Thursday, April 27, 2017

big walnuts yonder: an exclusive q&a with mike watt

DAVE RAYBURN: With members of Big Walnuts Yonder coming from such varied paths (The Minutemen, Deerhoof, Wilco, and Tera Melos) and with an age difference spanning thirty years, how did all of you manage to meet and come together on the same creative plane for this project?
MIKE WATT: the spark that got this proj going w/nick reinhart wanting to know about the guy who did guitar for my first opera ("contemplating the engine room" and the guitarman was nels cline) - he asked about him when first met and I said "you wanna know nels? then play w/nels!" and he said ok to my offer to set up a proj where I'd write a bunch of tunes on the bass to let there be enough room for them to form a dynamic dialog between him and nels. of course nels being nels, he agreed right away to it but asked for a drummer pick from nick and that turned out to be greg saunier which was a great thing cuz he's a good bud of nels and in fact the first time I saw deerhoof w/nels cuz he took me to the gig!

DAVE: How was material prepared and selected for the album’s three-day session in 2014?
WATT: so we had the four people for the proj and I figured best place to do it was w/tony maimone in brooklyn cuz not only do I love him and him also being a huge bass inspiration to me when he was pere ubu bassman, I had a little before recorded my third opera ("hyphenated-man") w/him and knew he was the cat to do it. now in early 2014 I wrote eight tunes and flowed them to nick, it was bass only. I was a little when surprised he cooked a bunch for them in advance cuz usually when I do that w/nels (give him tunes that are only bass), he waits for the moment we're recording so he bring his improvising stuff to bear and it's a righteous thing. so I thought whatever, the main point is nick and nels getting to know each other by playing w/each other these three days we planned to do it at studio g in july of 2014. oh, I asked both nels and greg to each bring in a tune that no one would hear in advance, just cuz. so, we came w/ten tunes and w/left after three days w/ten tunes. however, we find out later that mixing these ten were not the only stuff involved cuz nick had plans to put singing on all of them except nels' tune. he asked me to put singing on two in particular, writing lyrics for them also. now this was a surprise to us three but it's the way it happened. greg was very righteous in doing the mixing after tony did such a happening job tracking stuff. it was all this straightforward and pretty front-up. of course the spiels were added at our pads in the all the time between those three recording days and greg mixing starting about a year ago.

DAVE: The album carries a hyper-melodic continuity throughout. In tandem with that, vocals on the album appear audible but barely decipherable at times, tucked just under the top layer. Was there an intention to utilize vocals with more of an instrumental purpose than as a conveyor of lyrics?
WATT: I asked for that. it wasn't to hide anything but rather to let the dynamic of nick and nels playing together to really come through cuz this was the crux of the whole proj, I believed. everything else on the side a little bit even though greg played the drums so good. remember, when were recording this, vocals weren't in our minds except for maybe nick. I didn't wanna take away for that experience but at the same time, wanted nick to have his say w/the singing - I even agreed to sing and write lyrics for two myself, him picking which two I should do it for. the whole the vocal thing on the record is kind of an after-the-fact "producer" kind of thing. the only thing I wanted to make certain happen was that this proj had its own identity and speak for itself - I defended that the strongest when it came to "big picture" concepts. everyone was beautiful about it.

DAVE: I was immediately intrigued with the title of one track in particular. What can you tell me about "I Got Marty Feldman Eyes"?
WATT: the lyrics I wrote for that tune are actually about the recording of that tune. in the studio, I was trying to explain to greg what I was thinking of when this music in purely musical devices but my using a certain band as an example confused things so it seemed I was talking more about attitude or something not so musical and instead of blaming others, I took responsibility for that and hence you got those lyrics for those songs. like you got some crazy person trying to be serious explaining you something and you can't help but find that message underneath all the wack behavior. I know though he knew I was sincerely cuz goddamn if he didn't give the vibe exactly and play his ass off. much MUCH respect to greg saunier from me. I wasn't thinking of mel brooks in the chorus actually, I was thinking much more of kim carnes. 

DAVE: At times this self-titled release grows reminiscent of the drums/space sequence at Grateful Dead live shows but also brings to mind the sonically experimental qualities found in certain works by Trent Reznor. There are even those moments, as found in "Flare Star Phantom", where the sounds you collectively make would pass impressively as score for a number of early 70s underground fright flicks. Was there a common reference point that the band used to draw inspiration from?
WATT: I'm not that aware of a lot of work by the grateful dead or trent reznor but recognize them as very good musicians and I respect them big time for that. I know w/nels cline that we're always thinking of john coltrane - I gave everyone in the studio those three days a john coltrane pin so they wear it while we were recording. he's a huge inspiration to me... I like what I think he meant when he said something like "all musicians are looking for some kind of truth" - I really like that. another thing I was thinking about when I was my eight tunes for this proj was that both nick and nels are way into using effects pedals, buttloads of them. I think for sure that's one definite thing those two cats have in common. on the other hand greg uses a very sparse drum kit (not a bunch of toms and cymbals) and I use no effect pedals so there's that contrast. I actually don't know what kind of music nick listens to but he sure is an accomplished musician. nels and greg I know listen to fucking everything, there music knowledge is way fucking deep, truly.


DAVE: As each band member comes from pre-existing musical outfits with schedules all their own, is it impossible to think that Big Walnuts Yonder could ever converge and perform live (or dare I ask  tour), or is this strictly a studio experiment?
WATT: this is very difficult question for the reasons you state. it was envisioned as a studio proj, yes, a "summit" (or a "plummet) to get a conversation going. I know we're all busy but this like taking from the old bebop tradition of throwing together a jam in a way but it's documented w/this recording. it's a trippy little thing, w/a life of its own and I dig that. if we can bring it to people as a gig, that would be a mindblow too but I don't how to organize it.

DAVE: Where did the curious band name come from?
WATT: the name of the band comes from the fifth line of a poem called "begins with s" by richard Meltzer. richard meltzer is a big hero of mine, he wrote some lyrics for the blue oyster cult as well as prolly invented rock write.

DAVE: Might there be a sequel in the cards with this, or even a further morphed conglomeration of avant-garde artists?
WATT: I think this proj has an identity of its own and if you brought in other cats then it would be changed. remember the basic point of this proj: nick wanting to know nels. I think he could learn a lot more about him so yes, we could do another and maybe another big walnuts yonder album, us four who did the first one. I felt the bringing together of shit most sincere and was very glad to be a part of it.

DAVE: Who was responsible for the strikingly familiar cover art design onthis release?
WATT: raymond pettibon did the art for the cover. he's the man who first played me john coltrane way way back. he's learned me all kinds of shit. he did the cover of the first minutemen record too! we go back.

DAVE: Outside of making music, you've recently been busy with a podcast of your own (The Watt From Pedro Show) as well as finding yourself involved in the creation of a signature bass produced by Reverend Guitars, which was debuted earlier this year at the NAMM show. You even contributed to last year's West Coast punk rock memoir, Under The Big Black Sun, which garnered wide attention and landed the audiobook edition a Grammy nomination. Surely, you must have many great stories beyond the pioneering days of West Coast punk. Do you foresee yourself documenting the continuing adventures of Mike Watt in written form for public consumption?
WATT: I've done the watt from pedro show for sixteen years now, this upcoming may. it's my debt to the movement to let stuff that don't get heard heard. thewattplower bass is a proj these guys in toledo have been working on w/me for over five years, going back and forth w/prototypes and ideas - I wouldn't want my name on anything I wouldn’t use and I've been using this bass every gig now for over a year, I'm into it.

john doe (of x) asked me to write that chapter for his book on the so cal early days of the movement and I love john doe and so tried to do my best though some motherfucking editor asshole stuck in a bunch commas and other shit that I never put in which pissed me off big time but still I love john doe. as far as documenting stuff, I've been tour diaries that I put up on my hoot page for the last eighteen or so years - should've been doing it regular from gig one of minutmen but I'm a slow learner. I figure you put something on the internet, then it's published.


DAVE: “Big Walnuts Wonder” hits shops on May 5th on the Sargent House label just as you prepare to go out on the road yourself with Meat Puppets for a mini tour. What other projects are on tap once you return to your home base of San Pedro?
WATT: in july I go to memphis to record a panther burns album w/tav falco and larry mullins. I love both these guys and can't believe I get a chance to be on a panther burns album, crimony! in september/october I got a euro tour coming w/my trio w/two italian guys called il sogno del marinaio. it's fully collaborative trio and not like my opera bands - more like big walnuts yonder but we've done like four tours and two albums. I'm also getting together albums ready to record for both my secondmen and missingmen.

                                                                                on bass, watt

Special thanks to Mike Watt and Steve Dixon

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