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By Jarrod Dicker
New Brunswick, NJ, USA
Curt Kirkwood, guitarist and vocalist, founded the Meat Puppets in 1980. Accompanied on bass by his brother Cris and drummer Derrick Bostrom, the trio were a leading force in Rock and Roll throughout the ‘80s and 90’s, influencing such groups as Soundgarden and Nirvana. Now reunited and recharged, with Ted Marcus substituting Bostrom on drums, the Puppets drop another classic album, Sewn Together, to add to their repertoire of rock legendry. Jarrod Dicker speaks to the “Master of Puppets” himself about the new album, their long musical history and where we will see them in the future. Let me please introduce, Curt Kirkwood.
Meat Puppets - Sewn Together (2009)
THIRSTY: Was there any specific influence that piloted your musical direction while growing up? Anything in particular your parents played around the house?
CK: Well...I’m sure my parents had some influence just by being my parents. They weren’t very into music. My mom had some Les Paul/Mary Ford records that I liked. I was mostly into what was on the radio, you know? I liked Elvis, I liked the Beatles, and I liked Frankie Laine singles when they came out. I liked Bobby Sherman...The Monkees, Petula Clark. Just basic stuff that you heard commonly.
THIRSTY: Who were your musical inspirations?
CK: I always liked “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” I don’t know who’s version it was (Johnny Cash/Ramrods)? My grandmother used to play it on the jukeboxes when we would be at restaurants, for me, and it was a big treat. I’d say “Day Tripper” was also a big one when I first heard that, when I was real young. I just loved that.
THIRSTY: Sewn Together is your twelfth studio album. It’s your first one since the 2007 reunion album, Rise to Your Knees. Did you start Sewn Together immediately after the completion of RTYK? Was there just an overflow of ideas that needed to be put down on paper?
CK: There was a lot. It was concurrent. I had songs...too many songs, you know, enough for a couple albums. And there was some hold-overs from way back on Sewn together, at least one or two. Rise to Your Knees was easy and then we had a year of touring and then Sewn Together was made. That was pretty easy too. I hadn’t done any band stuff for a while. I had done a lot of solo stuff which left me with a lot of songs and ideas. We didn’t put a whole lot of work into either record.
THIRSTY: How was this album (Sewn Together) influenced?
CK: It didn’t really come from anything in particular. I don’t think any of my stuff, well, the songs ever really do. Not for the most part. Occasionally I have some stuff pertaining to one subject or something, but, it’s pretty arbitrary really. No main theme in it or anything like that. It’s just another collection of songs. Just about all I ever do.
THIRSTY: Was there a specific direction you had in mind for this record? Was it meant to grab the attention of a new audience, or was it another treat for the Meat Puppet faithful?
CK: I really don’t think about an audience. When I’m playing guitar, ill think, “you know this may look pretty cool.” Or when I’m writing, I think, “hey maybe people will think this sounds pretty cool.” But, by in large, I’m just writing down ideas that I have...that’s pretty much the only way I can do. I can probably, or probably have, tried to write to a certain or from a certain perspective. Like, this is going out for what I would consider to be the group of people that listen, but I don’t know if that’s been successful. I don’t think it really works for me to try that kind of thing.
THIRSTY: How would you compare Sewn Together’s style, to say, your first self-titled album Meat Puppets (1982)? Did you think 29 years later you’d still be doing the music thing?
CK: Yea....it was pretty obvious. I just really felt like this is what I had to do. It wasn’t an overnight thing. I was messing around, thought about doing a lot of different stuff that I liked. I wasn’t trying to find an occupation, I was just trying to press through things that I enjoyed. I knew I liked being in the outdoors so I moved to Canada when I was 17. I worked on a fly plane base/float plane base that took fisherman around. And I went to Northwest Territories for work. Then my brother and I traveled to Alaska for 6 weeks, and we’d be on the Yukon a couple weeks. While I was doing all that stuff, I’d always drag an acoustic guitar along with me. I kind of fancied myself to be a musician. I played with my friends in Phoenix and really wasn’t very good...But then you know all along, you’re just kind of saying, “wow we’re musicians.” I had gravitated towards those kind of people actually, musicians. The people I grew up with weren’t really getting me. There wasn’t anyone in my neighborhood, but I had to find people around to play with. Once I kind of got the outdoor thing out of my system, I realized that I was just trying to escape responsibility of any kind. I realized it wouldn’t work. That I’d have to be a tracker or miner or something... so I moved back to Phoenix and decided to keep going to school. I did college courses and that way I could keep the support coming from the family. And I funded my early music endeavors by telling the family I was in school but I never went to classes. So I could live... if I hadn’t done that, they wouldn’t give me any money. They would send me enough money to eat in the cafeteria and live in the dorm...it gave me a lot of time to play. I went to school in Tucson (AZ) for a whole year and never got any credits. I went and jammed all the time.
THIRSTY: When you reunited the second time, it was rumored that you were bringing back original drummer Derrick Bostrom. Was this true?
CK: We asked him, he said he didn’t want it. My first thing upon reuniting was that I wanted to do the Meat Puppets, so I asked Cris and Derek right off the bat. Cris was well (clean), so that’s what I did first thing.
THIRSTY: How was it jumping on board with your first record company SST? Was it comfortable being in that label while it was at such a young age?
CK: Yea... yea it was like nothing else. It was just like magic. You make a record, punk/rock record, with no thought to how much it will cost. It was just no time worries, no money, but it wasn’t required. There wasn’t any production. You just go in and play. It was like you were doing a gig. Then we kind of figured it out...how to mess around with production when we produced Up on the Sun (1985). But even that was done in three days...all the records done at SST were done really cheap. No one was trying to figure out how to make things sell, they were just letting you do it. We were all friends, run by the guitar player from Black Flag, Greg Ginn. We love those guys, we toured with them, did gigs with them. It was really a boy’s club scene...like THE LOST BOYS, becoming a club house. If there was a Peter Pan it was probably Greg, who was signing all these bands. He seemed to know. He was a little older and Black Flag was his band. And everybody worshipped Black Flag. Nobody told anybody what to do... nobody said, “this sucks.” It was more like “this is your new thing, haha cool send it out.”
THIRSTY: Did it pay off financially?
CK: I don’t know. I’m sure somebody made some money. We never made any money there.
THIRSTY: Any lifelong connections you still have from SST? Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr.?
CK: Sonic Youth opened for us the first time we played New York City in 1982. I’ve known those guys ever since then. They’re really good friends. We’ll do shows with them. The first time I ever played solo in 2001...the first gig I ever did that way was opening up for Sonic Youth. I see Henry Rollins. He was at the Sewn Together release party we had in Los Angeles in May. I still see Mike Block, I see a lot of those people still. That’s the core of my friends in LA.
THIRSTY: Kurt Cobain was a huge fan of your music. He invited the Meat Puppets onto Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged session. How did that come about?
CK: We were on tour with Nirvana and he just thought it would be a good idea to have us join the Unplugged session.
THIRSTY: Did he approach you with the idea that you guys would be playing notable Meat Puppet tunes? Lake of Fire, Plateau, Oh Me...
CK: It was all about Kurt wanting to do those three Puppet songs. They wanted to learn how to play them right. We rather have them played the way they were supposed to be played. We had pretty different styles in a way. But the guitar playing...we just wanted to have it be correct.
THIRSTY: Did you maintain a relationship with Cobain post the Unplugged show?
CK: I didn’t really keep in touch with him at all. He was pretty elusive at that point. We were actually supposed to open for them in Prague, two days after he tried to kill himself in Rome. That’s where that tour was gonna lead (Prague). We were already over there in Europe and were told the tour was cancelled. That Kurt had a mishap with pills. But, I didn’t think that was a very good sign. I thought that he seemed kind of depressed anyway. I just minded my own business, generally people that play music can be a little enigmatic, so I just minded my own business. But when that happened I thought, “oh man that’s not a good sign.” That would have been my last time with Kurt, being on tour with him for a number of weeks. That whole thing got cancelled. Not too long after that, he was dead.
THIRSTY: You later formed a band with Nirvana bassist, Krist Novoselic and Sublime drummer, Bud Gaugh. Did your relationship with Krist start while on tour with Nirvana?
CK: Well we had gotten close on the tour, preceding the Unplugged thing. We had become buddies, Krist and I, and kind of kept in touch pretty loosely when we’d see each other and what not. I was in Seattle in 2001, and October I was strolling around for the first time on my own...no album just doing acoustic Meat Puppets stuff. Krist came and saw me play and said, “hey we should start a band.” That was the last show of my solo tour, so I had to drive back to Austin right after. While I was driving along, Bud’s brother Jason called me and said that Bud was out of the Long Beach Dub Allstars. He said it’d be cool if we [Bud and Curt] could jam together, and that he [Bud] wants to do something. I just thought about it for a little. When I got back to Austin I called him up and said it’s a pretty cool coincidence that you and Krist contacted me today. They didn’t know each other at all. Bud was familiar with Nirvana of course...Krist not as familiar with Sublime. I was pretty big fan of Sublime and Nirvana. I could see how this could be kind of cool. This band dropped in my lap just like that. These guys had the resources to do it. We could get hooked up right away.
THIRSTY: So this sparked the creation of the trio’s album, Eyes Adrift?
CK: We met the beginning of December 2001 and just immediately set to recording that album. A couple weeks later after doing that, we got to know each other as a band. I had met Bradley Nowell when I was visiting in Austin before I lived, here while they were doing the self-titled, Sublime record. I went over to say hey to Paul and Brad came out. I shook his hand, but I never met Bud. It was interesting, in kind of a cool way, that we three got together on faith and just went for it. I knew how they played; I knew they could do it. We’ve all been through our “ups and downs” and tragedies at that point. We had the sensitivity to respect each other and the space.
THIRSTY: Backwater was a huge it in the early-mid 90’s. What was the feeling of that song in the Meat Puppet camp? Did you guys like it?
CK: I didn’t like it that much, but there were people at the record company that were saying, “hey that’s a cool song.” So I took the time when we made the record to make sure that the arrangement on Blackwater was right. As far as I knew, that would be what was contemporary...At that point we altered the version we made. The original version of Backwater was very organ heavy. I did it at my brother’s place by myself and it was a lot slower and more of a gospel song. When we went in the studio to do it like it produced, I made it sound like bottle rock.
THIRSTY: The first reunion (2000) and second reunion (2006) had to drive from some inspiration to bring the band back together. Where did that brew from?
CK: It’s kind of interesting. It wasn’t really a breakup. I write all the songs in the band, I pretty much call all the shots. The first record (Meat Puppets) we were equals to a large degree and none of us knew anything. I started writing a lot, and felt motivated to make records so I had them follow that. My brother didn’t want to play for a while so I figured I’d give him a break. We cancelled some tours we had setup in the beginning of ‘96. Cris just wasn’t responding and was way too far out. We had a lot of money so we could take the time and not do anything. It wasn’t supposed to be a breakup but...I had moved to Venice Beach and lived out there and sort of ignored the whole thing. Chris didn’t get better, he actually got worst. And Derek just kind of faded away. I kind of knew he would if he got the opportunity; got married and started doing his own thing. I don’t think his heart was really in the band anymore. So it wasn’t really a breakup so to speak, it was just what was happening in between records.
THIRSTY: So you truly didn’t think that this would be such a long hiatus?
CK: I figured there’d be another record. It was a time to relax, and ended up taking a long time to come. I was in Austin, playing with other people, trying to get a record done like that. We were gonna do Curt Kirkwood and the Meat Puppets, but I never wanted to do a solo thing. I wanted to be in the band. It didn’t feel the same. I never put down the Meat Puppets. I just started taking my time more. The solo record came up and then Eyes Adrift so it took me a while; the last Meat Puppets records came out in 2000 (Golden Lies) and then Rise to Your Knees in 2007. It took a good amount of time but it’s also a time frame dictated by people’s taste. If you fall out of that pond, it’ll get filled up real fast in the pop world. So you have to shit a record out BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! or they’ll forget who you are. And then you can take 2-3 years and then they’ll say that’s a long time. A lot of it is predicated by people’s attention span and clarity, memory, freshness of things. Dictated by that because in reality it’s like you’re only as good as your last gig. Then you’re nothing ‘til the next one. You’re not a band...just a stooge...just nothing. You’re only a band when you’re playing, it’s a weird thing. I’ve tried to kind of define it myself because I didn’t anticipate it. I’ve never broke it up in my mind.
THIRSTY: Should we keep expecting more albums from the Meat Puppets? Another 30 years of awesome Rock and Roll? Or are you looking towards the solo thing again?
CK: Well no... I’m not trying to branch off. I have some other ideas. I kind of learned to separate the band thing and the solo thing, once I finally did a record by myself. It was just straight up like no band, solo record. So I worked on that on one side of my mind. Now I’m working on more Meat Puppets stuff. I always figured I’d get the band up, I want to keep it together. It was the thing that I liked. Even as a kid in the 70’s I liked to see bands put out albums and always know that you can go see them. So I always wanted to have that for us and our audience.
THIRSTY: Anyone you’d love to jam with in the scene?
CK: There are tons of people for sure. Two names just to mention right off the top of my head....ohhh...jeez! I’ll just put it this way: I’m pretty open minded. I just like to do stuff. I don’t have any plans to call anybody up and ask them. I do think, from time to time, wow that’s a cool voice that would sound good if we sang together. If Dave Matthews called me and asked if I wanted to sing some duets, Id say “hell yea.” And if say Katy Perry asked, I’d say “hell yea.” I’m just pulling shit out of my ass now, you know what I’m saying... I love to play. I can see the value in just about any collaboration. I’m pretty positive about anything that comes my way, thinking “that’ll be pretty cool, that’s a good idea.” I’ve never really asked anybody myself. I’m always just so caught up in my own crap, I haven’t really asked anyone on an album to put a track down. Like on Sewn Together I got recommended this guy William Joseph who’s this piano guy that played on some tracks. He just opened Josh Groban’s last tour...I just heard him and thought, “hey this guy is a piano prodigy from Phoenix, that’s fucking wild.” To open Josh Groban too. Wow.
THIRSTY: It has truly been a pleasure. I really hope to hear some more Meat Puppet stuff in the near future.
CK: Well I’m working on it. We got another record to put out with Megaforce so that’s already in the works
THIRSTY: Great! Expect my call when that album comes out...