Meat Puppets: 'We Got To Do What We Wanted To Do'

artist: Meat Puppets date: 07/15/2009 category: interviews
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Meat Puppets: 'We Got To Do What We Wanted To Do'
Pioneering rock band Meat Puppets recently released their new studio album titled Sewn Together. Recorded at The Saltmine in Phoenix, Arizona in the Winter of 2009, the album features the Kirkwood brothers, Cris and Curt, along with drummer Ted Marcus. The album contains twelve songs of pure rock, country and a bit of punk attitude all thrown into the mix. The highly influential Meat Puppets - everyone from Nirvana to Dinosaur Jr to Stone Temple Pilots cite Meat Puppets as one of the most significant American bands - started out as a punk band, but established their own unique style, blending punk with country and psychedelic rock. The Meat Puppets later gained significant exposure when the Kirkwood brothers served as guest musicians on Nirvana's MTV Unplugged performance in 1993. The band's subsequent album Too High To Die went gold, selling over 500,000 albums and became their most successful release. The band reunited in 2006. Coming off stage at a recent performance, Curt Kirkwood took time out to speak to Joe Matera about the new album, Nirvana and the band's tumultuous relationship with major labels. UG: How did the new album Sewn Together come to fruition in comparison to your previous efforts? Curt Kirkwood: Some of it came together in a pretty similar way. For this record, I had some old songs that I could pick out of the collection and then wrote some new ones that would fit with those. There is no particular way I go about the songwriting process except that it is not very disciplined! If something comes up, or if I make something up that I like while I'm playing guitar while sitting around, I'd remember it generally. Like little riffs or passages will stick and I will finish them off at a later time when I need to. I don't really sit down to write. That method doesn't work for me.

"There is no particular way I go about the songwriting process except that it is not very disciplined!"

Is it true that one of the reasons you decided to put the band back together again was because you wanted to use a Stratocaster? Yeah I played an acoustic gig for about a year on the heels of having done Snow my solo record that came out in 2005. And I decided to play a friend's Strat one night and really enjoyed it and thought, I've never really enjoyed a Strat and this is cool'. So I started conceiving an electric record which featured more of a Strat sound overall. But I'm still kind of working on it as I didn't really go in to do a Strat record per se with Sewn Together. As it turned out, that didn't work as well on record for me as it did live. Your guitar playing on Sewn Together sounds a lot more complex in nature I'd agree but only in parts. To be honest, I listen back to some of the stuff I did back in the 80s like on Up On The Sun [1985] and there is definitely some stuff on there that I still have trouble playing. But it is not a conscious effort on my part You again self-produced the record, is it hard to be objective as producer, musician and songwriter all rolled into? I don't really know if I really am. And I don't know if at a certain point it is that really important. In a way, I don't really like to be objective until a certain point. The real trick is that I just eliminate people criticizing me. I do just as well without it. And I don't have to be that objective because we keep all our first takes. We record the basic tracks live and then I may run another lead track just as a comparison but generally I'm going to pick the first take. Or sometimes even the scratch track. I've always been real lucky that way, getting stuff that way and finding myself being able to reproduce that on successive tracks. When it came to guitars and amps, what did you use? I used a lot of the guitars because most of them were lying around in the studio. There were guitars like a Gibson Les Paul, an Epiphone Les Paul, a green Strat, a blue paisley Japanese Strat but nothing too vintage or anything. The most vintage instrument I used was a 1935 Gibson mandolin that is on I'm Not You'. There is also a Coral Sitar on one song. But at the end of the day, I didn't really pay much attention to the guitars. I just grabbed what was there. I didn't intend to use so many guitars or have such a nice collection with me. When it came to amps it was the something thing again, but honestly I'm not sure what I used man, I'm not that technical when it comes to gear and stuff. What did you want to achieve sonically with this album? I wanted to record it on tape because I'm sick and tired of Pro Tools. So I found somebody who was really into using 2 tape. I wanted to get a tape sound and get real nice tones which are something we're always after. The guy at The Saltmine where we recorded the album has always been a long time Meat Puppets fan and always wanted us to make a record there. The biggest thing for me when it comes to recording is for me to feel relaxed more than anything else. Meat Puppets will forever be connected to Nirvana and the whole Nirvana unplugged thing which in turn help Meat Puppets gain popularity into the mainstream. In retrospect, how did it feel? I loved it as it was great and those guys were great. That unplugged session was a lot of fun and a very magical evening. I think it was a unanimous feeling for everybody there. If nothing else, just have something to talk about, no matter what, even 15 years on is great. And that moment will always give you a springboard whether there is no other reference point.

"The biggest thing for me when it comes to recording is to feel relaxed more than anything else."

And, to know, that some of your songs have gone on to become staples of Nirvana's back catalog. Yeah, I think it is great. I like it and I think they fit really well. I always thought we were similar bands. We were both kind of cryptic in our approach in spirit and in the execution. I think Kurt [Cobain] brought more out of the songs in a way. I mean, I didn't have much of a grasp on them when I did them. I think it is easier in a way to cover other people's songs sometimes, like that. Nirvana took the Meat Puppets out on the In Utero tour with them which turned out to be the last tour the band undertook before Cobain's tragic death. We were in Europe as we had flown there to do the Euro tour with Nirvana and we were suppose to meet them [Nirvana] in Prague but he [Cobain] had OD'd in Rome a couple days before. And as soon as that, it was over. That was it. But I was really worried at that point. Because it just didn't feel right as he had ried to kill himself. It wasn't an act. He was really fuckin' depressed by that stage. You later formed Eyes Adrift with Krist Novoselic and released a self-titled debut before splitting. Are there any plans to reissue the Eyes Adrift album? I don't know as it came out on SpinART Records. I don't know what the rights are whether they the label - own it or how Kris or Bud would feel about it as they both went on and did they're own thing. I would do it though as I think it is a cool album. You were one of the major bands that really made punk label SST Records a success. Many bands since, such as Sonic Youth have sued the label to reclaim their rights, how did you fare? I was the first to get my records back because I never had a contract with them in the first place. I got all my stuff back in the 1990s and put those out again on Rykodisc. I think I inspired all those other bands to do it because we were successful at doing it. One of the reasons why it all came to a head was because I wanted more distribution for our records. Our reasons were specific to our band, as we had opportunities and we wanted to grow but we were being held back by the label. But our deal was really different to everybody else. You've had your spell with major labels in the mid 1990s. Do you find you have more freedom now? I always had a lot of freedom with the majors. They couldn't figure us out. We got to do what we wanted to do because fate always worked with us when they didn't understand us. When they signed us they decided they didn't want us to produce ourselves but then all of a sudden there was Pete Anderson who we had met earlier through Dwight Yoakam from us having played with Dwight before he ever got famous. You know he opened for the four of us at one time and that kind of worked out. And that was an odd but cool pairing. Pete produced the Forbidden Places album. Then we tricked them into letting us use Paul Leary on the next record even though they had no faith in us. Paul is one of my oldest friends, I have known him and the rest of the Butthole Surfers since 1982. And then we pulled out our own hit out of that record Backwater - and that album ended up selling a lot of copies and so they were real happy. That album, Too High To Die was like the first time any of us were handed a major label budget and the A & R person would come in but all we were doing was pulling bongs all fuckin' day and passing out and trying to shoot ourselves in the foot on purpose which is something what we like to do. And they couldn't do anything about it. And then Paul came back and produced the next record No Joke!

"I never wrote before I had the Meat Puppets."

Would you rather be remembered as a great songwriter or as a great musician? I don't know. I write the songs so the band can play them. I never wrote before I had the Meat Puppets so really it is more about being a musician and where I'd just supply the band with songs. That I am considered good is just a fluke because I never really studied the craft that much. I have an approach, you know, where the situation calls for songs and a need to be original and so I just start writing them. There was a book called Meat Puppets: In The Studio' scheduled for release last Spring, yet it hasn't surfaced. What's the status with it? I'm not sure I think the author [Jake Brown] is just about done with it. I think it may be out later this year now. I think he was waiting for this record to come first so it could get a little bit of wind under the wings. So what has the rest of the year in store? We're going to just keep touring and working this record as we really enjoy playing it to audiences. We'll probably go back into the studio not before too long and start messing around a little bit so we can have our foot up on our next effort. Because we're kind of overlapping, where we're going to be touring into the next interim when we should be recording, we're probably going to be doing it on the run so we can get something out. Interview by Joe Matera Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2009
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