Mike Watt

Mike Watt’s Punk Rock Portrait of the Middle Aged Artist.

Q: What’s your life like outside of music?

A: I do kayak, I do bicycle. Both those things I do early in the morning. I got a radio show, but that’s music. Yeah, I don’t do a lot.

Q: It sounds like you spend serious time outdoors.

A: You got it. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays kayaking, and Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday on the bicycle. And I’m no jock. I mean, it takes two-and-a-half, three hours to do it.

Q: That’s dedication.

A: Yeah. But it’s worth the investment, because you’re not blessed with the youth thing. You have to work on it.

Q: Is there a mental or psychological benefit, too?

A: There’s both. The mind, you know, you get out there on the water. And on the bicycle, even — here we go again with music. But I use it for music. Because when I’m riding in those things, the kayak or the bike, I don’t have the machine in my hand. So I actually have to, you know, put them [songs] in my head and then bring them to the machine. If I have the machine in my lap, I end up doing what I already know, instead of trying to fit the machine to ideas. So it helps me. And both those things, paddling and pedaling, they’re very rhythmic. It’s all about little rhythms, you know, for hours. It’s just going and going and going. I don’t wear them funky clothes. I just do my 20 miles. And in the kayak I do eight miles, as long as it takes me. I learned to listen, too, to birds and stuff like that. I never listened before, you know. I got a car when I was 16, you know, so I didn’t start riding until I was 38. But it’s an important part of my life, an expression that’s authentic for me compared to all the other things, even being social, in a way. And also, you know, this is another middle-aged thing, but I was enlightened by the fact that the word “work” is both a verb and a noun.

Q: What does that mean for you?

A: Well, you know, you do things, but then they become things. And I never had a family, so I want to leave stuff when I go, which was never that important to me in the old days. Fuck, the records were flyers to the gigs. Everything was about the moment. And I still love gigs. And the moment is very important. But I did get all earnest about work, the noun.

Q: Are you increasingly thoughtful about your legacy?

A: Well, yeah. I think that’s why people have children and stuff. You know, the next shift. And we need the next shift. But biologically, I’m not helping out the next shift.

Q: So how do you see your legacy?

A: Bringing some reference materials. Both my sisters didn’t have kids either, but they’re teachers.

Q: Why didn’t you have kids?

A: I mean, it’s not hedonistic so much.  I think it was my mother cussing at us as kids. You know, “I hope you have ten just like you.” She scared the shit out of us. But we all are involved, I’ve thought about this, you know, over the last couple of years, we are involved with the next shift, but just not biologically.

Q: That makes sense. We need more than fresh bodies to carry on. We need, as you say, reference materials.

A: Or whatever. Just something, you know. It’s not to say I was so important, but something that’s kind of there, better than a headstone. I’m into being ashes put in the water here. But I’m in works, you know. Because I look at my journey through the arts, and works that people left helped me. Works in the moment too, you know, but also the ones like Mr. Bosch. If he would have just told people about those creatures, I probably would have never known about them. But he painted them.

Q: That’s right. A record is actually a record. It’s a form of recordkeeping.

A: Yeah.

Q: So what’s next? What’s on your to-do list?

A: Oh, well I made an album with Richard Meltzer. Richard Meltzer gave me 48 spoken word poems and I got together with a husband and wife in Tokyo to make the music behind it. And it’s called Spiel Gusher. And that’s coming out next. And Richard’s turning 67. I mean, me and D. Boon, we were just huge fans of his. I’ve got a tour in October and November of Europe. I’m bringing the third opera there.

Q: Have you toured extensively with it?

A: I’ve done it in Japan. I’ve done it in the U.S. and Canada. The Stooges have to make up these gigs that we lost because of the broken foot. And then, in the springtime, I’m going to do a tour in Europe. I made an album last year in Italy with two Italian musicians. They’re, like, 20 years younger than me. And so that album will come out and I’ll tour over there. And then the Stooges will start in the summer. I’ve got other projects, too. They’re not really gig things as much as they’re just works. And you collaborate over the Internet, trading files. I’ve got several of those projects going. One called the Handyman Band with John from Deerhoof, where you don’t have songs, you just get together and improvise. And then he did editing and mixing and all this and made kind of a work out of this raw material from three days of jamming. That’s really interesting. See, the idea is– I mean I love my trios. And in a way, that’s kind of sentimental, you know. I go back to the Minutemen days with my Missingmen. But I think it’s very important for me to put my bass with people I don’t even know, and in situations that are not a trio, and they’re not the same-old, same-old, just to do it to do it, you know, to stay in that student mode.

Q: Is it especially satisfying or fruitful working with younger musicians?

A: I’m into it. It can be a little trippy.

Q: How so?

A: Well, they can be kind of too much awe. And then you can be too much know-it-all. You know, those dangers we talked about before. But to me, it’s really healthy. And I remember always liking old guys. Old people are very interesting to me. And I always think about putting myself in their shoes. I mean, I ain’t 90 or anything, but there is a difference. The differences can be really intense as far as excitement about what’s to be done. Not the same-old, same-old.

Q: What comes out of those multi-generational collaborations?

A: I think it’s really healthy and makes bridges. A lot of this generation shit with rock and roll, a lot of that is just marketing and trying to sell people shit they don’t want. It’s not natural. The natural thing is reaching.


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  1. beth
    Posted October 18, 2011 at 1:55 am | Permalink

    this might be my favorite interview ever. we get older shit gets weirder, and we just go with it.

  2. flap jack
    Posted October 24, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    i got news for him. he’s leaving middle age behind and approaching old age. why do old men insist they are middle aged? it’s a bit desperate

    • Posted October 24, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

      Hey flap jack, did you even read the article? I seriously doubt it. Your comment about his age and being desperate is totally irrelevant to anything! This guy is a fucking legend and you are so ignorant to judge someone on their age, you get the moron of the year award in my book, oh you better go… I think your mom is calling you!

    • Bob Wakelin
      Posted October 29, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Hey Jacks Flaps! You’re a prick.

  3. Posted January 9, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    “No one never ever says old man to the old man.”

    Mike Watt is such a breath of fresh air, always. I love this interview.

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