Mike Watt is still on the move with Il Sogno del Marinaio: an exclusive video premiere
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Mike Watt
Il Sogno del Marinaio

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 | Leave a comment
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 | Leave a comment
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 | Leave a comment
D. Boon lives! The Minutemen documentary “We Jam Econo”

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 | Leave a comment