an interview with Mike Baggetta on the night of a mssv show
In These Moments
Will’s Pub • Orlando, Florida • October 22, 2023
by Steven Garnett
A couple hours before mssv performed at Will’s Pub, guitarist-composer-vocalist Mike Baggetta suggested we retreat to a quieter space to chat. Lil’ Indies was nearly still, a sofa available, and so we had an easy conversation after prior email correspondence. For Ink 19, I recently and favorably reviewed mssv’s Human Reaction, a formidable LP best defined as post-genre. Baggetta’s cohorts for that record and the 50+ show tour are Stephen Hodges (drums/vocals) and Mike Watt (bass/vocals), and I was able to briefly express my gratitude to those veterans on the night of the show.
For the past two years, Baggetta and family have resided in Gainesville, Florida. Myself a Floridian, a believer in “place as inspiration,” I asked Mike if ‘gators, Spanish moss, the region’s then-and-now music makers, and humidity had consciously manifested in his work.
MB: I don’t really think so. I have a habit of trying to, in some way, kind of ignore that geographic thing to some extent. I never really wanted to be known as an artist from [blank], but rather just an artist in the world. The world is so vast and has so much to offer in so many different ways; defining myself by one place felt short sighted. Plus I’m from Western Massachusetts, lived in NYC for 15 years, lived in Knoxville, Tennessee, for six years and met my wife there, then we only moved to Gainesville two years ago. So it’d be hard to be defined by just one place anyway. I really like Gainesville and there are some really cool people and things there, but that’s the same for anywhere. Of course things influence me and I am who I am, but I guess I don’t really think about it that way. Plus, I’ve never really been a big Tom Petty fan. But I think Bo Diddley lived down there for a while… I sure like his music.
I pressed about regionalism, its influences, and found Baggetta’s responses a touch anomalous. I gathered from him that what mattered above all else was, well, human relationships. Yes, the unconscious influence of place might factor into his craft, but his creation purpose — the telos for composing and performing — was honest engagement with people, and much of that was via music. And in Gainesville and greater Florida he’d indeed found like-minded musicians. His hesitancy to be boxed in was logical, and my intentions in querying further about “what makes you tick” were perhaps hackneyed. Perhaps, also, too reflective of my own creative framework. But I was happy to hear him say, “I love Davey Williams!”
It’s pretty simple to me: I love all kinds of different music equally. I also find that as a human being, we all fill many different roles every day, different but equally important roles. I think everyday life has a big influence on what people create too, based on their viewpoints that are in turn shaped by their life experience. So to me, staying away from being pigeon-holed into one genre makes a lot of good sense. I don’t define myself solely by one role in life, “artist” or whatever. I’m also a husband, son, dishwasher, dog walker, sometimes-cook, friend, etc. So why should I just be a “rock guitar player” or whatever? That’s not the point of music to me, anyway. That’s marketing. Every truly great musician I know or have learned about, by and large, does not define themselves by genre, so I don’t really think that is anything new from me, either. Like I said, I just want to make music honestly at full-tilt every opportunity I get, because we never know how many more times we might get to do this incredible thing.
As I type, it occurs to me that Mike Baggetta’s responses might be so nonpictorial that conveying the enthusiasm he has for making music, or the full sound of mssv, would be no picnic. His mindfulness to deflate my preconceived notions was bracing, yet refreshing. Aware the allotted 30 minute interview would soon expire, Baggetta was ok to wrap up some loose ends:
- Baggetta’s parents have been supportive of his musical inclinations since he was a young teen. His father, a fan of Chet Atkins and jazz standards, was keen to share his love of guitar with Mike. Eventually Baggetta “swiped” one of his father’s guitars, tried his hand at playing along to various records, eventually even fIREHOSE, thus determining he should try composing his own music.- Relationships matter, in particular his father’s encouragement and resulting family-home kitchen-table duets. The human reactions.- “Egg or oatmeal?” Each day has choices, some rather ordinary. Being present matters. Be teachable. Learn something new every day.
Stephen Hodges and Mike Watt play with Baggetta because they love the music, despite the labor of driving across the country and back. They are teachers and friends bringing so much to bear in mssv output. I’d not thought to ask particulars for how the three had merged as mssv.
The opening act had completed soundcheck, photographer Jim Leatherman had again auspiciously documented the interview (and later the show), and mssv had a gig to play. Baggetta said to expect new music in the set the trio had composed on the road, which would soon be recorded at BIG EGO in Long Beach, California, upon tour’s completion.
I am thrilled to share music anywhere there are people that want to hear it. It really doesn’t matter to me if there are a thousand people or two people in the audience. They deserve the best from me every night, and the only thing that makes the gig bad is if that focus gets broken and you can’t deliver for them. I think that same feeling applies to the people that I get to make music with. It has to be 100% and nothing less.
And it was 100%.
Will’s Pub was filling up with many longtime Orlando music fans and performers as opener Timothy Eerie warmed-up the room with heavy, hard psych rock. Orlando’s fondness for Mike Watt, who has performed in the city with various touring ensembles for at least the 30 years I’ve lived here, was amplified like a family member who’d returned. He performed in a chair, evidently nursing a bad knee.
I’m uncertain if the audience knew the breadth of the mssv catalog. It didn’t matter much. The set included revved-up recent cuts from Human Reaction like “Baby Ghost,”“Say What You Gotta Say,” “French Road Drifters,” “Pillow Talk,” and “Pity Parody,” as well as the older (relatively speaking) song, “The Eureka Moment.” The sound engineer made hay and the room suitably captured both the low end and Baggetta’s higher range string work and vocals. Human Reaction is a fine record, and live mssv lets loose.
Baggetta’s vocals remind me of Tom Verlaine. Sometimes hushed, sometimes full-throated, often suggesting the personal and universal across a few lines. Watt, seated, was not stifled. To my eyes and ears, he was invigorated by the compositions and crowd response. Along with Stephen Hodges, the rhythms were propulsive and nuanced, pushing air aside for Baggetta’s not-quite-rock stylings. The guitar magazines have weighed-in and I cannot disagree with the names often evoked when describing Baggetta’s stylings. Nels Cline, Henry Kaiser, Marc Ribot… these players are in the same camp, in that they’ve not set up a singular camp. He doesn’t pedal hop like a dinosaur, but his effects gear mattered in this setting, juxtaposing the limber but rapt Hodges/Watt drive with impelling riffs and futuristic squalls. There’s the jazz, your noise, delicacy. Baggetta’s childhood exposure to Chet Atkins is unsurprising. He often finger picks, quickly, deftly, moving over the neck without theatrics. Rather, he seems so at-ease with the instrument that it’s difficult to separate sound from the musician. He’s pioneering. mssv is a conduit.
Hodges maximized his small kit throughout. An elongated break, a solo of sorts, garnered full attention from Watt, who turned his chair to watch the drummer.
The trio were engaged with each other, engaging with the crowd. When Baggetta broke a string near set’s end, Watt briefly shared elliptical stories from their tour, wonder at their chemistry. Then, guitar restrung, they commenced to reconfigure “1969” with Hodges and Watt so thick — in the best way — that when Baggetta joined with full wah-wah, matching Iggy’s vocals and Ron Asheton’s whopping riff, I wasn’t sure what I was hearing. In 30 seconds it clicked for me. The Stooges. But also freedom from.
mssv are seriously dialed into each other’s playing. They represent their varied musical endeavors and maturity con mucho gusto, with no trace of cynicism. mssv makes innovative and serious music within familiar song structures with abundant affection for spontaneity and transmittable zeal. This concert was imperative, a memory-maker. ◼