WattSpiel; The Mike Watt Interview

Steve ‘PING!’ Pingleton is joining the AZPX Journalism staff and will be reporting on whatever he wants all the while sprinking in some gems from his vast archive of all things radical. The first installment is an interview PING! did with the legendary Mike Watt along with Rob Locker’s introduction/mini-interveiw from 2000, two years before AZPX. Enjoy

ike Watt is a legend in punk rock. Originally one of the founding members of the Minutemen, then fIREHOSE, Dos, the man has done everything. Recently he has released some solo projects that are truly amazing, a man with a incredible passion for what he is doing.

Earlier this year, Watt almost died from an illness that had him hospitalized for nearly 6 months. He is touring right now with his latest band called “A Pair of Pliers” featuring Tom Watson (guitars) and Vince Meghrouni (drums). The tour is dubbed “Enough with the Pissbag Tour 2000” reflecting his newfound appreciation of LIFE. These guys ROCK, go see them if they even get close to where you live, D. Boone would have been proud!

I was honored enough to get a short interview with him before the Olympia show; much thanks to Rob for hooking me up. Also much respect to Mike Watt, for giving me an interview with a blown-out voice, and for being such an inspiration to us all.

This interview was done in two parts.

Part One: Scottsdale, AZ on 7-28-00 by Rob Locker (Psycho).

Psycho: OK Mike, can you give me a quick spiel on skateboarding because, dude, you play the way I skate.

Watt: You know there is a danger, playing a lot of years, a lot of notes, you end up kneeling to the gods of fusion. I would rather be dancing on the breeze of confusion. I try to take inspiration from the brothers risking all on the boards. On the board, when your skating, if you fall down you have to get up. You cannot bullshit your way out of it. You have to dance. You’re working with balances; forces beyond your control.

Psycho: You gotta’ take a chance!

Watt: Absolutely. When I fire up that bass, it’s out of my hands. Like a water hose that’s wigglin’. I’m just trying to hold onto it. Or maybe a giant tube of toothpaste. That is how I see skateboards; you can chop it off anyway, but it just keeps it’s flow. In my day, they had clay and steel wheels, you couldn’t even go on the street, OK, so I had to play bass. There is a real danger with rock and roll, it has become very fascist. One guy on a big Nuremberg rally stage. But the skater, he stays individual. If he scrapes his knee, it’s his knee, not everyone elses knee. You know, there’s something personal about it, and that is what I’m trying to bring to my musical experience. And so there will forever be a parallel and a connection, for me, with the men who ride the boards.

Psycho: Right on Mike, much love, I will see you next time.

Part Two: Olympia, WA on 9/16/00 on the “Boat” by Steve Pingleton (Ping!).

Ping: I just went to a big seminar at the Experience Music Project in Seattle last month on “The Roots of Punk and Skateboarding”, it was crazy, T.S.O.L. actually played inside the museum. Jack got a little carried away…

Watt: (laughing) Yeah, he’s an old friend of mine. I saw him on the Warped tour, we did some gigs… I’m doing a tour diary right now, I put them up at www.hootpage.com. I want to kinda de-mystify this whole idea of having a band and touring. It’s not really the MTV rock star scene, Real World or whatever, it the real, real, world. I don’t know how anybody could be in front of a camera and act real anyways.

Ping: Yeah, it’s all so fake. Alright, you’re using a MAC at least, that’s cool…

Watt: Oh yeah, I’m an old Apple II guy, I even hated Macs, but they orphaned out the Apple II. You were talking about the Music Experience, all that Microsoft money. I don’t want to be in with all that. It’s like having one way to skate, you know, it’s not right. It’s like like putting everybody on inline skates, hogging the whole sidewalks, no fucking technique, no skills, no individuality. I just can’t handle it! I don’t know if Steve Jobs is a much better guy, but as long as they are a thorn in Bill Gates’s ass, I will support em’.

Ping: Macs are more the choice for creative people too.

Watt: Yeah, Windows&reg: is such a ripoff of the Mac OS anyways. I saw the new OS X, I stayed at a friends house recently, he had the OS X, what a trip…

Ping: Yeah, it’s gonna change everything. People are not gonna think of Macs as toys anymore…

Watt: Yeah, I agree, they never should have anyways. That’s the power of marketing, the other fucking thing is a toy! A toy all set up to allow you no privacy, no reliability…

Ping: Yeah, Gates and his hidden agenda’s.

Watt: They have such contempt for the users!! Just because he has this little mousy look, with the sweaters, people don’t think of him as threatening.

Ping: Yeah, a lot of people up here refer to Microsoft® as “The Evil Empire”. I don’t know if you have heard that yet.

Watt: I believe it. I think they are really kind of feudalist in their thinking, pretending to deliver to people something kind of modern and enabling, but not at all. A back of the hand that’s got a lot of chains, and puppet strings, I don’t dig it.

Ping: Especially in Seattle, they pull too many puppet strings.

Watt: I don’t know if big money capitalism is really the same thing a free enterprise anyway. It seems they want to eliminate competition and marketplace ideas. I’m gonna be 43 in December. I grew up with all this cold war propaganda and everything. And now that supposedly that’s all over, what? We made the world safe so we can have just a couple of corporations? Packing the world with radios, promotions, computers with automobiles. And so, it was like that was just propaganda to get people in a fighting mode or something, they didn’t really believe it. I just don’t dig it, and I’m gonna fight against it. If it means having to get a MAC, if it means touring in the boat, playing my own songs. There’s a lot of other cats out there doing the same thing, you got your little ‘zine and stuff, see to me, that’s the true spirit, whatever that is. I don’t know if it’s that defined. Maybe that’s good that it ain’t defined but that, to me, is free enterprise! Not wrapping yourself in a flag, and calling everybody else names because they won’t kneel to you.

Ping: Yeah, the internet has actually impowered a lot of individuals to do their own things, like with SkateRock.com, our website. We started out, you know, it was just 2 skateboarders, my friend Brian Brannon from J.F.A…

Watt: Oh absolutely, I wrote some stories for him when he was at Thrasher…

Ping: Yeah, and Michael Cornelius, who was the bass player

Watt: The first bassist..

Ping: Yeah, they started it together.

Watt: He is in Arizona?

Ping: Yeah, he’s in Phoenix, that’s where I grew up too. Brian was just up here, he (JFA) was one of the main bands playing at the big EMP gig a couple weeks ago, it was TSOL, Agent Orange, JFA, you know, the old school scene. So, it was really good to see…

Watt: That’s what I really like about the internet; the old, kinda fanzine feel. Parallel universes… Online marketing, I’m not so sure about what the big dream is with these .com fucks. But this idea, where we don’t have to go through whatever to talk to each other, we can just get right connected with each other, that’s what I like about the internet. In fact it’s easier than running a fanzine, because you don’t have to worry about ripoff distributors. Like what just happened to Flipside and all that. So, that’s where I see the good things about it, that’s probably why they want to clamp down on it, put toll booths everywhere.

Ping: Yeah, the whole mp3 scene, what do you think of the Smashing Pumpkins recent decision, they basically told their record label to fuck off, and are releasing their last album as mp3 only. They dumped their label!

Watt: Wow! I never liked that band, but I like that idea. And that’s what it’s about anyway; ideas that can help everybody instead of just promoting your own little kinda deal. That’s a good idea because I guess they have a lot of clout; a lot of kids like their music. And then that other big band, Metallica, they kinda gave in to the old model, the old machinery. That’s interesting because you don’t see the big guys like that want to take risks and chances, usually it’s the little guys, the ones with nothing to lose. So, wow, that’s good news.

Ping: Yeah, that just happened a couple days ago I heard. It seems like the major labels are taking advantage of the artists so much, and with the internet and the whole mp3 scene changing things, the people in marketing and big music don’t want it to have it change, so the artist are taking it into their own hands.

Watt: That’s why it’s great, but it seemed like with Metallica they were on the bosses side?

Ping: Yeah, they have some good points too, but it’s weird that with Metallica, they allow taping of their shows, if you buy a tapers ticket, but not trading. I’m a taper, so I’m kinda in touch with that scene.

Watt: Well, I allow taping too, you don’t even have to buy a taper ticket. It’s about building a community, I’m telling you, that’s what all this stuff I’m talking about, fanzines, internet, it’s about community. It’s not actually the machine, or even the art you’re talking about, it’s getting people hooked together. Because I see a lot of connections. Corporations, this stuff, nationalism, that’s taking individuals out, and making us globs of sheep. So I’m into anything that brings us back as individuals. Connected together on real levels. So, to me taping is great, trading mp3’s is great, sharing anything, rather than paying, is great! My friend Raymond Petty is very interested in getting his artwork up on the web, he know nothing about the internet, but he see’s it as a vehicle. Because art is controlled by this little elite group of dealers. Fuck that! Of course, there’s gonna be arguments on all sides, and maybe Metallica has got some points, and maybe Napster, maybe they are just after money, like any other corporation. But there is another argument to be made, you gotta keep the shit open.

Ping: Yeah there’s huge servers out there full of so much live music, not copyrighted music, it’s become kind of high-tech tape trading.

Watt: Or like a library, or checking out a book. My friend Raymond, when his drawing get sold, he only makes the money that first time, it gets resold many times, he doesn’t see any of that money. That’s a long precedent in the art world.

Ping: It’s like try it before you buy it, but you have to trust peoples ethics. I will not personally download commercial releases, I trade live shows, and if I like the artist, then I will go out and buy their music. Support the artists!

Watt: I have a link to a cat who collects my live tapes on my webpage. A Canadian cat named Robert, (I think the guys name is Erinn?) Yeah, why not? I’m interested in building communities, you know. I make my money mainly from playing gigs, not really selling records and stuff. To me records are like flyers, to tell people about the gigs.

Ping: Oh, I wanted to ask you, do you have any new stuff coming out? Any new projects in the works?

Watt: Yeah, I have a whole album to do. I got sick this year, I almost died, I was in bed for six months. Yeah, I have only been playing about a month and a half, two months. I hope to start in the Spring.

Ping: I’m sorry to hear that! Yeah you were down here for Ladyfest not long ago, I’m bummed I missed that show!

Watt: Yeah, that was great, with Kira, my oldest band Dos. Oh man, that was a heavy sickness, an infection grew in me, and I was mistreated by doctors, it grew and grew and almost killed me. These surgeons at County saved my life. L.A. County, thats where they treat the poor people and the gunshots, but hey, they were better that the private guys. Because of their attitude, spirit, just like music or anything else.

Ping: Well I don’t want to make you use your voice too much, you’re gonna need it tonight for the show.

Watt: Yeah, it was just so bad last night in Vancouver, the P.A. blew up in the first gig.

Ping: I do have one more question to ask. I always thought of the Minutemen as a southwestern band, because I was living in Arizona during that period, and you seemed to play there a lot. You guys were one of the first bands to be flying the flannel, and I had always thought of that as a northwestern thing, but this was even before Nirvana, Soundgarden, and that, you guys had flannel on stage. Where did that come from?

Watt: Like I said, we were a little older, and a big hero to me and D. Boone as boys was John Fogerty. And we didn’t know really, it was a farmer shirt or something, we thought it was a Rock and Roll shirt. He was very unique, we thought he had the best clothes.

Ping: Yeah, I still love Fogerty!

Watt: Yeah, like late 60’s early 70’s, and we liked that. We liked his songs, they were trippy, and easy to play. And thats what had the big effect on us. I think skaters liked em’ because they protected you, you know, in a way, they were long sleeve, and you could take blows. It seemed like skater kids got into flannels later on too, like middle eighties. But we did it mainly ’cause of CCR. Hell, we didn’t even know about the northwest, or grunge, that was 10 years later anyway.

Ping: Cool, I like that! Yeah you seem to play here in Olympia a lot, I like that. I just moved here from Seattle 3 years ago, do you have friends here in Olympia?

Watt: No, but I love Kill Rock Stars!

Ping: Oh, all the little Indy record labels here.

Watt: Yeah, to me thats how punk stays alive. When all these young people find out about it, and get at the real value of it, not just the look. Calvin, Slim, those people, the Bikini Kills, Sleater Kinney; people I really look up to. Even though they are much younger than me they keep the fire alive, keep it from being just a commodity. God, punk has really gotten commercial in some ways. But, in other ways, it’s still got the fire goin”. This is my 40th tour, so I’ve been to a lot of the towns a lot of times. It’s trippy to see how things change, but then how some don’t change. But there’s always gonna be some people who are a little different, they just gotta get their parallel universe going.

Ping: Yeah, Olympia is kinda frozen in time. My girlfriend has lived here awhile…

Watt: Rickie Lee Jones was from here. I did some gigs with her and she was telling me about it. It was trippy. Yeah, that was a scary gig. I didn’t know any of her songs, so I just had to improvise; very punk!

Ping: Oh, I would have liked to have seen that.

Watt: It was in San Francisco, 4 shows. Oh man, she’s a great lady though, she puts a lot of her spirit into it. I was not that familiar with her tunes. I think it’s more of a state of mind, than a style of music, just the whole idea of expression. That’s why I love skaters. Skaters can’t talk their way out of it, if you fall down, you have to get back up, no bullshit.

Ping: Yeah they talked about that at EMP a lot, that it was more about the attitude than the music in the beginning. Because everybody in the seventies was listening to Yes, and Led Zepplin, then the Sex Pistols and the Ramones came along…

Watt: Yeah, I totally agree. And Iggy Pop was always there, and Captain Beefhart. A lot of us rediscovered that it was alright to be a little different. Yeah that was weird, and even that movie, what was it, the Rocky Horror Picture show, people would go to that movie and like memorize every word. So bizarre. But it made a little community, you know, that wasn’t at the stadiums all foaming over Peter Frampton, and Boston, or whatever. It was alright to be a little different.

Ping: Well thats how skateboarding started, I mean, it was in the pools, and everybody, especially in Phoenix, knew everybody else. Rob, he used to call me and say “Ping where are the pools?” and I would say “Well, let me make a couple of phone calls”. You know, that was what was cool about it, and I hear that a lot about the early punk rock scene too. There weren’t that many of you guys around, so everybody knew everybody else.

Watt: Oh yeah, we couldn’t even play in rock clubs, they hated us, so we made our own little pads, a lot of halls, a lot of house parties.

Ping: Oh I bet that was fun!

Watt: (laughing) Yeaaaah!

Ping: Where did the Minutemen get started?

Watt: Theres the harbor in Los Angeles, called San Pedro, thats where we’re from. So we were about 30 miles South of Hollywood, close enough to play there, but not really part of it. So we were very much a minority in our town, nobody dug it at all, they hated it! They hated it! But hey whatever, like a Thermos bottle, you know.

Ping: Yeah, I watched this special on VH1 about Alice Cooper, and how Frank Zappa picked him up initially on his original label, because everybody hated him. And Zappa said “Hmmm, this guy is different” you know, and that is what it was about back then.

Watt: Yeah we learned a lot of his songs. He played simple too; it wasn’t like Yes and stuff. I saw him play, maybe four times, and I never even wondered why his name was Alice. But every time I go through Phoenix, there’s Camelback High School, you know he did that song about high school, and I always think about that. They lived in Detroit for awhile, and picked up a lot on Iggy, played gigs with the Stooges. You find this all out later, I wish I could have known about it as a kid, but the media just shut stuff like that out, they wanted everything to be like royalty, rock stars, nobody could be just dudes making a band.

Ping: Yeah I saw you play with your band fIREHOSE way back, and you guys threw that Blue Oyster Cult song “the Red and the Black” into the set. How did you get interested in that, were you a BOC fan?

Watt: Yeah, I’ll play it for you tonight too. I’ve been playing that since I was 13, at least 30 years!

Ping: Wow, yeah they were one of my favorite bands back then too, people forget about em’ but.

Watt: Yeah they were kind of mysterious, thats one of the reasons I think we liked em’. Trippy songs, just a little different.

Ping: On your “Ball Hog or Tug Boat” cd you had all these superstar people backing you up. Over the years, who were some of your favorite people to jam with?

Watt: Oh, I liked everybody on that record. See, I hadn’t really done that before that record. I had just played the fIREHOSE and Minutemen stuff, that’s why I did a record like that with 68 different people. Just to try something different and build up my confidence.

Ping: Flea, and Eddy Vetter.

Watt: Yeah, I’m gonna see the Chili Peppers in a couple days in Boise. Flea sent me an e-mail. Ed I saw the day before yesterday, in Seattle, he came to the gig, they’re just regular guys.

Ping: They are doing another big benefit soon. Pearl Jam actually helped build the skatepark in Seattle!

Watt: Ed’s really into that stuff, and so are the Pep’s. It just happens they got famous and big. I don’t think they really tried to.

Ping: The Chili Peppers, I remember them when they were playin’ clubs, I’m old too (38).

Watt: Yeah, their first gig was with the Minutemen, way back when Hillel was in the band, Flea and Anthony. It’s a trip how things go on, but still just people, which is good.

Ping: No matter how big they get.

Watt: Because if they do change, and get full of themselves, then thats just kinda sad. But I’m happy to say they never did. And yeah, Ed helped me carry some stuff out from the van, he had no bodyguards and stuff around him, just folks. He likes surfing, and he likes skateboards too.

Ping: Eddy Vetter? Hmmm…

Watt: Yeah, ’cause he is from San Diego really. He’s not really a Seattle guy, the band was.

Ping: Oh, OK I bet those were some fun sessions recording.

Watt: There was some wetsuit in the alley, and he put it on, it had all kinds of bugs in it. I don’t know why he put it on, it was in Hollywood, you know.

Ping: Oh God, when in California, why not?

Watt: (laughing) I guess, yeah, maybe he wanted the feel? Who knows?

Ping: Well I don’t want to take up too much of your time, Thanks so much for the interview! I’ll see you at the show tonight.

Watt: Well Ping, Thanks for talking with me, much respect!

Mike Watt’s web site www.hootpage.com

This article orignally appeared on Michael Cornelius’ late, great skaterock.com

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