So what is a wrestling record? It's what happens when a variety of musicians team up and get into the ring (i.e. studio) with Watt playing bass. To quote the charismatic Watt himself: "What I am trying to do here is make a conscious break and purposely try not to re-invent myself in the guise of another 'band.' Just songs and performances on this thing --people throwing down with Watt... a true test of anyone's mettle. The title will be: 'mike watt: ball-hog or tugboat?' I did my best to try to live up to the role as boatman, such as Charon on the hell-ride Dante wrote about in his own Italian." In plain English, the album is a freaky, funky musical joy ride that captures the free punk spirit of the Minutemen. Melvin's Brian Bruxvoort spoke with Watt from his home in San Pedro, California. If you can follow any one of Watt's trains of thought in this interview, it's a sure sign you've been drinking way too much.
This record is great. How did it come together with so many different
Well, what I wanted to do was make a Minutemen record with a whole bunch of different people. You know, I may have tried a bit to hard in the Minutemen way with fIREHOSE. But I thought if I did it with a lot of people it be closer in a weird way. You know, like using first takes and a lot of enthusiasm and excitement just like the old days with D Boon. So what I did, I've always thought of my songs as kind of plays, so this time I decided I was gonna be casting director too. I just called people on the phone, and I know there's like fifty guys on the record, but it was really only like three at a time. So it was just like being with a bunch of different bands and I ended up doing thirty songs. And I put seventeen of them on the record because you just can't fit anymore on the CD. But they're letting me put it out on vinyl too, my last three records were not available on vinyl. So I was at the Columbia office and they had the MTV on and this kid in one of the new bands comes on wearing a Germs shirt, and I'm like, "Woooah, I love the Germs," they were the most original... I felt like when the Orange County guys did hardcore they were all doing the Germs. And I said to the record company guy, "You're gonna give me vinyl huh? What about blue vinyl?" So now I get the blue circle too. But everybody gets around to asking me, "What about punk rock today Mike Watt?" because it's selling, you know ha ha ha.
OK lets get that out of the way then.
Yeah, that's what I'm doing. It seems to me... I don't know what to say about today's punk. It inspired to make my vinyl blue though, so it's had an effect on me to that extent. Beyond that, the only thing that's really new is you finding out about it. So that's my answer. That's what I had to learn. I remember when me and D Boon graduated high school in '76 and punk was just starting so we were really lucky. I think it's much easier to be in a punk band now, but in some ways it was really neat to be a part of that. I remember interviews back then with Iggy Pop and John Cale... you know, the elder statesmen, and they asked them, "What do you think of the new punk?" And John Cale said something about coming to America because he wanted to join a street gang. Which I thought was bullshit, because you know, he was like a classical musician. But you know, that's what it's all about, man. You can just kinda re-invent anything. You know, I think people are talking to fondly about eighties music... or any time, you know, you gotta live in the here and today. It's the same thing with Muddy Waters, you know, The Rolling Stones made a few more dollars than him doing the same things. So now, the Green Day kid is 22 years old, so I don't blame him, he was in kindergarten when punk was getting started. When I was a boy they were pushing all this American Graffiti, Happy Days, Sha Na Na shit and I was thinking, what the fuck does this shit have to do with me? And now the kids get movies about The Jetsons, Aadams' Family and the Flintstones, so it's like what does some kid have to do with some guy's favorite TV shows when he was a kid? So I wrote the 70's song as kind of an anthem against that.
And you had Eddie Vedder sing it. That's cool, but doesn't it kind of
freak you out that it will probably get picked up and played on the radio?
I don't know what to say about that. Eddie just came by the studio and played a little guitar. Then he came down to LA to sing that song. Mark Lanegan was originally slated to do it. But Eddie did a great job. He's such and earnest guy, you know? They took on Ticketmaster... But I don't really think I'll be the radio, because it's just my song, c'mon. It's just like this fake anthem, makin' fun of them. Do you really think that will get popular? I don't think it'll get played that much. But I put it out, so if they play it, they play it. I've always thought of records as flyers to get people to the gigs. In the old days that's totally what it was. We didn't tour to promote records, we made records to promote tours. The gig was everything, that was why you got into a band. In a way, the records are like a document. Like with this album, how could I get fifty guys together for a gig? And some of these songs were done in three towns, like on "Big Train," we did it in Seattle, and I sang on it in LA and Mascis played the lead guitar for it in New York. And a record can do that type of thing when a gig can't. Maybe when they get the on-line thing goin', you'll be able to have a teleconference where you all jam it out on keyboards over the phone line. But until then, records are the medium. For gigs, if you get more than three guys, I'm nervous because I'm a bass player and anything more is less for me, HA! I love power trios, there's just something about it. People say, "Watt, you know, you gotta move up a level." And what they're really saying is, "Now you have the privilege of paying a lot more motherfuckers." Thank you very much! And what does that have to do with tunes?
You picked a broad cross section of musicians to record with...
Yeah, you might think that the people who I recorded with were all quite different. I mean, there's like Evan Dando and Henry Rollins. But the big common thing with all of them was the Minutemen. These guys all came to our gigs when they were younger. You had to come to the gig because there was no MTV, we just drove around and re-invented vaudeville. The punk in the 70's was just a lot of rock and roll and people waiting to get signed like the Knack and The Clash, stuff it would be embarrassing to call punk. But in those days, anybody with a skinny tie was called punk. But in a way that was good because you had a lot of different flavors. But I just like the word "punk" It's like a guy who gets fucked in jail for cigarettes, you know, you can't be too proud. This fucked up word "alternative," you know why not just call it "superior" or "omnipotent music." You know, "Hey what kind of music do you like?" "Omnipotent. Why shouldn't I like omnipotent music? It's omnipotent, or it's alternative, you know, the better music." But with punk it was just like, "Fuck you. We didn't want to join your game anyway, we're going to start our own."
And anybody can do it.
Right. And how can they improve on the idea of letting lame guys play? That will never die, because you're always gonna have lame guys. And that taught me and D Boon so much because we had learned songs off of our records in our room, and then here were these guys who didn't even know how to play and they were writing their own songs. That was a real mind blow for me, guys writing their own songs, I thought it came from rock n roll angels that got to record and the little mice learn the songs off the records, like building models or train sets. But then we saw the punk rockers who didn't know how to play that well, but they were fuckin' going for their own tunes. I swear in my head punk was like a musical Utopia where I didn't know what the next band was gonna be like. It was about a lot of personalities, it wasn't about genrecide in genericville. You think back to the old SST days and it was Husker Du, Meat Puppets, Black Flag and us and we were all using the same formula, guitar, drums, bass but the whole idea was to be different. To me, that's what punk's all about. And when I graduated punk was invented, but at the same time the big album in my high school was "Return To Forever." And that's the hell that's waiting for Watt at the end of the hall... fusion! If I ever end up playing that, you gotta come and choke me or something. And that's something else, punk didn't use chops, they'd use something else, like a funny title. I found out that the key to writing songs is coming up with a title first. I wrote one song during my teen years and it was called "Mr. Bass King of Outer Space." In high school I found out about the bass, for the first three years I thought I was playing a guitar with four strings, I didn't know the difference. There were no club gigs, no older brothers, no instructional videos. Speaking of instructional videos, when you hear a bassist put out a solo album, don't you think of it as an instructional video? Ha ha ha. So that's why I call this a wrestling record. I was more of a rudder man, like Charon. I mean, I wrote the songs on the bass but I was just setting these guys up to see what would stick. And almost all of it was first take stuff. But with all the differences between these guys, almost all of them saw the Minutemen, unless they were too young. And they were coming up on that tip. This girl asked me if there were a lot of egos involved, but when you're all enthusiastic to do something, it's a lot different. There was one weird thing, an ego thing I guess you might call it, but I wouldn't. We were doing the Sonic Youth song, "Tuff Gnarl" and Mascis said, "You know, Watt I'm not really into the Sonic stuff." So we got to the part of the song where the singing stops and everybody jams, and Mascis just gets up from the drums. But Steve Shelly was right there so he jumped on, you know, a little tag team action. But there was no kind of fuckin' ego problems. And if you saw D Boon play, I swear man, it's very empowering. It was like no fear. I had incredible stage fright, but when I got on-stage and looked over at D Boon, there was no doubt in my mind that if this fucker is up here, I can do it too. And I think that's what it was like for these guys in the ring with me. They saw Watt, this idiot neurotic nut man goin' for it, there's no time to think about egos and shit.
Is that why you started the album with a Minutemen song, to kinda set
Right. Big time. I was kinda paranoid, I mean, I've never made a record on my own. So I practiced about ten songs with Nels and Micheal and the other twenty I just wailed with the guys. Because everybody's got their own band, there's no time to practice or anything and I didn't want that either. I wanted the idea of just coming together and hitting it. Part of my tradition is songs with a hundred different parts, hopefully not fusion though, ha ha ha. But I went up to Seattle and I had never played with those guys, I'd seen 'em at gigs and shit, so I brought one and two chord songs up there, simpler songs. But with "One Reporter's Opinion," it's also got my fuckin' name in it, so I'm trying to make fun of the idea a solo record that way. That and havin' Mascis play a 15 minute guitar solo ha ha ha. But I didn't deal with any managers or anything, no entourage. I'd just call the guys up, they'd come and we'd wail.
So where all was it recorded?
Part of it in LA and part in Seattle and a little in New York, and it went really fast, doing it all in one take.
Yeah that kind of surprises me, it sounds really tight.
Well you know, it's like riding a bicycle. It matters more where you ride it and how you ride it, no hands, upside down, you know. But that's another thing that scared me, not havin' a band or a hardened engineer. I had one guy at the guitar center from the old school punk thing you know, the thing I was trying to get away from. And he talked a good game, but when we went into the ring, he ended up going over the ropes. You know, being on the big label like I have been for the past four years, they say you move up a level, but that's bullshit. What you have learned to live with is probably good enough. What I did with the Minutemen taught a lot to the men upstairs, taught them about doing things another way. I'm not from there man, but the label still respects me. A lot of artists just don't take responsibility. You read the interviews with them and they're pissin' and moanin'. But with these wrestling records, man, other people could be makin' these. The only spontaneity I see these days is in tribute records. And I think we've beat that one to death. You wonder if their spirit is in it, when they have to learn the songs. But in the 50's, they would just jam and come together and play on each other's records, that was kinda what I was after.
But your fans are going to want to see a tour.
I'm gonna tour in April.
Great. But how will that work for this album?
Well, like I said, man, it wasn't 50 dudes at once in the studio. It was just a bunch of trios. So I'll put together a touring trio.
Do you know what that line up will be yet?
Dave Grohl on drums. And we'll find a guitarist later. I do things backwards.
Nah man, you gotta start from the low end. I was just listening to your Big
Bottom Pow Wow record.
Ha ha ha, that was pretty much a ego-maniac thing. I put my name on it because I've gotta take responsibility for it. But it's so weird, what is a bass player by himself? It's just like a wank-a-thon, you need the other guys. Guitarists are all like singer/ songwriters, but when you're the bassist, it's like the guy who plays triangle in an orchestra ha ha ha.
Ok, let's cover the other big question. What was the deal with Kathleen Hanna's
answering machine message on the album?
Ha ha ha, everybody asks that, but I'm really glad I did it. The record was all boys and at the end it was like, oh god, what am I doing? So I called up Karla Bozulich to sing a few songs, she's an old friend of mine, she used to live in Pedro. And I was in New York recording with Thurston and he took me to a Bikini Kill show and for some reason Kathleen made me think of Henry (Rollins). I mean, she had her own thing, but I just though of his spoken word stuff. It was a really great gig and after the gig I asked her to do a spoken word piece for my wrestling record. So Thurston had her call up and do it on his answering machine. And uh, I think there's enough estrogen in that piece to balance out all our testosterone, that's for sure. I'm really proud to have her on.
So there were songs you recorded that didn't make the
Yeah, thirteen of them.
Will those be released sometime?
Well, they want to put out an ep in England and three of those songs will be ones that aren't on the lp.
And are there any people who didn't appear on this album that will
appear on that album?
Oh yeah. Perry Farrell and the guys from Blue Oyster Cult. When me and D Boon were boys, Blue Oyster Cult was our big band. So in a way that was a selfish, childish thing, but I really wanted to play with the Bouchard brothers. It's called "Dominance and Submission" and it sounds very 70's. We even put a jam part in the middle for about fifteen seconds to make fun of the " Live At Leads" thing. Blue Oyster Cult was like the hardest band me and D Boon could figure out on record. Sabbath was pretty hard too, but Credence and Alice Cooper were easier. We could do all their songs. But when I look back, it was so stupid, I mean, why didn't we just fuckin' go for it? But that's one nice thing about movements, they can kind of tug you in a certain direction, but then they end up stomping you down with conformity. Movements are strange. I've had people tell me that I don't look punk enough, especially now that I'm older. But I don't give a fuck.
You'll have to dye your hair blue or something.
Ha ha ha, yeah, it would match my album.
So will you do more wrestling records in the future?
Yeah, I wanna do another one.
It could be an on-going thing.
Yeah, no life beyond the ring ha ha ha.
You should get your own studio and every time a band comes through Pedro, they
would have to get in the ring with you.
Ha ha, that's a great idea... like the big manly test, three out of five falls. But next time I wanna write even more tunes for the dudes to do.