Q&A: Mike Watt On Snapping Pics In San Pedro For on and off bass, The fIREHOSE Reunion, And Playing Stooges Covers

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For the past three decades, the flannel-flyin' and econo-jamming godhead Mike Watt has staunchly adhered to his and late, great best friend and fellow Minuteman D Boon's credo "punk is whatever we made it to be while projecting an air of sincerity that is just plain righteous. And in all of Watt's projects—the Stooges, the recently reformed fIREHOSE, his outfit with Richard Meltzer spielgusher, dOS, Missingmen—the San Pedro bass king is always first to defer credit to his bandmates and collaborators.

The cover ofThe Secondman's Middle Stand, Watt's gut-wrenching opera from 2004, provided a glimpse into Watt's knack for snapping pics. But with the release of his photographic memoir on and off bass (Three Rooms Press), Watt may have to swallow his punk rock pride and accept the cred for being a damn good photographer. The dude who revolutionized bass playing in the Minutemen pops at the crack of dawn and heads out on his bike or kayak with econo digital camera in tow, taking shots of his beloved hometown as the sun rises over the glistening harbor, pelicans whoosh overhead and sea lions gather. on and off bass not only collects a stellar shitload of Watt's pictures, it plugs in sage snippets from his tour diaries. (The LA Weekly has photos from the book on its music blog.)

Sound of the City caught Watt at home in San Pedro to talk Pedro, his pics, fIREHOSE and how playing Stooges covers in Hellride made him well enough to play the bass again after an illness.

So, you have a photo book coming out.

This little publisher called Three Rooms Press [said] "Watt, in between these pictures [you took], we'll put some selections from... " I do these fuckin' stupid tour diaries, kinda tour spiel. So they said, "We'll take some stuff outa here [diaries] and we'll take some of your poems and we'll put this in between [your pictures]." There's a lot more white, ya know, it's not all jammed up with words—they put little selections. It was their choices; I thought it would be too ham-fisted for me to pick my own. Fuck, I don't even read those [diaries], they're so embarrassin.' "You pick them and we'll put'em in there and every three or four pictures there can be another spiel or somethin' like that." So, that's what the book is about. I never thought I'd ever have one, ya know. [Laughing]

What it comes out of is last year there was an art show in Santa Monica where they had my pictures. I never thought about them hangin'; I never thought of them even printed cuz they're on these digital cameras right so they're only on the 'puter or I'd flow'em to my friends or put'em on the Hootpage. I never thought of having like a fuckin' book or an art show. Basically, all the pictures that are in the book were at the [art] show. It's kind of the catalog form of the exhibition, which is kinda trippy, like an album is kind of a recording of a meeting in a studio. So, it's kinda like that—an album version of an art show mixed in with a little bit of tour spiel.

It's called on and off bass. Basically, it's pictures that I take early in the morning here in my Pedro town when I'm on the kayak or bike. It's sea lions, pelicans. I got some shots of a pelican this mornin.'

We don't have pelicans here in New York.

[Laughing] Yeah, well, it's [New York] a water town. There's water around that island. In fact, I took my ma around that Circle Line cruise to show her what an island [Manhattan] was. She had only been to New York once when she was five to see her Sicilian grandma and that was in Brooklyn anyway, which is another island. They should have a Circle cruise around that island. But anyway, livin' by the water [in Pedro], early mornin,' I got less younger and was wakin' up earlier [Laughing]. It's a neat thing to be out because there's hardly anyone around—like the fuckin' town belongs to you. I've walked around in Manhattan early too sometimes after gigs if I'm on tour and it's just a different thing. Just a few hours later, man, it turns into this big, ripe organism. But at first it's like "Woah." So there's something about this time [early], I really dig. I know most music people are night people but I'm the opposite.

You're an early riser. What time do you wake up?

4 or 5. I only stay up late for gigs. I'm 54 now. The middle years came on and it just seemed to happen.

How often do you kayak? It's in the kayak where you take some killer shots.

Tuesday, Thursday. Saturday. I do the kayak because it hurts my knees to pedal every day.

When you are on tour, how much do you miss Pedro?

Big time. I want to check out the other towns too but the bungee chord is waitin' to snap me back [to Pedro].

Are there other places you've visited that conjure the affinity you have for San Pedro?

Well, Pedro because of D Boon and the history. I came here when I was ten so some of it ain't even the physical stuff although it invokes memory. I can go to the apartment where me and D Boon started the Minutemen. I can go there. Richard Meltzer said I'm his "favorite sentimentalist" [Laughing]. In a ways, I am a little bit. I think like some of the pictures show ya, we're [Pedro] a weird mix with this harbor, industrial thing but we got nature, too. It is kinda trippy. But yeah there's places like it all over the world and in the US, too. Pedro ain't the best but just for me it has real significance. In some ways, New York is like Pedro, the way the water is there. Sometimes, I'm reminded [of Pedro] early in the mornin' when I'm on the Brooklyn side walkin' around and even in the old days that lower west side lookin' over at New Jersey. It's much different in some ways, but still, the water in the town, that idea, is kinda a parallel universe.


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