Punk Rock Icon Mike Watt sits down and talks about his life in music with host Ian Harrower.
IH: The first leg of my cross-country trip starts right here in my own backyard: Los Angeles, CA. Los Angeles is a city that’s music is as rich and diverse as its people. The land of sunshine, a melting pot of a myriad of talented writers, filmmakers, artists, musicians, and visionaries, LA has given birth to bands like The Doors, The Mamas and the Papas, X, The Blasters, Frank Zappa, NWA, and Los Lobos just to name a few. But knowing all that, I can’t help but to ask the question: what is the LA sound? Or does LA have a sound? Is it just a hodge-podge, or can we truly define the sound of the LA experience?
On today’s episode of Down the Highway, our Los Angeles tour continues with seminal punk rock composer and bass player master Mike Watt. San Pedro, CA, is hidden away from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. This sleepy seaside town is actually the hub for all the imports and exports for this side of the US. Charles Bukowski lived in San Pedro as well as jazz musician Art Pepper. Mike Watt has lived in San Pedro all of his life and has no plans of leaving. Having created the band The Minutemen with his best friend D. Boon, they ripped into the Los Angeles punk scene with their own version of jazz punk and poetry, rapidly becoming one of LA’s most influential punk bands. I had the great opportunity to sit down with Mike in his rehearsal space in San Pedro and talk with him about his life in music.
IH: All right, here we are sitting with Mr. Mike Watt, a very famous bass player from the punk scene, rock and roll scene. Most people know you from The Minutemen. That was probably the most established band that you’ve done. Tell us about The Minutemen.
MW: Yeah, Minutemen…uh…well it was me and D. Boon.
MW: …first, then we got Georgie. Um…I got into music playing with D. Boon before punk. And we copied songs, first Credence – that’s all he knew – in his bedroom.
IH: That’s not a bad thing.
MW: His mother…put me on bass. I was thirteen, he was thirteen. And, uh, it was the time of arena rock. Our first gig was T-Rex in Santa Monica. No – Long Beach Auditorium.
IH: Oh right.
MW: It’s gone now. I think it’s the opera house there. And we graduated in 1976 from San Pedro High School and you know, we were just happy, after that point, just copying songs from records. I think the most complicated we could play was Blue Oyster Cult.
IH: That’s actually fairly complicated I would say, at thirteen. You know?
MW: Yeah, but we didn’t have this idea of music as expression, it was kind of like building models. Because the gigs just seemed impossible. We could never play big pads like the Forum, the Long Beach Arena or the Long Beach Auditorium. And then there was a cat from here drummin’ for The Weirdos, and his name was Nicky Beat. And he was walking around…I think he had a Kotex around his neck. And he told us about this scene where people were writing their own songs. Cuz no one we knew wrote their own songs, they…it was just another…I know it sounds naïve now, but we just didn’t know anybody. Nobody. The best guy was the guy who could play Black Dog the best.
MW: We used music just to get feelings out –
MW: So we went up and saw these punk gigs and they wrote their own songs, and the first thing I said to D. Boon was, “We can do this.” It just was way different than an arena rock gig. And so first we had a band called Reactionaires, which was basically, you know, me, D. Boon, and Georgie.
MW: Along with a guy named Martin Tamburovich, and we started that in 78, our first gig was actually opening for Black Flag’s second gig…
IH: Nice. Perfect.
MW: …here in Pedro. They were handing out flyers at a Dil’s gig. No, it was Dils, Bo Diddley and Clash.
IH: Whoa. Wow.
MW: And, we saw the flyer and said, “Wow, there’s going to be a gig in Pedro.” And, you know, they were wondering why we were trippin’ on that, and we said, “Cuz we’re from Pedro and there’s not punk gigs there.”
MW: They said, “How do you know that?” “Because we’re the only punk band in that town.” They said, “You are? Then why don’t you open?” So that’s how we met, and we did that gig.
MW: And um, this is when we were called Reactionaries though.
IH: Oh ok.
MW: We were not Minutemen until January of 1980, and actually, between Reactionaries breaking up and Minutemen starting, Georgie went and played with a band in Hollywood called, Hey Taxi! So we – the first version of the Minutemen actually had a welder named Frank Tonchi on drums.
MW: He was from…I think they were called the Polish Eagle Polka Band.
IH: I should have been in that band [Laughs]
MW: And he did a couple gigs with us. In fact the second gig, Greg Ginn saw and asked us too—that’s t-o-o too. But on that second gig Frank got a little freaked by the scene and bailed.
IH: Oh jeez. All right.
MW: Yeah. Nice nice man but it was a kind of freaky scene for him.
MW: And um, we got Georgie back in that summer when Greg wanted us to record and he learned all the songs in three weeks. We did Paranoid Time and that’s how The Minutemen started.
IH: At that point you figured you wanted to change your name because he was in and then out and then back in as a drummer?
MW: No, no, no, no. Reactionaries was the first time we were writing songs. In fact, D. Boon wouldn’t even put in songs. He was writing them but he was keeping them. He was starting to write.
MW: But he didn’t want to bring them to the band. I don’t know why, but D. Boon wanted to do another band.
MW: So he kind of leaves Reactionaries and Reactionaries fall apart. There was one guy who tried to take over for one gig. There were some gigs we did with The Suburban Lawns at their practice pad in Long Beach, but it kind of fell apart. And that was kind of D. Boon’s plan because he wanted to start a new band. He wanted to do a trio. You know, when I met him he only knew Credence for rock. His daddy was way into Buck Owens, but I turned him on to Cream and stuff and he liked that…Jimi Hendrix…
MW: Even The Who, you know, without the singer, the three. He liked that idea of the three, and in fact he wanted to put political ideas into making a band, so he wanted all…He thought the arena rock thing was kind of guitar dominated, and so he wanted to move to a thing where the drums and the bass got up more.
MW: Sort of like that “Live at Leeds”…
MW: …and the live one with Wheels of Fire and Cream records. He was into that. You know a lot of the punk bands that we first saw up in Hollywood in the 70s, the bass was very strong, but it used to be in the older days bass was where you put the lame guy.
MW: Like with the punks who are just learning, you know.
IH: Yeah. “Just play these three notes.”
MW: But he didn’t want to have these hierarchies. Drummers were very strong in the punk bands too.
IH: Yeah, you had to be.
MW: And sometimes guitar was only just texture. All this rhythm-driven stuff. And so D. Boon wanted to make a trio and he knew Frank Tonchi. And me and D. Boon always had a hard time with drummers because we never had a practice pad. I grew up in Navy housing when I came here from Virginia, and he was in the proj, and after Navy housing I moved to the proj, and so we never had a practice pad. So we would have to find drummers…that’s how we found Georgie. He had a shed in the back of his pad.
IH: Ok. Cuz you didn’t have friends with cars to drive stuff around. You couldn’t find guys who could move their drums around.
MW: Well no, an actual place to practice.
IH: A place to actually do it, yeah.
MW: You can’t put a drum set in an apartment.
IH: That’s true, yeah.
MW: Now when we were teenagers, his brother Joe would play a snare drum with a book on it for like the kick drum he had a little metal TV stand, and he’d use that for the cymbal. You couldn’t play too loud. It was tiny.
MW: So Frank Tonchi was living in a little house in his sister’s backyard. So he had a pad. He was a nice man. So it was D. Boon’s idea to kind of dissolve Reactionaries and then start again. And then this time with the songs…that first batch, you know, the Reactionaries’ first batch, and I ended up writing it…you know it sounded like a lot of the bands we were watching, you know? And it didn’t really…because we were writing songs for our first time.
IH: Yeah, but just like the way you started. You mimicked songs that you knew from Credence and whatnot, now you’re mimicking…
MW: What we’re seeing…
IH: What you were seeing because you’re learning the scene now, but that makes perfect sense. That’s…
MW: Well, with Reactionaries. With Minutemen we wanted to leave that behind with Reactionaries. With Minutemen we wanted to be more radical in a style approach.
MW: So we, um…we actually got influenced by bands we didn’t see, but we had the records. They were called Wire and Pop Group. And Wire did little songs…
IH: I love Wire.
MW: And Pop Group put Beefheart with the Funkadelic.
MW: We always thought…well we didn’t always thought, but when we got turned onto punk we thought bands like Stooges and Beefheart were actually punk bands and nobody called them that yet.
IH: Yeah. He was also ahead of his time, like, year-wise. Year wise. The years that those bands came out.
MW: That’s what I mean…because you didn’t really know what it was going to be like. It was like pictures in Creem magazine and stuff before we ever heard it, and when we heard it, it would remind us that stuff, or the first album of Who or something.
MW: So we figured out that punk wasn’t a style, it was more like a state of mind. Each band…there were some bands like Screamers. They didn’t even have a guitar, or most of the time Nervous Gender didn’t. Punk was…like D. Boon, his famous quote…a skater guy gave me this… “Punk is whatever we made it to be.”
MW: So we thought that was a good idea, because then you weren’t glued to a style. Everybody could try their own thing. Cuz it seemed like freaky thing anyway, the situation. A lot of the people in the crowd were in the bands. It seemed like they were taking turns. It was much different than arena rock. And it was very empowering on us. So, yeah. I don’t know. Without punk movement, we would probably just be playing, you know, in the bedroom.
IH: Well possibly. I mean, or maybe not. You never know, but I think…
MW: We never had an idea about trying stuff on our own until we saw these other cats do it. That made us brave.
IH: That’s really influenced you.
MW: That made it safe to go crazy. There was a scene. I remember seeing…my sister took me to a Rocky Horror Picture Show.
MW: Was it Tiffany? They would have these things?
MW: And these people would get up and they knew all the words. They would say all the words ahead of time and then they’d get up on the Time Warp and get on the screen and start dancing and throwing their toast. And…
IH: They still do that, the live shows you’re talking about. The live Rocky Horror Picture Shows.
MW: They were movies. But the people at the movie would go there and bum-rush.
IH: Yeah. Right right.
MW: I know it was a play, but…
IH: Well they did one – I mean, they still do that, like every Saturday night, you know, they have like Rocky…
MW: That’s when it was…
MW: Well I saw a lot of those people at those first punk shows. You could tell. I mean, it wasn’t a very big scene. You know, coming from Virginia, all I knew was San Pedro. I didn’t really know the other towns.
IH: When did you get to San Pedro? How old were you?
MW: Uh, ten.
IH: Ok, so you grew up in Virginia until you were ten, then you got here, and this is where you’ve been.
MW: There was a couple places that I had to move to where they had nuclear ships. They had my pop in nuclear engine rooms.
IH: For…with the military?
MW: He was a sailor.
MW: You call him…his job was machinist mate.
MW: And so he was with the motor. So nuclear Navy was coming on. So they had to train men. The first reactors they put away, so one was in Idaho and one was in upstate New York or something like that.
MW: So, I came to Pedro because it’s closer to Vietnam than Virginia.
IH: [Laughs] Geographically, sure. Yeah. Not by much.
MW: That was the…that’s what was happening in 1967.
IH: Right. Ok now, so let’s tell for anyone who doesn’t know about San Pedro: it’s a coastal city in Los Angeles which is where the Port of Los Angeles is.
IH: So this is where everything comes into Los Angeles. So that also makes sense for Navy operations. Cuz you’re right here on the water.
MW: Well there was a Navy things going on, but they closed it in the early 80s.
MW: Between us and Long Beach is Terminal Island.
MW: And that’s where the Long Beach Naval Station was.
IH: Ok, is that where your dad was working out of at the time? Or…
MW: Well that’s where the ships came out.
MW: And so that’s why I came to Pedro. Across the graveyard where Bukowski and D. Boon is is the Naval Housing I came to. It’s on the North side of Pedro.
MW: But anyway, getting back to being a punk band. It changed. I mean, we got all fired up. And we started playing, but a lot of those bands, a lot of what we saw, ended up dissolving. A lot of people stopped going to the gigs. It changed to more younger people from Orange County a lot.
MW: And hardcore music came.
IH: That’s where…that was also where –
MW: It’s kind of like Black Flag, but Black Flag’s like us where they were going to their early gigs. But when it comes time to make the bands, that crowd was just kind of gone and there was this new crowd, it was these younger people…
MW: …Who were still in high school.
IH: And I grew up in Orange County, and I’m younger than that scene, unfortunately. I wish I was there. But that’s where Social Distortion and Adolescence and all those – TSOL – all those guys came out of Orange County. I think Jack’s still in Huntington Beach.
MW: I saw Mike Palm…there was a club in Hollywood. Its first name was called The King and I, I saw it The King and I. And then it became Raji’s. But I saw Mike before his voice changed. Mike – if you listen to his song called “Bloodstains”, he’s got a high voice.
IH: Oh, Mike Ness?
MW: No, Mike Palm.
IH: Oh Mike Palm. Ok.
MW: Mike Ness always had that Joe Strummer kind of way.
IH: Yes, he’s kept his voice.
MW: But this is how young Mike was. These Orange County guys were getting into it really young, you know? Before that it was more glitter and glam people and artist people. Interesting times. And the young people too were interesting; it was just kind of different. So when The Minutemen start playing gigs and stuff, the stuff we learned punk from was a little bit gone a little bit. Or changed.
IH: Ok. So that had already come and gone in a few years in a sense.
MW: Yeeeah you know…I don’t understand social dynamics that much so…I remember it changing.
IH: I’ll never understand peoples’ attention spans. I’ll never understand to be able to nail that down anyways, but that’s another story for another day. [Laughs]
MW: Yeah, so Flag kind of tapped into that, too, and took us along with him. Our first…uh we didn’t get paid till, uh…you know we did a lot of free gigs opening up, so we just loved the idea of playing, I remember, to start with our first paid gig. And, uh, they took us on our first tours, like I said, with the record label SST. So uh…they were really significant to us, in a way, because yeah…that scene. I don’t know what we were thinking. We never really thought…I remember The Reactionaries made two cassettes, you know, from a practice. And I’m talking two copies it was one practice, we only made two cassettes and I kept one and we gave the other one to Brandon. And I remember he had the other Masque on Santa Monica Blvd. But that was only when we’d ask. We never thought of asking these people for gigs.
MW: So Flag came and had us open up. They were playing some halls at the time. Polish Hall, Bass Hall, Ukrainian Hall.
IH: Right, making their own gigs in a sense.
MW: Yeah yeah. The rock and rollers were probably more prejudiced against punk than Square Johns. Square Johns didn’t know as much, but man, a lot of rock and rollers were weirded out.
IH: Well, plus the club owners and the promoters weren’t – didn’t know what to make of it yet. I mean it had been there a couple of years now…
MW: That’s what I meant. That’s what I meant. I didn’t just mean musicians, but people running clubs. Just everybody organizing…so Flag just went around it and did their own things. And there was cats, you know, who would find a bar and say, “Hey, I can bring people in to buy beer. And you let me have the door.” And so you’re playing places like Anticlub and uh Grandia Room and Fiesta House…stuff like this.
IH: Charging three bucks or something at the door for four or five bands.
MW: Yeah yeah and so they started playing their own bands, or gigs like this.
IH: And hence the bar show was born. That’s probably one of the first eras where people were doing the bar shows with four or five bands not just, say, cover bands playing top 40 stuff three—you know what I mean?
IH: So that’s how that whole thing was born. And still going, you know?
MW: Yeah. That was an interesting scene because – yeah, you didn’t have to play anything prescribed to you. You could come on with your own gig.
MW: Which was like, what we were into.
IH: Yeah, and if the bar owner’s making money off beers then who cares? You know, he’s probably like, “Great,” you know what I mean? [Laughs] Like, fine. Perfect!
MW: Yeah, what I meant to make a point of: it was around what was the standard rock thing, you know? This parallel universe to it. And then I think only the Dils had a van. A lot of those bands didn’t even have a van up in Hollywood, you know? But Greg Ginn was way into this idea of touring—not playing just your town. So they first took us to San Francisco and they took us on a US tour that was coupled with a Europe tour for the first time we had done either of those things.
MW: And yeah—it was all ten of us…
IH: Like back to back, immediately following?
MW: They were all part of the same…both…our bands was part of the same tour. And the US part was all one van, all ten of us were in one van.
MW: Very tight, very close. Henry writes about it, when we all would get in a van and stuff. But it inspired us enough, and then Chuck with his book, with his phone book he literally built the circuit that people are still touring on. The Double Nickels on the Dime album and we started doing—going out on our own tours. But to think of no punk movement, to think of no Black Flag, it’s hard for me to imagine. The Minutemen…Now we weren’t copying them. Maybe some ethics.
IH: Right [laughs].
MW: We thought, out of respect, we shouldn’t be a Xerox of Black Flag.
MW: Or other brother trios like Hüsker Du or Meat Puppets.
IH: Sure, and all those bands are all very different from each other, actually. All three you just said—they all sound completely different. But the same vein.
MW: Yeah, we’re all using the same vein…guitar, bass…
IH: Exactly. Exactly! It’s amazing what you can do with just the three. And that’s what was amazing about the original punk explosion I guess. You know? Was that it gave you guys a platform at a young age to go, “Ok, we don’t have to be these arena rock shredders,” these guitar guys who just…you know, there’s two guitar guys, three guitar players, all these crazy solos. That’s the kind of stuff that, when I was a kid and I first heard that stuff I loved it, but it intimidated the hell out of me. I was like, “There’s no way I will ever be able to play like that in my life. EVER.” You know? And then when I discovered punk I was like, “Wow,” because you know me and two of my buddies can pick up a guitar, bass, and drums and go for it. Punk opened the doors for a lot of people who started playing who probably wouldn’t have ever played out, you know what I mean?
MW: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
IH: And out of that, now that that’s 30 something years old now or whatever, now you’ve seen all kinds of offshoots form “the original” punk explosion, and people you know and whatever have just gone and done so many different things. So many great forms of music and bands have come out of it now, which is amazing.
IH: Which leads me to the other things you’ve done. You have…you never stopped. I mean every time I pick up a paper or read anything, you have, you know, at any given time five bands or four bands. You did some other…what were some of the other bands you did right after The Minutemen?
MW: Yeah, D. Boon got killed in a van wreck in ’85 and it was very hard for me.
IH: Yeah. Yeah.
MW: I had tried to do something right before that with two basses. In fact it’s still going. It’s my longest running band, it’s called Dos…with K. But Thurston got me to play on a Sonic album and we did a thing called Ciccone Youth so that’s probably the first thing I did. Then a young man named Ed from Ohio came to my house…I didn’t know you had to pay to unlist your number and he came and called me. Started coming over.
IH: [Laughs] Maybe it’s a good thing he did call, then.
MW: And he lived under my desk for nine months. Lived in a one-room pad on 14th street here. And seven and a half years, we toured around, and I started a little bit doing collaborations like with Steve Shelley, I remember. But at the end of Firehose, I remember I shouldn’t have…it’s not like with D. Boon where I could bring him all my music…maybe I should have different music for different groups or something. So I started trying playing with different people.
IH: Sure and everything kind of happened at it’s own thing, too. So there was your solo thing, Mike Watt, then there’s The Second Men, right, and all these different things. Each thing…
MW: Second Men…yeah…those bands…Second Men was put together for my second opera, Black Gang was put together for my first opera. Now the Missingmen…there’s my third opera…
IH: There you go.
MW: I just finished it. I kind of went back. I did little songs. It’s thirty parts. Thirty little songs.
MW: Yeah, it’s trippy. So I started putting together groups kind of with a defined thing instead of like “all my music’s going through the one band”…now have different…
IH: Outlets. Sure. So…
MW: I mean I’m just the bass player.
IH: So what’s the inspiration for these? For the operas?
MW: Yeah, I never thought about those when I was young.
IH: [Laughs] Well, I still — I’m 31, I’ve been playing for 23 years and I’ve never thought of doing anything like this yet. This is amazing!
MW: I…first one was in 97, I’d never dealt with The Minutemen going away…or stoppin’ and losing D. Boon. And so, I don’t know. I came up with this idea to…well my pop told me that I was kinda…he didn’t have music in his family, you know, so he thought that music was just what I did to be with D. Boon. Which was true.
MW: But he didn’t know I kept going when he got killed.
MW: Because he retired to Fresno after the Navy. And so I started sending him postcards and he was like, “Yeah, you’re like a sailor.” That’s how he saw – he was from Red Bluff, you know, a little town. That’s how he saw the world was through the Navy. So he thought in a way. So I got this idea.
IH: So that’s a weird connection between you two: you touring around and how he made his thing too.
MW: Yeah, and that’s how I put together the first opera, it was a parallel with…you know…the boat – the van. Like the boat he was in, you know, that’s what he saw, and this is what we saw. So I used his life in the Navy to make a parallel to tell the story of The Minutemen, I put it all in one day. In the second opera…in 2000 I got a sickness that almost killed me.
IH: Oh, which?
MW: Bad diagnosis. And it was a fucking hellride.
IH: Did..was…What was the bad diagnosis? They couldn’t figure it out or they decided it was the wrong thing?
MW: I got an…septic, infected. It might have been just an ingrown hair, but they gave me these pills that just made it grow. This thing grew inside me and exploded and I had to have surgery. And yeah…
IH: Oh…wow. That’s incredible. Well I’m glad you got through that jeez…
MW: Well I wrote an opera about it and I paralleled Dante. It was like – cuz I come from the little song world – but these ideas were too big to put into one song.
IH: Exactly. Yeah.
MW: So that’s why I came up with these fucking opera things.
IH: Well almost dying isn’t something you can put into a two-minute song. I mean, you could, but it wouldn’t really tell the story.
MW: You know the weekend that Darby died; I got pneumonia and almost died. I was in the hospital.
IH: Darby Crash?
MW: Yeah, and you know, maybe week later I was better and I didn’t write one little two minute song about it. No. When it happened to me 20 years later – I was 22 then – at 42, it was fucked up. I mean, it was longer for one thing, but also it was like, “I’ve got a lot of work to do, I can’t be fuckin’ dying now.” And it got really intense on me.
IH: Yeah, and that’s the thing. Maybe the emotional connection to was just completely different when you were 22.
MW: Yeah, it is. It is.
IH: I mean, you’re aware of it at 22 or 23, like, “I’ve got pneumonia, this fucking sucks.” I mean…
MW: I was burning up a fever, they had ice between my legs and on my arm.
IH: I mean, well yeah, and that’s ridiculous.
MW: But your body’s more resilient and you’re just…you know. You’re buck-wild when you’re younger.
IH: Yeah, well you’re in punk bands. You know, and you’re having a good time. You know? A little sickness ain’t gonna kill you. That’s the way you’re looking at it even though it’s a bad sickness, you know?
MW: It was really bad. But I beat it and I came back. And this other one, too, but it was a lot longer coming back.
IH: How long was that whole…
MW: Long, hell. Shit, it was long enough. You know they had tubes in me. I couldn’t play bass. It was the first time not playing bass since D. Boon’s mom made me.
MW: That had weird repercussions.
IH: That shakes you at your very core, you know what I mean?
MW: Yeah well I started playing it was all atrophied, and you know, no rhythm, palsy shit.
IH: Oh no…
MW: So what I started doing [plays a Stooges lick on bass], Stooges, just Stooges. Not a lot of chord changes. [Plays a different lick] And built my fingers up stronger and stronger trying to get my rhythm back. And then I said, “Fuck this, I’m going to do some Stooges cover bands.” Just to play these… I thought the best idea was to get on the horse. You know, get back in the saddle, because it really freaked me out. I thought you weren’t supposed to ever forget this shit. Terrible.
MW: It was terrible. So I made one band on the east coast with J Mascis and Murph, the Dinosaur guys, and then Peter and Perk from Porno on the West coast one. And I had…the first, like, few months after being able to play bass again with some prac, I did these gigs. I did one in my scrubs even with Nels and Perk just doing Stooges. And uh…cuz this kind of leads up to what I do now.
IH: Well that’s what I was gonna…yeah, that’s what I was gonna ask you.
MW: J Mascis had just finished an album called J Mascis and the Fog and he asked me to be the bass player for the tour. And he said, “You know it’s hard for me to sing every song every night so why don’t you do some Stooges like we did at those gigs.” And I said, “Ok,” and when we came to Ann Arbor he asked me to call Ronnie because I knew him. I had done a soundtrack with him, and he’d come to my gigs. So J took him on a tour. And we would do 2/3s of J’s songs, and then a final third with Ronnie and Stooges. And uh, there was an Altamar party at UCLA, in maybe 2002. And Berz said, “Hey, why don’t you get Scotty?” And Scotty was living in his truck. He didn’t even have a drum set. So he rented a drum set and me and J are playing with both of the Asheton brothers. We did some gigs over in Europe and Ig heard about it and he asked us to play on Skull Ring and then I was on tour with The Second Men in Florida — in Tallahassee. And he called me up and says, “Ronnie says you’re the man. And we’re going to play Coachella.”
IH: This is Iggy Pop that called you up for this.
MW: [Nods] This is March 2003 we were going to play. So seven and a half years now, I’ve been helping The Stooges with bass, which is…
IH: Yeah, I was going to ask you how that came about.
MW: …actually longer than the Minutemen and about the same as Firehose. It’s been a long time now. It’s cuz of Ronnie.
IH: Yeah, I didn’t realize you’d been playing with them for that long. So it was kind of one of your longest running gigs. And Coachella was your first gig that you did with them?
MW: Coachella. Yeah. Very interesting. I mean, I love….it is trippy for me because of songs go so far back… and I love them so much.
IH: Well I was going to say, when you were a kid you knew those songs. Well not…you know–
IH: You were a teenager. Exactly. So you came full circle on it.
MW: Yeah. And everybody else. The only people I met that liked those songs were punk people. Other people…rock and roll people didn’t like it.
MW: You know, like Grand Funk, and…
IH: Yeah. Well ever since I learned about The Stooges when I was a teenager I just went like, “This is a band that’s playing punk rock in the late 60s. This is…you know what I mean? I mean this is 8 or 9 or 10 years ahead of The Ramones and The Clash and The Sex Pistols, you know.
MW: So you understand my situation. So much information second, third, or fourth had I’ve got to do…be right with the source people. Very interesting.
IH: It’s great.
MW: Yeah. I would have never guessed this about my life.
IH: It’s amazing. I mean, it’s amazing because you said earlier on you were talking about how, you know, The Stooges and Beefheart and some of these people, you know? You were listening at that…and now you’re doing it. You know, now you’re playing with The Stooges. That’s, that’s amazing. That is absolutely amazing to me that it came down like that.
MW: Yeah, a lot of you know…it is, it is. I feel I really owe them everything I’ve got, my best notes, because, you know, I don’t think we’d have a scene without The Stooges.
IH: And at Coachella, how big was the crowd that was standing out there watching you guys? Was that the biggest crowd you’d ever been in front of in your life at that point?
MW: No, no, no. I’d done things. After Firehose, I had done…I was really weirded out about having to, you know, whatever, front a band. The bass is a back up—politically the bass is very interesting. You know? You look good making other people look good.
IH: Yeah [laughs]. Yeah.
MW: You go in the bathroom, and most people look at the tile, you know? We’re kind of like the grout, so…
MW: So it was scary for me, but I had an idea, “Well, the bass player knows a song anybody could play,” so I made a record called Ball Hog or Tugboat? that had 48 different people. Did tours. Even with Firehose, opening for Beastie Boys…
MW: Or uh…there were some big crowds, ok.
Off Camera: Could have been REM.
MW: Actually the last Minutemen tour. I wouldn’t call those really huge because it was maybe tertiary, third tier. Southeast…
IH: That’s Minutemen out with REM?
MW: Yeah, our last tour, we were asked by this band to open up — well we didn’t know them. They turned out to be beautiful guys. We didn’t know a lot about them, we had to buy a record to see what they sounded like.
MW: But they turned out to be really happening cats and they knew a lot about music, I taped Last Poets with Pete Buck’s band. You know, we didn’t know. We didn’t know everything. We knew a lot about punk bands because the fan zines and stuff, that was really happening. In fact, the singer man, Michael, interviewed us for a fan zine the year before we toured with him.
MW: He didn’t tell us who he was.
IH: Ok. Was it over the phone or something?
MW: No, he came to 688 club in Atlanta.
MW: And interviewed us after sound check. He’s a nice man.
IH: Yeah, he seems like he probably would be.
MW: Those were gigs…some were civic auditoriums, some were gyms. High school gyms. But they were pretty big for what we were used to before that.
MW: But then, uh…and opening up for people. Like that one in…well on this Tugboat album I did one in RFK Stadium, these radio gigs. Because Nirvana it changed, they were having people play these big pads. KROQ type of stations.
MW: You know, I just look at gigs as gigs. Those were hard ones to work, because you know, I’m more used to, yeah, the little clubs.
MW: Like with Stooges, I learned how to play more and more of these Europe festivals.
IH: The big stages with the big crazy sound. Yeah, where things just don’t bounce around like they do in a little club. You know, you have to hand them your sound…
MW: There’s no contact with the people, you’re more detached like in a way.
IH: Yeah, with like a 20-foot —
MW: Although with the Stooges I mainly focus on Iggy anyway because…It’s a strange situation because those songs, they’re not foreign to me. They’re really embedded in me so I’m…I get into hearing them so hard that I forget where I am on the bass, so I have to really focus on keeping it together, you know. There’s not a lot of chord changes.
IH: [Laughs] That makes you the right guy for the job though.
MW: He’s really helped me play bass better and stuff. First time I helped another band was actually 96 with Porno for Pyros. I’ve only really done that for a couple bands: Porno for Pyros, J Mascis and the Fog, and the Stooges. Very, very interesting cats.
IH: Well it’s interesting to come into a gig like that because you’re…it’s not that you’re trying to fill somebody else’s shoes, but you know the foundation’s already been laid by another player, you know. And so it is very interesting to come into that, whether you know the material or not. Now going back to the Stooges, like you said, that stuff is so embedded in you that it makes you the perfect man for the job. I couldn’t even think of a better person to be playing bass with Iggy and The Stooges right now than you because of that connection you have to it. You know what I mean? But I’m sure you can’t help but to drift off into thought sometimes about, “Wow, I was a teenager when I learned this…you know, about these guys, and this has been going on for X amount of years and wow I’m standing up here with these guys…” Executing it…
MW: Well you want to hear the song, you know? You gotta help make it.
IH: You gotta execute it, you start drifting off like, “Hey I’m in the crowd watching the Stooges,” and you wake up and you look down and see the crowd looking at you and you’re like, “Oh yeah, I’m playing bass in this band.”
MW: Nah I don’t want to…I really owe this band, so…I mean, music’s just a thing…that’s why I love Ig’s work ethic on stage, he’s a lot like D. Boon he tries very hard, you know? I don’t take anything for granted.
IH: That’s great, and you shouldn’t. You know, you never should.
MW: Yeah that’s what I learned.
IH: I’m learning that, you know, I’m working on my thing. And I’ve actually mainly been a bass player and drummer my whole life in music. I’m only right now for the first time in my life playing guitar in a band. Right now, at this moment, so I understand your job. That’s what I’ve always done. Mainly drums, but bass also a little bit. Now, I say the word job—
MW: Yeah, it’s a job.
IH: That brings me to something I want to ask you, you’re probably going to hate me for asking you this, but I think it’s very valid as in showing what kind of work people can do with music. I heard that you have done something with Kelly Clarkson, right, the original American Idol. The girl who won the first season.
MW: Yeah, I was asked by a producer to come into the studio, and they had me play those six songs…
IH: For her first record or something?
MW: Ooh, I don’t really know her career. I got to meet her.
MW: She was just regular people.
MW: I don’t even really know. Except to hear her sing, she could sing good. She had no big posse or anything like that. I heard she had won a game show, and I didn’t really know a lot about it.
MW: They didn’t tell me but to play, sometimes they put fuzz…you can use a fuzz box or something. And they let me play my own basses and a lot looser than you think. Yeah, I know it’s really commercial and stuff now, especially when I did it I heard from other people, but it wasn’t that much of a thing. I came in one night, and just started playing on these songs. That whole situation is kind of weird. I don’t know if you’ve done that work, but you have to come in there — it doesn’t matter who it is a mersh or avant garde or whatever — you’ve got to hear the song, you’ve got to learn it, then you’ve got to think of a part. It’s all done, you know?
MW: Some of these things I think I was even playing over somebody’s bass line, you know they took it away. Or it was a Midi keyboard or whatever, but it was all made. And then you know, everybody’s looking at you and it’s stupid. You want to do good for them, you want to do good for the song, right?
IH: [Laughs] Yep.
MW: There’s a responsibility with a bass, you know? You’ve got to do certain things, in my book, to make it work.
IH: Sure absolutely.
MW: I was kind of sweating some fucking bullets. The guitar man who helped to write the song was a skater from Houston and knew all about my scene. It wasn’t such a freaky thing. I think if you see my name next to her’s, yeah. She told me she wasn’t in bands, she learned how to sing in church.
IH: Well yeah, she didn’t come up the way, like, we all came up. It was a whole different thing.
MW: Yeah, no garage bands or anything…
IH: But what my point is: there’s work out there, and even though it is very pop and that’s a very commercial thing, it could be really cool, and they asked you to do it because of who you already were. Somebody knew, the producer or somebody knew you and they’re like, “Let’s bring him in. That would be awesome. He would be awesome to have on this.” You know? Whereas just being the guy that’s hired on. But I have done something exactly like that. I played bass on an Australian pop song. I came in and played bass over a bass track that was already laid down, I guess it was like Tom Jones’ drummer had laid the drum tracks down. These guys came in and they were just like, “Ok! Do this! Do that!” They were feeding me a bunch of wine. I’m like, “I don’t know if I should be drinking all this wine cuz I’ve gotta fig — you know? So I’ve done that – played on a song that I have, like a style, like a total pop song that I’ve never done before, with guys I’ve never worked with before, on a song I’ve never heard before, and they’re giving me stuff like, “Ok, play this one like you’re playing in a punk band…ok, now play this one like you’re playing upright bass right now….ok,” so it’s just like, you know. And yeah, talk about sweating bullets, you know? I had to keep a rag right next to me like wiping my head, wiping my hands going, “This is crazy.” And all these guys are standing around, like, hoping that I lay down, like, the perfect thing, like the most perfect thing they’ve ever heard in their lives. You know what I mean? So I’ve been – just once –in that kind of intense situation. That’s the only thing I can relate to as far as doing what you did with Kelly Clarkson. Yours was probably a little more relaxed than mine. [Laughs]
MW: No, it was scary for me. It was scary. They were very cool, they were not telling me what to do or anything but it was scary because I wanted it to be good, you know, her, for the guitar man, Jimmy, for the producer man, who called me in, David. That whole thing kind of…expectations, you know? But I don’t know bout making a whole thing of that. You know? There’s something about what I did to get into music. It was about D. Boon, it was to be with my friend, you know?
MW: So I don’t know if I’m such a pure musician although I do…a lot of my life is about music. [Laughs]
IH: Look, I would say, see all that’s a matter of opinion, see I would think you’re the “purest” of musicians because it came from such an organic place. And that’s what I like, that’s the kind of stuff I like. I came from an organic place, I’m not a taught musician, I just learned to play a bunch of instruments, you know? Um, and that being said, what do you think of the music scene in this city today in Los Angeles? What do you think of what’s going on? Do you have an opinion about it? You were part of a very quintessential, you know, piece of music history in California, you know?
MW: About this town…uh…it’s kinda interesting. You know? Like other towns.
IH: [Laughs] To say the least.
MW: It’s got problems; it’s got good things about it. One thing about SoCal is there is a lot of different places.
MW: You’re not always going back to the same well, the same trough. There’s different regions.
MW: So, I mean, I am part of SoCal — Pedro guy. I just didn’t do music like that because of Greg and the Flag guys, we learned to tour. So I just did my 63rd tour.
IH: Wow. That’s amazing. 63rd tour. That’s incredible.
MW: So I’ve played a lot outside the town, ok?
MW: You were saying before, you see me before I’m playing four, five, six, seven, eight times a month because there’s a lot of different places. And…
IH: Mike Watt and Something Something. Mike Watt and This. Mike Watt and That.
MW: Playing the smallest pads, right? I’ll play anything.
IH: No, that’s great.
MW: Even Pedro here there’s a biker bar that started having punk gigs.
IH: There ya go.
MW: Yeah. Short drive.
IH: Yeah, exactly. Finally you just have to go around the corner. Well I mean, you know, it’s hard…the scene changes. And the reason why I ask you, and the reason why we’re talking to you, you know, is because you were the start of…you were there at the start of a scene that has now become an infamous, and famous, and very important part of music history. So I’m curious as to what your opinion is about any…kind of…
MW: Well without those old days, I wouldn’t be what I am today. I owe everything to the old days.
IH: Sure. Neither would music today. Music would be different today as well without all those punk bands, you know, if they had never existed.
MW: Well, probably, but speaking for me, I know for sure I’m a product of my post experiences. So a lot of it, I don’t feel I grew out of, and it was just a stepping-stone to my professional music career. Basically I’m doing a lot of what I did in those days because I liked the way that worked. I liked the ethic of it. I liked…it’s like riding a skateboard, you know? You fall down; you have to get back up. I mean how do you improve on that kind of ideology?
MW: You know, you have people who help you back up, people who ride the skateboard for you, people who run alongside you making sure you don’t fall down. I mean how do you improve this? Do you use your body to ride it? Do you sit down on it? Do you lie down on it? All this kind of stuff.
MW: But I could use that for an analogy.
IH: It makes sense.
MW: So what worked for me back then still works now. Now, I don’t want to, with respect to the guys I worked with, I don’t want to copy exactlythe old days. I’m a little bit of a sentimentalist, I do, coming into middle age, sincerely believe that everybody’s got something to teach me. So if I put my bass in situations, and this part of what some people call “the bad new days” is, actually is good. I can collaborate with people without them having to be in SoCal or even Pedro.
IH: That’s right.
MW: You know, I trade files with people over the Internet.
IH: It’s amazing.
MW: I made an album with this guy in Canada I never even met. I never met this guy. You know, he gave me ten songs, I put the bass on it, ok.
IH: And that’s it. Isn’t it amazing how that works now?
MW: I’ve done other, and I’ll do it again. I think 18 tries. Finally I got it.
MW: And see, I’ve been doing it this long. I think that’s one thing that should never be solved: is the problem of being creative and coming up with good shit. Or shit.
IH: Well I don’t think with music you could ever be the master of music or your own instrument. I don’t think anybody can. I mean there are people we look at and we go “wow that guy stands alone in playing ability”, but he’s still not going to be the master of that instrument. You know what I mean? You can always strive to be better or learn different things. Because look how many styles there are now. Music is starting to gain some age, so…
MW: Well think about a writer. A writer cannot invent one word and still write an interesting novel without using all the same words as everybody else is.
MW: It’s the way you put it together.
MW: So just because you wrote one good book doesn’t mean the next one’s going to be happening. It’s a tough thing. But I would rather have the burden there, the challenge there on what to be creative than the thing where how do we get a practice pad, how can I get a bass, how can I get the money for recording…in the old days, music parts to get it going the amplifiers — it was a lot more expensive.
IH: Oh yeah. Sure.
MW: It’s more econo now. And the way we can reach each other: much more close. I don’t have to answer every ad on the Recycler, although those were interesting. One time I did that.
IH: [Laughs] Yeah.
MW: Yeah, first D. Boon, when I saw that and D. Boon wouldn’t make the band at first, so I answered an ad. Cool people. We did “I Wanna Be Your Dog” for three hours. First time…
IH: Going back to The Stooges again.
MW: I played in a pad on Santa Monica Blvd, it was this guy’s, his father’s electric shop, and he played in the back there. Yeah, it was trippy, you know? Because here I am, and I want to be in a punk band, but D. Boon don’t want to do it. So I tried this. And I did it one time, and you know I liked it, but man D. Boon wasn’t there. And then a couple weeks later he says, “Ok, I’ll do it.”
IH: There, you’ve convinced him, because he saw you starting to stray off.
MW: I don’t know, maybe he did, maybe he did.
IH: “I can’t let my buddy go off alone.”
MW: I’ve always had a close connection with him, but you know, I lost him, so music though is still a very intense thing. Like something a gift, you know. Something he shared with me. So now I try to do it with other people. Of course it’s not going to be the same, but I ‘m trying to get better at being a student and learn from these situations and…You know, I listen back to me and Georgie playing for D. Boon, you know, on those records, and it’s amazing some of the stuff. I can’t believe I played some of that stuff. But it was, you know, a lot of it…Of course me and D. Boon would come up with stuff to show each other and Georgie would play them with me. A lot was the product of me interacting. This is what I’m trying to say. Think of the politics of the bass, or glue! Here’s a better one: glue. If you’ve got nothing to stick to, you’re just a puddle.
IH: [Laughs] Yes.
MW: You know, it’s not under it’s own kind of thing so much the way I’m looking at it. So this is what I’m doing now. I’ve got a lot more brave where I can just go…like last December I went to Italy. I did six gigs with these two cats. Twenty years younger. And I did an album, just like that. Bam.
MW: You know. It was scary. I never played with them before in my life. They’re incredible cats. Made me pasta every day.
IH: [Laughs] Nice.
MW: So maybe I got thirteen, fourteen things in the pipeline now. I really did get away from recording for a while. You know, I told you those two operas.
MW: There was some Unknown Instructors, these kind of improvised albums I did with Georgie and Joe Baiza. But I was doing MANY MANY gigs, you know? Doing 63 tours. Well a little out of balance. Because I never had children: the gigs are the works. Gigs are important, they’re in the moment, but they kind of go out in the air and stuff. So I’ve been really…I still do the gigs of course.
IH: Well yeah, but you’ve still got to document what you’re…
MW: Yeah yeah yeah. Stuff like D. Boon, you can still hear him if you put on a Minutemen record.
IH: Yup. He’s still there.
MW: It’s funny because I never thought of it that way. In those days we…I remember me and D. Boon had this talk, he said, “We’re going to divide the world into two categories: there’s going to be flyers and gigs.” And we thought the gig was the biggest thing there was because it had the most impact on us when we saw a punk gig. So we thought that everything that wasn’t a gig was a flyer. So a record, an interview, a picture, these were all things to get people to the gig.
MW: But in these years now I’m looking at it as …no no, these are actually. You can’t live the whole time…so these objects…
IH: Well back when you were young getting to the gig was all that matter.
MW: Well you see, the gigs were us and the people and hardly anything in between. If we fucked up, it was us. You couldn’t blame the gatekeeper or middleman or something.
MW: So it seemed like that was the most intense thing, you know, that you could wield. You can do this with the records too. They’re not just flyers, they can be little works…they have little lives of their own in a way.
MW: Well, I’m glad we did them. We were doing them every nine months then, like flyers, but it ended up being a kind of legacy.
MW: And that’s how we can kind of hear D. Boon. We never thought about dying then.
IH: Of course.
MW: We weren’t that fatalistic.
MW: We thought somebody was going to make us stop — there was a weird thing about the Minutemen – we thought somebody was going to make us stop like, but, stop making music, not like one of us getting killed. We didn’t realize that, we didn’t think about that. Even though his ma got killed when he just graduated high school and it was huge wreckage on us. But I don’t know. You just have different kind of consciousness in those days, or I did. You know? A little different now. So yeah, I want to make a little more works now. But I also want to do the gigs.
IH: Sure, well you can’t deny the gigs.
MW: I played a pizzeria last night in Long Beach. I played a pizzeria in the Valley the night before.
IH: That’s perfect.
MW: And with K, huh? With K I’ve been playing 25 years, ok.
MW: These guys I’ve played with, they’re long shore men, they’ve got families. They work at the docks. I’m going to make an album next year about work: a San Pedro dockworker guy. D. Boon would love it. So I’ve got a lot of reasons to play that are part of those ethic.
IH: Well he’s still a part of what you do.
MW: Yeah. It’s not really…I still have that part of those old days in me.
MW: And it’s not so much a lifestyle nowadays.
IH: Well sure, and you said now you’re a sentimental guy, so of course you’re going to keep your buddy with you. I have a buddy that I’ve been playing with for 18 years out of my life that I would feel – I would be devastated if anything ever happened, you know what I mean?
IH: And we haven’t played together for about a year and a half or two years now because I went to do some other projects, so I’m already sentimental about what we’ve done together. Like we hang out and see each other and are like, “Aw man.” Even though we see each other every couple of weeks, we miss each other dearly because we haven’t played together in a year and a half, or two years. You know? So I get it…I mean he’s still here, he’s still with us. But I get that attachment you can have with somebody and how you just…you know…
MW: Well in a lot of ways he isn’t here. I used to just ask him everything, but I don’t get answers. He wants me to think about it.
IH: Well, I know I know, that is… let’s move…you’ve talked really thoroughly about that and we appreciate it. So let’s actually move on to what this show is about that we’re doing. You know, you still being out there and still playing with new people, and doing new projects, and recording an album over the computer with a guy from Canada. Whatever. This episode of this show is about the city of Los Angeles, where we all live.
IH: Do you think – this is a strange question and it can be answered any way you want, cuz there’s no real answer to it – do you think there is an LA sound? I mean, you were a part of the beginning of the punk scene, you’ve played with all kinds of different people, you’re still playing with all kinds of different people. Is there anything about this city, Los Angeles, that has a sound?
MW: You know, earlier I was telling you about punk, and like people were trying to say it was a style, and we didn’t think it was a style, we thought it was up to each man. And I’ll say the same thing. I’m just too in love with music to get it all narrow like that.
MW: So, everybody’s going to have their own take on it.
IH: That’s a great answer.
MW: I mean, we share the same weather, the same traffic. Actually Pedro, a lot of people come here and say, “Wow, I didn’t know this place existed.”
IH: Right [Laughs]. Yeah, that’s where your car came from, that’s where all those things you just bought came from. All came through that…those gates right there, those water gates. How could you not know Pedro is here?
MW: It’s called the Angel’s Gate.
IH: Angel’s Gate, there you go.
MW: Actually we share the harbor with Long Beach, so…
IH: I guess that’s true, yah.
MW: I’ll tell you about SoCal. It’s actually like 150 towns. I found this out going to those first punk shows. None of us knew each other. We didn’t grow up, go to school with each other. We all met up in Hollywood. I met these guys, like Pettibon, you know, who ended up being being my dearest friend. Incredible cat who taught me all kinds of things. Taught me about John Coltrane.
IH: You have his poster right up there.
MW: I have him on my shirt.
IH: Yeah, you’ve got his button right there.
MW: Yeah. So, uh, this was kind of a…this might be endemic to, like, the situation: this idea of…you know the only thing we really had in common was stuff like Stooges, you know, that brought us to this music, this scene. They were like the lingua franca, but everything else, everyone else had a different story they were coming from. And so maybe there was something in that. Like you could be from anywhere and make a band. But as far as “sound”…I don’t know if there was something like that. Somebody once told me: “It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.”
IH: Exactly, and that’s why that question is so interesting, you know, about an LA sound because, I can’t answer that. Is it the fact that it took us an hour today to come ten miles to come see you? The traffic in this city? The fact that there were two or three onramps to the freeway closed and we couldn’t get on the goddamn freeway. It’s stuff like that that could actually influence people to have a certain sound in a city like this. You know, who knows? I don’t know.
MW: Kinda Balkanized. We’re in our own little trips. And I remember people telling us early on, “You should move to Hollywood. That’s where it’s all happening.” I remember D. Boon saying, “Well if we move to Hollywood, what are we going to write songs about?” Hollywood. Maybe we just stay in Pedro, we’re close enough where we can play there. But maybe we just stay in our town and write about that kind of stuff.
MW: Or, uh…yeah, I don’t’ know. There’s something transcendent about music. You know, John Fogerty and that Northwest bayou he was born on.
IH: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. About five hours north of here: the mid- central California bayou. That’s a whole nother band we could talk an hour about, that band, they amaze me for where they came from.
MW: But you know what I mean? They were upcoming on the scene of Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead, and yeah…You know, I don’t’ know if they were part of that sound so much.
IH: No, not at all. Not at all, and I’m amazed they got…
MW: But they were around the same area. I guess they were East Bay.
IH: And they were playing all the same shows. They were playing all the same shows.
MW: And who else is from up there, Sly Stone?[OFF CAMERA]: East Bay Ray?
MW: Right, East Bay Ray later on with the Dead Kennedy’s.
IH: But you’re right about…
MW: And so, would we say that about their part? I don’t know. You know, this idea of getting things figured out sometimes is maybe giving in a little bit to the marketing people. And I don’t think it’s a modern thing. Pat Boone sold many more Tutti Fruttis than Little Richard. And that was like fifty-five years ago.
IH: Yeah, and that was the beginning of it all, you know?
MW: So I don’t’ worry about it too much. But I do know…I was reliant…we…us Minutemen were reliant on people living in SoCal. And then, you know, because punk, there was little scenes in all the towns, and through the fan zines, and through their bands, through playing their towns, conking in their pads, we made connections like this. And still didn’t want to copy your brothers, you know? So I doubt there would have been a Double Nickels on the Dime if there wasn’t first a Zen Arcade. You know, we were very inspired by them to do that.
MW: So bouncing off each other, but they’re in Minneapolis and we’re San Pedro. But in some ways, maybe we were…within our towns, we were kind of more alike than the people we were living with in our towns.
IH: And that same thing kept going to even my generation of punk rockers. I grew up in Orange County in a very stale, sterile little area that had maybe thirty little cities, and believe me. There were three punker kids from Laguna Beach and we met the six punker kids from you know, like Costa Mesa area, and out of that whole place there was like twenty of us. You know? You find those like minds and you get together and you play music and you’re influenced by…luckily we had…you guys had already laid the foundation for us, you know? All the bands that you played with and the bands you were in, you know, we had an influence, but we were doing it in place that didn’t have any forgiveness for that kind of music. So we were making our own shows, we were driving to LA trying to play shows, we were doing the same thing, backyard parties all over the place. Then you get on the road and you start driving and you find those ten kids just like you in Phoenix. You find those ten kids just like you in some town in Texas, and there you go. You’re right, like you were saying: your buddies in Minneapolis and your buddies here, you know, shared a common thing. And we did that with the ten kids we knew in Orange County, and the ten kids…
MW: So maybe SoCal is a microcosm of that thing.
MW: Because we already start there because we’re all spread out.
IH: Sure. And LA sort of becomes, like, the cluster of it all, because you get all those people from those other states that want to bring it here for some reason.
MW: Oh yeah…
IH: You know that band wants to get out of …
MW: I found that out, even in that 70s punk scene there was a lot of cats that weren’t from here.
MW: They came from states back east, you know, Controller people, X people.
IH: Yup. And became some of the most quintessential sounds of LA.
MW: The Dils were like, Carlsbad, down by San Diego.
OFF CAMERA: The Phoenix thing too.
IH: Yeah, yeah. And a lot of things actually came out of San Diego, too. San Diego was still —
IH: — As sterile as Orange County was.
MW: Zeroes were from National City.
IH: Everyone went toward LA from down there, you know? Yeah.
MW: Yeah, so the regional thing. There’s something about it, but I don’t think it’s a musical aesthetic so much.
IH: But, you know, but you’ve made it happen here. You stayed. You came to Los Angeles when you were ten and you stayed, you know? And I came from Orange County and I love it here and I’m never going to leave. I love it here, I love the music scene here. I love what it’s done for me. Not much, but…
MW: I like San Pedro. I do kayak and bicycle and I’m healthier…
IH: I miss the water.
MW: …when my knee’s not fucked up. And then so, it’s like bungee cords, so I go out and I play a lot of different places, but I come back to Pedro.
MW: You roam, you roost.
IH: Yup. I’m never leaving Los Angeles; this is it for me. We’re going to do a number that the Minutemen did called Party With Me, Punker. You and I are going to play that song together. Tell me about the origins of that song, it’s an interesting little song. 56 second song? 57 seconds?
MW: Well Minutemen did even shorter ones.
MW: But we were asked to do a song for a compilation, Jordan Schwartz, We Got Power, Dave Markey was affiliated with it too. I just thought I would write them a song, and I was thinking of Dave O too, Dave O was a helper man for Black Flag, and they would say words like that, “Party with me, Punker,” I didn’t really say that stuff, but they did.
IH: Little inside fun little things?
MW: I thought…Well punk means different things to different people. I’ll tell you, when I first heard the word, it was very strange because, here a punk was a guy who got fucked in jail for cigarettes.
IH: Right [Laughs].
MW: So when they called this music scene this, it was like, “Whoa…ok. What’s this about?”
IH: Really, you guys want me to play punk rock? What?
MW: Punk? Ok…so it’s all about…another guy said an interesting thing, “The only thing new is you finding out about it.” You know? We found out a lot of stuff on the scene people were doing before. And we—it was just us finding out about it—like Woody Guthrie or them Dada people in Europe, you know 50 or 60 years before, you know? It’s a trip about that. So you have to let go a little bit, and I get so precious. Of course, it’s very important for you, because it’s your experience and you’re sharing it with your guys, you know? But as far as getting too high and mighty, to use it as a club to beat on other people, had to let it go. And so by doing that song, it was the same reason I wrote, “History Lesson Part 2”, it was like saying… It’s not just about…well Joey Ramone once told me, “You know, punk is like a big wagon, and if you’ve got something to contribute, get on board, you know?”
IH: There you go. Throw it in the back of the wagon [laughs]. Makes perfect sense. And you know what else is funny about that song? It never landed on a proper Minuteman record.
MW: No, we were asked to be part of a compilation.
IH: A compilation, sure. But it was written for a compilation, and it’s very easy for songs to get lost on compilations, I mean, I’ve done that, I’ve contributed some of the best songs I’ve ever done with some of my bands to compilations, and it never went anywhere. And it’s gone, you know? But this song, you could go on Youtube, and like every band, you know, playing wherever they’re playing is covering this song. It’s like a song that broke through somehow. It’s short, it’s quick, to the point. It’s fun and tons of bands have covered it. And it could have very easily become, like, a lost number. Just another number.
MW: Well the whole thing is amazing about people these days being open minded to the old days. I got to tell you, when I was a teenager, you wouldn’t listen to five-year-old music. I give a lot of credit to young people being interested in what happened so long ago.
MW: That’s very kind of them.
IH: Mike, thank you so much –
IH: — for doing this for us.
MW: No problem.
IH: [Laughs] It was fantastic.