After more than 30 years of playing music, renowned punk bassist Mike Watt might be indulged if he rested on his laurels. But with ongoing involvement in bands that includes the legendary Stooges and his own trio, The Missingmen, he shows no apparent interest in slowing down.
His new album, Hyphenated-Man, is his musical meditation on being a rocker in his 50s. A national tour supporting it 51 shows in 52 days brings him to The Conservatory on Tuesday.
Hyphenated-Man is the third in a string of concept albums Watt calls operas. While it is comprised of 30 short, punchy songs in the style of The Minutemen, his pioneering 80s punk band with D. Boon, he said it is not a look back.
I was thinking, I want this one to be right now. Yeah, middle-aged punk rocker but here I am, so why not write about that? So it wont have beginning-middle-end; itll be all in the moment, like someone put a mirror in my head and broke it into 30 pieces, Watt said.
Its song titles grew from his longtime fascination with the surreal creatures in the phantasmagorical paintings of artist Hieronymus Bosch, whose work Watt first encountered in an encyclopedia as a teenager before seeing them in person at Madrids Museo del Prado while on a 2005 Stooges tour.
As a kid I thought he was trippy and freaky, he said. At the Prado, backing up, it was like, Oh, look what he does: He makes one thing out of a bunch of little things, like a Minutemen record or a gig. With that reminder of his days in The Minutemen, coupled with his participation in a documentary on the group, titled We Jam Econo, Watt revisited his earlier bands music.
I had to listen to Minutemen again, he said. I didnt really listen to a lot of it after D. Boon was killed (in 1985) too down, yknow. But I was listening to it again because (the filmmakers) wanted me to do spiel and drive em around town and show em places. So Im listening and Im going, Whoa, I kinda like this. To avoid repeating the Minutemen style on Hyphenated-Man, Watt recorded his vocals and bass after Missingmen guitarist Tom Watson and drummer Raul Morales had recorded their parts.
I wanted to respect the energy and memory of D. Boon, and not rip off my old band, he said. So I thought the best way, Why not get rid of the only Minuteman? Then I went back a year later and put on the bass and the spiel, to keep if from being too Minutemen-y.
Accompanying that reverence is Watts firm belief that being a musician is an ongoing education.
One message that I hope comes out from this third opera is that everybodys got something to teach me, he said. Life is for learning, so if I can just get my bass in the right situation, challenge it enough, Im gonna learn something. Thats why I do this: Everybody can be a teacher to me.