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Hello, My Name Is Curt

| May 4, 2009 | 0 Comments

Q&A With The Meat Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood

Meat Puppets

IE: Do you keep track of how many albums you’ve put out?
Curt Kirkwood:
I don’t know. It’s more than a dozen. Twelve, 13, maybe 14. One solo, Eyes Adrift with Krist [Novoselic] and Bud [Gaugh], then we did Volcano with Bud and Miguel [Happoldt]. It was never released. It was a vanity project; we made a thousand of them and you can get on Miguel’s Web site and he has it posted. We just made it. It was an album, and a pretty cool one.

Appearing: May 30th and 31st at Schubas in Chicago.

IE: Do you ever feel bad that songs you wrote years ago, and probably worked really hard on them, but you can’t easily recall them now?
I don’t remember how to play all of them, and I don’t remember all the songs on each album. It’s always like, “Oh yeah! That one!” I can relearn ’em – some of them are hard to relearn. I don’t know music real well – I don’t read or write it, I just make the stuff up and know how to play it. Figuring [songs] out again, a lot of the time I’m just not sure. A lot of the stuff is based on something that’s comfortable for my hands to play. I don’t remember a lot of them, honestly.

IE: You couldn’t pull a Robin Zander in concert and say, “This is the seventh song off our sixth album”?
No, not without preparation. There’s just something about the heritage that irks me. I always try to be current. It’s funny because you can have oldies and you can tell like “Chantilly Lace” is an oldie. I was aware of that starting out, so I always tried to write stuff like country music: You can’t date it so well. Just to write stuff where you can’t tell what era it’s from, and I think I did a pretty good job at it. I can still play stuff and it still sounds like an album we made now. It’s not like, “Oh, that’s ’80s.” It’s hard to tell with us. That was the goal, and I like it that way. I never wanted to be dated like that and it’s supposed to be timeless. Who cares when it was written? I like stuff to be that way now. My brother will now-and-then be like, “The first time we played here was 25 years ago,” and that makes my skin crawl. “All right, that’s a real shit in the punchbowl for me.”

IE: I’m surprised to hear that you don’t read music. You play very fluently.
It’s all fake. We’re plastic. People ask, “What is your genre?” We’re plastic rock. We’re Neo-preen. It’s all air guitar put on a real guitar. I just do stuff that feels cool. If it’s too hard to play I’m not gonna do it.

IE: You’re in luck because they have Air Guitar Championships now.
Oh yeah, I’ve seen it. That’s pretty much what it is. I really don’t know. John Dee Graham is my neighbor and he’s been around for years with True Believers here in Austin. John Dee’s a great musician and asked me if I wanted to do a thing he’s doing one with Ray Price, Alejandro Escovedo – John Dee And Friends, we’d do some of his songs, some of mine. Anecdotes and stuff, a thing he just started doing. I said, “I’ll need a couple of days – I gotta get my head around it.” I’m a pretty good musician, I told him, but I’m so used to doing my thing. I was in cover bands in the ’70s and I can learn those songs, but I know my tricks and I know my songs. Musically I think I could play anything, but it’s more like I’ll hit a note and see if it works and if it don’t I’ll slide to the next one. There’s a lot of Miles Davis in there: If you make a mistake, repeat it and people will think you’re a genius.

IE: You’re in Austin now? I’ve always associated you with Phoenix.
I’ve lived in Austin for 12 years, and lived in Venice for two years before that. Cris [Kirkwood, bass] still lives in Phoenix, we recorded this album in Phoenix. It’s a hard place to move back to – it got too big. It’s not supposed to be there. They shouldn’t have built a city there, especially something that size. We’re from Phoenix, but I’m based out of Austin for a long time. Ted [Marcus, drums] lives in New York City, Cris lives in Phoenix, and I’m here. We’re all over the place. All three of us in different states – it’s more plastic that way. We don’t practice, just get away with stuff. There’s enough genres and we’ve always been quick to admit that we’re crap and the joke’s on everybody – on us, too, because we have to purvey this crap. Our hands are dirtier than everybody else’s.

IE: You have to be good at the crap.
Apparently. When I hear a record like this, I’m like “We made that? Shit. How did we do that? If I lay off the weed I’ll figure it out.”

IE: Is there anything to take from Sewn Together? I assumed the title was a reference to your brother.
Sewn Together is another one of those things: I just write for the syntax and for syllables. That’s what I find enjoyable about writing is to put stuff together that’s a little bit unlikely. I’ll come up with something like that titlewise. I don’t think what I write is ever too out there. I write in a fairly understandable frame, but there’s nothing to it. That’s kind of the goal: to sound substantial, but leave it completely open for interpretation. There’s nothing cryptic about it – there’s no method. The stuff will kind of appear and sound good together. I start out with handclapping and just little tunes, then I start to hear the syllables which become the melody. “It’s all so together . . . it’s all sewn together.” I don’t have anyneed to write about sewing but I figure, also, I’ve left myself open to that kind of thing so many times I’m real familiar with it. I never remember writing songs – I don’t go in a trance or anything. I was watching a Metallica documentary – not Some Kind Of Monster – and they’re talking about how when they did the “Black Album,” Bob Rock was like “write about what you know, from inside you can’t go wrong, universal feelings.” I can’t. I don’t do that. I don’t write about my feelings. Another silly love song? Let that be the last one. I was into Captain Beefheart and Wire, I liked Led Zeppelin because it was stupid lyrically. It doesn’t have to make me laugh or anything, but I don’t want to be pinned down. I’m not in touch with whatever feelings I might have. It’s gonna come out some way, and ultimately I kind of like that way. A song like “Lake Of Fire,” I know what why I wrote it: My friends went to a Halloween party and I stayed home because I thought it was a stupid holiday. I’m in a costume all the fuckin’ time anyway. I don’t need to go out and play around. “Go ahead! Halloween’s for kids. You’re all a bunch of dumbshits.” I stayed at home and dropped acid, and I started trying to crack myself up writing about evil. You can’t tell [what it’s about] from the song. It’s not about hell. I was trying to fuck with my friends.

IE: Do you still hate Halloween?
I don’t give a crap about it. I don’t care about holidays. To me, a day is a day. I’ve always been irritated to have to set aside my days to celebrate a mass ritual of any kind, whether it’s Christmas or my birthday. It’s not Halloween I don’t like. But all the imagery and some of my favorite stuff – to have it on one day . . . Earth is a fucking Halloween party. I don’t need a special day of setting love aside – every day’s a beautiful thing. It’s always Christmas. I’ve always been stubborn like that. I don’t get any joy out of it. I’m temporarily challenged.

IE: What kept you going through your career? If this is the way you look at things – why keep making music?
That comes back to the name – why would I put myself in a situation? I didn’t know the music business was a difficult business starting out. I just played in bands and played covers. I never thought of it as a business. I thought about making a living. By the time we started Meat Puppets I had burned a lot of bridges. I had messed myself up out of college, I had painted myself into a corner. I couldn’t hold a job, went to real-estate school and couldn’t pass the test, I couldn’t do anything. This one just keeps coming. We called it Meat Puppets because it seemed like something else was pulling the strings on us when we were playing. It seemed right away, when we got together, we realized from the go-get that we could make a sound that was slightly different and slightly unique. The entire approach: nothing was clinical about it or anything. It was just the three of us and we could tell that the way we were doing it – I’d been in bands and I knew you can try and do all this stuff, but this is a cool fucking band. Right off the bat, before we knew any songs we just played Band covers and Carl Perkins. But the sound we were making, we went “This is nuts, whether anybody likes or not.” We thought about it for awhile. I had a song called “Meat Puppets” and thought “This is pretty much appropriate for us. ‘Cuz it’s beyond us – we’re knuckleheads.” And it’s still beyond us. I look at this [new] album and I can’t believe we made this. It’s a really beautiful album, it’s substantial, and it’s just really cool. It didn’t take us long to make it, about a week. I stuck to my ethic and I was allowed to do that, eliminate anything that was badgering me and surround myself by the right people. I put myself in a situation that’s improbable: someone like me with an ex-con, ex-junkie brother and me being not serious – as much respect as I get from my peers, I think they’d be shocked to see how little I put into this outside of doing the work. I’ve always had a good imagination and that’s about it. The rest of it is very cool and very lucky. What keeps me going is it keeps getting put in my lap. It’s compelling to play music this good and let me wax arrogant for a second: It’s nuts. I’m a fairly modest person, I don’t think much of myself, I know I’m lazy. But I know I got one of the best bands around right now. You could put us onstage with anybody. We’re gonna be able to pull it off, and we don’t really even have to think about it. There’s a lot of will and stuff, but I can’t put my finger on what keeps it going. It’s wide open. It’s an endless sea. It takes some doing, as you grow older, to say “I’m still gonna throw caution to the wind in spite of all these other things that are in place, in spite of all the accolades and detriments. I’m still gonna just fuck this up and fuck you, too.” That’s a big deal as you get older. You get more staid. But I’m really lucky because I have that X factor in me. I’m not a stupid person, but I am one of the dumbest people because I allow myself to be. I just keep opening myself up to that. It’s not about doing drugs or being wild or being a rocker or even being that clever. Music is bitchin’, and it’s there. It’s just there.

IE: What was your reaction to All Tomorrow’s Parties asking you to recreate your second album for their festival?
They wanted us to do it at La Scala the first time, and then that “Don’t Look Back” thing came down at All Tomorrow’s Parties in England. We played three of those festivals last year. Three ATPs, like the house band. The one where we did Meat Puppets II was my least favorite, because it’s cool, but it’s kind of cute for me. Everybody liked it, I know, but that’s kind of cutesy-ass, especially in the midst of a festival like that. It makes sense that they would want us to do that because everybody loves it. I didn’t give a crap. I’d have just assumed we’d just done a show. We didn’t really work on it and I figured, “Well Meat Puppets II sounds like shit and it sucks anyway, so why should we practice this? How can we?” We had an ounce of ecstasy when we made that record. That’s our X record.

IE: Do you remember what you thought of it back when you finished it?
I thought it was a huge success. To be straight-up, we had a friend who was a chemist who was making pharmaceutical-grade MDA and we were into it way before raves and shit. So we just got a bunch of it and went to California. The concept of the first [album] was let’s do acid and make a record, like it supposedly was in the ’60s. We always thought, “Everybody was stoned” and we realized quickly, “Oh no they weren’t.” Some of ’em might have been doing some stuff, but to make a record like your heros . . . So that was the first one. The second we were way into this other thing, this MDA, it’s a love drug, “let’s see what happens here – let’s stay high through the whole thing,” and that’s what it was. And man, it just caught it. Couldn’t do that again, wouldn’t do that again – I never was that into [the drugs]. I was really young and that’s the way it was at the time. It was totally a success. We were systematic about it. “This is a beer album, this is a pot album,” kind of stupid about it, but idealistic. It came off like we wanted to: sound like we’re fucked up.

IE: What was your favorite album “concept”?
My favorite concept going in was the first one. I just loved to play. LSD is made for artists. One of my favorite things to do is drop it and play live. Doesn’t get any better.

IE: Were you in contact with SST before or after that album was made?
I had played with Black Flag – there’s a little bit of a quarrel over the first album because Thermadore was involved and we were giving it to SST. The same guy, Ed Barger, wanted to make sure that Scott owned it. We really were on SST. It was loose back then. We never had contracts with any of these people. The first 7-inch was Thermadore; the first 12-inch was SST.

IE: Was SST like family for you, or did they just release your shit?
Oh, no. SST was a boys’ club. Big time. We’re friends with all those people still. I’ve done solo tours with Bob [Mould], I don’t see Greg [Ginn] anymore. We’re buddies with them, with Black Flag. I still talk to [Henry] Rollins, I just heard from [Chuck] Dukowski yesterday out in L.A. Chuck’s a good buddy. I just did a festival in Belgium with him last year. I talk to Carducci a lot, Watt I see on a regular basis. These guys are good buddies and we were buddies at the time. We knew what we had. We knew we had the coolest label, the hottest three-pieces between Husker Du, Minutemen, and Meat Puppets. It was a lot of fun. There was mild competition but jovial. Even being from different parts of the country – there weren’t that many back then. The arena was smaller.

Meat Puppets’ Sewn Together (Megaforce) is out this month. The band play Schubas May 30th and 31st. Q&A by Steve Forstneger.

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