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IN CONVERSATION WITH: Curt Kirkwood, The Meat Puppets – April 2014

| 28 May 2014 | Reply

IN CONVERSATION WITH: Curt Kirkwood, The Meat Puppets – April 2014
By Shane Pinnegar

Always influential and exciting, fleetingly courted by the mainstream, but resolutely independant and still hard at it, The Meat Puppets recently released their fourteenth studio album, and embark on an Australian tour starting this month.

Singer/guitarist and leader of the band Curt Kirkwood joins 100% ROCK MAGAZINE to reflect on family, touring with Nirvana, writing singles and the Carpenters.

Meat Puppets Curt Kirkwood

Shane: Hey Curt, thanks for your time today. You’re heading Down Under in June – with something like 14 studio albums under your belt as The Meat Puppets, is it difficult to choose a set list that pleases both long term fans and the band?

Curt: Well, same as we always do, [there’ll be] new stuff, old stuff – across the board really. But really, it depends on what we remember collectively. My memory, for some reason I will forget stuff a month after I recorded it sometimes. If I can remember something we can play it, or we can do it during soundcheck. It is good that we have a lot of songs, but it is not that easy since some of them take some thought and some practice – some of the stuff is very complicated.

Some of the simple stuff you can do no worries from memory, but there is a good amount of it that has got some passages that take a little bit of attention and you have to practice a little bit. We don’t all live in the same town, so we don’t practice very much really. It is kind of ‘wait until we get on the road.’ We have always been [like that] and it does not really matter how much we practice, we are just like that anyway.

Shane: Yeah, right. Do you find that adds to the rawness of the live performance?

Curt: Yeah, absolutely. It has to be there, for me. I can stick to a set list to a degree and I like to have the stuff written down, at least what we know at the time so I can choose from it, or get away from that and play things a little different. You can control the vibe of the place to a certain degree. I like to play too to how it feels and what the room feels like, what the people are like, on that particular evening.

Shane: It certainly fits with your reputation as refusing to conform to the “commercial music industry.”

Curt: Yeah, I am not too a part of that unless they come knocking. I have never been able to chase it, I’m not good at it, I do not really know what it is – never have!

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Shane: You have really defined genre alignments for your entire career. You’ve been described at various times as hard-core, cow punk, folk, indie, rock, psychedelic, and all these other things. How do you describe the band to someone who is not familiar with your music?

Curt: Rock band.

Shane: [Laughs] That keeps it simple!

Curt: Yeah, that is what I wanted when I was a teenager, probably, even though my first band was a disco band… it wasn’t really my band, I just joined this band and we played predominantly disco. I always liked Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin when I was a kid, so that was what it was. I also really liked Harry Chapin and what-not and Emmylou Harris… I like all kinds of stuff. I like prog rock and jazz, Miles Davis, or whatever… classical… I like a lot of different stuff. Just to make it easy I want to say it is a rock band because it has got guitar, bass, and drums.

Shane: Yeah. Rat Farm was released last year – it’s a really cool album, man. It seems to have gone down really well with critics and fans. How are the tracks being received live?

Curt: They did for sure. Sometimes it takes a while for stuff to [work itself out live], because the album could be a little bit new even to us. The versions in the studio are kind one thing, then live, they take a different sort of path. It takes a little while but maybe a number of songs on there seem like they’re getting there live.

Shane: Excellent. I read an interview where you said that the creative process pretty much revolved around coffee and beer. That sounds like a pretty cool day at the office… coffee, beer, and cool tunes.

Curt: You could do a lot worse.

Shane: [Laughs] absolutely.

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Curt: I try not to get into a routine – I have never done since I was a kid so I have not been spoiled. I am privileged to do this so I try not to make it a day at the office too much. [But] I am pretty lazy – and then, a person can only drink so much beer and coffee. I have always been there too, I do not have a whole lot of discipline so I will just sit around and mess around and see if something comes up.

Shane: Going back to ’91 and ’92… Kurt Cobain became a big fan of the band and you guys went out on tour supporting Nirvana… you played on the Nirvana Unplugged album. Was it a bit of a mad circus going on around that band at that time, or being in the eye of the hurricane were you kind of shielded from all of that?

Curt: There was a shield. I was not in Nirvana either, so it wasn’t really directed at me. I was just there, touring with them. Any big show like that is a little bit of a zoo. Those guys were good guys, they were pretty easy going guys, they made us feel good. We always felt like we fit in. There was a lot of media. I am sure that the band could not catch a break unless they locked themselves some place away from it all.

Out doing stuff at that time with the band, for us it was for the show or whatever, the Unplugged thing. We got shielded so for us it was not really so much about the personalities and the showbiz fashion and all that stuff, pretty much just us.

Shane: What does it mean to an Indie band to suddenly have royalties coming in from one of the biggest bands in the world? Is that a game changer for you guys? Does that keep the band a float for a while?

Curt: Yeah. We had always been on the road, we did not have any royalties, we were supporting ourselves. Really having passive income like that, trying to… I am sure things got a little bit rocky because it just happened all of a sudden. We just had to decide how much we really wanted to do this. Then, get some bad habits get going because you have got TOO MUCH money and you might think too much of yourself or you do not think enough of yourself or whatever. I am not really sure. For me it was great.

Shane: I was going to ask if there was a backlash from fans on any level at all, but it sounds like the backlash might have been more internal to the band.

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Curt: For sure. There was a little bit. The real hardcore fans, liked that we were on MTV, and we had our videos, but we were getting pitched as a singles band, and we had a few hits or whatever but mostly the backlash was internal.

Shane: You have got Chris, your brother, back in the band after a few years away. I know he had his problems with a bit of jail time, drugs, and all that sort of stuff. How are things going with you guys and the band together now days? Are you close again?

Curt: Oh yeah. It was just an unfortunate diversion. We picked up… not exactly where we left off by any means but the music for me has always been the primary thing, we just like to play. We try to focus on that and leave the water under the bridge.

Shane: You have got your son Elmo in the band on guitar now too, so it is a bit of a family affair going out on the road.

Curt: Yes it is.

Shane: With the realisation of what had gone on before – the internal problems with drugs and that sort of stuff – were you nervous about bringing Elmo on tour and risking him being exposed to the negative side of a touring rock band?

Curt: No, here was the problem! [laughs] There is no shortage of trouble there. Drugs are always around, Chris and I grew up around that, Elmo has grown up around it. It is a strange place, it is a tough place, there has always been a lot of drugs and diversions. It is kind of in the middle of nowhere, people get real bored and that’s when there’s a problem… being on the road is not the problem, it’s the time off.

Shane: Yeah, right. Meat Puppets 2 is rightly considered an American classic album: to you, when you are writing something like Rat Farm do you feel pressured to live up to your other albums in any way?

Curt: No, I am still wondering why that is considered a classic. I think it is okay, but I do not really rest on stuff, I do not put too much… I am careful not to rip myself off too much. If I try and write a song I just wind up with what I do. It is kind of interesting. I do not have too much of a method for song writing except for ‘do not repeat myself if I can help it.’ So, no, I don’t feel that. I have always been trying to get back to the simplicity of the early days, but that was more based on being a 24 track tape and no money, and punk rock and that feeling of having nothing. Once you grow up a little more you get involved with more technology, more money… technology grew… it’s just a strange thing, you cannot recreate naivety, you know what I mean! [laughs]

Shane: Sure. On a similar note you spent your early years as a band playing with people like Black Flag and The Minute Men, Husker Du and Sonic Youth and all them, did you feel at the time that something historical and influential was happening?

Curt: I didn’t know about historical, I never looked forward that much… I knew at the time it was real different because I had been in bar bands in Phoenix, and what we played wasn’t on the radio. We belonged to the real American underground, that is what this is, we are the undergrounds bands and that is the thing we had to do and when we were all out on the road out there, we were all friends. I knew that was unique and we were all real good, Husker Du, Black Flag was amazing, but at the same time it is hard to tell where it was going because nobody really paid that much attention to it outside that small fan base – but that was the punk scene.

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Shane: Just a hypothetical one to finish up, if you could magically go back in time and be a part of the making of any one recording in history, which would you choose to visit?

Curt: The Carpenters, with that Top Of The World song.

Shane: [Laughs] that is an obscure choice, what is it about that song?

Curt: Great musicians… I would have been probably about ten or eleven years old but that would have been great to let me play the tambourine on it. [There’s] too many songs… that is just one that popped into my head for some stupid reason…

Shane: [Laughs] For sure. Alright, thanks very much – I appreciate your time, again, like I said. Looking forward to seeing you when you get to West Australia.

Curt: Yeah, looking forward to getting down there too for sure.

Shane: Excellent man, you have a great tour we will see you soon.

Curt: Alright Shane, you have a good day.


THE MEAT PUPPETS headline ASTOR ROCKS Monday 2nd June 2014 at The Astor Theatre, Mount Lawley, Perth

For more info –

Sunday 25 May – CherryRock 2014 Melbourne – Cherry Bar, AC/DC Lane, Melbourne

Friday 30th May 2014 – BRISBANE, The Zoo – QLD

Saturday 31 May CherryRock 2014 Sydney – The Factory Theatre

Monday 2nd June 2014 – PERTH, The Astor Theatre – WA

Astor Rocks 2014


Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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