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When Mike Watt covered Blue Öyster Cult with Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl—a DM premiere
11.03.2016
08:59 am
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21 years ago, after a decade and a half as the bassist in legendary underground trios the Minutemen and fIREHOSE, Mike Watt released his first album under his own name, and it was a very big deal. Ball-Hog or Tugboat? saw Watt without a band for the first time ever, and so to compensate, Watt made the album with basically everyone. Almost 50 musicians guested on the LP, including members of Sonic Youth, the Meat Puppets, Jane’s Addiction, Pearl Jam, Nirvana… Like I said, it was a very big deal.

With an all-star roster of players and a major label releasing it, the album got hyped to the moon and back, and the tour that followed attracted similar attention, as Watt’s backing band was made up of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Nirvana’s Dave Grohl and Pat Smear, less than a year after that band’s premature end in the wake of singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain’s suicide. And as if having backing musicians from two of the biggest bands in the world weren’t enough, those musicians’ new bands were Watt’s opening acts. Vedder was giving a guitar assist to the superb band Hovercraft, who were led by Beth Liebling, Vedder’s wife at the time. The other opener was a brand new concern featuring Grohl, Smear, and members of Sunny Day Real Estate, who went on to do quite well despite adopting the preposterous name “Foo Fighters.”

While video of the tour can be found if you dig long enough, there was, inexplicably, no live album ever made of that touring lineup. That’s about to be rectified at long last with the release of Ring Spiel Tour ‘95. The album is a document of the tour’s stop at the Metro in Chicago, and is scheduled for release on November 11.

One of the album’s tracks is a song that Watt has been playing since his childhood—“The Red and the Black” by Blue Öyster Cult. The lineup is Watt on bass and vocals, Vedder and Grohl on guitar, and SunnyDay/Foo’s William Goldsmith on drums. It’s DM’s pleasure to preview that cut for you today, and we got an earful from Watt about Ball-Hog or Tugboat?, the Ring Spiel tour, and “The Red and the Black.”

The whole idea of Ball Hog or Tugboat was OK, I was gonna make this record using my own name so you know who to blame. The idea was “what does the bass player do?” Is it like right field in little league? There’s something about the bass—are you trying to be fake lead guitar or are you the tugboat?

All these guys on the record, I didn’t practice with them, really. The metaphor was kinda the wrestling ring—that’s why the live record is called Ring Spiel. The only guy I really practiced with was Nels Cline. I just had cats come in. My theory was if the bass player knew the song, anybody could come play drums, or sing, or play guitar, you know what I mean? If the bass line drops out the whole tune falls apart, it’s that fundamental. But it can lead to a lot of openness in collaboration because it has limitations the leave a lot of room for other cats, and once you get them on board with their parts then you can feel it. The whole thing is you set things in motion. I get my part together, but I don’t realize the song, I want it kinda unfinished so the collaborators come in. That’s what I was testing out 21 years ago making Ball Hog or Tugboat.

“The Red and the Black” is very intense, very emotional to me. Basically it’s the older Blue Oyster Cult song “I’m On The Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep” from the first album, but just the last riff, and some A&R guy told them just to do that lick for a whole song! It’s about a guy running from the Canadian Mounties, their uniforms are red and black. So me and d. boon knew it from Tyranny and Mutation, that second album, we played it as boys, 13 years old. We learned to play on that song, it was our primer. Almost every band I did played it. I got to play it with Bloom and Buck Dharma a couple years ago!

 
Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Ron Kretsch
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11.03.2016
08:59 am
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‘Records Collecting Dust’: New doc on collecting vinyl with Jello Biafra and other fanatatics


 
As record collecting’s resurgence continues to grow, so does the sub-industry of proffering opinions about the phenomenon. Annual pro- and anti-Record Store Day think pieces seem to proliferate at a faster pace than vinyl sales themselves, the photo book Dust & Grooves is slated for a third printing this summer, and documentary films on the vinyl collecting hobby are growing in number, as well. That micro-genre’s 21st Century godfather is 2000’s Vinyl, noteworthy for predating the vinyl renaissance by several years, also noteworthy for painting a dismal picture of record collectors as sad old men who, having failed to connect with human beings in their pitiable lives, turn to hoarding media to fill an emotional gap or grasp at a sense of purpose. I frankly and flatly reject the implication that a love of collecting music lumps one in with doleful and socially isolated alterkakers who need suicide watch more than they need turntables. In mitigation, Atom Egoyan and Harvey Pekar are among the collectors interviewed, and that’s damn cool. Watch it here, if you like.

A more recent offering, 2008’s I Need That Record! offers a view of the obsession from a different sociological perspective, looking at the thinning of ranks in indie record stores (that retail niche has obviously rebounded since), seeking input from indie-famous crate diggers like Ian MacKaye and Thurston Moore, with a helping of righteous corporation-slapping from Noam Chomsky. And it offers a much more upbeat view of the collector.

And there is a new contender: Riot House has released musician Jason Blackmore’s (Sirhan Sirhan, Molly McGuire) hour-long Records Collecting Dust, which asks a laundry list of punk and indie luminaries questions like “what was the first record you bought?” “What was the last record you bought?” “If there was a gun to your head and you had to pare your collection down to five albums, what would they be?” It’s a really fun watch, and not just for the trainspotting. It’s a gas to see Keith Morris extol the virtues of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, to see Jello Biafra wax rhapsodic about Space Ritual, Mike Watt raving about American Woman, and David Yow talking about baffling his teacher and fellow schoolkids when he brought the Beatles’ trippy, bluesy b-side “For You Blue” to show and tell. One truly wonderful sequence joins Rocket From the Crypt/Drive Like Jehu/Hot Snakes guitarist John “Speedo” Reis in showing off his favorite children’s LPs on a toy turntable, and there’s even a segment with Dangerous Minds’ own Howie Pyro. I always enjoy tales of musical discovery, all the more so when they’re told by people who’ve made the music that warped me, and Records Collecting Dust is FULL of that, plus live performances by Jello Biafra & the Guantanamo School of Medicine, the Locust, and Big Business.
 

 
Though enjoyable, the film has its imperfections. It suffers from an abiding and ultimately irritating L.A.-centrism. I’d love to hear more tales of life-changing finds from people who hail from more culturally isolated areas, and so couldn’t just go to someplace like Wherehouse or Licorice Pizza whenever they felt like it, and had to really work for their scores. One other thing screamed out at me, though it’s not a flaw in the film as such, but more a consequence of the hobby’s demographic: the levels of vinyl-stockpiling depicted seem overwhelmingly to be a male phenomenon, so out of 36 interviewees listed in the credits, exactly two women appear, namely former Black Flag bassist Kira Roessler, and Frontier Records’ Lisa Fancher. Roessler makes one of the funniest observations in the whole doc when she describes how record stores magically cause men to shop in a manner stereotypically associated with women.

Another of the film’s truly brilliant moments is this fabulous sermon from Jello Biafra, which I’ve taken the liberty of transcribing in its entirety, because I 100% agree with every damn word of it:

I think part of the magic that vinyl, and records, and blundering into cool music you never knew existed still holds for me. I’m still a fan, and keep in mind “fan” comes from the word “fanatic.” I love to keep exploring, and even though I’ve got way too many records, I never buy one unless I intend to listen to it when I get home—I don’t always have time to listen to ‘em all now, but that’s the idea. I don’t buy it to scam or speculate, I buy it to listen to it. And there, that way, I never run out of cool music to listen to. I have no patience for these people who say “Oh, the whole scene died when Darby Crash died,” or “yeah, there’s no good bands anymore.” WROOOOOONG. Good sounds are where you find it so start looking, OK? Don’t be afraid to blunder into something cool. You never know what it might do to your life, or even your own music, or your band may finally start sounding different from all the other bands you like.

Records Collecting Dust began screening in California this month. Remaining showings though March are listed on its web page . If you’re on the fence about checking it out, perhaps these trailers will help nudge you one way or the other.
 

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Ron Kretsch
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01.26.2015
11:54 am
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Mike Watt is still on the move with Il Sogno del Marinaio: an exclusive video premiere
08.12.2014
12:03 pm
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30 years ago, Minutemen bassist Mike Watt famously wrote “Our band could be your life” as the first line in the song “History Lesson—Part II.” That line would years later become the title of Michael Azerrad’s essential book on the ‘80s rock underground, so perfectly and succinctly did it capture the essence of how that decade’s punks flew in the face of notions that artists were delicately constituted monastics who’d gift us with dewdrops of beauty if we’d but wait at their feet. Watt and his contemporaries’ conception of the artist was much more radically workmanlike—he refers to it as “Jamming Econo”—you do what you have to do to get your art made, period. Gigs are why you exist, so you don’t decline or cancel them lightly. Oops, the next one’s a 15 hour drive? Better get the van loaded and grab some bottles to pee in, then, ‘cuz we’re going all night.

To his enduring credit, Watt has spent the last three decades fully living up to the example he set as a young man. Though a van accident tragically took the life of Minutemen guitarist D. Boon in 1985, Watt soldiered on in the bands fIREHOSE and Dos. He did guest turns with Saccharine Trust, Sonic/Ciccone Youth, Porno For Pyros, and countless others, and he launched a heavy-friends solo career in 1995 with the LP Ball-Hog or Tugboat?. He survived an alarming health crisis to stay active in the 21st Century, and was the lucky bastard who got tapped to fill the Dave Alexander slot when the Stooges reunited in 2003. He’s had an enviable career, because he just never stops.
 

 
In between all the bigger projects, Watt seems to be constantly forming and/or joining bands of various lifespans, a notable example of which is Il Sogno Del Marinaio (“The Sailor’s Dream”—nautical themes abound in Watt’s oeuvre) with Italian musicians Andrea Belfi and Stefano Pilia. The band formed in 2009 and recorded its debut album La Busta Gialla a mere three days later, but the album didn’t see release until 2013. In that long downtime, Belfi and Pilia invited guest musicians to fill out the LP, resulting in a collection of songs that are more constructed than performed. The forthcoming Canto Secondo remedies that—it’s clearly a band’s album, and it may surprise older Watt fans who haven’t kept up with him, as it often pushes into post-rock territory. There are strong notes of Gastr Del Sol, and some passages even recall The Sea and Cake or Red-era King Crimson. It’s really good stuff. Unfortunately, questions we emailed to Belfi and Pilia remain unanswered as of publication time, but Watt was kind enough to spare the time to speak with us about the band:

Watt: Stefano was in the boat with me in 2005 [Stefano Pilia was Watt’s road manager for part of a 2005 European tour. In keeping with Watt’s marine obsession, he refers to his tour van as “the boat.”—DM] and I didn’t even know he played. Then in 2009 I got an invite to come and play a festival with him and his drummer buddy Andrea. I said “OK, I’ll come over there, but why don’t we do five or six gigs, if we’re gonna get the stuff up?” I remember him, riding around with me for the Italian gigs, and he was really a neat cat, and I didn’t know he played, but he had the cojones to just call me up to start a band!

I try, getting into middle age, to record now as much as possible. I’m way into gigs, I’m still way about being in the moment, but I’m starting to think about leaving stuff behind a little more. So I say to him, “Look, we’re going to learn this stuff, we’re going to play a few gigs? In the middle of it, let’s record an album!” And they were into it, so we did it. It cooks, too, man—it cooks for me, everybody over there cooks for me. So that’s how that was made. We didn’t have it come out until we could tour. Different continents, three different schedules, so there was a three, four year lag between its being made and its coming out. So in the meantime, those cats had a bunch of guests play on it, and I sent some files from San Pedro. It was more like that, whereas the second one Canto Secondo, it was just the three of us in a farmhouse—actually the studio’s in a barn, we stayed in the farmhouse next to it—for eight days. Also, we had a tour under our belt, so the band’s got more of a voice of its own, more of an identity than on the first one that we made after three days! But you can only do your first album once, you know? We didn’t want a rerun of the first one, so this is more of an organic step.

You know, this band, I gotta tell ya, it feels a lot like going back to the Minutemen or Dos, there’s more collaboration. With these other bands, I’m asking my bandmates in the Secondmen, Missingmen, to take direction. In the Stooges, obviously they’re giving me direction. So this is like a revival of collaboration for me. These guys aren’t just players, they’re also composers. They’re 21 years younger, they went to music school, in a way I’m the student, which is all right, my middle aged philosophy is everybody’s got something to teach you! And Stefano and Andrea are pretty deep about music, they can do weird meters…

DM: Yeah, I’d be interested to know what they’re into. On Canto Secondo I hear a lot of post-rock influences in the guitar playing, like Pell Mell and Gastr Del Sol…

Watt: Do you know, those two guys play with [Gastr Del Sol honcho] David Grubbs! Weirdest coincidence—I was playing with Jim O’Rourke [also of GDS, among many, many other wonderful projects], and I end up in a band with the people playing with the other guy in Gastr Del Sol! They’re in a trio called Belfi/Grubbs/Pilia. So yeah, both guys are in Grubbs’ trio as well as playing with me. And I know Andrea’s way into Soft Machine and Robert Wyatt, too, and that’s from way before he was born. The young people these days are deep, they know a lot. Maybe because of the internet, but there’s also less prejudice. People are more open-minded. They don’t care what time it was from. When I was a teenager there was a lot of prejudice about when something came from. Like if it was older people wouldn’t want to hear it.

DM: Yeah, punk and hardcore had that whole “year zero” thing. I remember from the ‘80s—I’m younger than you, but I still remember that, like, tribalism. I think the internet helped some of that go away. Now that everything can be had all at once, things don’t have to be so tribal because those distinctions disappear. If you like something, cool, it doesn’t have to be the entire basis of your identity.

Watt: Yeah, and in the ‘70s it was narcissistic. No one wanted to hear anything five years old. I saw that Woodstock movie [unintelligible] and people were booing! “This is my DAD’S music!” People don’t do that anymore. That was a hung up generation. They weren’t really the movers and shakers of the ‘60s, but they were still pretty full of themselves ‘cuz they were still young and beautiful. Tribes, they can be kind of inbred. When I think about the old days of punk in the U.S., it was small, you could really circle the wagons! We were kind of tight that way, but on the other hand, all that branding, that idea that punk was a sound, a style of music instead of a state of mind—I thought yeah, that could improve. And it DID.

 

 
Il Sogno Del Marinaio’s Canto Secondo is due out in late August, 2014. The record will be supported by a tour of 53 shows in as many days. The new video from the album is called “Il Songo Del Fienile” (“Dream of the Barn,” I think), and we at DM are proud to debut it here.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Sonic Youth and Mike Watt vs Madonna
Mike Watt stars in new Sweet Apple video

Posted by Ron Kretsch
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08.12.2014
12:03 pm
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Mike Watt stars in new Sweet Apple video: a DM exclusive premiere


 
Dangerous Minds is proud to present the exclusive premiere of the new Sweet Apple video, “Let’s Take the Same Plane.”
 

 
Sweet Apple is the indie supergroup formed by J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr, Dave Sweetapple of Witch, and Tim Parnin and John Petkovic of Cobra Verde. Their current album, The Golden Age Of Glitter, is earning raves, and “Let’s Take the Same Plane” is the third of a planned six videos to complement it. (You can see the first two in this DM post from April.) This one stars Minutemen/Firehose bassist and stalwart rock lifer Mike Watt as a kayaker launching his boat and roaming out into the Pacific, shot on the same San Pedro beach where Watt took photos for his book On and Off Bass. And that’s pretty much it. That’s all it needs to be! It’s a disarmingly poignant video for the album’s most contemplative song, a lonely acoustic number with gorgeous backup vocals from the Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan and Rachel Haden of the Rentals and That Dog.

Here’s the video. Enjoy.
 

 
Mike Watt is currently a member of il sogno del marinaio, who will be touring this fall. Dates are listed at his web page.

Posted by Ron Kretsch
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06.09.2014
10:47 am
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Sonic Youth and Mike Watt vs Madonna


 
I wish more of the discussion that takes place about Sonic Youth would bring that band’s collective sense of humor to bear. Yes, they are of course very very important, so talk of their innovative early days is all alternate tunings, noise, and no-wave nihilism. Their later days, it’s all blah blah blah elder statesmen of alternative rock—which, again, yeah, they absolutely were, but they’ve done some funny, funny shit that’s every bit as praiseworthy. Last fall, we showed you their preposterous video “Lou Believers,” but there’s much more to share, so let’s get on with it, shall we?
 

 
In 1986, Sonic Youth teamed up with Minutemen/fIREHOSE bass player Mike Watt for a Madonna covers 7”. Having temporarily re-dubbed the band “Ciccone Youth” in a nod to Madonna’s disused surname, they recorded ridiculous travesties of the pop icon’s hits “Burnin’ Up” and “Into The Groove” (renamed “Into the Groovy”), with the latter introduced by way of “Tuff Titty Rap,” which gave Thurston Moore a fine forum in which to be a complete fucking goofball for 40 seconds.
 

 

 

 

 
The band was giving vent to a bizarre Madonna obsession in other ways at the time—on their EVOL LP, released the same year, they listed the song “Expressway to Yr Skull” as “Madonna, Sean and Me” on the album cover, and as “The Crucifixion of Sean Penn” on the lyric sheet. Two years later, Ciccone Youth expanded the gag to a full album’s worth of, um, stuff. The Whitey Album included all three tracks from the single, plus a mix of the inane (“Two Cool Rock Chicks Listening to NEU!,” “Silence,” both of which are exactly as stated by the titles), some material that recalled SY’s experimental early days before they fully embraced pop song structures, a bit of spoken word, and a version of “Addicted to Love” (about which, previously on DM, enjoy all the Robert Palmer white-knights in the comments). Check out Dave Markey’s video for the Whitey cut “Macbeth.”
 

 
The Whitey Album is singular in the Sonic Youth catalog—the only other SY release I can think of that approaches its pure diverse weirdness is the Master=Dik E.P., released six months earlier, the title track of which just happens to be laden with “Ciccone” references. Six months later and the goofing off would be over. In October of 1988, Sonic Youth would release their 2XLP masterwork Daydream Nation, which left zero room for doubt that the band belonged in the pantheon of art-rock’s greats. Enjoy a bonus video of that album’s “Silver Rocket,” from a STUNNING network TV performance on the far too short-lived Night Music.
 

 
Big hat tip to Rust Belt Hammer for inspiring this post.

Posted by Ron Kretsch
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05.09.2014
11:05 am
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D. Boon lives! The Minutemen documentary “We Jam Econo”

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As Brad noted last year at this time, it behooves us to remember D. Boon, guitarist and singer for one of L.A.’s most innovative punk bands The Minutemen. His death after a van crash in Arizona 25 years ago today shook the entire L.A. scene, and nothing was the same. But the influence of the band survives and thrives, in no small part due to We Jam Econo, the Minutemen documentary directed by Tim Irwin. Here’s part one—if you like it, buy the DVD!
 

 
Get: We Jam Econo - The Story of the Minutemen [DVD]

 

Posted by Ron Nachmann
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12.22.2010
11:31 am
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