have expected this from you. The audience finds it intoxicating. They are in a world of images and you confound them. You know, when you don't look like the 'Shock Troop of Tomorrow' or something, you look like one of them but you don't sound like one of them. It confuses them. The power is that it makes them question what they're doing. It isn't like 'Wow, do I join these guys or ...' There's nothing to join, it's just expression. Because a lot of rebellion and movements come down to clothes. I swear to god. Right now there's a big thing - swing. It's great, if these kids want to check out these players and music from the 40's, well there were some hot musicians. On the other hand, it's like here's another excuse to buy some new clothes for all the Orange County kids.
EE: Well, vintage clothing stores do have to move the next era that piles up...
Yeah, that's gotta be weird. I took my guys to Dachau, it's the third time I've been there but seeing those big posters of these guys [Nazis] dressed like clowns...skulls on their hats - talk about a punk rock outfit. And everybody tried to say that they didn't know what was going on. I don't buy it. They loved a parade. I think Hitler was a rock star and girls really dug him. Not like the way our propaganda makes him some kind of weird freak. I think women liked him a lot and guys like the power of that - that's why they wore the uniforms. The belt buckles said 'God is with us.' (my guest Shawn mentions that Hitler was Jewish) That's right, So he was a self hater, which is always a healthy thing in some ways. I mean you should be a little skeptical & humble, but the self-hate maybe is a little too heavy. He was an artist, he learned how to paint houses. He uses art symbols because... he uses a lot of the things that almost everybody who wants to be...he writes a book, or dictates a book to someone in prison. 'My War,' so it's very personal. So, he used a lot of the elements that artist traditionally use. So, what made Nazism bad? Well, a lot of people try to say that 'it was this madman trying to get everybody to think the same way.' This is what I was brought up on. But I disagree with that. I think that the people bought into it and wanted it to happen. The 'madman' didn't 'trick' them. They made it happen. I think you are always gonna have cats like that walking around, it's when society enables them that they have the power. This is one thing I was taught from my punk rock experience. The audience really has the power. It's not the guy on stage. The guy on stage is just praying that they'll like him. He has hardly any power. The fans work all week. They spend their money where they want it. It's intense. People are convinced that their choices are weak. They say that the pool is shallow. If we don't pick him, who is there? If we don't pick Billy Squier, or Led Zeppelin broke up, or they're back together but they're lame. It's like with our beauty contest every four years, the presidential election. [like a doofus] 'Oh the choices are just too weak, and that's why we have these lame guys in there.' I just won't buy it, that's just the mass not taking responsibility.
EE: Can you say a few things about visiting Masonic Temples as you tour around?
That's historical. Starting early with tours I wondered why they were in every town. Why are they old? There aren't really new Masonic Temples being built. Obviously there was an historical connection. And a lot of the guys who started the country were into that. I think it was the first punk band in America - the Masons. They dressed up as workers they wore aprons and had little shovels. But they weren't workers, they were bosses. They used symbolism to try to describe the morality and the world in geometric terms. Which was all pretty 18th Century. Ben Franklin was a big one, of course George Washington. Herr Weishaupt & his Illuminati. The whole idea of the perfectibility of...that was what the Illuminati was originally called - The Perfectibilitists - people who can make themselves better. This ran head to head against the Calvinist thing where its all determined. Which is kind of an underlying philosophy in America. Even though America was built with all these religious cults, the Deists, Masons...well, they didn't really build it, they ran it. The lower cults built it. But, to me it's interesting because it's a subculture, with hidden signs of recognition. Very close to the scene that I came from, with all our little signs and our little...they had a lot more power than us. But our power was really power over ourselves, to get empowered. To be brave enough to come up with our own music, make our own records and our own songs. Maybe we didn't start countries and stuff like that, but somewhere along them lines, I think we share something with them. It's something I stumbled into working for this old lawyer in the early-eighties named Mr. Handley. I even put him in that song 'Old Man'. Mr. Handley was an old lawyer and a Mason, the first one I'd met. He wouldn't tell me a lot about it, but Mr. Handley was way different than me. He was very old, he was in his nineties. Most of his clients were dead, so he was doing probate. [Lots of interruptions at this point in the spiel] But a lot of people were afraid of them [Masons]. Like Southern Baptists or Pat Robertson, they think they run the world and so they're afraid of them. But the same thing with punk rock, some people were so afraid of them. So I share a lot of things with them in some ways and in some ways I share nothing with them. Like me using the Navy as a paradigm for my opera.
EE: So, you would never join a lodge or something like that?
[Quietly] I don't know. People gotta run their own lives, they can't be listening to Watt on that end. They could join a lodge, in fact one guy did and he told me that he thought I did. He thought I was a Mason. He goes,' You're not one!?' [Laughter] And he went and joined and everything. A lot of people are Masons because their fathers were Masons. Same thing with the Bible. There's two ways of talking about the Bible. You could see it as funny literature. But the other way, these are sacred writings and history. People can't look at it as literature though. Stories. If you start doing that, you're a heretic. It's hard for me to take them people serious.
Historical places I like to go to on tour, because I really believe in the idea of physicality. You cant really just read about everything. You can't just see pictures of everything. There's something about going to places and being able to look where you want to look. You get your own perspective. There's something about this that really is unique. It's unique and it's something my work has allowed me to do. I can actually go to Birmingham, walk around and find by the old police station an old synagogue. I would never realize that. The stereotype going that 'southerners hate jews.' Here's a synagogue from the twenties there...how? Well, it's there. Then I have to find out why. It's not like me having all these preconceptions of what should be there. Going to battlefields is interesting. I don't do that as much because I've been to almost all of them. Especially when we were Minutemen, me & D. Boon went to all of them. It was really intense. There was this one battlefield, in North Carolina called Guilford Courthouse. And because it's in North Carolina, they put NC boys out in the front row. And then they put Virginia, because that's a state over. Continental Army was third in line. Then behind the Continental Army, they put the pickets. Now, the pickets are the best shots. Why would you put your best shots way in the back? Well, they out-and-out tell ya on the plaques, it was to shoot the guys who ran. So fear, like Richard McKenna talks about in the Sand Pebbles, (out of print and required reading for all who play the Opera) the military fear. It was me & D. Boons favorite movie, so I found it in a used bookstore. It was really hard to know what the movie was about though. They're dealing with an American Gunboat in China in the twenties. And everybody's got a 'coolie' on board, doing his job. It was really hard to understand what was going on there as a teenager. Reading the book, it's really easy. The book is written simply. Twenty-two years he [Mckenna] was in the Navy [BBM Factoid: They had to trim McKenna's eyebrows down to two inches!] and he really knew his characters. It's no Michener thing where he spent a week in Hawaii and writes a thousand page book on Hawaii. It's a great metaphor too. These guys...everybody's got a 'coolie' doing his job. So when the revolution comes, China comes, the 'coolies' jump off the boat. These guys don't even know how to sail their own boat anymore, so what happens? Mutiny. The captain locks himself in the room, with a gun on the desk, ready for suicide. The crew is just belig as hell. There's no more fear. And that's what this Guilford Courthouse thing is about. You put your best pickets back there to keep the fear. They don't teach you that in the books. They teach you valor, heroics, courage, but the reality isn't that. And I couldn't have learned that except by maybe fighting in a war. I think you learn it right away. But it was by going to the battlefield and accidentally stumbling onto this stuff. And this is one of the very lucky things about my work. The physicality of being able to check out certain things. And then going back years later because your memory does funny things. You start remembering things differently. When you go back to these things, it's not the way you remembered them. It's weird about that. Your mind is such a control freak that it even wants to control phenomena. It wants to put things in their place according to where you are. Philosophy means how you put your ideas in order. I think it's dynamic, it's always changing. The memories are, kind of, slaves to this. They are not the empiricals, they are not the yardsticks forever solid. Man, this is happening time and time again. I go back and it's not like I remember it. Memories are not linear. The memories are always there. So some thing can happen that fires them off. You'll read in my tour diaries. I'll start talking about things that really don't have to do with what's going on then, because all of a sudden I remember. Like, we drive through Columbus, Ohio and I start thinking of Edward(fROMOHIO)'s Mom and Dad. About the first time that I met them. So I start talking about this! It has nothing to do with this tour and doing the Opera. [short exchange about Columbus ensues, everything, it seems does relate to the Opera somehow.]
Edward came from a musical family. He was sent to school to play trumpet. I'm a thug. [ape's self comically] 'I just wanna be wi' D Boon!' I was coming from a whole different angle than Edward. And to meet his parents, I was scared shitless. But his parents were very nice. Damn, I was scared to meet them. I was scared of all authority. I talk in the diaries about meeting these southern boys that turned into hippies. They're men in their middle ages. But they're not from 'the establishment.' When I was a kid, no one had parents who were hippies. I was born when my dad was seventeen. That's still 1957. You have to be born in the sixties and seventies to have hippie parents. So this is a new phenomena for me. It started to happen when I started touring and meeting young punk rockers and they came from hippies. For me, parents were always establishment. The older ones, I guess the one's you rebel against. Maybe some hip ones at the college teaching, OK? Regular Joes...and this is a bigotry that I was brought up with. This thing about 'don't trust anyone over thirty' or whatever...this is wrong. Don't trust anyone who's an asshole, that's what you do. Young or old.
[Big Snip Here...I point out that the music doesn't/didn't sound afraid]
It was a self-contained world. We cut them all out. They weren't part of our world at all. Older people, government, schools, all out. And that's why in kind of a way it's a fake world. It's a little Peter Pan thing, it's not real. But sometimes to get enough confidence to find a way to be expressive, maybe you have to do that. But, it's not really a paradigm to run the world. It's neat that everybody can make a band. But there's more to life than just bands.
EE: Can you address the preconception of 'Columbia recording artist as Limo-riding rock star?'
Oh yeah, I get that all the time.
EE: How about the difference in working with the Kill Rock Stars label, as opposed to Columbia, or even SST?
Exactly the same. I just hand in tapes, I don't make demos. There's some things that people don't have such a big problem with that aren't exactly 'Indie' When you use your phone card or ATM card it's not too 'Indie.' But when it comes to record labels, well... I don't blame them, because so many hustles have been run on them. I think that's why I'm on the label (Columbia, a division of SONY MUSIC) Because I'm a little bit different. I'm low maintenance and I give them a dimension that they don't have. They don't really deal with the other bands like this at all. But I think Journey is better at being Journey than I am. I make a poor-ass Journey. When I first signed, I would have these Wisenheimers whispering in my ear, saying to me,' Hey Watt, it's time to move it up another level.' To me that sounds like you've earned the privilege to pay more people. I don't need to earn that privilege. To me the bigger challenge is coming up with interesting music. Not the way I deliver it. The way I deliver it is Ok. These other parts of touring that are my life, this exploring. I tried it with Perry [Watt filled bass role on the last Porno For Pyros tour] You couldn't do it. You had to leave when that tour bus left.
EE: Were you able to be creative in that environment?
Yeah. Well it was not my music. So I had to find a way to fit in. That required a lot of creativity. As far as the tour being a journey though...the kind of journey that I take...no it wasn't. I'd always listen to John Coltrane in the back of the big bus. I never slept one wink in them. I was too scared. I didn't know the driver. They drove always at night. It doesn't make my music better or worse than anybody's. It's just different. The way I do this, it isn't a prison sentence. This is the way I like to do it. Some people think limos. Some people think they even fly you to all your gigs. This is one reason I am doing the tour diaries. [Posted online after tours at www.hootpage.com, Watt's website] I want to tell folks there's other ways to do this. It has been done this way for a long time. We are more like sailors. We work all these different towns. Towns are interesting. There's reasons why all these towns were built. To me it's a very interesting way to learn. Also, somehow, it's a good test of your music. I just like touring this way.
I like making the records the way I do. I just get an idea. I marshal all my stuff together. I give it as good a try as I can. And then I do it. I hand it over to them. I put it out there. I give a lot of respect to my labels, because a lot of cats aren't that open-minded. It's not like I'm pulling the wool over their eyes. It's more like these guys are in on it too. They show respect for me...which I have a lot of respect for. Maybe I have a track record, I've been doing this awhile, but still. I see a lot of band-incited flavor-of-the-week behavior. Not label-incited, band-incited. I'm part of a culture. That's one of the reasons I made the album. I'm not just by myself. In a cultural sense, there's a thing that started back in those old days, that's still kinda going. I think Sonic Youth still make the records they want. I think Beck does that. Team Dresch does that.
I remember my first rock star gig was in 1971 and it was Marc Bolan and T. Rex. I remember D. Boon and me and his father went to the gig. His father was from Nebraska. Albert Hammond opened up and they booed him off. They wanted to see Marc Bolan. He came out there and he'd do two minutes from the song, and then a ten minute guitar solo. He'd get on his knees...he looked a little bloated, a little out of it. He had glitter in his hair. I was very far away, too. It was long Beach Auditorium, which was a smaller place...maybe 4000, but the gigs were so big and impersonal then. So, yeah, that was my first big rock and roll star. And, yeah, I forgave him for a lot of things.
It wasn't until the shitty Blue Oyster Cult albums when I started to go, 'Whoah, I don't care if they're the BOC, I don't like this.' And Dylan too, it happened like this...and The Who! It happened really bad with The Who. 'Cause me and D. Boon believed in that band...I guess we never saw Roger Daltrey sing. I mean, we really like this band here, but...that ain't enough. They've got to have some good songs too.
[at this point, Mr. Watt is noticeably ready for his dinner/pre-show nap]
But that was just us being critical for the first time. And not forgiving. We weren't saying, 'They're major label now.'
EE: Have any of your own songs or albums let you down in that way?
Some of them I like more than others. [long pause] I really don'like the snare sound on 'Three-Way Tie' [(For Last), an album by The Minutemen.] Man, I hate that sound...I hate it. But I like the songs. I don't like the sound of 'fROMOHIO.' [an album by fIREHOSE]. My favorite fIREHOSE album is 'Ragin, Full On.' It's recorded funny but I really like the spirit. Of The Minutemen's, I like 'Double Nickels' [(On The Dime) a truly brilliant 80's milestone in your editor's never-to be-humble opinion] the best.
EE: Do you listen to your own music very much?
No. Not at all. I listen to it a lot while I'm doing it...then zero. I hear it when I go into radio stations to do interviews.
[We wrap it up with a discussion of his tour schedule which, for eighteen years has been nearly constant. He takes it in stride. As of press time, he has just completed a thirteen month series of mini-tours as a way of sharing his Opera with as many people as possible. I saw two shows and can vouch for the trio's ability to deliver it. Watt has no complaints about his van/club/motel six grind beside the obvious parking issues and everyday human oversights.]
EE: Do you have any closing words of advice for young people?
Oh yeah. There's a lot of pressures to conform. Wear the right clothes, listen to the right band...but be brave if you've got a feeling for something a little different. At the end of the day, if it's not too harmful to the rest of us...we might be very grateful to you for coming up with that good idea.
It's really sad to see youth, who don't really know how everything's supposed to work and whether they're courageous or just naive, they get hustled into marketing target groups. So, be a little skeptical about how they use our music and writing and painting. But don't be cynical about it. In fact, jump in and get wet...and dare. That's what I say to the youth.
People like [graphic artist/video directing pioneer, Raymond] Pettibon, people like those old SST [the label that released most of Watt's music before Columbia] compadres...I would never be anywhere without these cats. These were some young men with some wild ideas. But all the ideas were not thought up at any one time. We need more good ideas. Even new ways to dance and wear clothes! But, for sure, some new ideas that are fuckin' happenin'.
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