Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Meat Puppets Rugged Legacy

Curt Kirkwood Speaks Out

Curt Kirkwood came of age during the insidious lull of 1980. It proved to be a prophetic year. Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States. John Lennon was assassinated, Mount St. Helens erupted and the Meat Puppets were born. Curt is the singer and focal point of the band and remains its center of gravity.  Brother-other Cris Kirkwood gives the band its soul. He is a songwriter and an extraordinary musician. They give sibling rivalry a darker hue almost as wickedly contrary as Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis. The Meat Puppets started out as a punk band but quickly shed that label by choosing an eclectic and unique blend of rock & roll, country punk and psychedelia. They gained a lifetime’s notoriety by sitting in as guest musicians on Nirvana’s triumphant performance on MTV Unplugged in 1993. Their 1994 masterpiece Too High To Die, produced by the Butthole Surfers, gave them even greater respect with the rock cognoscenti. The Meat Puppets had their share of success as well as soul numbing hardship including struggles with addiction, violence and imprisonment. They have broken up twice and reunited for good in 2006. The Meat Puppets thirteenth album Lollipop was released on April 12th, 2011 and they went on a spring tour of Europe. It is the Meat Puppet’s stubborn individuality that makes them unpredictable – a cause of frustration to fans and critics alike.  In the glow of a long career and the wisdom of time, Curt Kirkwood is focused on those things that matter most to him love and family…and music

You’ve had a long storied 30 career and you’ve had a lot of success along with the downside of the business. What keeps you going?

I just love doing it, its fun. Probably sometimes out of the clear blue, you know, but it’s lasted. It has its own strange life, apparently.

I remember reading about the early days in this cow-punk term that seems to be used a lot lately, but it sounded like it was derived from your early stuff. Is it?

Yeah, I guess there’s all kinds of stuff that we’ve done, and people turn on to certain things about it, just to be fair to the band overall. It’s pretty hard to pigeon-hole it outside and say it’s just a rock band, you know, more or less. I don’t know, sometimes more than others there’ve been elements of country but there’s nothing that’s ever been a particular focus. In terms of early influences, there are all those musical forms that I grew up with, listening to live music and the radio.

 You’re really an inventive guitarist who’s not afraid to take risks. You can do so many things from Don Rich-like country to hard rockin’ metal. I just wondered how you developed your unique and eclectic guitar style. Who inspired you? Did you take lessons?

Thanks for the compliment. That’s good question – I loved the Buckaroos and you know, Scotty Moore was also inspiring. I took some lessons for sure. I took lessons early on from a guy that taught classical guitar and a kind of flamenco style and I met some guys that taught me several chords - Jimmy Reed style and guys like Wes Montgomery and Bobby Kessel. Well, that was pretty early on. I was never very motivated in school and the teachers used to give me a lot of crap, you know. So I just started hanging out with people and we started playing the music - that was later in high school and I was kind of rusty but I could like play guitar when everybody else was just starting to learn how to play guitar. I spent a number of years learning the craft, and it was pretty easy to pick it up. But it took me a good number of years before I was comfortable with it.

Who has influenced you musically influence you musically

Nirvana influenced us – their take on our song Lake of Fire was just phenomenal. Nirvana influenced everybody, for sure. The Butthole Surfers are a big influence. I mean I just always loved them. I don’t know how much I’ve gotten, although for sure. It’s hard to tell because those guy s were so long, and it’s just like you know, when you’re close to people that way, it’s hard to tell how much you’re getting off of them.  The people I’ve known longest were in that type of band.

What was it like when you felt the first flush of fame in the 90s? Did that turn your head?

Not really ‘because you can see what it is. When the topic is brought up, it doesn’t make that much difference. You’re still being in music one way or the other. It’s kind of funny to see the fame from the outside. From the inside, you’re still just playin’ music and dealin’ with yourself and the same life. It’s just your life as you’ve been living it. You can only eat so much good food and that kind of stuff. That’s how it becomes. Here is the whole idea of money and the inconvenience of fame, but it’s also fun.

What’s your relationship been like with the record labels? You’ve recorded on a few different labels and now the Mega Force label. Were they forthcoming with royalties and support, artistic freedom?

 I don’t have any complaints in all the places where it counted... I never have. It’s all been real easy, you know. Everybody has different stories, for sure, and you know, we had a real logical progression from indie labels to a major label. The big studios never told us what to record. They just made sure that we stuck to doing it in a cool way that they could get behind which was just getting us used to spending more money than we were used to. The might say, “Go ahead, you can do that, take your time,” and blah-blah. Our producers were all wonderful - it was all great fun. I’ve had a good time with them. Mega Force is great. 

 You released a bunch of studio albums, like 13 or so. Do you have any favorites in particular?

Oh, you know that stuff changes all the time. It just depends on what I’m listening to at the time. I listen to some of those old LPs and I just hear the words and I remember the recording process. I just hear them in different ways. It’s always been hard for me to say that this one is my favorite or that one really stands out. I just put a lot into each one. What I see in them is kind of what I put into them.

Did “Too High To Die” take a particular warm spot in your heart because it started you down that road of wider recognition?

It’s believed I was responsible for the success of that LP but it was really Paul Leery (the producer).  It was a project that we really had a lot of confidence in and we had little support from the label at the time as they weren’t sure how we should proceed. Once we started recording with Paul, it became a career and it was the first time when we’d been just handed a major label budget where everything we needed was all included. So here we all are with a good budget. Its like, “Oh, okay. Cool.” We made the album the way that we kind of felt it should be made, you know, but we also paid attention to this other stuff ‘cause we got money. Yeah, it was rough. It’s hard. I spent a long time in Memphis doing this recording and it was just a tremendous experience.

Do you have a particular producer or engineer that you really liked, that you worked with and you found them to be especially gifted?

I have just been lucky. I haven’t jumped around a whole lot, stayed in one spot. We started with the SSG label and then Steven Stalia and Paul Straight. Paul’s brother, Stuart was our engineer on “Too Young To Die” - and that was awesome. We got to work with Peter Dell at Capitol. He was amazing. He really got us to where we wanted to be. So we’ve been a bit lucky. I haven’t spent a lot of time in studios unless I’m making a record. That’s the thing. I got to focus on what I got goin’ on there and incorporate whatever aspects there were. It all becomes part of the overall theme.

I really like the country feel of Lollipop with those tight, close harmonies. You even include a cool rock-a-billy song in on it (Baby Don’t).  Do you think it’s a musical departure?

Well, you know the first song on that I wrote in probably ’83, and there’s stuff from all over the place on there. The music is related to certain things, you know. Some of it sounds a little bit like a solo record, something with Pete Anderson. I think it gets a little bit more of an acoustic vibe off of that. It probably started out as an acoustic thing, and we tried to make sure that we didn’t overwhelm the sound when we cut the original tracks with the acoustic guitar.

I think you’re an excellent song writer and you had some far-out lyrics from time to time. Do you write from a personal perspective? Does that resonate with you or make the songs more precious to you?

You know, I just like the songs. It’s cool when they come up and remember them and you know, I’ve been lucky that I can write songs because it kind of makes me feel like I have, you know, whatever my personal perspective is, that life experience. I’m generally happy with that. I kind of make sure it gets in there somehow, but mostly I’m just having fun with it. You know, I try to come up with a little bit of a different angle just for myself so it didn’t sound like somebody else very time I wrote something. I tried to come up with just whatever, you know, made it personal. We just didn’t lay a thing in it. You know? Then I just have kind of had fun with it, the stuff that seems to fit with the music and you know, it’s cool to get outside yourself that way. I’ve written plenty of stuff like “this is how I feel,” but a lot of times I end up editing it where you can’t really tell what’s going on. I’ve always looked at it like okay, you’ve got theses thoughts and all this different stuff, and it’s also fun to put it in a way that it’s like, you now, where it’s not so direct. That way it sometimes leads to even further interpretations, and people can make what they want out of it. It’s making sense, but it’s not nonsense necessarily, but it’s coming from the basis that we really use just art, and it’s the real thing, whatever emotion. Art tends to be more than that, more than emotions.


How did you happen to name the new LP Lollipop?

The way the album cover started to come out, we started to think that it would be a good album cover and then we thought that we needed to call it “Lollipop” because those were two things that needed to get done, and they just kind of got them simultaneously. It’s like the song goes with the title and then we just proceed like that. So it’ really doesn’t have any meaning beyond that. We just saw that painting, and it was like, “Oh, Lollipop.”

As you’re out touring, are your fans listening to the new stuff or are they clamoring for the older stuff, like “Backwater Like a Dream?”  

They always like the old stuff, for sure. You know, you just slip new stuff in over the years. It just depends on what we want to do. It’s definitely something where we have enough throughout the years to where we can play a few songs and do stuff that they don’t know, and people are patient. The crowds have always been nice that way.

Do you have any surprises in the set list for Saginaw?

I think there are always surprises. I mean they are really only surprises if they’re surprises to me. I’m sure there will be. I’ll allow for just about any. We really don’t have a set list, so you never know what you’re going to get. Something will pop into somebody’s mind at one point and we all concede to it. It happens real fast. It happens between friends.

You know, somebody is thinking, “Well, I want to play a slower song or something like that. They wont’ say much, just something like “Somethin’ slower.”

What do you believe to be your greatest accomplishment?

You know, I would have to say I’m old fashioned. I really love my kids. That’s where I’ve been at for years and years, and my greatest thing has been Scott. You know I love my band. It goes without saying that it’s a great accomplishment to have a cool band like this. And my private life for sure. My private life has been very rewarding. I have a couple of great kids. That’s been the thing that kept me focused in a lot of ways.

You know I was going to ask a question. This is just for me, I guess, because I was such a big fan of Doug Sam, and “She’s about a Mover” and “Mendocino.” I had all his early vinyl albums and Texas Tornado and stuff. Here you got his son in the band. You know, I think that’s really cool. Do Shandon Sam and that lineage have an influence on the band?

Without a question. You know, that’s pretty direct right there. You could talk to Shandon, and he’d fill up a good amount of your time. He knows as much as anybody does about Doug. It was just coincidental that Shandon was Doug’s kid. He knows how to do that stuff, you know. He plays Doug’s songs. Doug was a good friend and an inspiration to us all.

 Do you have any last comments?

I am really looking forward to coming to Saginaw. I know a good number of people in the area, and I think they’re really into it. It’s a strange homecoming to a place that I’ve never been. It should be pretty cool.

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