Mike Watt | Interview | Il Sogno Del Marinaio

Uncategorized June 11, 2024

Mike Watt | Interview | Il Sogno Del Marinaio

Mike Watt is a workingman’s musician. Since earning a reputation as one of the world’s most talented and creative bass players as a founding member of the seminal California punk band, the Minutemen, Watt has stayed busy with an overwhelming amount of projects.

Whether playing as a member of the legendary Detroit rockers, the Stooges, or composing his various operas, Watt injects his musical personality into everything he does. Look up Mike Watt on Wikipedia, and you’ll find a staggering number of albums, collaborations (or “collabs”) with the likes of Nels Cline and Dave Grohl, and involvement in too many bands (his own and others) to even keep track of.

Somehow, the 66-year-old bass player has managed to maintain this prolific output and keep his music exciting with his trademark style of unpredictable and complex punk-funk playing.

Watt’s current project – one of many he has going at any given time – is no exception. Il sogno del marinaio, which means “the sailor’s dream” in Italian, finds him teaming up once again with Andrea Belfi and Stefano Pilia, a drummer and guitarist from Italy he connected with and released an album, ‘La Busta Gialla,’ in 2009. The chemistry in the trio worked well enough both onstage and in the studio that they decided to team up again for another album, the recently released Canto Secondo, aptly translated to “second song.” Each musician brought their own tracks to the table, giving the album a more authentic sense of collaboration. The album as a whole feels experimental and exploratory, but still flows along with Watt’s “econo” jamming. Canto Secondo can drift into strange territory as the musicians stretch out and search for new possibilities, but for longtime fans of Mike Watt, it is yet another interesting project from this titan of bass.

Photo by Alfred Jansen

“There’s good and bad about every era”

The band name Il Sogno Del Marinaio is something you came up with. It’s Italian because your mother is Italian, and it refers to the marine because your father was in the marine. The mix of those two elements is…well…basically…you. So can you tell me: in what kind of family did you grow up? How do you remember your childhood? What was it like to grow up in San Pedro? Who were your parents? Was your mother a “first-generation immigrant”? Did you often go back to Italy as a child?

Mike Watt: I think you’re confused. My ma’s people came from Italy, yes, but she was born in the U.S. – her grandparents from her ma’s side came from the Dolomite part, her grandparents from her pop’s side came from Sicilia. My pop’s ma’s ma came from Denmark. My pop’s pop was from Scottish people (Ulster Scot though – that’s why they left I learned: too much violence) but came a long time ago to the U.S., first to Kentucky and then to Arkansas. So I’m a quarter Scot, quarter Dane, half Italian but NOT a first-generation immigrant to the U.S. – so sorry for the confusion! I was born in Virginia (Portsmouth) and lived there twice (second time in Norfolk), I came to San Pedro, California when I was nine (1966) cuz my pop was a machinist mate (worked in the engine room, nuclear ones – on the USS Long Beach and USS Enterprise) in the navy (made it to chief petty officer) and Vietnam was closer.

Do you think the social thing is something you got from your mother’s Italian side and the traveling thing is something you got from your father’s (Navy) side?

My pop did many “tours” in the navy, most of them during the Vietnam war. I used his life in the navy as a parallel to talk about the minutemen in my first opera (“contemplating the engine room”). I do most of my cooking myself, and I think my ma inspired me w/that. she was also interested in the arts.

You grew up in the 70s. I remember you wrote a song called ‘Against’ the 70s’. What was wrong with the 70s?

My teen years were in the 70s (I was thirteen at the end of 1970), but I wrote the song you referred to thinking about that time the “happy days” television series started, and my pop saw and told me “those were NOT “happy days” – that’s a phony bullshit 50’s fairytale” and it made me think about what was happening in the 1990s. Look, I think lots of the 1970s were narcissistic, but then I also think jive nostalgia can big time feed that. “Speaking as a child of the 70s” is one line I wrote in it… I like superimposing parallel lines of thoughts in some of my work. You’re making things too simplistic for me cuz I think there’s good and bad about every era – actually for me that’s also too simplistic and shallow: reducing things down to “eras” which I see the same thing happening when people goosestep to the idea of “genres” in music or other artistic forms of expression.

“The closest note to me on stage is the drummer’s kick”

‘Terzo’ is the third album by Il Sogno Del Marinaio. Could you compare it to the two previous ones? Which elements did the band take from the previous albums, and what is new?

The biggest difference for me is the drummer cuz he’s a different man from Andrea Belfi, Paolo Mongardi. For me, this changes so much… the closest note to me on stage is the drummer’s kick. Also, the basic tracks were recorded in San Pedro, California and not Italy like our first two albums. The third big difference for me is Tim from Wales mixing it.

‘Terzo’ was recorded at Casa Hanzo in San Pedro and completed at Blindsun in Bologna. Can you tell me how you remember these recording sessions?

Bingo, you know part of the answer to the question you just asked except I think you’re wrong that it was “complete” in Bologna cuz it was mixed by Tim in Wales. Also, overdubs were just done in Bologna but in San Pedro, California also – all three of us added stuff to the basic tracks from our individual pads but for me, in my mind, Tim “completed” the album by mixing it in Wales. How do I remember recording the stuff at Casa Hanzo in my Pedro town? It was very challenging trying to play to stuff that was brought from Italy! I only brought two tunes and then later wrote words for one other. It’s kind of really fucked how people assume that Il Sogno Del Marinaio is somehow a “Mike Watt” band except for the fact I’m a contributing member of it. Stefano Pilia put it together in 2008. I try to do my share but I am not the shot-caller… it’s nothing like the missingmen or secondmen where I am the shot-caller… does this make sense to you?

Mike Watt on stage at “The Lodge Room” in Highland Park, CA on June 22, 2023 | Photo by Stevo Rood

There are references to Max Roach and The Fall in the song titles. Why? Could you explain this a bit to me?

These are not my titles, they came as “working titles” for the stuff both Stefano Pilia and Paolo Mongardi composed together in Bologna, Italy before coming to San Pedro, California.

Joeri Bruyninckx

Headline photo: Mike Watt backstage at “The Lodge Room” in Highland Park, CA on June 22, 2023 | Photo by Stevo Rood

June 12, 2024 at Le Vecteur (La Quille, Rue de Marcinelle 33, 6000 Charleroi, Belgique) | Mike Watt & Il Sogno Del Marinaio 

Il Sogno Del Marinaio Official Website / Facebook
Mike Watt Official Website / Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / YouTube
Red Parakeet Records Bandcamp

‘A Tribute to Miles Cooper Seaton’ by Il Sogno Del Marinaio

Mike Watt

Stefano Pilia interview

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *