Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tonight: The Meat Puppets On The River

Tonight marks the inaugural concert of the season at The Simon Estes Amplitheater located on the banks of the Des Moines River. The Meat Puppets will be joining Slightly Stoopid for a night of groovy psychedelic cow punk, ska, fusion, and whatever else they decide to throw our way.

Curt Kirkwood of The Meat Puppets
(Photo courtesy of Jaime Butler)

In a telephone interview I did last week with Curt Kirkwood, the head cheese of the Puppets, he suggested that we might expect to hear some reggae... And it's hard to say if he is serious or not. While reggae is more of what you might expect to hear from the headliners, Slightly Stoopid, it wouldn't be too much of a surprise for The Meat Puppets to throw some spliff smokin' guitar riffs our way. After all, these guys have been defining and redefining themselves from the very beginning of their storied careers.

It's been a long strange trip for The Meat Puppets. Created in 1980, they formed out of necessity more than anything. A series of complex and  unfortunate events led Curt Kirkwood back to Phoenix from the wilds of Alaska where he had moved to out of high school, and tentatively planned on living and building his future as a guide on a fishing boat. The only thing that got in his way was a subsequent airplane crash that put him into the hospital just long enough to lose that job to somebody else. So just like a character in a Bob Dylan song, he drifted back down to Phoenix to start at square one. The only thing he knew how to do was to play music. With his brother Cris Kirkwood and a neighborhood friend, Derrick Bostrom, they formed a band and started playing in and around the Phoenix and Tempe areas. Their eclectic brand of cowpunk tantalized the scene in Arizona at a time when music was making that awkward cosmic shift from the Disco era to what would become New Wave and the '80s brand of Heavy Metal.

The Meat Puppets toured extensively, and as they did their popularity grew. At a show in California, they were noticed by Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn, who was also the founder of SST Records, a business he had built himself from the age of 12. He signed them to his record label, and The Meat Puppets became an American institution, touring relentlessly across the United States. Bostrom remained the drummer for the Puppets until 1996, when the band went on hiatus due to Cris's struggles with drugs and the law. In 1999 the band reformed with Kyle Elison on guitar and Shandon Sahm on the drums. In 2002 the band took another hiatus for four years, again due to Cris's legal troubles, and when they reformed, Elison was out, leaving Curt as the band's only guitarist.. (Ted Marcus played drums from 2006 until 2009, when Sahm rejoined.) The band is now with Megaforce Records and is still touring today. They make a stop in Des Moines tonight.

The Meat Puppets are known influences of such bands as Dinosaur Jr, Pavement, Soundgarden, and Nirvana, who incidentally covered three Meat Puppets  songs ("Plateau", "Oh Me", and "Lake of Fire") for their MTV Unplugged album.

The Meat Puppets in the "Lake of Fire" days

The following is a telephone interview I conducted with Curt last week:

What were you doing prior to 1980 and before the Meat Puppets?

Well I graduated high school and moved to Canada when I was 17 and I worked on a flood plane base, and I wanted to be a fishing guide. Then I wound up in the northwest territories cooking and I had an airplane accident and I missed my job up in the Arctic by a couple of days because I was way laid in the Churchhill Manitoba by this plane wreck, and somebody else got my cool fishing guide job up in the Chantrey River in the Arctic, and um, I don't know, things might have gone differently. I wound up cooking at Baker Lake Northwest Territories for geophysical surveys and when that job ended, it starts getting cold up there at the end of summer, so I came back to Phoenix, and started playing in bands. Somebody asked me if I wanted to be in their band... It was a light rock band... Played "Crocodile Rock" and lots of disco and stuff. We wore suits and that... And then I was in a band after that... I got fired from that band and then was in a band called Granite Reef. We played Kansas and Thin Lizzy, and Skynard and Steely Dan and stuff like that. It was kind of a hard rock band. Then I got fired from that band so then I started trying to you know, get my own band so Cris and I had a couple of little things with a couple of other people we were doing. Then we went to Alaska, Cris and I with some friends and we spent like two weeks canoeing down the Yukon, you know just basically backpacked for two months. Yeah it was pretty crazy good stuff.. We were basically just checking it out one last time if we wanted to be frontiering and bad adventurers, and getting our fill up with stuff like that that we like. Then we got back and we started playing with Derrick (Bostrom).

What was your childhood household like while growing up... How would you describe a typical day in your family?

Well... My mom pretty much ran the family. My mom was married alot... She was married 6 times by the time I spilt... So... It depends on which husband. But my mom pretty much ran the house most of the time. I mean we had horses growing up in Phoenix. The guy I grew up with during grade school and moved to Phoenix with... My mom's second husband was a trainer and owner of thoroughbreds and that was our life for a good many years. That's why we moved to Phoenix to be by Paradise Turf, the race track there and I grew up at the horse race track. And then you know, getting up early to do chores, we always had at least a dozen horses... We had a few acres and we boarded horses. I had a lot of chickens, and so I'd get up and do my chores, and go off to school. I went to Royal Palm Elementary and I grew up in the same place pretty much from the time I was in 2nd grade until you know... I graduated high school. So, same neighborhood and get off school come back and watch Wallace and Ladmo which is this insanely amazing kid show that every kid in Phoenix grew up on. It's just one of the greatest things ever... You should probably check that out on line.

I definitely will...

You will be blown away. They were the longest running show in history when they went off the air. 35 years, when they went off the air. And they had a Saturday morning show at the Fox Christown Theater where you could go see them live and it was just completely nuts. It was just as much for adults as it was for kids. It's really cynical and sarcastic and influenced by hippies and '60s Pop Culture and then just all kinds of stuff. It was a very very cool show. So every kid watched that. You'd go home and watch Wallace and Ladmo then Gilligan's Island comes on, and then it starts to kinda cool down a little bit. You know, we'd go swimming or something like that because everybody in Phoenix has a pool, so, you know. We'd spend most of the time in the pool. Or you know... Out doing some kind of mischief. But that's pretty typical how I grew up. You know... Uh. You know. North Phoenix. Boring.

Hardest working act touring today?
(Photo by Joe Cultice)

What albums did you grow up listening to?

Um... Well... Abbey Road. That was an early one. I really liked that one. The first record I ever bought was a Bobby Sherman record.


And then I bought Snow Bird by Ann Murray. And um... Snoopy and the Royal Guardsmen. Uh, you know. The Red Baron record. Those were early records for me. I listened to the radio alot. I liked the Grass Roots... Stuff like "Temptation Eyes", and whatever you know. Just typical AM radio fare like that. And (The) Monkees, The Banana Splits, you know kid's rock. Then The Beatles broke up you know, I was probably like, 10, and I got into Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. Some kid down the street played "Living Loving Maid". Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.

Right on. So you formed your own band... Why did you choose the name The Meat Puppets?

Uh, I thought it was cool. It seemed like a... You know it was kind of challenging enough and I thought it would be funny to hear people say it. You know, to have to make 'em say Meat Puppets. You know, "What's your band called?"... It was the kind of thing that made the  adults wrinkle their noses, you know?


I mean we were pretty young when we started this stuff... Cris and Derrick still lived at home.

Did you ever dream in your wildest dreams that you would be as big as you are today?

No. I never really wanted to be a musician and it wasn't... I mean it was a hobby. Then it started to be like the only thing I could do. I didn't graduate from college or nothing. I had a lot of odd jobs. I mowed lawns and bussed tables and stuff like that you know. And I had jobs that I had trouble keeping.. I don't know why. I'm not that rebellious... I'm just... I don't know, people didn't like me. You can really tell, you know. I think it's my eyes or something I don't know, but I was like screw this, I'm just gonna couch hop. I did a lot of couch hopping. I mean I lived at my mom's house sometimes when we started the band, but I also lived wherever I could. You know, at Derrick's house, on the trampoline in the back yard, or his mom's house I should say. Or whatever... And just started like uh, just trying to play in a band at that point and realized Wow you know... I guess I could be a musician. This is really fun and I'm not headed anywhere else... I'm not going to college, I don't want a fucking job, I don't want to do anything I don't want to do ever. Period. I've kind of always been like that. I'm not like that egotistical or anything, I just don't like doing stuff I don't wanna do. I'm different that way and I won't fucking do it.

Curt doing it his way
(Photo courtesy of Jaime Butler)

Excellent... Ironically, Too High to Die, which might have been the greatest Meat Puppets album in terms of commercial success, came out in 1994. That was the same year that Curt Cobain died. Is there any relation to that event with the album name?

No. Actually that was one of those things that was getting thrown around, like I think our sound man might have said it. It was, you know like something he just said one time. One time he yelled at some people that were hanging outside an embassy in London, he yelled, "Party 'til the world obeys!" to some protesters, and that became a song... I think it's on Monsters or one of those records... "Too high to die" was another one. I think he might have said that, probably talking about Cris or some crap, because Cris's nickname was also "Uncle Party".

Uncle Party? That's great!

Well, back then. Now he's become "Uncle Used to Party."


(Chuckles) But it was ironic that that stuff happened with Nirvana at the same time. That album was way in the works by the time we did the Unplugged! thing. It was already recorded and pretty much titled, and came out in... I think January before Curt committed suicide, so it was just another one of those things like, you know... Holy cow!

Right. How was your relationship with Cobain and Nirvana in general... was it a good relationship?

Oh yeah. I love those guys. I got along real well with them and Curt was a nice guy and he was a lot of fun to work with and it was very rewarding to do the collaboration there and just to be a fly on the wall during the Unplugged thing. That was a lot of fun because the guy definitely had some juice. And Krist (Novoselic) is a great guy. I got along like a bro with him and we started a band a few years after that, after (my brother) Cris was kind of messed up... Novoselic and I had a band for awhile.

Excellent. What are some of the more horrendous experience you have had while on tour over the years?


Yeah. Like horrible situations?

Well mostly the worst stuff was like... Well once we were getting ready to play and we had to like, get on stage and the club was sold out in Santa Cruz and we already had a big crowd and we had five minutes before we had to get on stage, and my bro tried to come in the front door of the club. He just was like, "hey I need to go back, we are going to be playing pretty quick," and they kind of were ignoring him at the door. He didn't have any... his whatever... His badge, or whatever you were supposed to have. You always were supposed to have some kind of like, badge to wander around and he didn't have one, and he was like, "I just need to get through here." and he tried to slip past and somebody grabbed him, and as was his way at the time, being grabbed from behind like that, he turned around and punched the guy. It turned out to be one of the club managers. So then, as soon as he did that, these giant monkey fucking bouncers grabbed him and trounced him and broke his wrist. So I had to say, "No show." with the whole crowd there, so the crowd immediately caught wind of what happened and they rioted out front and started passing out fliers that somebody made immediately saying "Boycott The Catalyst before they break your arm!"

(Laughing) Awesome!

It was pretty wild. The crowd was like rallied, and a lot of cops came. We didn't play, these two old guys upstairs who owned the club doing accounting upstairs were like "What you can't play with just two?"

(More laughing)

I'm like, "You kidding? You just broke his fucking arm! Fuck YOU. Were outta here!" And then when I went out and tried to get into the ... There was an RV that we had at the time,  and we tried to get in there and get our crap out and stuff and they are standing there acting like they want to beat ME up next, it was just like, Holy cow! Things can change like that all of a sudden. It wasn't like they were that mad at us, it's just that you know, crowds will do that.

Photo by Joe Cultice

Is there a single moment in your career that sticks out as your most favorite, or your most memorable?

Well there's a lot of them. There really are. I tend to be one of those musicians that's like, you're only as good as your last show type of thing, and so a good show will stick out for awhile until there's one that's kind of better in my mind. So I tend to go that to that, you know, We toured in '94 for three months opening for Stone Temple Pilots when they were pretty much the biggest draw of the summer next to The Eagles Hell Freezes Over Tour. So we did three months of playing at big outdoor places... 20, 30 thousand people, which every night was a lot of fun... It really wasn't our crowd. We could get up there and wear diapers, and write Eat Me on our chest and stuff, we could fucking jack off in front of these giant crowds.

What can we expect at the Des Moines show?

Well.. Probably Reggae.

From The Meat Puppets?

I don't know. I don't know what we'll do. We might play Reggae, who knows? I might turn all my songs into Reggae songs.

That'd be pretty cool.

I don't know. People... Alot of times, when I do Lake of Fire, people think we are covering Nirvana anyways, so I might as well cover it like, you know in a sort of a easy beat sort of a style and just cater to everybody's you know, sort of vibe.. Cause that's because we do that kind of stuff. I don't know if it's necessarily catering, and I don't know if I will do it, but I'm kinda fun... And I do love that stuff. It might be an opportunity to, who knows? All I have to do is play the guitar a different way and the rest of the band doesn't have to do anything. If I play the guitar different, it will all turn into Reggae.

What about the newest production you have done, Sewn Together... What can you tell me about this record... How did it all come together?

Um, it's our second record from Megaforce... We toured a lot year before last, and decided to kind of chill out a little bit. We felt like we had gotten as much out of it as we could, you know, for the time being. Kind of like we are trying to forge our way back into the biz again, as The Meat Puppets again, so it seems. (People) kind of looked at us... Break ups... Or at least hiatuses. They kind of come to the reckoning of  Oh yeah.. I guess people look at it as the band wasn't around, though in my mind that's always a concern. We never really broke up and my bro was fucked up for a long time and this and that but it's always been like, "Well when I decide to, I'll do it." It's like I have the deal with Megaforce and during the time off I just said, Lets just kick in immediately and do another thing before we have time to think about it, so that's kind of what we did with this one. We didn't really have it done, we didn't practice it, and we pretty much wrote half of it while we were sitting there waiting to push record.

Sewn Together (Megaforce 2009)
Wow. That's great. The record sounds amazing.

We did it in about a week, it's a backwards production. It's like it's a total dubbed album. There's zilch on it that's live except that we cut the drums and the acoustic guitar so it was like super easy, and then made sure that nothing got in the way of the acoustics or the vocals and we just put it together like legos. Because we didn't practice, we didn't know what the songs were and stuff so we kind of lucked out there. It came out good. But I saw how we did it. I stuck to this blueprint of how we should record it given the circumstances and I really hate spending a lot of money on stuff anymore. I always did. I always said, you know give me a hundred thousand bucks, and I can make ten records 'cause that's how... Too High to Die cost like 100 thousand, and No Joke! cost like 225 grand to make.


It's retarded.

So what is in your future? Are you making another album?

Well I've been writing, but we haven't really got to that yet. We've been kind of waiting for this one to come out and while I've been waiting I've been writing a little bit but I've got a fair amount of touring coming up, it's set up through September and that's gonna occupy my brain for that time so that's what I will be doing which is pretty much the focus anyway. The albums have always been kind of calling cards even though they are supposed to be important and stuff like that, I love live music, so I know you have to try to make albums, and I've tried to make genuine good albums before but to me a lot of times it's just a tiny little snatch of something that's supposed to mean so damn much, and I've never really given a rat's ass. But you know, if I cared more, I would probably have been able to make better sounding records, but whatever. I figured out how to make pretty good sounding records on my cheap schedules that I like to keep with my attention deficit disorder!

Well Curt, that is all the questions I have today. I sincerely appreciate your time. I will be seeing you guys in Des Moines on May 4th. Thanks alot for your time.

You got it Troy. Thanks alot.



TurtlexBoy said...

Amazing!!! Im glad u did this!