Volume – Mike Watt

You’ve always been politically active. You addressed stuff like that in your songs.

My first election I helped put Jimmy Carter in (office).

Do you think there’s any hope for the American political scene?

I think we go through cycles. Human beings seem to be quite trendy. You hear all this left, right, left, right, but the paradigm seems more like frontseat and backseat. People want to be driven around and other people want their hand on the steering wheel. To me idealistically, it’s about having your hand on the wheel or at least having a say in it-a little backseat driving. Recently I’ve been asked in interviews if anyone can write political songs.

… and not just ones for Michael Jackson to sing?

Well, because of the things in New York City with the airplanes. I actually wrote that song for Michael Jackson to sing and called it that, but he never called me back.

He’ll get around to it.

D. Boon said that, “Man, you’re too spacey with your songs. People don’t know what you mean.” To me they’d be so clear. Like I wrote this song “For The Singer Of R.E.M.” And so many people ask me about that song. Well, it’s right in the title. I wrote it for him. He was going to do this solo album and he asked me to write him a song. So I did.

That’s hot. That was on of the songs I always loved off If’n. Another thing that used to trip me out when we used to see Firehose at the Green Door I remember, Steve Reed your tech, and there was this contingent of dudes in that area-white pride. How do you as the guy on the bill deal with an undesireable contingent?

Not really for censorship, you don’t want to exclude them. Their motivations are violent oriented, so you don’t want to give in to the violence, either. So you just try to do your art with a lot of passion and hopefully people can spot the difference. You can probably share this experience, people making up their minds for you-you don’t dig it. So if you get in that situation, you don’t really want to make up minds for other people, too. Even though it might be so obvious. You still want folks to come to their own conclusions, so you kind of tolerate it in a way. Unless someone would’ve attacked Steve Reed. That would not have been happening.

It always seemed to me that if you’re gonna wear it on your skin, then you’re like a click away from attacking somebody.

But you know what’s funny about the word fascist and fashion? It’s fasce, right the Latin word and it means face. That’s about how deep it is sometimes. So you wonder if these dudes are doing this to be part of some kind of thing. Do they really believe it? A farmer would tell you, “If you want a good crop, use a lot of manure.” That’s the way nature works.

It’s one of the reasons we took our name Minutemen because there were some right wingers using that name like somehow they were more patriotic. And we thought well, we’ll use that name. That’ll confuse things wouldn’t it. Now you can’t just lay claim to it-have a monopoly on it. Same thing with the punk thing, too. Especially at first, you can imagine reputation punk had with people.

You don’t want to give in to stuff like that but on the other hand you want folks to make up their minds-hopefully by like good ol’ simple empathy. Put yourself in Mr. Reed’s shoes. Everybody’s part of a minority at sometime-even during the day, not even their life. Maybe during the day there’s a situation, “Well, now I’m a minority.” Wouldn’t I really appreaciate some tolerance here?

But to get back to the whole thing of videos, interviews, pictures, or even records, way back when me and D. Boon just started a punk band. We just came out of arena rock, so with punk our minds were blown by that scene, so we decide we’re going to make decisions on everything. And we divided the world into two categories-there were gigs and flyers. Everything that wasn’t a gig, was a flyer. We thought all we knew how to do best is play for people. Everything else was try to g people to watch us play. So that’s why we never had a problem with doing those other things. It just seemed like, oh, MTV is certain kind of telephone. Kind of naãve, I guess. To us it just made more simple. It seemed like when you played a gig, it was just the door guy to deal with and then there’s the folks you gotta play for. Everything else there’s so many layers of distraction, how in control are you? I’m the jury foreman, they film me a couple times. “Okay, Watt. Thank you.” You know ten minutes of stuff and I don’t know how it’s going to end up. Luckily, they were kind to me-they didn’t show a big dick in the mouth. You know what I mean, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You just don’t know. The art, the marketing, the commercialism, you get so removed from it, it’s not in your hands. But the gig, at least you have the bass in your hands and the folks are there. You either stinking it up, or they just don’t want to get it. At least it’s kind of a personal thing, it’s not all these levels of abstraction. So for me to be used in things like that, in a way you gotta say these guys are kinda generous. They’re saying, “Wow, somehow this guy from all those days still might make sense these days.” Which is kinda trippy. I never wanted to be locked away in a museum or something, but you see how many things come and go-the temporariness of most stuff. Just because you’ve been around I don’t think it makes you better. A lot of it is circumstance when you come onto a scene. Sometimes I have to admit, I meet young people and they feel real insecure. “Everything was back in the day and now look.” It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at. I try to tell them everything under the sun really hasn’t been done. And if it has, it hasn’t for you. Somebody once told me, “The only thing new is you finding out about it.” You just reinvent it for yourself and put another twist, another angle on it. We need the best ideas we can, we can’t be splitting people up into, “You’re not allowed.” And “We’re just allowed.” That’s what punk was all about, knocking down those walls. So what because I’ve been around for a little while, I’m going to build those back up? No. I do think in a way kids these days are a little open minded then when I was younger, a little more tolerant.

When I was a kid we had bands like Banana Splits, Monkeys, these bands weren’t even real bands. I guess the Monkeys actually tried to become a band and weren’t allowed to play on the record.

We were talking earlier about the nature of the music business-manufactured stars. To me, for the most part, music is spiraling out of control-these ready-made Ken anad Barbie dolls.

When I was a boy there was Bobby Goldsboro, Toni DiFranco, David Cassidy.

So do you think it’s getting worse?

No. I think things go through cycles. This stuff will all build up and create a reaction against it.

The way that punk was a reaction to all the crap.

Exactly. It’ll end up sowing the seeds and it’ll make it twist around until that gets all jaded.

This is one of the reasons, aside from the music you guys were making was tougher than anything out there, you guys were doing it and you didn’t have giant Mohawks and you weren’t wearing safety pins in your face-punk is what you made it to be. There was no pretense about it. Just because you have a green Mohawk doesn’t mean you’re punk.

Even before those days with the rock n rollers, you think the punks were heavy, these other guys were way more assholes. At least punks could relate. What happens though, like I said, things aren’t learned so even though you’re a victim you could turn out to be an oppressor-humans are like this. But man the rock and rollers were heavier than any Mohawk guy. When punk first came out, I put a picture of Richard Hell on my bass, these motherfuckers were hating me. Pedro in the old days didn’t really have to deal with a lot of punks because there weren’t any. That didn’t come into much later. When the hardcore came, they were the only cats going to the gigs, the Hollywood people kinda burned out. These kids from Orange County they’re sixteen years old they wanted us to play very fast basically the same song so they could crash around.

Actually in the 70s, the first punk we saw were glitter people and glam-Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was those kinda people. By the 80 came around, they were almost gone-Darby’s dead.

Well, he didn’t last long.

In fact, when I think about it he was 22. When I think of a 22 year old, I think of a real young guy. It’s almost like he’s my age. Like D. Boon, he doesn’t seem like a 27 year old man, he seems like he’s still with my in the age. I can’t think of him as little.

To get back on the subject of hardcore, they were the only ones going to gigs. I can’t tell you how many times D. Boon was pulled off the stage because the bouncer didn’t believe that he was in the band. It happened to me a bunch of times, too. In a way we didn’t think that was really a defeat.

It’s kind of a victory.

When I met D. Boon, I was thirteen, I grew up in Navy housing and I didn’t know that really was a farmer shirt. I thought it was kinda a rock n roll shirt. But D. Boon hadn’t heard any rock n roll-his dad was way into Buck Owens. The only act he heard was Creedence. He didn’t know any Cream, any Who, any T. Rex any of that. I showed him all of that, I had 8-tracks. Here’s Alice Cooper. He got into it, but he never heard of it.

Just like both me and D. Boon when we meet (Raymond) Pettybone and he plays some John Coltrane-I never heard any of that. In fact, I thought they were playing punk, but they were just older. I didn’t even know that John Coltrane had been dead for ten years. I just didn’t know.

D. Boon didn’t really know rock but we learned every Creedence song. It turned out, it was kinda a neat band to learn. Although, I couldn’t really hear the bass. I didn’t pick bass, D. Boon’s mother had me play bass. This was the era of arena rock-you’re about a mile away. You could tell that it was kinda like a guitar but you couldn’t see how big the strings were. You could tell there were four tuners on the pictures, but we didn’t know they had bigger strings-that blew our mind. For the first two years I played guitar we thought they had a thinner neck for four strings, but we read on every record, except for the Doors and The Seeds, they all had bass. She wanted us in the house after school, so she thought the best way was get a band and do “American Woman” or “Suzy Q” for five hours. What Margie Boon said, “Well, I know where my boys are.” In a way, I’m not really a musician, I got into this to be with my friend.

It’s a collection of these weird coincidental tangents: we graduated high school in 76 right when punk comes, go to this Clash gig. The Clash come and play here with Bo Diddly and there’s Greg Ginn handing out flyers. They’re going to play in Pedro-there second Black Flag gig. We couldn’t believe there was going to be a punk gig in Pedro, they couldn’t believe there was Pedro punk band. “Do you want to open?” “Yeah.” “Okay.” That was our first gig is their second gig. Our third gig, Greg asks us to be on SST002.

The bands that mattered were you guys, Black Flag, and The Meat Puppets.

I actually saw Meat Puppets at the LA Press Club and told Greg about them. “There’s this wild-ass band.” The first time I heard of them, they were in Arizona. There was an Arizona contingent that moved to Hollywood. In fact, The Germs drummer Don Bohls is actually a Phoenix guy. Paul Cutler from 45 Grave is a Phoenix guy. Meat Puppets made friends with this LA band called Monitor and in fact there’s a Monitor album, one of the songs was Meat Puppets playing this song, “Hair.” That’s the first recording of Meat Puppets. And that gig I saw at the Press Club they opened for Monitor. Like a lot of things in old punk, it was people connect. The closest thing I could say to it nowadays is the way the Inhardcore came, they were the only cats going to the gigs, the Hollywood people kinda burned out. These kids from Orange County they’re sixteen years old they wanted us to play very fast basically the same song so they could crash around.

Actually in the 70s, the first punk we saw were glitter people and glam-Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was those kinda people. By the 80 came around, they were almost gone-Darby’s dead.

Well, he didn’t last long.

In fact, when I think about it he was 22. When I think of a 22 year old, I think of a real young guy. It’s almost like he’s my age. Like D. Boon, he doesn’t seem like a 27 year old man, he seems like he’s still with my in the age. I can’t think of him as little.

To get back on the subject of hardcore, they were the only ones going to gigs. I can’t tell you how many times D. Boon was pulled off the stage because the bouncer didn’t believe that he was in the band. It happened to me a bunch of times, too. In a way we didn’t think that was really a defeat.

It’s kind of a victory.

When I met D. Boon, I was thirteen, I grew up in Navy housing and I didn’t know that really was a farmer shirt. I thought it was kinda a rock n roll shirt. But D. Boon hadn’t heard any rock n roll-his dad was way into Buck Owens. The only act he heard was Creedence. He didn’t know any Cream, any Who, any T. Rex any of that. I showed him all of that, I had 8-tracks. Here’s Alice Cooper. He got into it, but he never heard of it.

Just like both me and D. Boon when we meet (Raymond) Pettybone and he plays some John Coltrane-I never heard any of that. In fact, I thought they were playing punk, but they were just older. I didn’t even know that John Coltrane had been dead for ten years. I just didn’t know.

D. Boon didn’t really know rock but we learned every Creedence song. It turned out, it was kinda a neat band to learn. Although, I couldn’t really hear the bass. I didn’t pick bass, D. Boon’s mother had me play bass. This was the era of arena rock-you’re about a mile away. You could tell that it was kinda like a guitar but you couldn’t see how big the strings were. You could tell there were four tuners on the pictures, but we didn’t know they had bigger strings-that blew our mind. For the first two years I played guitar we thought they had a thinner neck for four strings, but we read on every record, except for the Doors and The Seeds, they all had bass. She wanted us in the house after school, so she thought the best way was get a band and do “American Woman” or “Suzy Q” for five hours. What Margie Boon said, “Well, I know where my boys are.” In a way, I’m not really a musician, I got into this to be with my friend.

It’s a collection of these weird coincidental tangents: we graduated high school in 76 right when punk comes, go to this Clash gig. The Clash come and play here with Bo Diddly and there’s Greg Ginn handing out flyers. They’re going to play in Pedro-there second Black Flag gig. We couldn’t believe there was going to be a punk gig in Pedro, they couldn’t believe there was Pedro punk band. “Do you want to open?” “Yeah.” “Okay.” That was our first gig is their second gig. Our third gig, Greg asks us to be on SST002.

The bands that mattered were you guys, Black Flag, and The Meat Puppets.

I actually saw Meat Puppets at the LA Press Club and told Greg about them. “There’s this wild-ass band.” The first time I heard of them, they were in Arizona. There was an Arizona contingent that moved to Hollywood. In fact, The Germs drummer Don Bohls is actually a Phoenix guy. Paul Cutler from 45 Grave is a Phoenix guy. Meat Puppets made friends with this LA band called Monitor and in fact there’s a Monitor album, one of the songs was Meat Puppets playing this song, “Hair.” That’s the first recording of Meat Puppets. And that gig I saw at the Press Club they opened for Monitor. Like a lot of things in old punk, it was people connect. The closest thing I could say to it nowadays is the way the Internet is-no ones in the way. You got your e-mail, you put up your Web site-that’s just like a fan ‘zine. No gatekeeper, no middleman. That’s how punk started. When touring started the dude who wrote the fan ‘zine was the guy putting on the gig, and you konked at his house. It was all about people.

Isn’t that the definition of D.I.Y.?

I guess yuppies and corporate people call networking, but this is real personable. It’s probably an old ass thing, it probably goes back to the days of bartering before there were coins.

The doctor’s almost killed me just feeding me pills-wouldn’t even look me in the eyes. Then I go to county (hospital) I’m blown open and dying and here’s this kid, an intern still in med school, looks me right in the eye and says, “We’re gonna cut you open and clean you up.” I couldn’t believe it. I started laughing and stuff ’cause I was a little out of my mind. He wanted to assign me a psychiatrist or something but he didn’t know. I had just been through 38 days of a fever out of my mind and people didn’t care.

What was it specifically that you had?

It might have been from riding the bike-like a saddle sore. It just should have been lanced from the get go instead of little pills.

The pharmaceutical companies are in bed together …

This thing was growing in me. They were given me pills over the phone without even seeing me and as soon as I took them my balls blew up to softballs and spread it. What I found out later was what they gave me was an antibiotic you give to someone with syphilis. They were so caught up, even though I took all the VD tests and passed negative, that I had syphilis. When it might have been the bicycle rubbing on my giving my an ingrown hair.

I’ve gone through two rounds with both my grandparents so horribly misdiagnosed and given conflicting medicines and no wonder they got worse. “Oh, sorry. Our bad.”

You’re obviously a literary guy, you had a Bukowski book on the dashboard of your car …

He’s buried here-same boneyard D. Boon is (buried). Do you know what it says on his grave? Don’t try.

You must read a lot.

I’m really influenced a lot by writing. It seems like its really private. It’s you, the writer, and these little scribbles.

It’s you and another mind and you make out of whatever you want.

These Irish people made a film version of Ulysses last year and I saw it. I never seen a movie that way. It was hard for me to watch because I had made up my mind about these scenes. In fact the young man who played Steven Douglas was a big Minutemen fan starting writing me e-mails and I met him in Ireland this last trip. The literate endeavor is just one angle, like bass guitar. But it does seem to interest me. I have to admit, when I go into a club the first thing I key in on is the bass player. The first thing I think, nine chances out of ten he didn’t write this song. So what kind of part would I put to this. I start relating right away.

The first two years I’m playing a guitar with four strings. I start high school and meet this guy that plays bass with my friend and has a band. We had this store here that sold instruments where you sold records. They got a Fender bass in there. I was tripping on this motherfucker and this dude from my home room was there. He goes, “What are you doing?” I said, “Look at this.” And he goes, “I thought you were a bass player.” I said, “I am.” He goes, “Well, that’s a bass.” And I go, “I know that.” But I didn’t know that. I couldn’t believe it. It was like, “Oh my god, no wonder there’s just four of them. They’re like bridge cable.” I couldn’t believe it. It blew my mind.

I couldn’t really hear it. The first bass I could hear on records or on 8-tracks was James Juniorson, the Motown guy, John Entwistle Live At Leeds, Jack Bruce Crossroads on Wheels Of Fire, and the fourth guy was Larry Graham. There was one more cat, Kool in Kool And The Gang. At that time, Hollywood’s swinging, Jungle Boogie was big on the radio but