Mike Watt knows more about your scene than you do.
No offense, that’s just the way it is. And it’s the same for folks in cities and college towns across the country. Watt has spent more than 25 years “touring econo”––Watt parlance for punk-rock touring in a drive-it-yourself van, no roadies or hangers-on needed. And that time taught him a lot about America’s underground music scene. Chatting about his years on the road, Watt name-drops music venues shuttered two decades ago, favorite restaurants in Bumfuck, Kansas and nearby natural wonders from almost anywhere he’s rocked his “thud staff” (Watt parlance for his bass).
Tom Watson, Mike Watt and Raul Morales will play Bar Deluxe May 19 as Mike Watt & the Missingmen
When it comes to Salt Lake City and Utah, Watt has plenty of material for his memory bank, and for his ongoing tour diaries kept online at Mike Watt’s Hoot Page (hootpage.com).
He played long-gone downtown storefronts with The Minutemen, his childhood trio formed with best friend D. Boon (not to mention true West Coast punk legends). He played Speedway Cafe and The Saltair leading fIREHOSE from the indie ranks to a major label. And as a solo act, J Mascis sidekick and member of oddball jam-banders Banyan and the resurrected Stooges, he’s played everywhere from the Zephyr Club to Bar Deluxe, Liquid Joe’s to the ridiculous sub-zero “Bud World” outside at the Gallivan Center during the 2002 Winter Olympics.
“Because of where it is, Salt Lake City has always been on the map for us,” Watt said in an interview shortly before launching his Prac’n the 3rd Opera Tour, stopping in Salt Lake City May 19. “If you’re coming out of the Northwest, there’s not a lot on the way to Denver. That’s why Boise gets a lot of gigs. And Salt Lake City goes WAY back before Boise. Black Flag was always playing there. And fuck, I’ve always said, if there’s a scene, play it! We go way back playing there. I always dug it.”
“There’s all this natural beauty in Utah, like Zion and Bryce Canyon. People have these weird concepts, like everybody in Utah is crazy. They have weird notions. I think it’s TV-fed, not personal experience. Every place has nuts—I don’t think Utah has all of them.”
Watt chatted with SLUG by phone from his home in San Pedro, Calif., and it happened to be D. Boon’s birthday—the former Minutemen guitarist/singer would have been 51. Watt’s best friend and bandmate was killed in December 1985 in a van accident, and everything Watt’s done since, musically speaking, has been dedicated to Boon.
Watt started talking about his friend before a question was asked.
Watt: This morning I went pedaling by the apartment where D. Boon lived when we started The Minutemen. I went and took pictures of that house again. I like to think of him on his birthday more than on the day he got killed. That’s a heavier day. I’m feeling weird now, but part of that is, in 16 days I’ve got tour.
SLUG: Is it harder to motivate to tour as you get older?
Watt: I’ve always had a little anxiety. So many things can go wrong on a tour. The main thing is, I want to get Tom [Watson, guitar] and Raul [Morales, drums] home safe. Once you get into the tour and it becomes day-to-day, it’s not as bad. But there’s some apprehension at first, and I’ve been doing this many, many years.
SLUG: Has touring changed a lot for you through the years?
Watt: It’s every day. The way I tour is, it’s no days off. If you ain’t playin’, you’re payin’. And as long as you’re out there, you might as well get as many people to see you play as you can. There are a lot of things you can say about the U.S.—it’s fucking big! So we try to play as many places as we can. What I’ve learned from touring is, in the spring, you want to get out of the south before it gets too hot. In the fall, it’s the opposite. You want to get out of the north before it gets too cold. The vaudeville guys probably figured this stuff out years ago. I remember the first Minutemen tour on our own in ‘84, we went in the summer. It was like a slaughter. We were so sweaty. We cut our heads bald––we thought that would help––and it did a little bit. We learned by doing.