An Interview with Mike Watt

A picture of Mike Watt is featured, showing him in an interview. The image captures his expression and presence, capturing the moment in time.

Sacred Grounds, a coffee shop and performance space in the blue-collar port city of San Pedro, California, welcomes Mike Watt like a mayor.

After a series of fist bumps and friendly remarks from the locals, Watt soon finds me at a table in the back. Upon coming to me, he offers a warm handshake and introduces himself in a definitive manner: “Watt!” His fifty-eight years are evident in his wobbly knees.

Having coffee with Mike Watt in San Pedro is like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. His bass playing made the town famous in the punk-rock world.

Watt has been a resident of San Pedro since childhood, and we’re seated near the port of Los Angeles where his father, a naval officer and Vietnam veteran, often left to serve.

The Minutemen, the band he co founded with D. Boon (guitar and vocalist), sang about San Pedro, yet their career was cut short when Boon tragically passed away in a van accident in 1985 at the age of twenty-seven.

Throughout our conversation, Watt constantly reflects on his father and Boon, who both lived short lives but continue to stay with him in spirit.

When I was fourteen, I experienced Watt’s bass playing for the first time at a Lollapalooza side stage.

He was strumming with an egg whisk rather than a pick, and was hitting the strings with his fist. His style was energetic yet not overstated. He firmly believes that the bass guitar should be a backing instrument, as it has been since its invention in the 1930s.

Watt can be counted amongst the musicians who have taken the four-string to new heights.

The punk-funk of the Minutemen, the jazzy rock of fIREHOSE and the thunder of the Stooges reunited, all exemplify Mike Watt’s workmanlike approach to music.

In recent years, he has made collaborations with younger artists, such as Il Sogno del Mariano, a band with two Italian composers much younger than him, and CUZ, a partnership with Sam Dook of the Go! Team.

After the success of the 2005 documentary We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen, Watt was reinvigorated creatively, and in 2010 he released his third opera, the aptly named Hyphenated-Man, inspired by the band.

Prior to our conversation, I posed the question to Watt–clad in a red plaid flannel shirt, blue jeans, and black Chucks–if he’d like me to get him some coffee.

His response, gruff and deep, was, “I’ll take whatever you’re having.” So, I bought him a Guatemalan brew, which he never drank during our two-hour interview.

— Alex Scordelis

The work of this individual has been seen as an essential part of the success of the company. They have been a key factor in achieving the goals that have been set forth.

Their dedication and hard work have been instrumental in the growth and progress of the business.


This morning I had a stroll in San Pedro and noticed a historical marker proclaiming Williams Bookstore to be the oldest bookshop in the city of Los Angeles.

Mike Watt remembered meeting Bukowski at Williams Bookstore, which has since closed down.

He himself isn’t from California, but instead hails from Virginia, where his father was in the Navy. The graveyard where both Bukowski and D. Boon are buried features a gravestone of the former with the words “Don’t try” and a boxer on it.

Watt notes that Bukowski didn’t seem to enjoy listening to people reciting their poems to him.

BLVR: Did you ever recite your own poetry to Bukowski?

I was aware that he did not take kindly to younger poets who would come up and recite their work to him.

So, I posed a question to him concerning a passage in Notes of a Dirty Old Man where an individual asked him to join a bank heist. I asked him if this had actually occurred and he simply replied to me with, “Writing is for pretending, kid”.

BLVR: What drew you to the bass guitar as the instrument of choice for your creative output, ranging from intense thirty-second bursts to extended punk-rock operettas?

When I was thirteen, I was put on bass at Pedro. I had just met D. Boon, who I knew from the navy housing where my father worked as a machinist in the nuke engine room aboard the Enterprise (not the starship!).

We lived in a project in 1970, and although there weren’t a lot of guns, there was still fighting. D. Boon’s mother wanted us in the house after school, not necessarily to pursue music, but to keep us out of trouble.

She said that all bands have a bass, and looking at album covers, it appeared to be a guitar but with only four strings. At the time, our biggest influence was Creedence, which was the only rock band D. Boon knew.

My father attended El Cerrito High School, close to Berkeley, and CCR did as well.

MW: Correct, they were from Cerrito not Berkeley. D. Boon had the initial six Creedence albums, but they weren’t in the best condition. I couldn’t really make out the bass lines of Stu Cook.

I figured, if I put on the singer’s shirt, I might look like them. I didn’t know about lumberjacks or farmers; I simply thought the flannel was Fogerty’s style of rock-and-roll.

I thought, if I put on the same shirt, D. Boon would still like me even though I couldn’t decipher what Cook was playing. [Laughs] As Bukowski said, art is for pretending.

Have you ever felt the desire to create music on a different instrument?

MW suggests that composing on a bass provides a unique platform for other musicians to build on. He remarks that some people can struggle with the lack of structure, saying that it is as if writing a song on cymbals.

He is also of the opinion that there is still more to be learnt about a four-string bass, even in comparison to a five-string bass with an additional B string.

Ultimately, he reflects on a quote by Leonardo da Vinci – “Learning never exhausts the mind” – and encourages people not to think too much, but to learn instead.

BLVR: In what way did the style of R&B bass influence your bass playing?

The R&B genre had guitarists who kept their playing minimal and treble in order to make space for the bass player.

Meanwhile, in traditional American rock and roll, the bass was typically used to imitate the left hand of a boogie-woogie piano.

When stadium rock became popular, the guitarists became the focus of the music due to the equipment being used and the acoustics of the arenas.

They took inspiration from classical guitarists such as Paganini and saxophonists like Link Wray, playing with a raunchy, fuzz-tone wah-wah sound. Prior to this, guitarists were part of the rhythm section, alongside the bass and drums.

However, with the ’60s came the emergence of rock stars, and the guitarists became the primary focus of the music.

What punk bassists influenced you when you were first beginning your musical journey?

I was enthralled when I discovered the New York band Richard Hell and the Voidoids. I saw an advertisement for the 7-inch in Creem magazine which stated, “Call Hell.” I was quite hesitant but I eventually gathered the courage to dial the number.

To my surprise, Richard Hell himself answered and I couldn’t help but be shocked. I had always thought that bassists were the least important members of any band. I was so inspired that I even put a photo of Richard Hell on my own bass guitar.

It was a turning point in my musical journey.

Children who would enjoy rock music and follow the works of Richard Hell.

What would you say is your function as a bassist when performing in a musical ensemble?

MW: I am passionate about the politics of the bass: you appear great while making the other musicians sound even better.

You are the “glue” that binds the music. Like the kick drum and guitar, the bass is the “grout” that brings everything together; even if I’m playing in my own band and with my own songs, my role is to provide support.

I’m like the driver of the fire truck, making sure the person on the ladder in the back doesn’t go flying off when we take a sharp turn. It’s not a flashy job, but it’s the keel. You manage the steering.


The second section focuses on the economic and commercial aspects of the topic. This area of discussion looks into the financial and commercial implications of the situation.

BLVR: In the course of your professional life, you and Raymond Pettibon have collaborated together. What have you derived from that experience?

For me, punk was like the humorous side of being a hippie that had been neglected.

Raymond was the one who introduced me to Dada and connected it to punk when I first joined the scene, and I would always see him at the concerts. He was so knowledgeable and taught me more than anyone else.

I learnt of Pettibon through the same early punk scene. When I got to know about it, I wasn’t a college student.

Pedro was a working person, not an academic, so it was through the punk scene that I became acquainted with college people like Pettibon. Raymond had graduated from UCLA at nineteen with a background in economics.

He was the one who played John Coltrane for the first time [points to a Coltrane button pinned on his shirt], and it had a huge influence on me. I knew Coltrane was older, but I thought he was doing punk too and I had no idea that he had died in 1967.

I didn’t know anything about bebop or jazz since I lived in navy housing, and it was Pettibon that educated me. He took me to different concerts, like Yma Sumac, Al Hibbler, and Little Jimmy Scott, and we saw Elvin Jones around thirty times.

These artists would often invite young people to play with them which was an economic way of doing things, but it also passed down the tradition. I hadn’t experienced that before as it wasn’t something we did back home, having an elder show us how the world works.

Pettibon is only six months older than me and was born on Bloomsday in 1957. He is my closest link to the jazz tradition.

Do you still keep in contact with Pettibon with the same frequency as you age?

I have spent an extensive amount of time with Raymond Pettibon and I’ve observed him painting for hours on end.

We have also gone to view high school and prep school basketball games, where the buses stay running the entire game, and Raymond is familiar with all of the players.

Additionally, he is knowledgeable about the jockeys, trainers, and the ancestry of the racehorses at the track. Even though he has an impressive mind, he’s really timid when you talk to him.

However, what really intrigues him is the lavatory, which I never knew before. It is obvious that Raymond has a huge heart.

BLVR: The lavatory?

MW excels at expressing himself in the limited space of 140 characters.

BLVR: A platform used to share information publicly in short messages.

MW labeled that concept in that manner.

BLVR: During your time with the Minutemen, you developed a distinct vernacular that has been coined “Pedro-speak.” Why do you believe it’s beneficial to create your own language?

When it comes to Pedro-speak, it’s a form of short-hand that can be seen as provincial. I remember when I was talking to Joey Ramone at RFK Stadium and he said something that I loved.

He said that punk rock is like a big hay wagon and if you have something to offer, you should jump on. I view my vocabulary in the same way. If you have some good slang words or are creative, it’s a fun way to express yourself. It’s not exclusionary either.

We may have our own slang but when we meet people from other places, we’re always eager to learn theirs. Some of our slang words have even been imported.

BLVR inquired as to the origin of the term “mersh” in the vernacular of Pedro.

Back in the day, when pot was less potent, people referred to it as mersh. This term didn’t originate from ‘merchandise’. Rather, it’s derived from the word ‘commercial’. A small amount of mersh was enough to give you a headache.

Nowadays, the quality of marijuana has improved significantly.

BLVR asked: Is economizing an option?

MW: Operating Econo has been a way of life for us in the working-class. Even if you don’t have money to buy green paintings, it shouldn’t stop you from achieving your goals.

If this means recording songs from midnight to 8 a.m. on used tapes, then so be it. We even refer to vans as “boats,” because of the Econoline. Growing up, I was not accustomed to the terms “wall” or “floor,” as my father was a sailor.

To me, econo meant autonomy and self-sufficiency; other bands may have had assistant hair techs, but I stick to my Local 47 roots.

BLVR: It’s clear that you have an admiration for CCR and Fogerty’s flannels; your LP with fIREHOSE, Flyin’ the Flannel, is evidence of that. I’m inquisitive to learn if there’s a backstory to the flannel you’re wearing today.

Mike Watt acquired this flannel through a trade with a young person he encountered at a gig. He usually trades for one-pocket flannels, although he doesn’t like them, and always offers a two-pocket flannel in exchange.

He was able to “bunk” the kid, which is how he got this one. Last year, a skateboard company created a Mike Watt flannel based on the pattern from the flannel featured on the Double Nickels cover.

He made sure to add snaps for quick removal when needed. He considers snaps to be “the greatest invention next to piss bottles.”

What is a piss bottle? BLVR seeks to elucidate.

When I recently finished high school, my dad and I drove to Yosemite for a couple of weeks. He wouldn’t stop for anything, and he had a piss bottle handy in the car. That experience inspired me to write a song about it – “Piss Bottle Man.”

Some inventions can be revolutionary and leapfrog us ahead.

Take the bicycle for example – it took us thousands of years to come up with the idea to line up the wheels like that, and it only happened three hundred years ago.


BLVR: Did your dad ever show any encouragement for your punk rock lifestyle?

When my father came to visit me after I graduated high school in ’76, he asked me about this punk thing me and D. Boon were doing.

We were sitting on the deck of my apartment, which I was renting for a hundred and thirty dollars a month, and having a few beers.

He was curious about what it was really about and wanted to know if it was socialist. I was taken aback and asked him what he meant.

A chuckle could be heard coming from BLVR.

MW: I found it humorous so I started to laugh! He then snatched a chair leg and his eyes, which were originally hazel, changed to an icy gray when he became angry.

His gaze became steely and he hoisted the chair up.

I expressed regret for laughing, stating “I didn’t mean to laugh. It just came out!” Subsequently, he set the chair down. When I was born, he had already been nineteen. Afterwards, he served in the Vietnam War up until his thirties.

Ultimately, cancer that he acquired from his time in the nuclear engine rooms took him away when he was fifty-two.

BLVR asked if the person had ever gone to one of the speaker’s games.

At one of his gigs with fIREHOSE, MW’s father attended and was amazed by his son’s ability to organize and manage the show.

Inspired by this, MW began sending postcards to his dad, which led to his first opera, Contemplating the Engine Room. From 1977 to 1991, MW’s father never discussed his music, although MW’s sister may have secretly given him Minutemen records.

What was the response of your father when you performed in Fresno?

We stayed at his place that evening and he had gone to Fresno. After his two decades in the navy, he had determined to stay away from the sea. His expression was that of one who had come to terms with himself.

He had reached the highest rank possible as a non-commissioned officer and my father could tell I was a little bit like him. The punk scene was something that was new back then and it was not accepted by many.

We were exposed to a lot of abuse such as saliva, used condoms, vomit, feces, and batteries being thrown at us. But it was about freedom of expression and not everyone understood. Punk is not just about the music but a mentality.

To be a punk in this town is to be someone who gets taken advantage of for cigarettes in jail. Ultimately, I was drawn to this culture because of my bond with my friend.

What effect has being a dedicated punk fan had on your family life?

I never had kids, and neither did my sisters, because of my mom’s warning. She used to tell us, “I hope you have a kid just like you,” and we were scared.

Even being married to K [Kira Roessler, formerly of Black Flag] for six years didn’t change my decision. It’s hard to have a family with the punk navy lifestyle I’m living, especially having known what my father went through as he was always at sea.

I didn’t want to be a proxy pop, so I chose to remain a no pop.

IV. POSK (Polish Association of Medical Students)

POSK is an organization of medical students from Poland, which is dedicated to providing a forum to discuss medical issues and promote the advancement of medical practices in the country.

It also works to facilitate the exchange of information and experiences amongst its members.

The organization is also involved in educating and informing the public about health issues, as well as providing support to medical students in Poland.

In 1995, you began a renowned club tour with Dave Grohl and Eddie Vedder performing as your openers and then accompanying you as your backing band.

Did you believe you ought to have been receiving some of the attention those guys were getting at that time?

MW recalls being asked by Ed and Dave to participate in a tour that they had conceptualized. The gigs were peculiar because of the considerable hype surrounding them.

Dave had just released a solo album, while Ed had a band alongside his wife known as Hovercraft. Pat from the Germs was also set to join the tour. At that time, “alternative” had become a term created by the music industry.

Nonetheless, Dave and Ed had a solid background in punk, with Grohl having been part of the DC hardcore band Scream, and Ed having his own band in San Diego, Bad Radio, that was inexplicably caught up in the “alternative” wave.

BLVR: Attending those club performances was an extraordinary experience–at the time, they were two of the most renowned people in the world.

On the tour, I experienced something quite peculiar – I was questioned by the FBI in regards to the Oklahoma City bombing.

They visited my house and asked me why I was in Junction City on a certain day.

I presented them with all the evidence and receipts, and it was quite an interesting scene – one of the agents resembled Lee Harvey Oswald, and the other had a resemblance to Bill Clinton.

BLVR: Could you start again and tell the story from the start?

On the tour with Vedder and Grohl, there was only one rest day in between Denver and Lawrence, Kansas.

I had planned on visiting Abilene, where Ike had been born, but ended up in Junction City. Dreamland, a hotel there, was being demolished during my last tour. Having done many tours, I was familiar with the area’s landmarks.

McVeigh stayed at the Dreamland, while I stayed down the road at a Super 8. This was the only night I had to myself, without the band, so I crashed at someone’s place instead of a hotel.

BLVR: So you had lodgings close to Timothy McVeigh the evening prior to the Oklahoma City bombing.

In April of that year, the federal government was perplexed as to why I was in that certain town with a van, considering I do not reside there.

The defense claimed that an Arab man had been seen dressed in military fatigues. They wanted to demonstrate that it was not only McVeigh and Nichols involved; perhaps I was a participant as well, they were suggesting.

The defense was trying to uncover a second suspect in the case, yet McVeigh denied that another person was involved.

At some point two years after the trials, MW’s place was visited by Lee Harvey Oswald and Bill Clinton. The former did all the talking, while the latter was mostly silent.

Lee Harvey asked if MW was the person he was looking for and when he noticed the bulkheads with Raymond Pettibon paintings hung on them, the Bill Clinton guy questioned if MW had painted them.

MW replied that the artworks were created by his friend. Lee Harvey then mentioned that he needed to take a photo of Raymond and he could use the DMV.

MW suggested that he take it in front of the paintings, which made him angry since he was still recovering from sickness and a fever. In conclusion, MW did not recommend such behavior.

I can only guess what the FBI thought when they viewed the works of Pettibon, the quintessential artist of rebellion against any form of authority.

MW: Raymond’s style doesn’t hold back. It’s wild. All the way. People asked me, “Mr. Watt, do you really tour around in a van and play bass for people?”

They couldn’t comprehend that someone could make music as a source of income. Just like my dad.

BLVR: Having been a member of the Stooges for a longer period of time than you were part of the Minutemen, how did that experience shape you as a musician?

I have been playing bass with MW for the past ten years and I’ve really benefited from it.

There is something unique about the Midwest that I appreciate in him – he is direct and honest, no frills or gimmicks. I told his wife that if he ever jumped into a big garbage disposal, I would consider following.

He is able to bring out the courage in me and I’m devoted to making the gig work with him.

BLVR: How do D. Boon and Iggy Pop share commonalities?

MW: D. Boon and Iggy had a similar mindset when it came to performing. Ig would often say to me [Watt’s voice drops a register, and he knocks on the table], “We’re gonna do this fuckin’ gig, Mike.” Ig likened myself to a short-order cook–“You want fries? You want a shake?”

We even played a gig with eighty thousand people at a racetrack in England, but he served everyone just the same. D. Boon had the same mentality. Being on stage with him gave me courage. His passing was a shock–“wow”.

Do you have a phrase or idiom that D. Boon said that has stayed with you?

MW commented that I was too “spacey” for his liking, and likened my words to a popular band of the time. He had a point–I was not particularly concise with my language.

He made it clear that punk wasn’t something that just existed, but something we created. He had the ability to convey a lot with few words, something like Walt Whitman. In 1855, Whitman published a collection of poems in an attempt to stop the Civil War.

The language he used was not particularly antiquated. D. Boon also followed in the footsteps of Woody Guthrie. Punk music seemed very modern to us at the time, but D. Boon was able to demonstrate its roots in the works of Guthrie.

BLVR: With your third punk opera, Hyphenated-Man, you have come back to the style of Minutemen songs, which are known for their brevity. What made you choose to write in this fashion again?

When I wrote my third opera, I adopted the Minutemen’s approach of no filler and shorter songs – though I ought to give credit to Wire for inspiring it.

At the time, I was touring with the Stooges and we had a stop in Madrid, Spain. I was fortunate enough to visit the Prado Museum and see all the works by Hieronymus Bosch. I had been fond of him as a child, though I couldn’t explain why.

His paintings, particularly in person, made me think of the Minutemen. All the small pieces together create a larger picture, just like their records.

I struggled with how to avoid the cliche of nostalgia in my writing, because the Minutemen would never do that. So I decided to focus on being a middle-aged punk rocker, rather than the Fonzie and Potsie from Happy Days.

BLVR: There appears to be a feeling of contrition regarding drawing upon your musical heritage.

In response to a question about the third opera I wrote, I replied that I had composed it on the guitar of D. Boon.

After watching the We Jam Econo documentary, I was motivated to play the music again, feeling guilty for taking advantage of my former bandmates.

Richard Meltzer had declared me as his favorite sentimentalist, and I conceded that I was indeed quite sentimental. People asked me what type of bass player I was, to which I replied that I was D. Boon’s bass player.

I seemed to never want to let him go, although I knew I had to. I often talk to him, but he never speaks back, instead prodding me to contemplate the situation.

The ability to rephrase a text so as to eliminate plagiarism involves restructuring the words and phrases while still preserving the meaning of the passage.

This can be done by altering the syntax without altering the context or the semantic implications of the text.

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