Photo by Jack GouldWhat do you say to Mike Watt? Not one nervous word—really, what can you say? The guy cut his teeth on the Minutemen while you were still gumming down Gerber's, toured by van through hell and back while you were in marching band, and immersed himself in his own stubbornly and beautifully iconoclastic bass-heavy spaced-out art-deconstruction trip while you were . . . well, fuck, it was the '90s, and you were doing nothing.
But Watt? He does it all: he's a character and a half, a hometown hero, an inspiration to this generation—they should name planets after him, at least scholarships, maybe really rare and special bass guitars.
So he was sick (with a nasty perineal infection) a while back. So what? He's playing Stooges songs to recover—think about that, okay?—and he starts his forty-fucking-eighth tour on Tuesday. When he talks, you shut up and just let him go. And those questions you wrote down? Like, how's he been? What's up with his Stooges-channeling band—because “cover band” just ain't gonna do it justice—We Go Speedro? What's he think of OC? What's so magic about the edge-of-the-world city he calls home, San Pedro?
He'll tell you everything you need to know.
“The Stooges have come in my life very heavy in the past year and a half. When I got sick, I couldn't play for a long time, but I had started with D. Boon when I was 13 and had not stopped up to that point. When I stopped playing, I had tubes in me, and I really couldn't do it—I was really weak, had no coordination. So as a therapy thing, I started playing the Stooges. There's not many chord changes—it's all about feel, and it helped me build my strength, build my dexterity. Because I don't think memory is kept in the head, with this kind of stuff—it's right in the muscles, so when you don't use it . . .
“So We Go Speedro and the Stooges: I asked J Mascis—this was right when I started to get out of bed; my skin was still yellow, but the holes from the surgery were closing up—and we did three songs, and that's what got him to ask me to go on tour with him with [his band] the Fog. Tour ended with the van flipping over—a nightmare, but we had seatbelts. . . . But we went through the U.S. twice, and the second leg started in Texas, and [Stooges guitarist] Ron Asheton came down, and I got to make an album with him. It was amazing, like meeting Albert Bouchard from Blue Oyster Cult. When me and D. Boon were boys, we never imagined we'd meet these people. It's punk rock—it changed a lot of stuff, and it's still what I belong to.
“The two guys I'm playing with now [Adam Gaxiola and Jerry Trebotic] are Pedro to the core—longshoremen, even. It's a trip. These guys aren't young—like 30s or late 20s—but they didn't grow up on this stuff. For them, it's new—it shows you how remarkable the Stooges were. Their music really sounds contemporary. I remember people at the time writing about them and talking, just hating them—a lot of people hated that band in those days. The Stooges were just something else, and I feel proud to be doing them.
“For my childhood, really going back —I'm a young punk rocker, this is when I first got the bass—when I first heard the bass, I couldn't hear what it was on records. So I kind of play like that—the Stooges' [bassist] Dave Alexander was a wonderful player, a rubbery sound, made it wide in the track. I really revert back to my younger years. Music is different nowadays; it's way more accessible to people. You used to buy your instruments in those days when they sold records, or maybe at Thrifty, or Tesco's—I'm not saying it was better, but you were more ignorant longer. There wasn't info trading around—that's where I learned about punk, with fanzines and when bands stayed at peoples' houses. I didn't even know anyone who played bass—there was one guy in high school who played, but he was kind of intimidating —so I had to make it all up. So I played with D. Boon, who was a very adventurous player, and he left a lot of space for me.
“Anyway, We Go Speedro: I'm really proud of my Pedro connections. I was a meter reader in Long Beach; never worked in OC—played a bunch there. There's a weird stigma to OC, like everybody's supposed to start making fun of it. But young people, you got no choice where you live—you open your eyes, and you're in Navy housing. I remember playing Night Moves or Ichabod's and thinking, 'You know what? It takes balls to search out a thing here—give people here some credit.' And things change: Dornan lost, towns are changing that stereotype. Though I had a funny gig with J [Mascis] at the House of Blues, and it was part of Disneyland—so there's some kind of stereotypes that just get reinforced!
“I always enjoyed playing OC. I never bummed on it. Never. It's a little kind of different gig, kind of like playing a small town on tour. Like Kearney, Nebraska. A big theory of my music, you know, is to make the stage safe for you to be insane and try stuff and don't worry about anything else. We talk about things important to ourselves. I remember in the [pre-Minutemen] Reactionaries and the first Minutemen, we had a lot of songs about Pedro, and we went up to the Hollywood scene, and they never heard of Pedro. For me, coming from Virginia, that was my life for years—and no one knows about it. So I spray-painted 'PEDRO' on my bass —people only here call it that, so everyone thought it was my name. It's a test if people live here—you know if they say, 'Pay-dro,” they've never been here; they're from, like, HB or something.
“Pedro in the old days, there was always some punks in the old days, but it wasn't that big. We kind of stuck together. I always thought of Pedro as a thermos bottle—it wasn't that trendy in those days, still had kind of a stoner '70s thing. I don't see many people from the old days, but that's okay. Nowadays, when I see someone I consider new, they've been into it for 10 years. It's not that new, but it is in my mind because I don't remember them from when I was new. But like Joey Ramone said about punk, there was always room. If people think you don't belong, come over here. And I'm proud to be a part of it.”
We Go Speedro performs at a benefit for an all San Pedro compilation CD with 400 Blows, Fishcamp, Toys That Kill and the Rolling Blackouts at Que Sera, 1923 E. 7th St., Long Beach, (562) 599-6170. Sat., 8:30 p.m. $5. 21+.