By Katherine Turman
Mike Watt is a jack of all trades, and master of most. Since founding hardcore punk legends Minutemen in 1980 and contributing the phrase “We Jam Econo” to the cultural lexicon, the bassist and “spieler” has added much to America’s left-of-center musical landscape. From the two-bass band dos to late 80s-early 90s alt-rock heroes fIREHOSE to solo albums featuring the likes of Eddie Vedder, Adam Horovitz, Dave Grohl and Thurston Moore, Watt is seemingly never without a new-fangled idea and the guts, talent and cool friends to wondrously implement it.
His muscular playing and flexible mind earned Watt touring spots with both Jane’s Addiction and The Stooges. And Mr. Iggy Pop has taught Watt a thing or two. “Ig has big time learned me to be a better bassist,” he says. “Sometimes we caught up in our operating of our machines and can’t see the big picture. Ig’s taught me lots about this, like a conductor in some way. His ethic about working a gig where he devotes everything to being there for that gig and nothing halfway or sleepwalking. The moment is everything and essential–not to be taken for granted. Some of this reminds me of [late Minuteman guitarist] d. boon, for me a special kind of integrity.”
Integrity is an apt adjective for Watt as well, as he tours with his Missingmen (since 2005: Tom Watson, guitar, vocals; Raul Morales, drums) in support of his hyphenated-man opera, the tale of a mid-50s punker (Watt) that concludes the operatic triptych that began with 1997’s Contemplating the Engine Room. “I didn’t mean for the parts [of hyphenated-man] to tied together in a linear way but what could I do? In a sense it’s supposed to be more like a wheel than a choo-choo train,” Watt explains. “The drama in hyphenated-man is existential and [not involving] any other characters except myself, though I don’t hardly use the “I” pronoun in it. The piece deals with what I find a trippy part in my life–a sickness that pert-near killed me.”
New lease on life or no, one of the reasons Watt remains an arresting performer who deserves the reverence of a packed house is his current take on the long-ago “econo” ethos. Back then, “punk in the U.S. was very small and you really had to love it and do what you had to do to make it happen,” he reminisces. “I feel those ethics we got into back then still apply now, especially if autonomy is important to you, and it is to me. That’s where the comfort is, not being afraid to let the freak flag fly or feeling like a dick for lame compromises.”
If you miss the uncompromising Mr. Watt this time round (not recommended), fear not, the next few months finds the indie icon releasing an album cut in Italy with Italian musicians; output with guitarist Nels Cline and Greg Saunier of noise band Deerhoof, plus and about a million other pet projects. For someone who still jams econo, Watt is one prolific spieler.
Friday, October 12, Mike Watt + The Missingmen, The Bell House, Brooklyn, 7:30pm Doors / 8:30pm Show / $13 adv / $15 dos