Known as one of the hardest working bass players in the business, Mike has laid down the low end for the likes of Iggy & The Stooges, Minutemen, fIREHOSE, Ciccone Youth, Dos, Banyan, The Reactionaries, Bootstrappers, J Mascis and the Fog, and Porno for Pyros. Red Dog Music managed to get a word in edgeways during his busy CUZ tour schedule to go over some of the finer points of smaller scale lengths, flannel shirts, early influences and South Korean girl groups.
Emmett Christie (bass player, Red Dog Music assistant manager & flannel shirt enthusiast): Bass guitars and flannel shirts have been the only constant in my life, what got you in to playing bass (and wearing flannel shirts)?
Mike Watt: D. Boon’s ma put me on bass when we were boys in San Pedro cuz she wanted us to have a band – not for gigs but to be in the pad after school so we wouldn’t get into trouble on the streets. When I met D. Boon the only rock band he knew about was Creedence Clearwater Revival but I couldn’t hear the bass lines on the records (or figure them out) so I thought if I wore the singer’s flannel shirts then maybe D. Boon would still like me!
EC: You play punk music, but your approach to bass seems far removed from what anyone had done before in punk. Who are your biggest influences?
MW: Please understand that I might have a different opinion of punk than you; punk for me is not a style of music but a state of mind. Style of music is up to each band & each person. I’m very much part of the punk movement, but didn’t find out about it ’til 1976 when I graduated high school. I started playing five years before that – a HUGE influence was a Scottish bassman named Jack Bruce. Also some guys from England like John Entwistle, Geezer Butler, Trevor Boulder and Steve Currie (T-Rex) plus U.S. cats like James Jamerson, Larry Graham and Joe Bouchard (Blue Oyster Cult).
EC: You play bass finger style, have you tried slap or using a pick?
MW: Minutemen records up to “Double Nickels On The Dime” are all done with the pick. “Double Nickels…” has one song with a pick and after that I never used a pick again ’til J Mascis asked me to do bass for him for his J Mascis + The Fog touring from 2000 to 2001. Iggy asked me to use a pick to record bass on The Stooges “Weirdness” album. Other than that, I’m just fingers.
EC: Is there any reason you play a Gibson SG bass when almost everyone else plays Fenders? Is it for comfort or tone?
MW: Actually I do gigs and tours with a Gibson 1965 EB-0 that I’ve modified with a Rio Grande Pitbull pick-up and a Schaller bridge. I use it cuz I’m 57 years old now, my hands get sore and the smaller scale helps me with that. I don’t record with it though, I record mostly with my Larry Graham model Moon Bass (kind of like a Fender Jazz) and my 1956 Fender Precision which I replaced the pick-up/Thunderbird ones or my newer Fender Precision (actually made from many parts!). I just got a Chinese Hofner Beatle Bass with flatwounds – ain’t played flatwounds in a long time! See my bass stuff here.
EC: How did you end up playing with The Stooges? When you got the call did you consider it for any length of time, or just jump at the chance?
MW: Ron Asheton (Stooges guitarist) got me into The Stooges. I got to do 125 months with them, incredible experience and total mind-blow… of course I jumped at the chance! I love that band, that music! Iggy helped make me a better bassist, I shit thee not!
EC: You were a massive influence on grunge and ’90s indie, are there any new bands that excite you now?
MW: From this century? I like And So I Watch You from Afar from Belfast, Adebisi Shank from Dublin, 2NE1 from Seoul, Lite from Tokyo, Tobacco from Pittsburgh and Sistas In The Pit from Oakland.
EC: Do you think the internet has helped or hindered music?
MW: I think it’s helped big time. It’s about connection; it does not solve the creativity problems but I believe those should never be “solved”. The CUZ album was done a whole bunch via the internet. I do lots of bass for different projects for people via file sharing. It’s only a vehicle, a way of reaching people that ain’t in my Pedro town. It’s not an end but a means: music is always gonna need people to make it worth anything and machinery is no replacement, just helper stuff to realize expression. For example the art isn’t in the paint or the brush, it’s what’s done with it.
EC: It looked like fIREHOSE might record a new album a few years ago, any plans on the horizon for gigs or recording?
MW: There was no plans for fIREHOSE recording actually. I asked Edward if he had any new tunes when we did two weeks of gigs in 2012 and he said he had some but he never played them for me. I talk to him on the phone from time to time. He lives in Pittsburgh these days. I saw George Hurley a couple months ago in San Pedro, they’re great cats that helped me a lot when I was going through a very hard time. I love them both, but no music plans right now.
EC: You seem to be one of the busiest people in rock, do you prefer gigging or recording?
MW: I like both, I think life is about taking turns. I’m here to learn, ‘pert-near everything/everywhere is a fucking classroom, right? Life is for learning, that’s what I’ve learned so far. I’m most grateful for the opportunity.
Mike Watt will be touring the UK with CUZ in Summer 2015. Check here for dates and to book tickets.
Our Edinburgh fans will be able to catch him at Sneaky Pete’s on Tuesday 8th September.
Our London readers can see him play Corsica Studios on Tuesday 1st September.
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