Tuesday, November 18
One of Mike Watt's favorite touring proverbs is, "If ya ain't playin', you're payin'." Subsequently, the 45-city tour for his adventurous new punk rock opera, Contemplating the Engine Room (Columbia), includes only three days off. "I don't take one penny of tour support from the label," says Watt. "I sell my own shirts. There's a heavy sissy factor with a lot of bands, like touring should be a real pampered thing, but this life ain't that hard. Maybe those other bands need material they believe in more. I really want to play this material for people who haven't heard it. This is opportunity. This is a springboard."
Part of Watt's enthusiasm for Contemplating the Engine Room is no doubt derived from the album's quasi-autobiographical nature. Watt utilizes his stint in the Minutemen (perhaps the most limitlessly innovative punk band of the Eighties) and his father's career in the Navy as simultaneous elements in a translucent 24-hour narrative tinged with punk rock, free jazz, and folk. "My father was 20 years in the engine room," says Watt. "He was from a little farm town called Red Bluff. In 1956, the way for him to get out and see the world was to join the Navy. And I kind of thought of him joining the Navy like me, D. Boon, and Georgie [Hurley] getting in that van."
Along with Hüsker Dü, Black Flag, and the Meat Puppets, the Minutemen turned SST Records into the mecca of loyal opposition to the stagnant state of pop music. The band came to a tragic end in 1985 when guitarist/vocalist D. Boon died in a car accident. Contemplating the Engine Room is the first time Watt has addressed Boon's death in music. "In a way, I wanted to say `thank you,'" he says. "Not just to D. Boon, but even to that whole scene, because that little culture is what made me who I am."
Watt will be performing Contemplating the Engine Room in its entirety (along with a handful of other tunes) with "the Black Gang Crew" -- drummer Steve Hodges and guitarist Joe Baiza. The stylistic diversity of the piece coupled with its warm narrative flow should make for an invigorating evening. "As the record goes on, I try to make the style of the music go with your brain," Watt says. "The engine's really a metaphor for your head -- everyone has an engine room." -- Greg Beets