Mike Watt & Masina
Izniknami Badem Drvo
(previously unreleased)

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Mike Watt
"Contemplating The Engine Room"

From the first ominous bass notes of Mike Watt's Contemplating The Engine Room, the listener is held captive on a fascinating and soul-searching journey into the heart of one of popular music's most original thinkers. A concept album tracing 24 hours in the lives of three men in the engine room of a large naval vessel, the 15-track song cycle was inspired by Watt's own adventures in a punk band and his father's similarly rolling life as a 20-year enlisted man in the U.S. Navy. Emotionally charged, Contemplating The Engine Room is a probing, intensely musical allegory of the complexities of life.

The album perfectly distills Watt's 17-year tenure as a genuine musical maverick. As bass player for the genre-blending punk band the Minutemen, Watt inspired an entire generation of flannel-wearing alternative rockers. Cut short in its prime with the untimely death in 1985 of its lead singer and guitarist D. Boon, The Minutemen - - as well as Watt's subsequent trio fIREHOSE - - have continued to influence legions of musicians. A master of the do-it-yourself approach, Watt has ventured where few of his reputation would dare by always pushing artistic boundaries. As a result he continues to be celebrated by both critics and peers as one of the most vital and influential artists to have emerged from the early eighties punk music scene.

Contemplating The Engine Room is the first time Watt has invited listeners into his own private world, delving deep into his own personal and musical cache. "I've been making records since 1980 and this album is the first time I've ever used my life as manure," Watt says, noting that elements of Richard McKenna's naval novel, "The Sand Pebbles" (Steve McQueen starred in the 1966 movie version) and "some of the ghost stories that my dad used to tell when he came back from being at sea -- 'fish stories,' my mom used to call 'em" also figure into the album's storyline. "Each song is a piece of the day, starting just before dawn and ending 24 hours later," Watt explains. While the album begins and ends with the same bass figure, the musical mood swings from industrial-strength grooves ("In The Engine Room," "Wrapped Around The Screw") to hard-boiled funk ("Black Gang Coffee," "Liberty Calls!") to raging full-on rockers ("The Bluejackets' Manual," "Topsiders"); the musical and lyrical symbolism reflecting the incidents depicted in each song.

While Watt's first solo album -- "Ball-Hog Or Tugboat?" (Columbia, 1995) -- featured guest appearances by no less than 48 folks, Contemplating The Engine Room marks Watt's return to the three-man lineups of his previous outfits. "What I really wanted to do was make one whole piece that celebrates three people playing together." To this end, Watt enlisted the talents of off-beat drummer Stephen Hodges (noted for his previous stickwork with the unclassifiable Tom Waits and L.A. bluesman James Harman) and avant-jazz guitarist Nels Cline (who toured with Watt in support of the "Ball-Hog Or Tugboat?" LP -- including a string of Lollapalooza second-stage performances -- and is now with the Geraldine Fibbers).

"These guys are very intuitive and they weren't afraid to experiment," Watt elaborates. Witness the atmospheric alternating patterns of darkness and light on "In The Bunk Room/Navy Wife" and "Crossing The Equator," the westernmost-in-flavor "Red Bluff," the airy "Shore Duty," and the dull, throbbing undertow of "No One Ever Says Old Man (To The Old Man)."

clockwise from upper left: Mike Watt - standup bass / Jerry Trebotic - percussion / Ljiljana - vocals / Pete Mazich - accordion

"And unlike every other record I've ever made," Watt continues, "I wanted to do some things that you can't do during a gig. At one point, we were rollin' marbles around on a bass drumhead and beatin' on it with our hands to get the sound of thunder." Indeed, the songs are linked with such nautical noises as crashing waves, foghorns, and ship's bells. "I also played the whole album with the top bass string detuned from E to D, because I wanted to force myself to do things differently."

Produced by Watt and engineered by Bobby Seifert, Contemplating The Engine Room is also the first album where Watt has sung every song. "Yeah, it's all my spiel. It's about three guys in the engine room of a boat, but it's also a metaphor for what's flying through my head. It's about the Minutemen, my pop in the Navy, [San] Pedro -- my hometown -- and how I got to where I am now.

"I mean, somebody who knows the names of all the old SST [the Minutemen's first indie label, owned by Greg Ginn] guys will notice they appear in 'Topsiders' -- but if you don't, they're just names -- and all those streets and places in 'Pedro Bound!' are real -- but, again, if you don't know that, it's just a story."

Watt attributes many of these changes to his recent stint as the tour bassist with Porno For Pyros: "Being a sidemouse, having to do what they told me -- I mean they had me wearin' pajamas onstage and shit -- really helped me be a better leader. Not just listening to how Perry [Farrell] would explain what he wanted us to do -- he talks about food a lot --but spending all that time riding in the bus instead of driving my own van gave me a lot of time to think about how I wanted to do my next record."

Contemplating The Engine Room is intrically woven and structured to reflect the story's trio of protagonists, in several musical groups of threes. The slow triplets of "Breaking The Chokehold" and the title track are but two examples. The three-legged musical focus that introduces the trio of main characters -- the percolating, give-the-drummer-some percussion of "Fireman Hurley," the cycling psychedelic guitar of "The Boilerman," and the jazzy, walking bass of "Pedro Bound!" -- is another.

As for the album's ultimate message, look no further than the last lines of the closing "Shore Duty": "Seems like there's always more duty/Maybe that's the beauty."