Q&A: The Meat Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood

The Meat Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood talks about jamming with Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana Unplugged, and getting the band back together.

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So how does it feel to be back playing together over the last year and half?

It’s been good, we’ve been really, really enjoying it. It’s been sort of easy. We’ve been working on the new songs because we were getting sort of tired of playing the old stuff. My ears ring a lot though.

Why did you guys decide to get back together?

I was just ready to make another Meat Puppets record. It had been a couple of years.

What was your aim in recording Sewn Together?

Well actually just to get it done. I wanted to record it on tape. It was pretty loose really. It wasn’t fast or anything because I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. We accomplished everything we really wanted to do. It turned out to be a little more expensive than we wanted but it was reasonable, which was the loose goal there.

Now when you say “loose”, what do you mean?

Well it just that there was really no hard rules or anything like that. You know I hate to say it but we were really just like ‘how fast can we get this thing done.’ I had a lot of simple ideas going in to it, which we seemed to accomplish.

Do you have a certain credo when you go in to record a new album, was this different from before, or do you just look forward to going in and getting it done?

Well it’s always a little different. With the last one we just wanted to go in a record with no hassle at all. I didn’t want any pressure. I didn’t want to try and make it good at all really, we didn’t really have a solid band by that point yet. When we did have a band it’s been mostly the same, except when you have a producer. Producers always change up the agenda.

Do you like one more than the other, having a producer or doing it yourself depending on the album?

I actually just like making records myself. Generally it’s fun just to do it myself, if I can get away with it because it’s just quicker. I don’t have to satisfy anybody else’s tastes which can be a good thing. Sometimes you end up cutting yourself short.

Having such a successful history as an indie band throughout the ’80s and ’90s, do you think that for newer indie bands these days, there’s still that angst of deciding whether to get on a major label? Does that dilemma still exist in the industry today?

Yeah, I don’t think they look at it like that, like a major contract is everything. We’ve gone both ways. It’s pretty much the same from album to album, should we go this way or that way. I was never convinced that going to a major was ever really better anyway. In terms of sales, we always sold more on a major. I don’t know, I don’t know how each person thinks really. Most kids seem to do pretty well over the internet.

Do you like that alternative now, that you can get so much exposure by just having a MySpace page?

I just don’t care, really. I don’t pay any attention to other bands that much. I mean I like to listen to different stuff but whatever happens to others, I mean, whatever. It’s weird enough being in a band myself. I don’t pay to much attention to how other people hawk their stuff.

When you guys first started, how did you arrive at your sort of country/psychedelic/cow punk sound, when you began playing songs that would have been labeled ‘hard core’?

Well we always just did that country thing. We were into Neil Young… a lot of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. Of course, we tried to satisfy the kinda crowd that we had gotten in with. We liked the punk rock, we always thought it was more psychedelic, just a different style that had never been sung like that. Over the years, we had seen enough trippy jam shows and having played with enough of those bands to find out how much the hippies really don’t like punk rock, which was always a lot by my reckoning. We were never really a huge crowd pleaser at those things. And yet the Grateful Dead asked us to come out on tour with them one time in ’89 to do some shows. Some people get it. But we always did it that way, recorded it and had a gas with it. But even the first two albums had country stuff on it, just louder.

Do you see a difference in the audience that comes to your shows now than before?

Oh the audiences are great. People that have always come to see us have been good but now, over the past few years, it seems like the young people have more open minds. It seems like they just hear a lot of different music. The proliferation of everything is easier because you can get it on the internet and it’s jut available. I think it’s just given us a basis where we can really have a lot of fun and do cool stuff and it doesn’t go over their heads like it used to. I don’t know why that is. We used to just flip people off with more experimentation but now there’s just a little more acceptance.

“When do you feel most successful or productive as a songwriter?

I guess when you just sit down and write songs and an album starts to come together. They always just seem to pop into my head so I always feel good when we’re like, ‘Hey, we got enough songs for an album.’ I like it when they stick. You have to have a lot more than just 12 or 15 songs for an album. You have to pick and choose and make sure that you have the right songs to put together. I think this album (Sewn Together) seems to have a lot songs with a good flow from song to song. And it’s a trick to have a song stand out but it’s important to them to have those kinds of songs. I’m more of an album guy. I like albums, I like the infrastructure between songs and the interplay.

Do you guys get adequate credit or royalties from your work on Nirvana: Unplugged In New York?

Yea, through the publishing rights. I never sold it. I mean they’re my songs so.

What was that experience like?

It was alright, you know? They had us play because they couldn’t play the stuff. Dave Grohl’s a good drummer, he had to sort of play down to play along with the material in his mind I think. He was like, ‘That’s all this stuff is?’ And we were like, ‘Yep, that’s it.’ I know Kurt enjoyed it and I know Chris really enjoyed it. I liked it. I really like any interaction with other musicians. It kind of felt like, not necessarily limited by their band, but we had always come from a huge musical circle. There wasn’t much of a music culture down there (Meat Puppets were originally from Phoenix) so it was always just kind of punk rock. We were always looking for a larger circle of friends to play with. We had played with Black Flag some, some other solo punk rock acts and just jam out. It was fun to play outside of that and just play some of their songs and be a guest musician. They were a cool group.

Over the years, has there been any particular musician or group you’ve felt more akin to playing together with?

Well that was a pretty good one. It was kind of weird, something sort of strange, probably because we had heard so much about them before we met them. During the whole ‘Unplugged’ thing, they were also named Kurt and Chris and play guitar and bass and the drum player’s name starts with ‘D’. I thought that was pretty damn weird. But like I said, we had heard so much about them and then all of a sudden we’re playing there. And it was like, ‘Oh you know who’s calling? It’s those dudes you hear about all the time.’ It was like hearing from the ‘Sham-Wow’ guy. You know, ‘Twenty times more absorbent than paper towel and they’re made in Germany so you know they’re good.’

The kind that gets the mildew up from under the rug?

Yeah, the dude with the headset microphone who’s a total nutbag. It’s like you see these guys on T.V. and then all of a sudden you find yourself there with them. Like any time you ever meet a celebrity, you’re like, ‘Do I know you? I feel like I know you.’ Well that’s because it’s been shoved down my throat for the last couple of years.

I guess that would be sort of surreal.

Yea, it’s a kinship of sorts. We did some jams with Stone Temple Pilots and went out with them for a couple of weeks. We were jamming out on that song “Creep”, just going off on that last chord. That was actually pretty cool. That was sort of my last experience with that. Just being with a band like that, they were starting to do some experimental things by then and they’re really great musicians, a lot of fun to play with. That was different.

How did you some up with your new album title Sewn Together?

It was just random. We had a song that turned out to be named that and I had a painting around that had a bunch of stitches on it so I figured, that’s a good idea. I had the painting done a few years ago and since I already had the painting I was like, ‘Well, what the fuck?’ Might as well just go for it.

Sewn Together, the Meat Puppet’s 12th album, is out now.