Mike Watt mastered the art of playing the bass in punk with his group the Minutemen and kept alternative rock weird with fIREHOSE. In recent years he's been playing with Iggy Pop's band the Stooges. In his downtime, he's also a pretty-serious photographer, and his new book of photography, Mike Watt: On and Off Bass, comes out today, May 1. He took many of the photos of his native San Pedro from his kayak; the book also contains bits of his poetry and diary entries. We spoke with him about the project, and you can see more exclusive photos from the book below.
“You cannot set up these shots,” says Watt. Indeed, his skill lies not in classical composition — although photo nerds will nonetheless find plenty to like in the book. Rather, Watt's strength comes from his ability to capture everyday scenes. His pictures make the mundane into the sublime. While Watt has traveled the world, this book focuses on his home base of San Pedro — “The locals just call it 'Pedro,' man,” he notes.
“These shots are given to you. It's like winning the lottery,” says Watt, speaking of his process. “They're beautiful. It's a trippy thing. You have to be there to capture that moment.” One of his favorite subjects, repeated again and again throughout the book is the sun. It's not just any sun that Watt likes; it's the rising sun. “Think about the sunrise. It's potential. What is to be done today?”
Watt calls Pedro “my bungee cord.” His love of the little city by the port comes across in the work. A man who travels the world playing with a legendary band doesn't take pictures of the Arc De Triomphe. He takes pictures of seals bathing. That and cranes (“hammerheads,” he says, correcting us) and the local birds. “You got the ocean, you got the docks, you got the cliffs,” he says breathlessly. “It's a fucking angelscape.”
Drawing a parallel between his work on bass and his work behind the lens, Watt says, “It's not more notes, it's the right notes. Pictures are like that, too. There's a sensitivity to it. We're all on our own roads. How generous of whatever to make it happen.”
His pictures paint an image of Pedro, quiet, sunny and hopeful. Watt's poetry and anecdotes, meanwhile, recall band mate Iggy Pop's vignette-based autobiograpy I Need More. You aren't getting Watt's life story here, but rather little snapshots of his past and his present, anything from a remembrance of D. Boon (to whom the book is dedicated) to discussions of his current tenure with The Stooges. The poetry is brief and direct, not unlike another famous resident of San Pedro, Charles Bukowski.