Mike Watt Revisits Minutemen's Music for 'Hyphenated' Rock Opera

For nearly 20 years, Mike Watt would not listen to Minutemen music after bandmate D. Boon's death in a 1985 auto accident. But after participating in the 2005 documentary "We Jam Econo," Watt found himself moved to write again in Minutemen style for his third rock opera, "hyphenated-man" -- due March 1 after an October release in Japan, and the first release for Watt's own clenchedwrench imprint.

"I was coming back to where I started from," says Watt, who wrote the 30 short tracks that comprise "hyphenated-man" on Boon's Fender Telecaster. "You distill it down to its essence. You have some kind of information and you want to...make it very lean, no filler. I wanted to revisit that way of making tunes. I didn't want to just copy, but I wanted to write in that spirit again."

Unlike its more plot-focused predecessors -- 1997's "Contemplating the Engine Room," about the Minutemen and 2004's "The Secondman's Middle Stand," about his 2000 battle with a perineum infection -- Watt tells Billboard.com that "hyphenated-man" is a bit more impressionistic.

"I wanted it to be about me right now, a 52-year-old punk rocker," explains Watt, who's now 53. "Back in the day we thought about old but never thought about middle (age). We didn't want to be old. We didn't think we were every going to be old, 'cause we lived too f***in' hard in those days. This is where the journey brought me. But (the album) is different from the other two; they have a beginning and a middle and an end, whereas this is more like me in the moment, trying to deal with myself, and that's not as clear-cut, y'know?"

Watt recorded "hyphenated-man" during the spring of 2009 and June of 2010 at former Pere Ubu bassist Tony Maimone's Studio G in Brooklyn, backed by the missingmen -- Tom Watson on guitar and Raul Morales on drums. He'll play the piece in its entirety during a 51-show-in-52-days North American tour that starts March 10 in Santa Barbara, Calif., and he plans to play more dates during the year in between other commitments.

Chief among those, of course, is the latest incarnation of the Stooges, who are part of the Big Day Out tour in Australia and New Zealand starting Jan. 21 and have festival dates in the U.K. booked for May and June. With "Raw Power" guitarist James Williamson back in the band after Ron Asheton's death in January 2009, Watt says that "it's a very different version of the band now, completely. It's not just James Williamson filling in for Ronnie; it's like another kind of Stooges, just like it was in those days when they did it the first time."

The current Stooges lineup has not committed to recording new material, but Watt says that Williamson "is writing things, and his head is percolating. I've never pressed him on it. But I'm there, whatever they want to do -- albums, songs, whatever."

In addition to "hyphenated-man" and the Stooges, Watt has a number of other projects on the runway, including an album he recorded with Italian artists under the moniker Il Sogno Del Marinaio and several collaborations with Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, including the band Floored By Four.