Compared to his long musical career as co-founder of the Minutemen and pre-eminent bassist-for-hire — he’s worked with everyone from Iggy Pop to Kelly Clarkson — Mike Watt’s photography resume is short. Two years ago Santa Monica gallery Track 16 mounted an exhibition of Watt‘s photographs. Shortly thereafter, the folks at Three Rooms Press decided to publish a book out of the exhibit, and culled diary excerpts and poems from the massive, 1,500-page collection of musings on HootPage.com, self-described by Watt as “A site put up on the web by me to let folks know what’s up in my wack life.”
The resulting “photographic memoir,” Mike Watt: On and Off Bass (available for pre-order via Three Rooms through today), is a charming, well-shot document of a the legendary punk rocker’s photographic dabbling. It’s filled with nature and travel images, a peaceful world away from his constant touring. Watt was ridiculously courteous when MTVHive rang him to ask about the stories behind a few of the photos. “Thank you for calling up,” he said pleasantly. And when we asked if it was a good time to talk, he laughed. “I feel privileged, not burdened,” he said.
Watt first began taking pictures after getting back into bicycling after a 22-year break. Riding around his hometown of San Pedro, camera in hand, he felt compelled to document his home. Watt enjoyed the forgiving, mistake-free nature of digital photography, too. “I got into it with the start of these digital cameras, you know?” he tells Hive. “In the old days, when you bought the camera, that was the first installment. You had to buy all that film and develop it. But with digital, [you need] a little hard drive space, but mainly, you buy it once. You can delete all the shitty ones and really go for it, you know?”
Hive asked Watt to tell us the stories behind a few of his photographs, which reveal the bassist’s very un-wack love of sunrises and seaside wildlife.
“I’m having a fucking heart attack, because that’s the polar bear [plunge]. We’re talking California; I’ve done like eight of these. For example, this one’s 52 in the water, 53 in the air. So you might think maybe more honey bear, sugar bear. But for us, we ain’t acclimated, so it was a heart attack when I stepped in there. Of course, it’s a self portrait; I had the camera and I shot myself hollering. But, you know, I was happy to do it. It was a shock, though. People do that in Coney Island, and up in Wisconsin and Russia, and they cut holes in the ice. That would be more of a heart attack for me. But it’s a good way to start off the year.”
“That’s the angel’s gate. That’s the opening in the break water where I paddle my kayak into the sea and then back. They’re restoring it now.”
“One of ‘em’s preening. They pick in their feathers and shit like that. I thought what was neat was the blue tarp, which looks kinda marbled, but that’s actually all their shit. [Laughs.] Pelican’s have tons of it, man, and it’s just dripping down. But it kinda looks like marble. That’s the whole idea of these pictures; you don’t really set ‘em up. They just kinda come in the camera, and if you’re there and ready for it, you can capture it on the machine. But they’re a trippy kind of thing, you know?”
“That’s one of the things I like about morning, there’s this color, this orange yellow. Pedro is a harbor, so what you’re looking at there is a sunrise, and that’s coming over these cranes, these hammerheads. That’s what they load they container ships with. We got 250 of them. I think only Hong Kong and Singapore are bigger; we’re the third largest port in the world. Nature with the sun—there’s something about the sunrise, I don’t know. It’s just righteous. It’s possibility, what’s going to be done with this day. Potential. I just love it, even with these fucking machines. You were just asking about pelicans, but there’s also sea lions and dolphins. But in the meantime, there’s man’s little inferno factory, our industrial thing. I thought it was a nice juxtaposition.”