To many who came up in the ’80s punk scene or ’90s alt-rock explosion, Mike Watt remains a folk hero. His influential bass playing, with The Minutemen and Firehose, inspired countless bands from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Fugazi, and his avuncular blue-collar hipster persona helped send others, like Sonic Youth and Nirvana, into Econoline vans to find their kindred spirits.
Watt is currently taking a break from playing alongside Iggy Pop in The Stooges to tour with his solo band. The famously productive 54-year-old recently participated in four different collaborative albums and a Firehose reunion; his second book, “On and Off Bass,” a collection of photos, poems and prose, was released in May.
The book was inspired by his early morning routine: Seven days a week, he’s pedaling his bicycle around his lifelong home of San Pedro, Calif., or paddling a kayak. “I like the early morning, when no one else is out: ‘Wow, this all belongs to me.’ But I also like the potential — what is to come?”
LEO: How did this book happen?
Mike Watt: The first thing was digital cameras. When these things came along, yeah, you just deleted the lame ones (laughs) and went for it. The other thing was, I started to ride a bike again, after 22 years. Some cat was moving, sold me a 10-speed for $5. I remember seeing these in people’s pads growing up, not using them, just using ’em like fuckin’ clothes racks. I figured, “I’m not gonna let that happen, I’m gonna peddle again.”
My town is Pedro, San Pedro, it’s the harbor of Los Angeles. So we got a weird mix of nature and industry. Early in the morning, when I rode, not as many people would see me fall down — which I did a lot at first — but I also learned to look and listen. It started hurting my knees, so a few years in, I started kayaking to break it up. I was born with bad knees and shit.
The trippy thing about the pictures is, in both situations, you can’t really put together the shots. They just come to you; you’re lucky enough to capture them. You learn to wait. All this stuff that’s much different from riding in the car, being in your own world, a lot of control over your own environment.
Last year, there was an art show, in Santa Monica at Track 16, where they picked 35 of my thousands of pictures to put up there. I’d never seen them printed. Soon after that show, Three Rooms publishing in New York asked to put a book out.
They picked out 30 other pictures and then some diary — because I write diaries on tour. They’re impossible to re-read, ’cause they’re embarrassing as hell. But it gives me focus when I’m doing them, in the moment. I told them, “You pick some.”
So that’s what the book is. The editor picking little spiels, and then Track 16 picking these pictures. They’re all my works, but they kinda, I don’t know, distilled them according to their … journey of life (laughs).
Obviously, I love sunrises and pelicans! (laughs) When I told Ig (Iggy Pop) about it, he laughed. But it’s genuine. What do I call them? … “eye gifts,” you know? It’s like when you’re a boy and you just play to play. You’re just out there to see what happens, while you’re piddling and peddling.
It’s being connected, where in other ways we’re not so connected, through devices and machinery, social paradigms, you know? It’s just being there and witnessing. I love it! I don’t think it’s better, it’s just part of the whole … thing. Whatever my journey is.
And music remains at the forefront of Watt’s journey. “I’m into my trios, playing with two guys live, like the Minutemen. There’s always going to be that for me, that same, familiar thing. That old power-trio thing. And traveling around in the boat (his slang for the tour van), working the towns … I like that part, too. But then there’s the parts I didn’t do as a younger man, like wild collaborations. I was more afraid then (laughs). I was a lot more (afraid).”
Mike Watt + the Missing Men with Old Baby
Tuesday, Oct. 23
2100 S. Preston St.
$12; 9 p.m.