(click here for mike watt hi-res promo shots)
(click here for mike watt bio - august, 2023 by karen schoemer)
(click here for mike watt bio - august, 2023 by uncle ray)
(click here for mike watt bio - september, 2012 by tina clarke)
(click here for the allmusic guide mike watt bio by mark deming)
(click here for the wikipedia mike watt page)
Mike Watt Bio - written by Karen Schoemer - August, 2023
In the last five years, Mike Watt has contributed to more than fifty recording projects by dozens of bands and collectives. He's composed bass parts for an opera against nuclear war (Planet Chernobyl by Pelicanman on Org Music) and improvised behind poetry (Live in Fishtown by Mike Watt & Charles Plymell on Feeding Tube). He's helped build an ecologically conscious lo-fi pop record from scratch (Purple Pie Plow by SLW cc Watt on Kill Rock Stars) and performed parts written specifically for him in the post-genre power trio mssv (Main Steam Stop Valve and Human Reaction on BIG EGO Records).
He's recorded live in the studio with musicians in his hometown of San Pedro, CA (Lemonademakers by Lemonademakers) and crafted albums one player at a time via file sharing (Northwest of Hamuretto by Spirit of Hamlet on Broken Sound Tapes). He's had a proj made up solely of drums, bass, and horns called Mouthful and an on-going duo of bass and voice called Jaded Azurites. He's recorded tributes to John Coltrane, Squeeze, Bikini Kill, and the Stooges. He's got a band for which he's written a series of sonnets (Three-Layer Cake), and he's collaborated across oceans with musicians in Italy, Japan and Toulon in France.
Watt's astonishing productivity and versatility inspire a combination of raw admiration and slight befuddlement. How does he do all this? The riffs he adds to a high-speed punk freakout are like taut little fists, yet in a quiet song the sound of his finger pads stealing along the strings is collateral beauty. He can carry a high-register melody or disappear into the background, more felt than heard. He can be propulsive or intentionally arrhythmic, the fat bottom of a blown-out jam or a choice embellishment in a controlled composition. He can deliver sludgy power or a quick little sigh.
Watt's willingness to work so widely, combined with his legendary discipline and technique, make him one of the most important bass players alive. The fact that he often works under the radar on idiosyncratic projects or limited releases makes him a nexus of thriving, overlapping independent music communities. This is role he relishes. Since 1980, when he, guitarist D. Boon and drummer George Hurley came together as the Minutemen, throughout the 90s when he fronted fIREHOSE, and into the 00's and 10's as he alternated solo albums with side projects like Banyan, Hellride, Unknown Instructors, and Dos, plus touring (and sometimes recording) stints with Porno for Pyros, J Mascis and the Fog, Tav Falco, and the reformed Stooges, Watt has been an inveterate community builder. It's virtually impossible to conceptualize the history of American punk rock, with its maze-like tendrils and offshoots, without him.
Though perennially associated with punk, Watt's sensibility owes a lot to bebop. It's not the product that matters so much as the spirit that manifests when like-minded players join up. There's a selflessness to the way he prioritizes the music - the goal is to create something bigger and more potent than any one person. "He cares about my music as if it were his own," says Mike Baggetta, the guitarist and composer for mssv. "He approaches people as equals. Watt is there for the music, to do his best and that makes everyone else step up ,too. He's always got great ideas for improving the song, or the set, or the tour route, or the road food, or anything else. His mind is always running to help everything get to its optimal place in that moment. I think it's the mark of a truly generous person."
"Watt elevates everything he touches," says Sam Locke Ward of SLW cc Watt. "He finds a place to exist and create that leaves room for everyone else to exist. At the same time, he inspires everyone around him to go for it because he is too."
Vocalist and violinist Petra Haden, a collaborator since 1995, remembers when Watt suggested she record a solo a cappella version of The Who's The Who Sell Out. "I wasn't familiar with the album," she says. "I wasn't even that familiar with the Who. But I wanted to do it for him, and it was a fun challenge. When I finished a song, I would call him and play some of it over the phone. His passion for music is so strong. His encouragement and support help me keep going."
It's through this kind of wide-range mentoring, providing a radically rethought template of what it means to be a musician, that individual projects cease to be isolated works and transform into what we know as culture.
Michael David Watt was born December 20, 1957, in Portsmouth, Virginia, the son of Navy sailor Dick Watt and Jean (Matranga) Watt, a secretary who sang in bands when she was a teenager. After moving around throughout his early life, the family wound up in San Pedro, where he stayed with his mother and two sisters after his parents divorced. Watt met his future Minutemen bandmate and best friend, Dennes Boon, when the latter fell out of tree on him in a public park. They learned to play by listening to classic rock and British punk records, strangely isolated from what other people thought was cool and free to please themselves. "you must understand that I never really saw myself as a musician or song/lyric writer," Watt says in the introduction to Spiels of a Minuteman, a collection of lyrics published by L'oie de Cravan in 2003. "music was one way me and d. boon shared our lives together so in a sense, the connection I had w/this art form was much more a personal than an aesthetic endeavor. the personal connection is what I found much more important than any other aspiration."
They signed to SST Records in 1980, releasing four albums and eight EPs. But their trajectory was cut short when D. Boon was killed in a car accident in late 1985. Traumatized, Watt withdrew from music. Sonic Youth coaxed him back into a studio in 1986 - he played on the Evol album and the Ciccone Youth EP. Then, with Hurley and Ed Crawford, a trumpet student from Ohio reborn as a singer-songwriter, he formed fIREHOSE, which went on to release five albums, including two for a major label, Columbia.
By the time of his first solo album, Ball-Hog or Tugboat? in 1995, personal connection was aesthetic. An entire musical movement showed up on that record: members of Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Bikini Kill, Black Flag, Saccharine Trust, the Beastie Boys, Screaming Trees, the Lemonheads, Geraldine Fibbers, Dinosaur Jr., the Meat Puppets, Jane's Addiction, Pearl Jam, the Pixies, the Germs, That Dog, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. What had been known as punk, then postpunk, or indie-rock, or grunge, was morphing into a commercial force known as alternate rock; for musicians with mainstream success, Watt was a touchstone, a reminder of the sound's iconoclastic roots. His lyrics continued to blend autobiography ("Drove up from Pedro"), cultural commentary ("Against the '70s"), and philosophic musings ("Coincidence Is Either Hit or Miss").
None of his subsequent solo albums fits an easy definition. Contemplating the Engine Room (1997) explores male relationships, both in the Navy and in a band, overlaying images of his father with stories about the Minutemen. The Secondman's Middle Stand (2004), written after he almost died of a perineal infection, analyzes the stages of illness within the three-part structure of Dante's The Divine Comedy. Hyphenated-Man (2011) offers 30 short, white-hot punk bursts, each devoted to a character drawn from Hieronymus Bosch's paintings. Watt calls these works "operas" and it seems like a whimsical moniker until one realizes they really are ambitiously constructed sets of inter-reflective musical and conceptual motifs.
The reformed Stooges ended on September 29, 2013 - their last gig being that day at Saint James Park in San Jose, CA and after 126 months of getting to help them, Watt's career moved toward a new plateau: aggressively forward-looking, with constant new projects and collaborations, while simultaneously caretaking the legacy of the Minutemen. Their influence never waned. Music journalist Michael Azerrad borrowed a line from their song "History Lesson - Part II" as the title for his 2001 book Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981 - 1991. A documentary, We Jam Econo, was released in 2005. Their most beloved album, Double Nickels on the Dime, only grows in stature. It still sounds like nothing that came before or after: flurries of nervy rock bits, half spoken and half sung, anti-capitalist, full of earnest questions. "Should words serve the truth?" D. Boon asks in "do you want new wave (or do you want the truth)?," a song written by Watt. In 2020, when Rolling Stone updated its list of the 500 best albums of all time, Double Nickels... jumped from #413 to #267.
But his real legacy may be the less visible one he currently creates daily. Now 65, Watt is a bulwark not just of musicianship but of independent thinking. He long ago achieved recording independence: tracks for most of his projects happen at home in studio tHUNDERpANTS, a Pro Tools Omni HD setup. Full band recordings happen nearby in Casa Hanzo, a studio run by organist Pete Mazich, also a member of the Secondmen. When the pandemic hit in 2020, suspending touring, he was well-positioned to adapt. He also continues (twentytwo years four months now!) to post episodes of The Watt From Pedro Show (twfps.com), logging several a week when he's not on the road. He's had The Hoot Page (hootpage.com) going since 1996 and besides the other stuff there, it's where one can read the tour diaries he's been chimping since a few years after he launched it.
This fall he'll join mssv for a 58-date North American tour in support of their new album, Human Reaction. Jaded Azurites, a duo with poet Karen Schoemer, releases a new EP, Number Six, in September. Projects are in the can with Tone Scientists and the Carducci Brothers. The Missingmen will begin recording a new album this upcoming December and then one with the Secondmen later in 2024. He and Petra Haden are working on eight new tunes for Pelicanman with poet Charles Plymell called Bunches Of Button-Ups. Il Sogno del Marinaio, an Italian trio (sometimes a fourpiece) with whom he's been working since 2008, will release a new 7" this fall, and a new album called terzo in the summer of 2024.
Incrementally, project after project, and cumulatively, year upon year, decade after decade, he re-evaluates what bass is and does - its place in a song, its capacity and potential. "old days had me thinking 'conventionally' like 'bass is a four string guitar,'" he writes in an email. "but years of working it has taught the TRUTH actually is more like 'bass is a four string drum set' - no fucking shit... took 'pert-near a fuckin lifetime for me to figure that out. damn me for being such a fucking slow learner, damn me." This, too, is an act of generosity: sharing with his audience what it's taken him a lifetime to achieve. Now we've learned something. And not just about bass, or Mike Watt.
Mike Watt Bio - written by Uncle Ray - August, 2023
CONTEMPLATING THE FUZZY HAIR AROUND BLACK HOLES
Hi People. Recently I got an email from watt in which he asked me to update his bio:
I ain't pleading for a re-write cuz you did real good. what I sincerely need is an UPDATE and one that is so happening that even a big time squarejohn could still could get some kind of handle of what
I'm about w/out any reference to stupid like genre gulag tags or pin-the-tail-of-one-fuckin-band-on-another robert christgau lazy brain horseshit ("I'll HELP you more even by including a letter grade of the performance and just to show I'm fair") - you know, the usual guilt-by-association fuckin ankle-grab type of lame-ass. what are your thoughts about such a request?
on bass, watt
I came across something in the NYTimes the other day in a piece by Lindsay Zoladz that is useful here:
"But that's the thing about music fans: They keep being born, farther and farther from the date that I was. Discovering older artists should be celebrated."
Well, I think I wanna try that. Here's the thing: If you can believe it I'm actually older than watt. I mention this because the last couple watt gigs I've been to I've been hearing people of a certain age remarking on watt's age. They say a number to somebody and I can't tell if this is a statement of optimism like "Gee, I hope I don't turn into my parents in a couple more years, have children and never leave the house again; seeing this guy gives me hope." Or maybe the person saying it is young enough that they are finding it remarkable that someone of a certain age does not crumble right before their eyes, turn into a Walmart greeter and spontaneously combust, hopefully in a way they can capture on their phones.
...when a friend of mine asked, I once made a mix tape called watt 101 for them. That was over 20 years ago. I'm pretty sure it was a 90 minute tape. It was a bitch then, and putting together a playlist now would be even more daunting - do I make it for me, do I make it for you? Do I make it for an imagined entity seeking...something? That might be a way to go. Playlists aside, how did you wind up here and what do you want to know?
HELLO SEEKER! YOU ARE SPECIAL
Where are you? Are you reading this in the back seat of your car in a Walmart parking lot because you crash there? Are you walking across campus? Are you on the way to your second or third job of the day and you have two extra minutes? Do you listen to somebody who mentioned watt? Are you in the break room at an Amazon facility? If so, hurry up. The owner who looks like a dick pic needs another penny now. Or, y'know, who knows? Maybe you're the jailhouse fodder dirtbag who stole watt's van! Everybody needs somebody like that in their lives! If that was you, here's the best advice you'll ever get: go to Florida. Or maybe you just decided to check out watt because you heard the name or you saw the name or you play bass or you want to play the bass. Are you a freak? Me, too. So's watt. That's why he asked me to do this. Takes one to know one.vAre you in a country other than the U.S.? watt has been to a lot of those, too - maybe yours-- how's it going there? We in the U.S. are not all monsters with guns. I haven't shot anybody in weeks. Found one on the sidewalk so what the hell? They're free over here and they pass them out in nurseries when you're born. Just kidding. I guess. It must seem like it if you don't live in the U.S.
Listen: if you're here you have a sense of play and adventure and I am going to fuck with you. It drives watt crazy, which in some respects is what I live for. He once said in his tour diaries "Uncle Ray likes to amuse himself." Then he asked me to do this. So there you go. I would die before I would ask somebody else to write anything about me. So this should tell you something about watt right away - he does not believe in not giving the devil his due - if the devil showed up at one of his gigs and got belligerent, he would tell the devil to start his own fucking band if he had something to say. Then he'd sign something for him after the gig.
Which brings me to something else - I used to go to watt gigs at a place where getting a cab BACK (pretend I said Uber) was always a bitch - so I'd walk down the street to this joint where I had a better shot at it and it usually worked - so this guy shows up and on the way back we pass the gig pad and a little while later the guy asks me what I'd been doing and I tell him I was at a gig at that place down the street & he asks me who I saw & I tell him & he says "Never heard of him" and I say "You know that white van we just passed with the back doors open and the guy in front of them talking to people? That was him." And the guy says "Really? That was him? I REALLY respect that. Tell me his name again." So I do and he tells me he is pretty much a Ratpack guy, digs Frank & Sammy & Dino and so on, and takes his clipboard out and writes down watt's name. Says "I'm gonna check this guy out." So it gives me unspeakable pleasure thinking about a cabbie in Cleveland with a CD deck that has, y'know, Sinatra & Basie Live At The Sands, probably a couple other things. And next to it Ballhog or Tugboat & Contemplating The Engine Room. John Prine said 'It's a big old goofy world."
I'm going to mention a lot of people and maybe books and maybe films and so on, and if you're unfamiliar with anybody or any thing, look them/it up. That's how you find new things. I was gonna hyperlink to things until I realized that would be an invitation to go somewhere else. There is exactly one place I want you to go: to a gig. Preferably a watt gig. As I write this watt is kicking off a tour tomorrow as Mike Baggetta's bassist in their trio called mssv (Main Stop Steam Valve), with Stephen Hodges on drums. Find the schedule conveniently posted on this site. mssv prefers the lower case, as does watt, so he's lower case watt. If you didn't know that. This is going to be a BITCH because I'm imagining the people watt wants this to reach and why - which is you're curious about him and maybe have nowhere to start - so: a good start would be the excellent documentary about The Minutemen, watt's first band, called We Jam Econo.
Look: as I do this there's already bios on this site, and watt may want this to run concurrently with the last one I did some years past - so you could start with that half-assed one (which was really fun. I would die before I would ask some freak to write something about me, but watt doesn't give a fuck). One of the best compliments I ever got was when watt told me "You write from the gut." Here's another good one I have to include: One time I was sent on the road with Leslie West & his band and as the plane was filling up Leslie called out to me and said "Hey, if this plane starts to fill up, come over here and sit next to me 'cause I don't wanna sit next to some fool." Wouldn't that be a great epitaph? "Leslie West didn't think he was a fool."
It is hard to keep up with watt, because he's been constantly creating a body of work not unlike what maybe an obsessed painter does over a lifetime.
Let watt tell you about right now - he emailed me this recently (NOT RECENT - THIRTEEN FUCKING YEARS AGO - watt):
"Later this month I'm gonna master the fourth dos album (dos y dos). And this album I did with these two younger Italian musicians last December (el sogno del marinaio), which is trippy. A lot of my collaborations have been over the 'puter; I made an album with this young guy in Canada, I never even met him (the island "channels" album). He sent me the ten songs and I put the bass on it."
You know what? I will put one link in here (so far) and it's one to watt's news, as far as most recent stuff completed, available and so on - so if you're just finding this way down the line, the most recent stuff will be current - here:
a hoot and a holler
I hope watt doesn't take this as a lazy way to go - his history is out there in Wiki and many other places, including his sprawling site, which is most excellent. One of the best parts is the decades worth of tour diaries to be found there. Maybe watt can someday install a hootpage-specific search engine. DO NOT miss the diaries if you are watt-curious. Christ, if you're curious about anything, it has probably turned up in the diaries over the years. You will never find a better place to learn what it is like to have your own touring band or what it is like to be part of somebody else's touring band. I think watt has been playing live gigs since he was in his late teens, so that is a fuckload of experience to draw from. There's some funny shit in there - again, if you're familiar with watt already, then go on and get some - watt has asked me to sorta tailor this to somebody who is not familiar with him so in my mind I'm imagining a plethora of freaks of all ages with open minds out there who are fucking around and found this - I've always thought the best way to tell somebody what somebody is like is to tell them an anecdote that cuts to the chase to sum the person up - which in this case isn't exactly like using one anecdote to cut to the chase about your average... somebody. I guess. I mean, how often are you in a bar and somebody says "Who's that guy down there?" And you say "Oh, that's watt. He was Ig's bass player for 10 years when Ig put the Stooges back together and let's see, by my count he's started or played with, I dunno, I'm leaving the same number out but off the top of my head: The Minutemen, dos, Lil' Pit, Broke Dick Dog, Banyan, fIREHOSE, Bootstrappers, J. Mascis & The Fog, Porno For Pyros. El Sogno del Marinaio - oh yeah, and most or all of Sonic Youth, Jim Keltner, Yoko Ono, Stan Ridgway, Rickie Lee Jones - stuff like that. How 'bout you?"
OK: watt works the bass. He's really good at it. Here comes the P-word. watt identifies as a punk, he was one of the progenitors of the DIY movement with his first band, The Minutemen. They jammed econo. In other words, they loaded their shit in a van, booked their own gigs and paid out of pocket to record and press and manufacture and sell their own records and tapes back then, with no internet. It was a great time. watt said one of my favorite things ever in an interview I saw once when he was talking about the early days of punk. He said "Everybody brought their own leaf to the salad." You can still do that. Things are more structured now but there are clubs in many places that are what I'd guess you'd call adventuresome and still book people with living breathing back catalogs who are still producing art worth checking out - and none of this will happen if you don't go to a gig. This is what a salesman does. He tells you what he's going to tell you, then he tells you, then he tells you what he told you. In this case it is go to a gig. It doesn't have to be a watt gig, but that's the ideal nut here. A tour is under way in the U.S. (I'm writing this 9/4/2023) starting tomorrow with mssv. Go to a gig. I've been going to see bands for over fifty years. It's what I do. I don't do much else. I've never had a decent gig anywhere and when I worked it was pretty much marginal shit for some assholes so I could scrape up enough money to buy music and go see bands. I've been really lucky. By accident I've lived in a few places where you could WALK to a club and see some legendary people so I did. How many other people have seen Count Basie AND G.G. Allin? Mercifully not on the same bill, to point out the obvious. But you get the picture. Which is go to a gig. Again, if you're not that familiar with watt, here's another thing he does: crashes with gig-goers after the gig. He and his various bands have stayed with me twice over the years. Nice guys always. Friends now. That part is a real pisser, because there's that old phrase "Trust the art but not the artist." So if somebody does something you enjoy and turns out not to be a dick, that is truly a bonus. I think watt is kind of a sorcerer in a similar way to what Miles Davis did - he manages to find people who are motherfuckers on their various axes and gets things out of them maybe they didn't know they could do. The fact that ALL of them are also great people to talk to & hang out with really baffles me. I think he beats them. There's a reason he listens to those infamous Buddy Rich rants for inspiration.
Hey, speaking of Miles Davis - something else that turned up maybe in that same interview I mentioned earlier was when somebody pointed out to watt that he was a punk-rocker who didn't really play punk as the pigeon-holers would describe it, and watt said something like "Yeah, the joke was on us." Here's a deep dark punk rock secret: if you talk to most of the ones from the early days who are still doing viable work and have not calcified, you can talk to them about jazz all day long. Or just about any other kind of music really, but it always comes back to jazz.
Maybe this is a good place to put this in - there's a most excellent documentary about Wayne Shorter called Zero Gravity, and in the first of three parts he briefly talks about when he used to visit John Coltrane and it lasts less than a minute but there're book's-worth of useful things in there:
"He invited me to his house. He had a piano and he would crush the lower part of the piano. And you get like you call a tone cluster. Like an explosion. And he would ask me, 'see what you can find. No matter what sound you hear, try to find the face, a face, find the person, find the story.' And we started talking about the tone as a way of taking you places."
Damn. Again, if you're new to watt, Coltrane is his guy. Somewhere in the diaries watt mentions that when he turned forty and was in Philly he laid down on Trane's grave and asked him what he should do. So maybe if Trane was there - (look, nobody can say definitively whether he was or not, we'll get to that next) he woulda said "Try to find the face, a face, find the person, find the story." One time I heard Elvin Jones, the drummer who spent the most time with Trane, on Terry Gross's Fresh Air show on NPR and he said he thought maybe Coltrane was an angel that came down here to try and heal us. Why not. The longer I'm on this planet the more I become convinced that nobody knows anything about anything for sure.
Check this out - I'm just gonna paste it in:
'TWISTY' NEW THEORY OF GRAVITY. INFORMATION CAN ESCAPE BLACK HOLES AFTER ALL
"Einstein's theory of relativity say black holes are 'bald', but a new tweak to his research may give the mysterious objects their long-sought 'hair.'"
Go there later, OK? Pretty much the same thing is also posited in a documentary called Black Holes: The Edge Of All We Know. Stephen Hawking is in it. I stopped watching it after they got to the part where they now think black holes have hair or fringe around them which suggests that things can escape from black holes, but it would violate every law of whatever the fuck we now think we believe to be true - to wit: you can throw a chicken in a black hole and something completely different will come out. Maybe a saxophone or Slim Pickens. You throw in Billy Joel and get back a 1963 split window fastback Stingray. Maybe even with a 427 with the hood scoop. And those crossed flags on the fenders. Werner Herzog pretty much said he doesn't have much interest in space because everything is too far away to mean much of a fuck to us now. I have no idea how far it is to the nearest black hole but I'll guarantee you it'll be awhile before we can find any of this out. But you know what you can do now? Go to a gig. And then keep doing it. You could do worse things with your life and people have.
While I'm still thinking of Werner Herzog:
"I believe the common denominator of the Universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility and murder."
"...we can truly see how hard it is to make a film. But this is my life, and I don't want to live it in any other way."
Bingo. He also said you should never go anywhere without bolt-cutters, which goes without saying.
I think when you're absorbed by something, you're not really missing out on something else because you're too busy pursuing the object of your absorption to notice. I built my life around tracking down music & going to gigs & watt built his around making music and playing gigs. So I guess maybe it was inevitable we'd cross paths at some point - so we met with the randomness of something that probably goes on around the fringes of a black hole as some people now posit but will never know for sure - we met because of: Neil Young & Crazy Horse. I tried to track it down from twenty-plus years ago, and this is what I came up with: I was reading the tour diaries online and watt was touring Contemplating the Engine Room with Nels Cline and Bob Lee (The Black Gang Crew? I hope I get this right; there was The Black Gang and The Black Gang Crew and they were different people and I think he did a total of three tours with that) and Bob mentioned collecting NY & CH stuff & posted his email & I did a trade with him, something for something, and the something Bob sent me was three hours of stuff from that tour. So we started trading emails & he forwarded a couple to watt & apparently he recognized another freak immediately & wrote me a couple times - so the next time he was in town when I went to the club early to cop a ticket just about the only person in the place was... watt. In a booth by himself chimping diary. So we started bullshitting and I didn't wanna distress his vocal cords (watt does some punishing tours with few days off - more about that later) but every time we broke it off one of us started spieling about something else & it started up again - real important stuff: Hunter Thompson's cat Screwjack, the guy who offered watt some LSD in Chicago, the band called Head East, looking in the mirror when you're doing acid, cactus and Cactus and two Captain Beefheart collections that were coming out at the time. And so on. At the end of the gig he told me to keep in touch - so there. There must have been times when he regretted it. You should see some of the shit I've sent him - but anyway, big ups to Bob Lee always.
About those tours - watt's motto is "If you ain't playin' you're payin'." So a forty or fifty gig tour might have two days off - the gigs are booked just far enough apart to drive in one day. A thing watt copped from Vaudeville days was to start from the west coast (he lives in 'Pedro) and go in a clockwise circle around the lower 48 in the fall, and counter-clockwise in the spring (I'm semi-dyslexic so it might be the other way around; the point is to do a circle so the weather is "with" you as you traverse east/west north/south). It used to work. In theory it still should except for the occasional fire or hurricane or tornado or civil war or plague of locusts or flamingoes. Did you know that after this last hurricane they're supposedly showing up in Virginia and even Ohio? I saw it online so it must be true.
I think I mentioned watt sleeps on people's floors on tour - which is a great deal economically and I've always thought people are to watt what water is to surfers-- well, I think he uses an air mattress now instead of a floor - I tried to tell him about impingement for years after I talked to my chiropractor - if you're a touring band and you don't do this you probably will - & it'll be the difference between making the nut or not, most likely. Unless you're one of the three or four precious people out there whose fans are ruining their lives to see them in asinine venues and paying legal scalpers in a business that has been completely broken and only gets worse. We'll have sane gun laws in the U.S. before anybody figures out how to stop the greedheads and their legal scalping. You generally can't un-poison a well. Monopolies bad. Arson bad too. So I guess it's good for the legal scalpers that their robbery is mostly done digitally. This gives them a modicum of safety in their minds, anyway. You can still hate them. Maybe if enough people hate them they'll shrivel up like the wicked witch after she's been hosed down.
So if you're in the states (well, the lower 48 this time around) there's a good chance you can see mssv with Mike Baggetta and watt and Stephen Hodges with probably less of a drive than they're doing every day from now until the first week in November (2023). It costs way under a thousand dollars. Buy some merch. Say hello to Miss Hiyori - she has a frightening and formidable memory & if you bought a t-shirt in another city several years ago she'll probably remember you in the current city - I'm deeply jealous. So go to a gig. And use your fucking turn signals.
- Uncle Ray
Mike Watt Bio - written by Tina Clarke - January, 2012
"What can be romantic to Mike Watt?"
This question is from the song "One Reporter's Opinion." It first appeared on "Double Nickels on the Dime," the Minutemen's acclaimed 1984, 45-track, two record release; often named among the best and most influential albums of the 1980's. At the time of the song's recording, this query may have seemed rhetorical, as the band was an integral part of Los Angeles's explosive early punk and hardcore scene. By 1984, The Minutemen - Mike Watt on bass, guitarist D Boon and drummer George Hurley - had already earned a reputation for fierce, rapid-fire performances. Their songs were abrupt gusts of genre-bending music, with concise, satirical lyrics that probed and skewered topics like Reagan era politics and commercial popular culture.
Yet nearly 30 years later, this question continues to haunt Watt, although it's long been freed of any presumed irony. In the intervening years, it has become increasingly evident that much of this bass player, songwriter and "spieler's" life is in fact very romantic to Mike Watt.
His passions are observable in everything. It's heard in Watt's musical signature - an extraordinarily lyrical bass playing style - a singular sound that leaps from any of his many recordings. It's visible in his mystical veneration of the natural world, revealed by equally allusive photos of seagulls, sea lions and sunrises taken during his daily "crack of dawn" biking and kayaking excursions in San Pedro, California, his beloved hometown. (Some of these exquisite images were the subject of a 2010 solo exhibition, "Eye-Gifts From Pedro" at the Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica, CA., and are part of his book, "On and Off Bass," Three Rooms Press, 2012). His romance extends to the ordinary, too, observable in the way he describes his state of mind, meals, gigs, friends and daily activities in his compulsively detailed tour diaries available on-line since 1997 (before the term "blog" was coined), on his self-built and meticulously maintained website: hootpage.com, which he began in 1996.
Watt is a cultural omnivore. Especially over the last decade, his openness (and eagerness) to devour new musical experience has become increasingly audible (and visible) in the dozens of projects and live performances he's participated in with artists as divergent as Yoko Ono, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Petra Haden and Kelly Clarkson.
With the songwriting and recording process freed from terra firma through digital technology and internet file sharing, Watt's been able to contribute bass to recordings by friends and fans from all over the world, who have contacted him through email and social media. He's also sought the partnership of musicians he's encountered on his own: through his (since 2001) web-based radio series "The Watt from Pedro Show," or met on tour, particularly since 2003 when he began playing bass with the perpetually globetrotting Iggy and the Stooges. These opportunities have yielded several ongoing collaborations, including multiple recordings with members of the Japanese band Migu and England's The Go! Team. To accommodate this explosion of creativity, in 2011 Watt launched a new label, clenchedwrench (www.clenchedwrench.com), his first DIY imprint in almost three decades. Its first release was "Hyphenated Man," the third of his "operas," in March 2011. The label has since released "Dos y Dos," the 4th (Mike Watt and Kira Roessler) Dos album (2011) and "Speilgusher" (2012) with poet, rock critic and Blue Oyster Cult lyricist Richard Meltzer. "La Busta Gialla" by Il Sogno del Mariano, a trio pairing Watt with Italian musicians Stefano Pilia on guitar, and Andrea Belfi on drums, and several more collaborative recordings are scheduled for release in 2012.
History is ultimately a revisionist art form. Biography, too, is less ambiguous and more subjective in the rearview mirror. Glancing backward, it might appear obvious now how Watt has grown as a musician and as a man. His legendary big heart, acute intelligence and irrepressible curiosity, combined with his strong work ethic and a much-admired artistic authenticity have secured his reputation. He is one of the most well respected musicians of the last three decades. He's also one of the most dearly loved.
In person, Watt is a man of sharp contrasts, frequently veering from extremely silent and shy to bearishly loud and argumentative. However, despite his penchant for debate and in his own words "an unfortunate personality," most anyone who has ever encountered him remembers him fondly. His renown as a sweet guy follows him everywhere.
Admittedly, too, Watt has always had a hankering for mysteries, especially those that remain unsolved. He also likes the principle that for everything revealed something else is concealed. For those reasons, it's not surprising that although one is often initially met by Watt's outsized enthusiasm for music, books, nature and people, it barely masks an underlying sense of sadness and loss. So in considering this self-mining, however symbolic, mostly autobiographical artist, the answer to the question "Who is the man behind the curtain?" seems to get both more vivid and more elusive with time.
Watt's father was an18 year-old enlisted man from Red Bluff, CA, who had deep roots and family secrets in Arkansas and his mother was a 21 year-old aspiring visual artist, from an immigrant Italian family who had moved years earlier to Peoria, Illinois, from a Wyoming mining town, when there was nothing left to mine. Some of his maternal ancestors had been involved in vaudeville. His parents met in Chicago, where he was also conceived.
The event of his birth might now seem like an omen: Watt was literally ripped from his mother's belly via C-Section at 4:30AM, Friday, December 20, 1957, on a naval base in Portsmouth, Virginia.
Watt's family moved as frequently as the Navy ordered which was often annually, before settling in San Pedro, CA, the harbor of Los Angeles, in 1967. Rather, his mother settled there - refusing to move her family again - now including Mike and two younger sisters. His parents divorced when he was 12, and without his father, they moved from the relative security and integrated community of the US Navy housing in north San Pedro to a recently built civilian proj more south called Park Western Estates.
He had just moved there and as if in a modern fable, one day in 1970, a 12 year-old Watt was walking through nearby Peck Park when another adolescent jumped on him from a tree, asking, "Are you Eskimo?" The other kid's name was Dennes Boon. After realizing the mistake, Boon let loose a stream of verbal wit. Watt thought he had just met the smartest human on the planet. (It wasn't until later; he discovered Boon had given a word for word recitation of some of George Carlin's comedy routines.) It didn't matter: a great friendship was begun.
When Watt took up playing bass, it was largely to keep him and his new best friend off the sketchy streets of Pedro. Boon's mother, Marjorie suggested they start a band to keep them occupied indoors. (In the early 1970's, this was definitely not an activity many parents would encourage.) Mrs. Boon decided that her son would play guitar and his new friend Mike would play bass.
At the time, Watt and Boon's exposure to rock music was limited to FM radio (in those days play lists were less restrictive than now), records they collected - The Who for Mike, Hank Williams for Boon - or heard (Mike's mom liked Bob Dylan) and the big selling acts that came to town. Watt's first concert was T Rex at the Long Beach Sports Arena, watched from the cheap seats far from the stage. When he first started playing, he just removed two strings from a guitar, because that's what a bass guitar looked like. Watt was16 before he had saved enough money to buy his first real bass.
If the way a bass looked was confusing, it was even harder to imagine how a bass sounded, because on most recordings of the era, the bass was buried in the final mix. So the players Watt got to know and like were ones he could really hear: The Who's John Entwistle, Cream's Jack Bruce, Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler, Sly And The Family Stone's Larry Graham and Motown session player James Jamerson. Together, with Boon's younger brother Joe on drums they played covers of popular rock songs at events like local bar mitzvahs and on one memorable occasion, half time at a San Pedro High School football game. They were so "different," they had to be rescued mid-performance from the field (and from an angry crowd) by Boon's dad.
When they graduated from high school in 1976, "punk," was a very newly minted genre of rock music; an unruly reaction to the increasing commercialism of the music business. Ironically, over the years, punk has come to represent a specific sound (fast-paced, few chords, imperative vocals), but when it first emerged it was more of an attitude, a freedom to explore, extract or combine any kind of music and visual appearance, as long as it was genuine and unfiltered, from the head, the heart or the groin. You didn't even have to know how to sing or use an instrument to be "punk rock"; you just had to play like your life depended on it, each and every time.
In the late 1970's, few musicians in Pedro wrote their own songs and if they did, they tried to copy what was already popular. With the advent of punk, especially inspired by new British bands Wire and The Pop Group, Boon and Watt realized they could write their own songs and invent their own sound In 1978, with drummer George Hurley and vocalist Martin Tamburovich, they formed The Reactionaries and then in 1980, the trio of Boon, Hurley and Watt became the Minutemen (after a couple of gigs with drummer Frank Tonche). They were quickly embraced by the LA "punk" scene, which by then included Black Flag (who took them on their first European tour in 1983), The Germs and Circle Jerks, visual artist Raymond Pettibon, who created many of their flyers and album covers, and independent labels, like their own New Alliance Records, which released Husker Du's first single, and SST, for whom the Minutemen later recorded.
From the start, even amongst their super freak punk peers, the Minutemen displayed a very original style. Their extremely brief and efficient songs were a kaleidoscope of musical genres, from the short bursts of what has now come to define punk to psychedelic, hardcore, folk and jazz, while referencing wildly dissimilar artists like John Coltrane, Captain Beefheart, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Blue Oyster Cult. Their lyrics were succinct, too, yet eloquent. Their name itself was a play on words: they were (mahy-noot) men, blue-collar working stiffs who loved great works of fiction, history and politics and who could toss astute barbs at Ronald Reagan, Michael Jackson and others. They had their own lexicon known as "Pedro-speak." Words and phrases like "we jam econo" "mersh" and "this band could be your life" still endure three decades later.
From early on Watt's lyrics were especially pre-occupied with the individual. Rather than writing anthems for an unknown public, he wrote about himself, initially as "I," then later in the third person as "Watt," often riffing in an abstract beat-poet style on fleeting thoughts, mundane personal experiences, books and authors he loved - particularly James Joyce - and his own optimistic ideals.
From 1981-1985, the Minutemen recorded 4 albums and 8 EPs, cheaply and quickly. It wasn't until 1984 that they were earning enough money for Watt to quit his various day jobs, which by then included cable TV installer, electric company meter reader, dishwasher and paralegal. Ironically - much like the music business today - because of modest sales, they saw their records as "flyers, " or advertising for their tours, which were also done on the cheap, multiple bands, one van, no or few days off. As Watt still says: "If you're not playing, you're paying."
In 1985, Watt began experimenting with playing bass in a duo with former Black Flag bassist and then girlfriend, Kira Roessler, with whom he had also begun writing songs. Dos, as they are known, has continued to perform and record occasionally ever since, with their fourth album, "Dos y Dos," mixed by Yuka Honda (Cibo Matto, Plastic Ono Band), released in 2011. Over the years, Dos has been quietly ferocious, serving as the breeding ground for new ideas, songs and virtuosity.
On the verge of widespread recognition, The Minutemen had just concluded a US tour (opening for then rising stars REM), when D Boon died in a van accident on an Arizona highway early in the morning of December 22, 1985. Watt had celebrated his 28th birthday two days earlier.
For months after, Watt was grieving hard, unsure if he would or could continue making music without D Boon, his best friend and muse. In the spring of 1986, aware that Watt was a Madonna fan, Sonic Youth invited him to contribute a track to "The Whitey Album," their Ciccone Youth side project. He delivered a frenzied, 4-track, solo version of "Burnin' Up." It was to be his first post-Minutemen recording.
Also in 1986, Ed Crawford, a then 21-year-old guitarist and fan from the Midwest (Ed fROMOHIO) heard (inaccurately) that Watt was looking for musicians with whom to start another band. He got Watt's (then) listed phone number and drove directly to Watt's tiny apartment in Pedro. For the next several months, Crawford camped out on his floor until an understandably depressed and unsettled Watt agreed to form a band, with him and George Hurley. That trio, fIREHOSE (1986-1994), recorded 5 albums (3 on SST and 2 on Columbia Records), 2 EPs and did 20 tours, with Watt continuing to provoke and inspire a new generation of listeners as fIREHOSE rode the big new wave of college radio promoted "alternative" music.
Watt disbanded fIREHOSE in January 1994. By then, his 6-year marriage to Kira had also ended. Having been a member of a group since he was a teenager, Watt was ready to begin a new musical adventure: playing bass with lots of different musicians in lots of different configurations. In 1995 to much anticipation and critical acclaim, he released and toured his first solo album "Ball Hog or Tugboat?" The 48 friends who contributed to that recording included some of the most noted musicians of the era, including members of Sonic Youth, Pearl Jam, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Beastie Boys, Screaming Trees, Jane's Addiction, Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr. and Bikini Kill. Although to some it may have seemed like a canny all-star fan fest, the recording was a mutual love dance and it has since led to many more provocative collaborations.
In 1995, Watt also recorded the first of two albums with Banyan, Jane's Addiction drummer's Stephen Perkins revolving personnel, improvisational jazz influenced group, with whom Watt continues to gig with from time to time.
Eager for more new experiences, in 1996, Watt recorded and toured with Perry Farrell's Porno For Pyros, as a hired sideman or in Pedro-speak, "a side mouse." Also in 1996, Watt started playing live shows with the local "practice" band he'd established in 1993 with two longshoremen friends: keyboard player Pete Mazich and drummer Jerry Trebotic (with whom he would later form The Secondmen). Nicknamed the Madonnabes, the trio practiced Madonna songs to improve their chops. With the addition of two teenage dancers, from 1996-1999, the Madonnabes sporadically played live shows in and around LA, with Watt wearing a secondhand Nutcracker Ballet mouse costume and Mazich in a dress and blonde wig. Reportedly, Madonna attended one of their gigs in 1998.
Watt was turning 40 in 1997 and as many approaching that peculiar milestone, he had begun reflecting on the past events of his life. That year he recorded and released the first of his three thematic "operas."
Contemplating the Engine Room" was oddly both a departure from and a return to Watt's roots. As a boy, he had been captivated by the Who's " A Quick One, While He's Away," their 1966 pre-"Tommy" 9-minute rock opera from "Happy Jack," their second US album release. Watt had also recently begun listening to the Saturday afternoon "Live From the Metropolitan Opera" radio broadcasts. The boldly emotional musical style and high drama of the 400-year-old genre intrigued him. Opera offered a new means of expression: a cathartic way to tell a whole story in songs linked together by a narrative theme.
Inspired by both James Joyce's all in one day opus "Ulysses" and "The Sand Pebbles," Richard McKenna's 1962 Naval themed novel and composed during his daily early morning bike rides around Pedro, Watt crafted a musical allegory, relating the story of his own life on the road with D Boon and the Minutemen to his father's life traveling the world in the Navy. Watt's father, who had died from cancer in 1991 (without ever having seen his son perform), had been a Navy Chief, whom for twenty years worked in the engine rooms of aircraft carriers including the Enterprise, and had served in the Vietnam War.
Contemplating the Engine Room" was also Watt's first foray into project specific ensembles; writing songs with different musicians in mind. For this opera, he assembled The Black Gang: Watt on bass and singing, LA's experimental (and future Wilco) guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Stephen Hodges (Tom Waits). The album was heartbreakingly beautiful, a musical momento mori. In songs such as "Liberty Calls!," "Breaking the Choke Hold," and "Shore Duty," Watt honored, celebrated and mourned the two most important men in his life.
He toured the album in the US and Europe throughout 1998, playing it almost 200 times. For various tour segments, Watt needed to replace members of the Black Gang due to scheduling conflicts, altering the band's name slightly each time to reflect the change in personnel, a habit he continues today with many of his project specific groups. In early 1999, he performed the opera one final time at the Viper Room in LA. At the show's conclusion, in a highly dramatic public gesture, Watt had the beard he had grown since the opera's first performance 16 months earlier, shorn on stage. Although he has not played the opera since, Watt keeps the beard in his kitchen freezer.
Seeking another new challenge, for awhile, Watt talked about writing "Purr-man" an album length song cycle for organ, bass and drums, inspired as much by jazz organist Jimmy Smith's "The Cat," as the habits of his much beloved tabby, Man. But before it was begun, Man died in the summer of 1999. The cat, who was 18 years old, had been his constant companion since the start of the Minutemen. Watt was devastated; especially after the emotionally charged year he had spent performing "...Engine Room." This loss was another reminder that his days with D Boon were fading further from view and Watt never mentioned his "cat" project again.
In January 2000, right after performing with Banyan at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, Watt suddenly fell dangerously ill. Returning to Pedro, he spent several weeks confined to his apartment, delusional with flu-like symptoms and fever. Then on February 28, an abscess in his perineum burst and he was rushed by ambulance to LA Country Medical Center dying from infection and loss of blood. He had no health insurance.
Incredibly, with emergency surgery he survived, but he had a grim 3-month long recovery (and a $36,000 medical bill). Too weak to leave his bed or play bass, he spent the time reading; returning to books that had inspired and puzzled him in his youth including Dante Alighieri's "The Divine Comedy."
When he was finally able to work again, Watt said yes to everything. He created Hellride with Stephen Perkins and Porno for Pyros guitarist Peter DiStefano to reinterpret Stooges songs through the free jazz prism of John Coltrane. He DJ'd punk rock aerobics classes. After years troubled by the loss of others, he was suddenly really, really happy to be alive.
Watt decided to pursue his bass, organ and drum trio idea, but now it had a new narrative focus; his own Dante like journey into hell, agonizing convalescence and eventual arrival in paradise: his return to playing bass, biking and kayaking.
The project was delayed in early 2001 when Watt agreed to be a sidemouse again when Dinosaur Jr. guitarist J Mascis invited him to play on a world tour with J Mascis + The Fog. Watt also toured that year with the Jom and Terry Show, with Slovenly/Red Krayola's Tom Watson on guitar and Jerry Trebotic on drums.
A one-off gig at the Pukkelpop 2002 Festival in Hasselt, Belgium, covering Stooges songs as Asheton, Asheton, Mascis + Watt proved fateful. Five years earlier, in 1997, Watt and Ron Asheton, along with Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley, Gumball's Don Fleming and Mudhoney's Mark Arm had recorded Stooges songs as the Wylde Ratttz for the 1998 Todd Haynes film "Velvet Goldmine." The group again recorded together in the summer of 1998 but the resulting album was never released due to legal obstacles.
Unbeknownst to Watt, by 2002, Iggy had for some time considered reforming the Stooges and the Pukkelpop gig with Ron and Scotty Asheton was pivotal in the decision to ask Watt to join them (the Stooges original bass player Dave Alexander died in 1975).
So at the Coachella Festival in April 2003, Watt began his ultimate sidemouse gig, playing bass for the "re-ignited" Iggy and the Stooges. Although that band had initially been short lived, (1967-71 and 72-74), the Stooges had been a huge influence on both Boon and Watt as teenagers. And while healing from "that illness" in 2000, Watt had obsessively practiced the bass line for the Stooges' "Little Doll," to relearn how to play. In a weird way, he had been preparing for this role his entire life.
But this once in a lifetime opportunity required a commitment which meant Watt's own touring and recording schedule would now be dictated by when he wasn't playing with the Stooges. Through working with them, Watt has been exposed not only to the biggest and widest audiences of his career, but also to new musicians and new recording opportunities, including making an album with the Stooges, "The Weirdness," released in 2007.
In the winter of 2003, Watt's first book "The Spiels of a Minuteman," was published by Quebec independent, L'Oie De Cravan. Printed in French and English, it includes all of Watt's lyrics for that band, his 1983 Black Flag/Minutemen tour journal, essays about the Minutemen by Joe Carducci, Richard Meltzer and Watt, with art contributed by Raymond Pettibon.
In 2004, Watt finally recorded, released and toured his second opera, "The Second Man's Middle Stand," with The Secondmen - Watt, with Pete Mazich on Hammond B3 organ and Jerry Trebotic playing drums - a trio he had formed and been touring with since 2002. Based on his illness in 2000, Watt described, in often surprisingly tuneful, medical detail in songs such as " Piss Bags and Tubing," his excruciatingly slow, yet grateful recovery from his life-threatening perineum infection; the song cycle structurally mirroring Dante's three part Divine Comedy: 'Hell," Purgatory" and "Paradise."
Around this time, Watt again began to re-evaluate his life and career thus far. He had been so focused on playing live and touring, that seven years had passed between the releases of his two operas. Perhaps fearing his own eventual demise, Watt also knew recordings would later serve as proof of his existence. So he began making records, a lot of them, with as many people as possible, in as many on-going configurations as possible.
In 2005, Watt was invited to be part of The Unknown Instructors, a spoken word/ improvisational group formed by vocalist/saxophonist and poet Dan McGuire, along with Saccharine Trust's Joe Baiza (guitar) and Jack Brewer (vocals), and drummer George Hurley. It gave Watt a chance to play bass while "spieling" some of his poems to music that ranged from straight blues to garage rock to psychedelic and free form punk jazz; often to hypnotic effect. Working on a fourth recording in 2012, the group has already released three albums: "They Way Things Work," (2005); and with the addition of Pere Ubu vocalist David Thomas and artist/vocalist Raymond Pettibon, "The Master's Voice" (2007), and "Funland" (2009). Watt has also contributed to recent recordings by the Book of Knots, former Pere Ubu bass player Tony Maimone's darkly beautiful musical collective.
With Watt's participation (and blessing), "We Jam Econo," a feature length documentary film chronicling the Minutemen's story, produced and directed by Keith Schieron and Tim Irwin, was released in 2005. Also that year, the McNally-Smith College of Music in Saint Paul, Minnesota announced the establishment of the Mike Watt Bass Guitar Scholarship, a $1000 award, given to an incoming or current student who shows exceptional ability on bass guitar.
While performing with the Stooges at the 2006 Big Day Out Festival in Australia he met The Go! Team. He was especially impressed by their young female guitarist/multi instrumentalist, Kaori Tsuchida. With Kaori, Watt created the duo Funanori, which paired his bass with the sanshin, a traditional Okinawan three-stringed instrument, often likened to a banjo. They released a three-track EP in 2008. It was the first time Watt had written and recorded a whole project (with someone he hardly knew half way around the world) start to finish using the internet.
Also in 2008, along with Stooges sax player Steve MacKay, Watt recorded a un-titled album with Dublin experimental punk rock band Estel. Released in 2010, its four original tracks are named for the Gospels of the New Testament: "Matthew," "Mark," "Luke" and "John." It also included a cover of the Stooges "Fun House."
Before ever meeting them, Watt also began recording with Tokyo-based (Cornelius band members) drummer Yuko Araki and guitarist Hirotaka "Shimmy" Shimizu, adding bass to a track for an album by Migu, Araki's solo project. Watt was so inspired by these, two exceptionally talented players he began creating projects around them. He has since performed and recorded in Japan three yet-to-be released albums with them as Brother's Sister's Daughter; on the second album, adding Nels Cline and Yuka Honda. Araki and Shimmy also helped Watt complete a recording that had been brewing for over twenty years: "Spielgusher," a spoken word album with rock critic/Blue Oyster Cult lyricist Richard Meltzer, released in 2012.
An invitation, in 2009 by M Ward to open for him at NYC 's Summerstage led to the creation of Floored by Four, a quartet with Nels Cline (guitar), Yuka Honda (keyboards) and Dougie Bowne (Lounge Lizards) on drums. They recorded a Watt composed album in a few days following this first gig, four mostly instrumental tracks stylistically inspired by each of these players. This recording also ultimately led to the 2010 marriage of Cline and Honda.
Also in 2009, Watt finally began recording his third "opera," "Hyphenated-Man," a work written for The Missingmen, a trio whom he had toured with since 2005 that included guitarist Tom Watson and local Pedro drummer Raul Morales. This opera was unlike the others, in that its narrative had no specific dramatic arc - no typical libretto. The way it was recorded was also unusual, with Watson and Morales recording the guitar and drums in the spring of 2009 at Tony Maimone's Studio G in Brooklyn and in spring, 2010, Watt adding bass and vocals, with Maimone serving as a co-producer.
It was inspired by two otherwise (apparently) unrelated sources: 16th C. Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch's mysterious and fantastic visual creations and the transformational experiences of the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow, the poignant, "incomplete" male characters in the 1939 film version of L. Frank Baum's 1900 classic children's story "The Wizard of Oz." The album consists of thirty little impressionistic, intensely played, genre-busting musical pieces. Like a shattered mirror, each of these thirty sections is part of a whole, serving as a momentary snapshot of a ruminating thought; a series of middle-aged meditations on how men become men. Each tune is titled for one of Bosch's tortured creatures, many from his painting "The Garden of Earthly Delights," a work that has resisted decipherment for five centuries.
Watt observes and interprets the secrets of Bosch's troubled men-beasts in emotionally urgent, extremely "econo" tunes, served up in quick succession. Each has a lurid, evocative title such as "Hell- Building-Man," "Mockery-Robed-Man," "Pinned-to-the-Table-Man," and "Stuffed-in-the-Drum-Man." On "Wheel-Bound-Man," the album's closing track, Watt envisions a man who has come to terms with the unconscious trade-offs made in a life pursuing one's own imagination and as he so often does himself, acknowledges the limitations imposed by "the wheel," yet optimistically looks ahead.
Much to the delight of old and new fans alike, the album evoked the nimble sound and fury of the Minutemen, more than anything Watt had recorded since that band's untimely demise more than twenty-five years earlier.
"Hyphenated-Man" was released in Japan on Parabolica Records in late 2010 and then as the inaugural release of Watt's own Clenchedwrench label in 2011.
As of early 2012, Watt's artistic endeavors continue to diversify and multiply, with many different recording projects anticipated to take form this year, including "Mouthful," recorded recently in Memphis, Tennessee, and a debut by "Emma Goldman Bust-Out Brigade" with jazz stand-up bass player Devon Hoff and Matt Chamberlain on drums. And Watt's expected to tour with the Stooges, the Missingmen and Il Sogno del Marinaio. He's also scheduled to play the All Tomorrow's Parties Festival in Minehead, England, in a rare duo appearance with George Hurley doing Minutemen songs.
As always, Watt persists in exceeding, defying and confounding musical (and other) expectations: the truly romantic embodiment of an authentic punk rocker.