Saturday, March 31, 2012

Watt's Up?

You gotta love Mike Watt. Co-founder of genre-confounding punk band the Minutemen, fIREHOSE, and a gazillion other projects including a long-running stint with the Stooges, he's always seemed a down-to-earth guy; humble, yet constantly trying to push his music further.

I was able to get a review copy of his new book of photographs through one of the sites I occasionally write for. Watt would take these as he rode his bike or kayaked early in the morning around his hometown of San Pedro. There's lots of cool shots of huge shipping cranes contrasted with the natural beauty of the bay that are pretty spectacular, even to a guy who can't really judge photography, like myself.

As I was trying to think of smart stuff to say to cover up that fact, I noticed that there was an opportunity to interview Watt. I haven't done an interview in years, but what the hell. We set up a phone interview.

I borrowed some recording equipment from my friend Matthew who does this sort of thing on the regular. It was this huge tape recorder like the one I used to record The Dukes of Hazard on when I was a kid (I don't know why I felt I needed audio of the Dukes, but it made sense in pre VCR days) that you would plug into the phone then record onto an actual audio tape.  I think they recorded the Watergate tapes on this thing.
Awesome. Without having to take notes, this interview would flow a lot smoother.

Then I realized something. I was doing this on my lunch break, and I was calling him from work. I couldn't use my office phone to make a 30 minute long distance call. I'd have put my cell on speaker and record him with the tape recorder.

I did a test that morning. Test went pefect. This was going to be great. I would take notes anyway, just in case.

So I called Mike Watt. Was I nervous? Yeah, a little bit. This was a guy responsible for "Double Nickels on the Dime," one of my desert island albums. The performance of "Contemplating the Engine Room" I caught in Gainesville on a whim still ranks as one of my top concert experiences ever. And hell, the guy has been interviewed in just about every music documentary ever made, and by real journalists in like, Rolling Stone and Spin and stuff. What was I going to bring to the table?

But I got over it. I've interviewed people, even famous people before, and from the interviews I've seen and read, I didn't think getting him to speak would be a problem, and he seemed like a genuinely nice guy.

So let's do this.

He was great - super friendly and ready to talk. Man, was he ready to talk. About a quarter through the interview I gave up taking notes because I couldn't keep up. It was like riding a mechanical bull while surfing on a word tsunami.

I mostly asked him about the book, since that was his newest project. It was great hearing him talk about his daily bike/kayak routes and his theories on how art has to bounce off other people,  his hesitation in presenting his photographs in the first place, and how he feels he is still just learning the bass, even after over 30 years of playing. I only asked two music questions - one about the reformed fIREHOSE, and another about his most memorable gig ever. To tell the truth, although I remained professional, I was sort of in awe of his language - while a regular guy, he has a unique way of phrasing and his own vocabulary that just sort of washes over and hypnotizes you.

When the interview was over, I told him what I knew about the publishing schedule (which reminds me, I really need to finish that review), and he actually thanked me for not asking the same questions he always got. He could have just been saying that to be nice, but holy crap. Mike Watt complimented my interview! That was totally going to be my new ringtone!

I sat in my office for a while, then took a walk around the building before listening to the interview.

I will now transcribe our conversation, as recorded on the tape:


Yep, I must have moved the phone too close or something, but the tape is completely unlistenable.

Normally I would be pretty bummed, and I do feel bad that I wasted a half hour of his time, but I have enough in my notes that I can salvage a review, even if it isn't the Q&A I wanted. Plus, I realize that while it was an embarassing screw-up, it's not like Ernest Hemingway losing year's worth of stories in a Paris train station or anything.

It was awesome talking to one of my musical idols about life, middle aged fitness, music and art, and if the results fall short of what I wanted, at least in the moment there everything went great. Plus, we're totally best friends now. We're going waterskiing next weekend with Iggy. I'll let you know how it goes.

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