This veteran punk rocker wants to always be in 'student mode'

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: These bass lines are from the nimble fingers of veteran punk rocker Mike Watt. He made a huge impact on the 1980s L.A. punk scene with his group Minutemen and later fIREHOSE. Fast-forward three decades and Watt is still, musically speaking, a radical. This is Mike Watt today. The punk roots are still there, but there’s a light Italian touch that comes from two young musicians who join Mike Watt on his latest project. Andrea Belfi on drums and voice, and Stefano Pilia on guitar. The trio’s project is Il Sogno Del Marinaio, “The Sailor’s Dream.” For our listeners, maybe I can just say shorthand, Mike Watt, you’re L.A. punk rock royalty. Fair to say?


Mike Watt: As I break my arm to pack myself on the back. Marco, you’re very kind. I’ve been around a little bit. But look, there’s a danger in that because you think you know it all. You’ve seen everything. I think you have to fight that. These guys are 20 years younger than me and they keep me in student-mode.


Werman: Was that the initial attraction to working with Stefano and Andrea?


Watt: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of things that happened to me in music is by accident. But once it gets going, then I work at it. To me, it’s not about so much virtuosity skills, it’s the personalities. If you practice enough, you can get it. But man, you can’t change personality. So, when I see a thing that’s conducive to keep me in student-mode -- righteous. I grab onto it.


Werman: Let me turn to the Italians. Stefano Pilia, who plays guitar, and Andrea Belfi, who plays drums, what are the commonalities for you three? Where do you find points of interest and things that you want to develop, and things that you want to explore?


Andrea Belfi: The thing that we have in common is a relation with experimenting with music. So, that keeps us openminded to a lot of things that can happen during a recording session or the development of a certain song for the live set.


Stefano Pilia: I think also the love for searching and experimenting with music, and also the attitude of trying to be very open.


Werman: You kind of live that yourself Stefano, because as we were just talking earlier -- not only are you dipping into this legendary music that has its roots in King Crimson and Captain Beefheart, but you were just recording an album with the Malian singer, Rokia Traoré.


Pilia: Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah.


Werman: For you, it sounds like the palate is pretty darn large.


Pilia: Yeah, I think it is. I like it that way. It gives my curiosity and spirit breath, which is the most important thing.


Werman: I want to finish with a question for Mike Watt, because the L.A. punk scene really got its trademark because of a community of people in that city. You’re separated from these Italian guys by thousands of miles.


Watt: Age too.


Werman: Let’s just focus on the physical distance -- is it hard for you to get a sense of community and a sense of place for this ensemble, this trio, with all those miles between you?


Watt: In those days, if you had miles between us, it was fanzines. That was the fabric.


Werman: Fanzines -- yeah, right. Remember that, listeners? Actual paper fan magazines.


Watt: And cats writing passionately. Nowadays, we’ve got the internet and I think those same ethics can apply. It’s just different means. Yeah, it’s not paper, but the cat in Sarajevo, the cat in Balona or Verona, we can be in contact. To me, what’s important is ethics. Technology has made things closer and the thousands of miles don’t matter as much.


Werman: That was Mike Watt. He came to our studio with fellow musicians Andrea Belfi and Stefano Pilia. Together, they call themselves Il Sogno Del Marinaio, or “The Sailor's Dream.”