My Mike Watt Interview, 10 Years Ago Today

The above picture was taken on October 28th, 2000, and from left to right that's my brother Zac, myself, and punk rock legend Mike Watt, sitting in the Red Room bar inside the Black Cat club's old location, down the street from its current location, in Washington, D.C. I'm 18 in that picture and my brother is 20, and we'd spent a lot of our teenage years learning about Watt's history and idolizing the guy, particularly Zac, who plays bass. I had been writing for Pitchfork for a couple months and had pitched the idea of interviewing Watt, and then set it up with the ever-accessible bassist to sit down with him before the D.C. stop on his tour playing bass in J Mascis & The Fog, one of his first tours after an abscess in his perineum had left him ill for months earlier in the year and nearly took his life. Zac and I got to the club so early, while the opening bands were still loading in, that we just kind of walked through the front door without anyone asking us for a ticket or whether we had any right being there, and ended up wandering to the backstage area looking for Watt, and running into J Mascis and I think having an awkward moment before making our excuses and getting out of there. After we finally found Watt, we sat and spieled with him for almost an hour, and toward the end of the interview, my friend Mat Schulman (now Mat Leffler-Schulman), ran into us, and came over to say hi not realizing at first who we were sitting with, and snapped that picture, with Watt holding up the tape recorder I was recording the interview with.

Mike Watt was my 2nd interview with a musician ever, and even though I've interviewed dozens of others since then, he's still one of the coolest famous people I'm proudest to say I've met (the first, as it happens, was with another musical idol of mine, Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley, when his band Two Dollar Guitar opened for Watt in Delaware about a year earlier). His voice, accent and lingo are utterly his own, and if you've ever heard him speak or sing it should be easy to read this interview and instantly hear his voice in our head. He was extremely generous with his time, and even though Pitchfork wasn't as big a deal back then and he might not have even been familiar with the site, and we hadn't even been born when he started the Minutemen, he was generous with his time, thoughtful and never condescending, and even delayed a phoner with Magnet a couple times to let us ask some more questions (one of the highlights of my life is Mike Watt calling me "the spiel writer from Pitchfork"). We talked about the internet and how it might effect the future of the written word and musical collaboration, his 1994 album Ball-Hog Or Tugboat? (referred to in the interview simply as "the wrestling record"), 1997 punk rock opera Contemplating The Engine Room (referred to as "the opera"), and the album he'd just begun writing and would eventually be released in 2004, The Secondman's Middle Stand. We even got some interesting tidbits about playing the bass with a pick versus playing with his fingers, and a factoid about Double Nickels On The Dime that I've never seen mentioned anywhere else before.

I got canned from Pitchfork a couple weeks after the interview, before I got a chance to finish transcribing the tape and get it up on the site, and I'm not sure if it was ever published anywhere, possibly one of the sites Zac had online at the time. If I ever had the whole thing on file somewhere, it was on a computer that was trashed years ago. So one day a couple months ago, when I realized how much my year-old son James enjoys playing with cassette tapes, I went digging through an old box of tapes with him for fun, and I found the Maxell XLII tape with the label "Mike Watt interview!!!" and realized the 10 year anniversary of that night was coming up, and re-transcribed the tape, around the same time that Mat uploaded a bunch of old pictures to Facebook, including the one you see here. It's also a good time to post this because Watt's latest band, Floored By Four, just released a great album a few weeks ago.

As with transcribing interviews usually goes, sometimes it's hard to totally follow the logic of the conversation if you weren't there, and since we were just kind of shooting the shit for a couple minutes before we got started asking questions, I'll just drop you in where Watt was talking about why he likes playing in Washington:

Mike Watt: That’s kinda neat about touring, you get to be right in there in the cradle. Sorta like here, well, not this pad as much, but the old 9:30 used to be right by the White House. D. Boon’s favorite gig was playing the 9:30 by the same alley as the, he thought from there, when we did our spiels and hollered, y’know, our points of view, that they could hear us, it was the closest we were ever gonna get to the eye at the top of the pyramid.

Al Shipley: Have you played the newer location of 9:30?

MW: Yeah, I have, I played there with Sonic Youth and Perry, Porno For Pyros, and I don’t like it as much as the old one.

AS: It’s a great venue for its size.

MW: Tall roof.

AS: But I’m too young to have ever been to the original.

MW: The original one, I played 17 or 18 shows there, that was the only place I ever played in D.C. for years. All Minutemen, all fIREHOSE except for one with the Beastie Boys, which was in Alexandria actually, with the indoor pool, some kinda like...

AS: What year was that?

MW: ‘93.

AS: We saw Elliott Smith in Baltimore last night, their encore, they did Blue Oyster Cult, they did...

MW: “Don’t Fear The Reaper”? Wow.

AS: He’s got the right voice for that song, too, it was dead on.

MW: He’s a good guy. Who’s in the band?

AS: Uh, the bassist is Sam from Quasi and I’m not sure who the other guys there are.

MW: Sometimes the Sleater-Kinney drummer?

AS: Yeah, she wasn’t there last night.

MW: I think they’re still tourin’.

AS: I think they’re about to take a break, they said they’re not doing a tour for 2 years.

MW: Two years? [sounding amazed, incredulous]

Zac Shipley: Yeah, that’s what they said. We tried to set up an interview with them but didn't get to make that happen.

MW: Carrie? Carrie usually likes to talk. [sounding disillusioned, disappointed]

ZS: Yeah, but they wreren’t doing press for that tour since they weren’t promoting a new record.

MW: Yeah, I was talking to her, she said it’s kinda hard for them to tour, she goes crazy.

ZS: They’re getting a lot of press, a 3-page spread in Time Magazine, well not just them but Ladyfest in general.

MW: Oh, I got to play there with Kira, that was something. You know, they look up to Kira big time, she was in Black Flag and everything to those girls that was...

AS: I really liked that last Dos album [totally mispronouncing the band name]

MW: We kinda say it like in Spanish, since there’s two of us, “dos” is more that Bill Gates thing.

AS: Ah, sorry.

MW: It’s okay.

Black Cat staffer: It’s the guy from Magnet, they’re on the phone now, do you want them to call back in 10 minutes?

MW: 20 minutes. OK, thanks.

ZS: Mile a minute press junket over here.

MW: Well, to me, man, the writing part, especially in the old days, and believe it or not the internet is kind of a written part, I know there’s gonna come a day when it’s big bandwidth and it’ll be just like television, but for now a lot of stuff is written, people have to go back to reading again, I kinda like that.

AS: I was talking to a guy who works for my school’s paper who gets 125 words for a review, whereas at Pitchfork I get 400-800 words, or if I like it I might go past a thousand. It's nice that online I don’t have to worry about column inches and limited space.

MW: In television you’ve got a lot of pictures.

AS: Yeah, on a webpage you might just have a banner or image at the top of the page and you can scan past it.

MW: That’s right...down, scroll scroll scroll.

AS: And there’s limited space or bandwidth but type takes up such a little amount of memory.

MW: So tiny, yeah. That’s why I think it’s a real good thing. It gets kids, and older people, back to readin’. There’s a art in usage of the written word. I can’t tell you how inspired I am by books. I mean yeah, I play bass, I make music, but I think I’m influenced by more writers than other music people, in a way. Because you don’t wanna cop other guys’ licks. But if you’re translating emotions and feelings through words, you don’t have to worry about ripping off licks.

AS: You mean just lyrically, or philosophically in a more general sense?

MW: Believe it or not, writing for me has flow, it has rhythm, I get rhythms out of it. But there’s also, yeah, philosophy, ideas, perspectives, tangents, with writing you can get several things being talked about, you have to get kinda linear with them. With music you don’t have to at all, you can have several things happening at once.

AS: I had this idea, it might be kind of corny, but because I'm a drummer and I'm talking writing class right now, but I thought about how drumming is almost like punctuation.

MW: Absolutely.

AS: A lot of times, the melody of the other instruments is the content, but at the same time punctuation is essential for it to make sense.

MW: Yeah, it makes it breathe, makes it live, so it’s not all monotone, robot... It’s really important, also, the kind of words you use. English is very flexible, you don’t have to use the same word for the same thought, so you can use a three-syllable word or a one-syllable word. This is where a book like Ulysses, the guy’s Irish, y’know, but he uses English so well, reinvents it. There’s this thing about, oh, you wanna be original, but if you get like Finnegan’s Wake, you start inventing too many words, you don’t know what you’re talking about. There’s still a way to be original and still use the same 26 letters and all the words, and that’s what I would like in music. They say there’s only 8 notes, but still, it’s the way you use ‘em, you write a novel.

AS: Yeah, English is amazing, even writers like Jerzy Kosiński, he was Polish and I've heard though he spoke several language he wrote in English because it’s so flexible. And it is, there’s so many options, quirks and inconsistencies in punctuation and pronunciation.

MW: Yeah, I think it’s very important, it builds the character into it. And also, it can get this simultaneous thing going, this idea of piling up things, not to be mysterious or somethin’, but when you get, it’s like...a soup that’s just not all salt, you got all these little, a symphony of flavors goin’ on. Now...Pettibon is a fine artist, makes drawings, a lot of his influences are from writing, I’d say about a third of his captions are right out of Henry James. The writing is the art that’s been stomped down the most in the last 20-30 years, because of visual and audio, TV and so-called music. Because I think real music embraces literature, it’s not really at war with it.

AS: Yeah, Kurt Vonnegut has an interesting perspective where he says he thinks literature isn’t going to survive in the long term because it’s only been around for a relatively short period of history, and deciphering all those symbols on paper takes more work than all the other mediums available now.

MW: But what more private medium? Since you have to go in there by yourself and get meaning out of the symbols, you’re almost one-on-one with the writer, there’s hardly anybody else in there. So I think in a way, like bacteria, where it was maybe very early in the beginning, it never had to evolve much, it found its niche. And I think writing, I wouldn’t like to be such a doomsayer saying that it’s gonna be gone or replaced, there’s just something about it. It’s like saying 3/4th time is old-fashioned. No, you just might get tired of always writing in 3/4ths but it’s always gonna be there for you. I tell you, as far as community, the old days with the fanzines is sorta like the vibe I get from the new internet world, this idea of communities that are kinda not really with the mersh, it’s not like they’re hidin’ from ‘em, but they’re just parallel to it.

AS: They can be more localized, too.

MW: Right, but with the web, they don’t even have to be localized, because it’s the worldwide exposure. But as far as the writers, you can just reach the listener with no middlemen, no Spin editorial, no Rolling Stone editorial or Washington Post, New York Times, none of that. In fact, think about newspaper reporters, why do they even have to go to a paper? They could publish their own stories on the web!

AS: I know, the dissemination of ideas is more interesting when it comes from more sources, when you get the same basic news story with the same wording from the same source, it kind of kills variation and different ways of thinking. Now everyone kind of gets the same news, the same music. It used to be that every country had its own sound, now it feels like everyone starts the same bands in every state.

MW: Yeah, that’s bad. See in the old days, the fanzines, that’s how you knew about what was happening in L.A. or what’s happening in Austin or what’s happening in Minneapolis, the Huskers, all these things, it was very literature-based, as far as, y’know, fanzines. Guys who cared about the music big time, not a lot of money in it, they were doin’ it pure out of love, intense, they were really the fabric that held a lot of it together. Because a lot of the big bands came and went, but the fuckin’... You couldn’t see all those bands, a lot of bands didn’t tour in them days, the fanzines were so important. And I’ve seen kind of a revival, not of fanzines so much, but of the ethics with these websites. These websites have a lot of personality, a lot of individuality, they’ve got a point of view, they’re not filler for ads.

AS: Yeah, like Pitchfork has ads, but the content is very opinionated, we all argue about ratings for albums, you’ve gotta be passionate about your take.

MW: Yeah, and you don’t have to make compromises with the big daddy, because you can get online so econo, and your website looks as big as theirs, it’s kind of an equalizer.

ZS: It takes a little know-how.

MW: A little bit. As much as that other cat, working for the corporate guy.

ZS: And those zines only reached so many people.

MW: Depending on the distribution, and then how many of them are ripped off? You know about Flipside? They were in big trouble because a distributor ripped ‘em off so much money.

ZS: Yeah, websites don’t have to worry about that if the overhead is lower to begin with.

MW: So it’s actually easier. So what’s the word, it’s the C word, content, it’s not the delivery system so much anymore, it’s just kind of helped. And believe me, those guys are beholden to their distributors, distributors really hold them, and they spend the money on their floatin’ crap game. I know this from Flipside, over 300 thousand dollars they owed. And that fanzine is old, that goes back to the ‘70s! Stapled and xeroxed. Anyway I still see the spirit, some people like to say “oh, the good old days,” but I think they’re still with us in some ways.

AS: Just travelling in a different format.

MW: Different, yeah, in fact maybe this format is a little better, like we were just talking about. It’s cheaper, it can reach more people, not so much risk so you can go crazy. When the real world risks go down, the ability to take chances goes up, you don’t have to worry about makin’ it mersh, you can really be raw, and I like that idea.

AS: Are you still doing your next record with Columbia?

MW: Yeah, well, I owe ‘em, I made a deal.

AS: But is it still the same idea you've been talking about, The Secondman’s Middle Stand?

MW: Yeah, bass/organ/drum. The problem is I was in bed all year, that’s why I didn’t record this year, talkin’ about the pissbag, I’m gonna do it next year. I had to tour right away because it cost a lot of money to save my life.

AS: Plus I guess you have to get your strength back.

MW: That too. My playing was really bad, it still is. This is real interesting, playing with J now, I haven’t used a pick in 17 years.

ZS: Why does he need a pick for his songs?

MW: He just asked me to do it. And I think it would be good, you know I used to do it in the beginning of Minutemen. And then I stopped. The last song, there’s one song on Double Nickels called “Shit From An Old Notebook,” everything on that record, there’s like 45 songs, so 44 of ‘em are with fingers. But everything before that’s pick, because punk was too fast for me, I used fingers before punk. When punk came, we started the Reactionaries in 1978, I had to use a pick. Then, I started playin’ like rhythm guitar! I said goddamn, I gotta make it a bass again, so I started playin’ with the fingers. Then I lost it. You don’t use it, you lose it. J’s helpin’ me get it back in a way. And through a Marshall!

ZS: I’ve played bass for a number of years now, and I started playing guitar and got used to a pick, and went back to bass and I was so out of practice, you think oh they’re both strumming instruments, but it’s a totally different beast.

MW: Such a diversity, there really is.

ZS: And also there’s the stigma that ‘real’ bassists don’t use a pick.

MW: Yeah, there’s like a macho thing, that I’d like to get rid of. I think it’s best to do both.

ZS: And there’s so many heroes if you’re a guitarist, like Hendrix, but not as many if you play bass.

MW: Jaco, maybe, I don’t know. That’s what was one neat thing about punk, because before punk, guitar players were like the big bosses of the band. Then when punk came, everybody was lame, so all the sudden the bass player was just as good as the guitar player, and had all the strings. You know, I played before punk, and I got the feeling that bass was where you put the lame guy, and all the sudden with punk, everyone’s lame, and so it was like “Yes, I like this!” It just had you thinkin’ more than just about the guitar guy. But I have to say that J Mascis is one of the guys who can fuckin’ play the guitar, man, reminds me of D. Boon and Greg Ginn and Thurston Moore, some of these guys that had their own voice, they can still take a tired old cliche like lead guitar and still make it theirs.

AS: It seems like the way you play bass has a lot to do with who you played with, D. Boon and Nels Cline and J, you play in ways that complement them.

MW: Oh, absolutely. Well bass guys, I think, look good makin’ other cats look good, that’s why they don’t stand out as much. It’s like when you walk in the bathroom, do you see the tile or do you see the grout? I’m more of the grout, I look at the grout. Most people look at those tiles, but you know without the grout those tiles would fall out! And think about that, too, bass is like glue. What’s glue with nothing to stick to? Just a puddle. See, I don’t wanna be a puddle, I wanna be stuck to somethin’. So it’s a trippy thing. You know, his mother, D. Boon’s mother made me play it when we were 13, I didn’t know what the fuck it was, because the gigs, arena gigs, are so far away, you couldn’t really see, they looked like guitars, I didn’t even know they were lower, a 4-string guitar. In fact, the first three years, I played a 4-string guitar.

AS: Yeah, I remember as a kid it took me a long time to figure out what a bass was.

MW: Yeah, they don’t really tell you about it. It’s really the left hand of the piano. And then John Entwistle slowly brought it out, Jack Bruce, the guy from Cream. And then with the punk guys, all them songs, Dee Dee Ramone was just as strong as Johnny, but then the quote ‘virtuosos’ like Flea, Les Claypool, they really brought the bass out.

ZS: The bass solo is almost unheard of in pop music.

MW: J’s havin’ me do bass solos! I have a box he gave me called the Super Hard On, and I step on that, I’ve never stepped on a box before, and I get louder.

AS: On what songs?

MW: One’s called “Back Before You Go” and one’s called “Get Me.”

AS: We were watching some of the soundcheck, I hadn’t listened to Dinosaur in a while, it was nice to hear that stuff again, a couple songs from the last Dinosaur record, I loved that one.

MW: We’re playin’ stuff off the first record, “Severed Lips,” we’re playin’ stuff off of You’re Living All Over Me, which to me is like the great record.

AS: Yeah, that’s a great album, I wish they’d reissue it, though, the CD doesn’t sound great.

MW: Well it was a moment in their time, they were such, they were young guys, that band started early. I’m about 8 years, 9 years older than him, I wouldn’t know it. The guy, there’s a weird perception of him that he’s somehow a slacker. The guy’s mind is always goin’!

AS: Yeah, he’d have to to play like that.

MW: Yeah, but I’m tellin’ you in real life, he’s always thinkin’. He talks, they think he don’t talk.

AS: It does strike me as funny how sometimes I notice writers kind of fill in the blanks and decide on what a musician is like as a person without meeting them, just basing it on their music.

MW: But even on the records, he’s playin’ most of the instruments. On this new record he plays everything except a couple things.

AS: Yeah, he’s really nimble on every instrument.

MW: Yeah. His mind is goin’, like I said, I might be 9 years older than him, but in some ways he’s way more ahead of me, he is quite the thinker. I don’t understand, maybe because he’s not loud and quick with the words, but he’s got words, believe me, he’s always thinkin’. Like if you listen, you think he’s not sayin’ anything, you hear him goin’. [moves his lips rapidly] He’s got these guitar things goin’ through his mind, out of his mouth, like mumbling.

AS: He probably has his own inner language.

MW: Oh, I know it.

ZS: I can’t tell you how often I’ll be driving and think of something and grab the tape recorder, hum into it, whether or not I can use it later, I might be making up some key in my head.

MW: The key of H. Yeah, that’s funny. And the other thing is, they say why do you play with a pick, why you lettin’ him tell you what to do? Like I don’t get my way enough with my own bands. How are you gonna learn if you’re always gettin’ your way? See this is the kind of society we’ve bred, really quote ‘making it’ is telling everybody what to do, always getting your way, and everybody knows the real world’s not like that. It’s about give and take, switching roles. It’s kind of a fascist idea. So I put myself in a situation to help a guy with his thing, and I haven’t done it for many people, I did it for J, I did it a little bit for Rickie Lee Jones, I did it for Perry. And I tell you, without doing that for Perry I don’t think I would’ve ever wrote the opera. He turned me onto a lot of ideas, I mean not like sitting me down like a schoolteacher, just being around these cats. That’s another thing. This is what’s weird about school, the idea of one guy lecturing everybody, I don’t know if you learn stuff, I think, if you get intimidated by that and learning how to take tests. But to really learn, you get put in a situation, and people start rubbing off on you and making your mind curious. Y’know, that’s the most intense disease is getting curious, nothing can stop you, all the sudden, you just want it. There’s no paying him off or materialism, it’s just something in your mind that’s gotta get quenched. And if a dude can fire that up in you, to me that’s schoolin’, the school of life. That’s kinda why I’m in here with Mascis, it’s really neat, it’s a really neat thing. And I’ll tell you, when I get done with this tour, I’m not gonna stop playing with a pick, I’m gonna write songs with picks, I’m not gonna let it go again.

AS: Is that how you’re gonna go with the next album?

MW: I’ve gotta play, believe me. I’ll write some songs with ‘em, believe me. I’ll tell you about this organ record, I want it to be more about the now, in the moment, so already these songs that I wrote this summer are really old, so I’m gonna write songs right after this tour.

ZS: So Engine Room was kind of a look at the past, and this one's about the present?

MW: Now I wanna be in the present. But the next record is gonna be about the future, cover all the...

AS: Are you gonna do a record with the Pair of Pliers band?

MW: Yes I am, in fact I’m gonna do a simultaneous record, I’m gonna do one record with Vince [Meghrouni] and Tom [Watson], the Pliers, and then a record with Bob Lee and Nels, the Black Gang, and release ‘em simultaneously through Joe Carducci, the guy who ran SST Records, has a label now with Billy from the Descendents, it’s called Owned And Operated, I’m gonna get back to them. I think things are changin’ back to indie, I mean my Columbia thing’s always been like an indie thing, but now with the internet and stuff... And Carducci, he tried this movie thing and stuff, but now he wants to get back to havin’ label. And there’s nothin’, like I said there’s nothin’ like fired up people. So that’s what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna do 2 records, Watt power trio guitar thing. Columbia one is gonna be first, and that’s the organ record.

AS: Who’s gonna play on the organ record?

MW: A guy named Barrett Martin, played drums for the [Screaming] Trees, great guy, Barrett Martin. And this guy from Pedro named Pete Mazich who’s from a Croatian wedding band, he’s a wicked fuckin’ B3 player. And what I learned since the wrestlin’ record is, bring somebody from the outside to make it exciting, a guy that you haven’t recorded with, it’s kinda wild. I did that with the opera with [Stephen] Hodges, Hodges played the blues.

AS: So you'd never played with this new combo before?

MW: Well, Mazich lives in the town with me, Pedro, it’s like the harbor of L.A. In fact, he plays with me in the Madonnabes.

ZS: Will there ever be a Madonnabes record?

MW: I don’t know, because they’re not our songs, although we change them radically, as you can imagine.

AS: It’s a shame you only play local shows out there, it’d be great if you toured here with that band.

MW: Yeah, I like playing with them. The girls go to college, we’ve got these dancers, Perry had dancers. [Answers cell phone given to him by Black Cat staffer to talk to Magnet] Can you give me 15 minutes? Call this number, bye.

ZS: I was working with a guy a couple weeks ago who carries his cell phone everywhere, and I was saying isn’t there any allure in being unavailable? I don’t even answer my phone on my days off.

MW: I don’t have one of these. I don’t have call waiting either. Like if I’m talking to you, I don’t think we should be interrupted.

AS: Then again, it’s a lot easier to get your e-mail address and contact you than a lot of people that make records.

MW: Like I said about the fanzine days, I always put my P.O. box on the back of the records, to me building community’s important. I call these things leashes. [holds up phone]

AS: They are, I would never get one.

ZS: They’re kind of like cigarettes where people carry them around because they wanna look cool.

MW: Ah, that’s the worst reason. I could see a girl using one if her car breaks down, in an emergency it’s a good idea. But just to have one.

AS: Yeah, I’ve seen people pick up their phones in the movie theater.

MW: Oh wow, yeah, turn it off. So he said he’ll call me in 15 minutes, so we should Pitchfork it. Tell you what, ask me stuff ‘til the phone rings.

AS: Alright, it’s a game. I have some notes, see if I forgot anything. I don’t know, I’ve covered a lot.

MW: It’s okay. Believe me, you know, in 22 years I’ve heard everything. The funniest question I was ever asked: What’s Eddie like? Like duuuude.

ZS: Incidentally [laughs]... What is he like?

MW: I call him Ed, for one thing. I mean, can you believe that? Kind of that? He’s okay. But really, I’ve heard everything, so you can ask me anything.

AS: How are you feeling with the illness, are you doing a lot better yet?

MW: No, I feel bad. I feel like, uh, scars inside of me, and the blood don’t flow so well. Well, there are scars inside me, where they cut, so the blood doesn’t flow through good there, and it feels like a puppet, where I’m not tied tight enough, in the middle, y’know? I get, like pitchin’, with only arms, imagine bein’ a pitcher and you can’t get your body in there, that’s kinda what I feel like. But that’s comin’ along, I think. I got a little foldup bike in the van, and I ride every morning.

AS: Yeah, I’ve been reading the tour diaries about that.

MW: Yeah, it’s important to me. My mind, too, I wrote the whole opera on the bike, the bike is somethin’ else. There’s something about being a little physical, I mean I’m not a jock or an athlete, but there’s somethin’ about getting the blood pumping.

ZS: Yeah, I rode my bike to work all summer, and then when Al went away to school I started driving because I had access to the car he was driving. And I noticed, and I stepped on a scale and I noticed I weighed 20 pounds more than I did all summer. I didn’t think I was getting a workout but I was.

MW: It’s got a unique rhythm, too, so writing songs, they fuckin’ flow in your head. Rhythms and motion, and you also get out of the linear regular world, you get detached, it’s more free association. When you’re sittin’ there with the bass in your lap, y’know, there’s something about motion and having to be plugged into the real world, so you don’t run into a hole, y’know, you’re alive.

AS: So you get the words goin’ and then get home and work on the music?

MW: I usually start with a title, and then I get the music goin’ on the bike, and then I get home and then the words are last. Get the title first, then the music, then the words.

AS: So the music has a direct relationship to the title?

MW: Yeah, well the title says everything. To me, when I see a title of a song, this tells me what the song’s about, so that’s what I start with. Y’know, other cats, it’s like “Oh, the title has nothing to do with the song.”

ZS: Sometimes it’s just the word they repeat in the chorus.

MW: Usually it is! Some Minutemen songs, the title’s longer than all the lyrics.

ZS: Yeah, great titles.

MW: Yeah, the titles, well, we always came up with the titles first. And then we got into, a lot of the Minutemen songs, the title isn’t even used in the song! Like “The Roar Of The Masses Could Be Farts,” it never says that in the song.

ZS: Titles can sell a record, too.

MW: “Do You Want New Wave Or Do You Want The Truth?” That’s never in the song. I just thought, like, when you go in a museum, and you see the painting, and they got a little caption, there’s no way they really relate. One’s trying to describe the other, but it isn’t a little version of it.

AS: Yeah, sometimes the description is really direct, sometimes it’s more abstract.

MW: Or talkin’ about where the artist was, this was where he went through his Paris period. That’s why, when you look at Minutemen words, they’re not in lines, they’re all in, like, a big block of writing, we were trying to make it like you were in a museum, and trying to describe the paintings. We always thought that was a funny dichotomy, that you would have. Why would you have to describe the painting, don’t you have to just look at it? And so in a way we were having fun with lyrics like that, don’t you have to just listen? Well, with lyrics, I guess it’s hard to tell what the guy’s saying. I remember, the Germs record, when I got that, I was like goddamn, this is what he’s saying? I’d seen them like 50 times, I never knew he said any of those things! But there was all this literate poetry, really wonderful.

ZS: It’s weird how lyrics sheets are like that. Sometimes you’re almost better off knowing.

MW: Like R.E.M. This is the first tour since Minutemen where I haven’t shaved, I haven’t grown a beard, I shaved.

AS: Why?

MW: Because I lived. I thought, well, if I live, I should maybe shave.I did some other things, too.

AS: Yeah, the little white suit.

MW: Right, I haven’t worn socks or underwear since I was 12. That’s the real fascism.

AS: [after my friend Mat stops by with his camera] You wanna do a picture?

MW: That would be great. [holds up tape recorder] With the very machine.

Mat Schulman: The berry machine?

MW: The very machine. You guys can stick this with the spiel. Cheese!

AS: We should get one of just you.

MW: And the machine. Sony? Yes, of course. Everything breaks! [ed. note: I still have the recorder 10 years later and have done dozens of interviews on it, and it still works, so Watt was wrong in that respect]

AS: OK, not much time left, let’s fire off some more questions.

ZS: Is there any kind of medium you wish you could get into?

MW: Film. In fact I’m gonna do my first film this January, I’ve been asked to do a soundtrack and score. Because I always thought my songs were like little films, especially Minutemen, we didn’t really repeat parts, they had beginnings, middles and ends.

ZS: I always thought that the opera was like a musical almost.

MW: Oh, that was like a film. It was really all supposed to be one song, that was like one film.

AS: Will you ever bring it back?

MW: I don’t wanna just play just one song from it, I wanna do the whole thing.

AS: Would you do it with the Pliers?

MW: If I do it with the Pliers, I wanna do the whole thing, I don’t wanna just do “Blue Jacket Manual” or somethin’ because to me, it’s gotta stay whole, because it’s for George and D. Boon. It’s important to me that it stays whole. By just doin’ the greatest hits and makin’ a rock’n’roll medley out of it, ah shit, I think I’d be makin’ it little. But that’s one medium I think I’d like to try out is film, and I’m gonna get my chance. It’s a weird, at least it ain’t a romantic comedy, it’s about a meth cook.

AS: How are you gonna do it?

MW: I’m gonna watch what they got on the film?

AS: Are you gonna have any other musicians on it, though?

MW: Yeah, I’m gonna work on it with Nels, I don’t wanna make it all bass, it’d be very heavy with bass. But Nels gets some wild-ass sounds.

AS: Yeah, he’s suited well for soundtrack work, because he doesn’t just sound like a guitar all the time.

MW: Yeah, like Jimmy Page. That’s where he’s really gifted.

ZS: And there’s only so much symphonic score you can stand in a movie. You watch a modern movie now and every score sounds the same.

MW: It’s too generic. They’re usually kind of a vehicle to sell records.

ZS: Or there’s a score CD and a soundtrack CD with the latest bands doing their new songs.

MW: It’s like a promotion, yeah, and I think that’s jive.

ZS: I like the Rushmore soundtrack because it mixes the soundtrack with the score, so it feels kind of like you’re watching hte movie with your ears.

MW: Right, right, I like that idea. So that’s one medium I’d like to get into. I’m really interested in some of the ways people can make music together on the net. This idea where there’s enough bandwidth where dudes can jam from their houses with each other, without havin’ to be in the same pad.

AS: Yeah, the idea of doin’ it real time is crazy. I’ve traded tapes with people, but in real time it might be a while before that can happen.

MW: I know, it might be a while, but this is something I’m curious about, because you can play, sometimes man, with everybody with different schedules, it’s hard to play with cats in the same moment. But I made that wrestling record with 60 dudes.

ZS: Lot of overdubbing, I’d imagine.

MW: It was hard, there was a lot of cats that couldn’t get on there, because of, y’know, conflicts. But maybe when we can play over the net, I’m not gonna say it’s gonna be perfect or anything, but it’s somethin’ trippy I’d like to check out. To me the whole idea of petri dishes, things like in an experiment, I like mediums like that, that aren’t closed, they’re open, you don’t really know what’s gonna come out of that. I like those things, I think chaos is on our side on those things, closer to what my state of mind is, which is kind of anarchy, y’know? I read a lot of Emma Goldman, and although she was a hundred years ago, some of this idea of lettin’ the freak flag fly I like, gettin’ a little wild. Artists always talked about this, but it seems like everything gets all narrow and there’s some very, uh --- [phone rings] -- Thank you very much, Pitchfork, we’ll put a link to the story, thanks so much, thanks for comin’ down! [speaks into phone] Watt!
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