In the world of punk rock, few have stuck to their guns like Mike Watt has. He was a member of legendary econo-punkers Minutemen, currently plays bass for Iggy & the Stooges and has continually been active as a solo artist for the past three decades.
This week, ANDY had the chance to chat with Watt, as he sat in his sunny living room in San Pedro, California. It was humbling to hear him so eager to speak openly in a slow paced Virginia-via-California drawl about the relevance of punk today and his newest material.
“Punk wasn’t a style of music, it was an attitude. We tried to do stuff that wasn’t on the beaten path,” Watt asserted. “Don’t get all cock-sure of yourself, just have a little nerve to try stuff that might not fit in.”
Watt has renown in independent music circles for his strict adherence to a low-cost, econo approach to music. “If you feel like you don’t fit in you have to do it yourself, you have to keep that autonomy. In not being a style, but a set of ethics, you don’t have to worry about stylized things or being out of date.”
Watt’s latest project, Spielgusher, is a far-out collaboration with a Japanese drum/guitar duo, playing to poems written by renowned rock lyricist, Richard Meltzer.
“Meltzer gave me 48 spoken word poems and we made about 63 pieces of music to go behind it – kind of Minutemen style,” Watt laughed. “I got together with these guys in Tokyo for three days and just wailed out all these jams to go behind it.”
Since the end of Minutemen, following the tragic death of front man D. Boon, Watt has stayed away from the fragmented writing style they became known for. “I gotta tell you, I didn’t listen to a lot of Minutemen after [Boon] got killed. It was bummer.”
But in 2005, two filmmakers approached Watt with the idea of shooting a Minutemen documentary, forcing him to dig up a painful past. “These guys, Keith and Tim, they were too young to actually see us. So they wanted me to do the spiel. I had to listen to the Minutemen for this thing and I kind of got into it again. I wanted to write like that.” The result was the award winning, We Jam Econo.
What followed was Watt’s first effort since 2004, Hyphenated-Man, inspired equally by the Minutemen and the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, who“made one thing out of a lot of little things, little creatures, you know?
“I didn’t want to make just some nostalgia trip. I wanted to make it about where I am now, a middle-aged punk rocker. I wrote ‘em all on D. Boon’s guitar, so I’m not ripping off the Minutemen. I usually write my stuff on bass. It gives the other players a lot of room. I thought, ‘maybe if I use his guitar I’ll have the courage.’”
After three decades, it’s incredibly inspiring to see Watt still venturing forth into untouched territory, embodying in his art everything that he believes