The Meat Puppets

by Joshua Miller
May 2009

The Meat Puppets

The Meat Puppets

Drifting in the hazy, smoky air like their psychedelic, attention inducing beats, guitar plucks and other worldly lyrics that intertwine, the MEAT PUPPETS and their music refuse to return to reality.  While some attempts have been made to call their sound acid-fried country-punk, stoner rock or cow punk, just to name a few, the band couldn’t care less.

“I don’t own up to any genre classification,” says singer Curt Kirkwood.  “We’re just the musicians.”

Originally from Phoenix, Az., Curt Kirkwood and his brother Cris have pushed where they can take the band’s sound without worrying if it fits a mold.  Almost every Meat Puppets album involves Curt on guitar and vocals, Cris on bass and additional vocals.  For most of their existence they were joined by drummer Derrick Bostrom; a spot taken over recently by newcomer Ted Marcus. Cris says that the band doesn’t let anything restrict them.

“It’s always come real naturally to us, has always been one of music’s more appealing aspects, to touch upon a variety of musical colors without really being that concerned about the somewhat restrictive nature of the human brain and its occasionally overt need to categorize and delineate between what are, in the grand scheme of things, really just minute variations in the squeaking and squawking of the wretched human ape, forgotten and forlorn, railing at oblivion.”

While this strategy has made it sometimes difficult to fit their songs on one album, it has helped the band keep its sound fresh and prevent them from making the same album twice, Curt says.

This in contrast to the band’s earliest days.  The band started off as an excuse to hang out, play punk music and smoke weed, but it turned into something more.  Cris remembers that while the strobe light reflected colors onto the walls, something clicked.

“The noise we made let us know that we were required to be the conduit for its inception, hence the aptness of our chosen moniker, as in, like, dude, we’re the instruments and the music’s playing us, like, totally pulling our strings! Far out!,” says Cris.

The band began to release a number of releases independently, originally on the SST label, including “Meat Puppets II” which has many of their most well-known songs such as “Plateau” and “Lake of Fire.”

“I’m proud of most of my songs because I’m lazy and it’s a wonder I get anything productive done,” says Curt.  “I wrote ‘Lake of Fire” when I decided to stay home from a Halloween party that my mates were off to…decided to trip alone and wound up writing it in an attempt to crack myself up and make fun of my band mates.  I also wrote ‘Magic Toy Missing,’ from the same album, that night.”

That writing and the band’s sound gained some attention from Nirvana and Kurt Cobain.  Cobain, a huge fan of the Meat Puppets, asked the band to open for his band’s ‘94 “In Utero” tour.  With things going well, Cobain wanted the Kirkwood brothers to come play with his band for their now infamous MTV “Unplugged” session show.  The Kirkwoods and Nirvana played three Meat Puppets songs including “Plateau.”

“Kurt asked me if we’d come play the unplugged session with them because they wanted to cover three of our songs and couldn’t figure out or didn’t want to figure out how to play them,” says Curt. “Mainstream followed.”

More people set out to the stores to buy their music and see them live at their shows.  West Bend native Brett Myers said their appearance with Nirvana was his first time hearing of the Meat Puppets and the sound of their sound struck him.

“Hearing their versions of those songs, I was struck how raw they sounded compared to the Nirvana versions,” says Myers.

The next album, “Too High to Die,” pushed them further into mainstream, including a surprise hit “Backwater.”  They had made the jump to major label earlier in the decade to London Records but their appearance on a major national station really pushed them over the top.  The band got to show off their furious, in-your-face shows to new fans.

“They are very intense,” says Myers, who saw the band fairly recently from front row.  “My girlfriend was with me and she was very intimidated by the Kirkwood brothers, especially Curt.”

The band played into the mid 90s but it became apparent to Curt that his brother was having trouble off the road with drugs.  The band went on hiatus for the rest of the decade.  In 2000, with his brother still being treated for substance abuse and Bostrom not interested, Curt decided to put together a new 4 man Austin based Meat Puppets lineup and record an album.

Making progress breaking past habits, Cris began to hear the call of his former band. In 2007, fully rehabilitated, he got a call from his brother asking him about getting the core of Meat Puppets back together. Cris says he and his brother have recaptured that “strange, elusive certain something that made us want to play together in the first place.”

“Playing means everything to me now,” says Cris.  “There’s a lot to be said for the resiliency of the human spirit, the power of love and forgiveness, and the world of good a bullet in the butt and a little time in the pokey will do for an errant little monkey like me.”

Their reunion worked out so well that they set to record a new album called “Rise to Your Knees,” with drummer Ted Marcus, a long-time fan and soundman on a band documentary the brothers were working on. Curt says that the album was a return their 80s approach, which they made without spending much money and using first takes on most of their songs.  It also marked a return to a more independent label.

Cris says they never feel too much pressure from the label, which allowed them to make an album quickly without over thinking it or having a producer direct them.

“Whatever pressure we felt, we were the source of it,” says Cris. “We do a pretty good job keeping our standards up, and we’ve set some high bars over the years.  That will always keep you on your toes when new work presents itself.”

New material presents itself May 12 with the 12th album featuring the Meat Puppets moniker, called “Sewn Together.”  Featuring more of their 80s approach, Curt advises listeners in his off beat humor to “listen at your own risk as low-brow music can cause blindness.”

Fans will get a chance to catch the recently reinvigorated Meat Puppets May 29 at the Annex in Madison.  Curt says nothing beats a live show.  At the show he throws a few jokes in and the band creates music with “a spoon-feeding method that all ages find appealing.”

“Live is all I know,” Curt says. “I hate practice because for some elusive reason it’s never as fun as live. Playing has always been a blast unless it tears up your fingers…even then, you don’t really notice it ‘til you’re done.”

Cris says he’s noticed a lot about life playing music.

“Music, like life, is a slippery, intangible thing, often wonderful, painful and rewarding in turn, a panoply of emotional, physical and sensory stimuli.”

The Meat Puppets perform on the US Cellular Connection Stage at Milwaukee’s Summerfest on opening night, June 25th at 8pm.

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