Sunday, May 22, 2011

Interview with Dan White, February 2011

Phone Interview with Dan White
Meat Puppets’ Roadie
February 19, 2011
I Called Dan at His Home

Interview transcribed by William Jergins

M- Can you describe your role in the band?

D- I set up the gear mainly, any other gaps, I’ll fill them.

M- Are you the main roadie in the band? Are there any others?

D- There aren’t any others currently. Davo was the sound man for a long time. Him and I traveled together. But I rejoined this current line-up; well, actually, the Ted Marcus drummer line up last year. It was September 2009.

M- So you’ve been with them as a paid employee since when?

D- The fall of ’89, ‘bout November.

M- How long have you known the Kirkwoods?

D- Well, since probably. . . it was February of 1980 when I first met them.

M- So you’ve been friends for a long time. And with Derrick, I imagine, too, at least back then.

D- Yeah, they were already jammin’ and gettin’ themselves together as the Meat Puppets.

M- How exactly did you go about meeting them? Did you go to school with them?

D- No. We met in a little punk rock scene that was here in Phoenix. We had house parties back then because none of the bars let any punk rock bands play.

M- Did you have a band of your own? Did you play?

D- No, uhm, I tried it out for a very brief period. I had a little punk band and played bass in that and we did one show and dissolved. So I never really had aspirations to be a musician.

M- So you were hanging out with them through the eighties. How did it come to be that they hired you on?

D- I guess the time was right. They already had Davo driving and doing sound for them and they needed more help. They wanted somebody to do lights. And I needed a job at the time so it all worked out pretty good. It was right about the time Monsters came out.

M- So they were just ending their SST time. And starting to make some money, I guess, whatever money they might have made back then.

D- Yeah. We had a lot of fun.

M- Last month I did and interview with Derrick, and a couple months ago I did one with Cris as well, and when I mentioned to Derrick that I was focusing on Meat Puppets II he said that the first thing that comes to his mind is this house that the three of them lived in, and what was going on at the house, and they’re at a period of time that they all lived together. They didn’t have any other jobs. Are you familiar with this house?

D- I am.

M- Can you describe the goings on for me? What were things like there?

D- Well, it was a large house. They lived together, they all lived together in a few different places but, uhm, the one in particular that comes to mind is when Curt’s twins were born. A lot of creativity. The practice space there was nice and they really gelled as a band at that time. They really came together well.

M- Derrick suggested that at some point between Meat Puppets I and Meat Puppets II, they’re getting stuff together for Meat Puppets II, that something clicked in their heads that they could actually do this, you know, as a professional band. And somehow that happened in that house.

D- Yeah. Up to a certain point it was an art project, but it became obvious that that’s what they were going to be doing for a living also.

M- It’s interesting that all three of you have mentioned Curt having kids. This seems to be really kind of important. Obviously having kids is important. You all mentioned it as almost important in the career of the band,. Do you think so?

D- Sure. A lot of the songs have emotions and thoughts and things in them that have to do with kids or just being a parent.

M- Right. And that somehow he had to take this gig a little more seriously since he had some people to support.

D- Yeah that does fire one up.

M- That does. You either quit the band and get a real job I guess or. . .

D- . . .take it serious.

M- Most of Meat Puppets II was written right before he had kids. As I understand it they were born just as it was recorded.

D- Yeah. Right. Songs like. . . Oh my god! Why am I having a brain fart.

M- On Meat Puppets II?

D- Yeah. . . uhm. . .

M- We’ve got “Split Myself in Two,” “Lost,” “Plateau”. . .I’m just trying to help you get your mind on the song your thinking of. I’m naming the songs for you.

D- Well, I’m thinking of a song that came out on Up on the Sun.

M- “Up on the Sun.” That song, the first song, is obvious: “You are my daughter,” that thing.

D- Yeah. Stuff like that really does reflect the presence of kids, and the stuff here on Meat Puppets II was prior to that.

M- And it could be more of an art project because they weren’t really thinking about kids at that point.

D- Well, no. These songs are little vignettes of life and, uh, “New Gods” referring to a restaurant in Mexico because the boys spent a lot of time in Mexico. So it’s not really that cryptic. It was what it is. What it says. “Lake of Fire” turned out to be the real big one from there. It’s just a fire and brimstones delivery of that idea.

M- Since we’ve started I’ll get some of your ideas song by song. So, “Split Myself in Two,” how do you feel about that song? What can you say about it?

D- I think it probably has to do with a relationship and trying to be two people.

M- It has the obvious reference to Rumplestiltskin.

D- (laughs) Yeah.

M- What about “Lost”? It’s a great song. Maybe my favorite on the record.

D- I think it’s referring to some of the early touring. It’s also kind of a commentary on the views of the day.

M- It has the Nixon line in it.

D- “Tired of living Nixon’s mess”.

M- I found it interesting how over the years he mixes up the lines a lot. He never sings it the same way twice, it seems.

D- It can come out any old way I guess.

M- The first stanza’s always the same -- “Lost on the freeway again” -- but then he puts different lines in different places depending on his mood I suppose.

D- Or just having a brain fart.

M- Just a brain fart song maybe.

D- They’ve got probably a hundred and sixty songs and countless covers. Some stuff is going to get mixed up occasionally.

M- It just seems particularly that song he likes to mix it up.

D- It’s a way of bending the poetry to make it interesting.

M- At what point did Curt become the leader of the band? This is the first record where he writes all the songs.

D- Yeah, this really is. It was apparent early on, even with the first record, but that was more of a group contribution.

M- The first record?

D- Yeah. This was definitely Curt’s material. And his concept. I guess it was like that from then on. Derrick wasn’t much of a song writer. He could definitely put the songs together, and he had a mind in the studio that was great. But he was the tunesmith, Curt was.

M- Is there a difference between being the song writer and being the leader?

D- Well, sure. Because after a certain point it becomes a business the person with the most invested interest is going to take over and make something happen, otherwise it isn’t going to last.

M- I think sometimes Curt, in his interviews, pretends like he’s very lackadaisical and anything can happen. But he’s kept his career going for thirty years. He must be paying attention to money and such things.

D- Sure. He has business acumen.

M- How about “Plateau.” That’s another song that they do regularly.

D- Yeah. It’s sort of an allegorical story of how life goes. “There’s nothing on the top but a bucket and a mop.”

M- I see a lot of poking at religion in some of these songs.

D- Yeah, people who think they’re special. Special people, special ideas.

M- It’s a very funny record.

D- People are basically idiots.

M- There’s a good Meat Puppets quote right there.

D- Yeah, they really need direction.

M- “We’re Here” could be about hallucinations of some kind.

D- It could be. I don't know if I’ve ever been able to decipher that. “We” could be “I.” And/or it could be “we” as in the band.

M- Right. “We’re here.”

D- “For the gig.”

M- Or it could be an LSD trip.

D- Well, there’s that aspect.

M- He seems intelligent enough that he doesn’t write just straight ahead drug songs.

D- He writes in metaphors.

M- “Climbing.” Another country song, like “Lost.”

D- Yeah it is. Just sort of like the business of being.

M- Do the lyrics of these songs remind you of conversations that were going on in the house with them sitting around smoking pot and playing music.

D- They were still discovering the music at this time. People were still naive a little bit. LSD was kind of a new thing.

M- Do you think at this point they thought they would be professional musicians for a long time?

D- I think so. They were already going out with Black Flag a lot by then.

M- They had already done one national tour, I think, at this point.

D- Yeah. They were getting a good taste of it and it was apparent. I can remember the day that they came to the job. . . we were valets at a restaurant. Curt was a busboy inside, and Cris and I were valets in the parking lot, and he came by with his truck loaded with gear and said that they were on their way to go tour with Black Flag. And that they were quitting.

M- And so they all just quit right there?

D- He did. I waved good bye and they took off. And I remember that was the last time that any of them had regular jobs.

M- Anything to say about “New Gods?” It’s the other punk rock song.

D- Yeah, it’s Punk Rock. It’s a story about going to Mexico.

M- It’s another song like “We’re here” where somebody’s talking them: “remember what we told you”. He seems to have these voices that he hears.

D- Conversations in the mind.

M- What about “Oh, Me”?

D- That’s a songwriter’s song. “I can’t see the end of me/ my whole expanse I cannot see.” It’s about having kids.

M- “Lake of Fire” you already kind of touched on. It sounds like it’s about the devil and hell. Nothing cryptic right?

D- Yeah, well, they grew up Catholic.

M- They still kick ass on that one live into today. It seems to be one of Curt’s favorites.

D- It wouldn’t be a complete set without it.

M- Those are the ones that go into the real jams.

D- And “Touchdown King.”

M- “Touchdown King.” That was what they started with the last time I saw them in Wyoming.

D- Yeah. That’s the set starter.

M- Do you get to go to Europe with them?

D- I do.

M- That’s cool.

D- I’m all twisted over that one. It’s the first time I get to go, and this will be a long one.

M- And they’re paying for you.

D- Yeah, so I’d better look good.

M- You better keep them sounding good, right? Well that’s really cool I’m glad they’re making that kind of money these days.

D- I bunk up with Cris at night and that keeps it a little cheaper on the band not having to pay for a fourth room.

M- The last one with lyrics is “The Whistling Song.”

D- That’s sort of a wind chime or dream catcher hanging there, you know. And it’s got some great whistling in it.

M- It does. And it’s the only song on the album that fades as well. It fades to end the record.

D- I think it’s a real homage to Marty Robbins.

M- It’s a cocky song. It’s confident. “I’m going to whistle my way out of this album whether you like it or not.”

D- One of their three songs that whistle.

M- The whistling trio. On Up on the Sun there’s one.

D- Yeah.

M- He’s whistling again on some of his more recent albums. He’s whistling on “The Monkey and the Snake.”

D- Whistling is a tried and true Meat Puppet instrument.

M- This is the album that critics and historians pull out of the Meat Puppets’ repertoire and say this is a classic record. Do you think this is a classic? Would you agree with that?

D- Yeah. It’s the first classic. It's the one that really made people sit up and notice. It’s the one that made Kurt Cobain fall in love with them. And so many others. “Lake of Fire” and “Oh Me” and “Plateau” have a lot of radio play. And they’re now part of the set again, and, you know, Curt really is reclaiming these songs again. So many people for so long thought that they were Nirvana.

M- Sure. I teach college kids and I mention Meat Puppets, and a lot of them have never heard of them. I can mention “Lake of Fire” and they’re like, “Oh, Nirvana.” And I say, “No Meat Puppets.” And then I play Meat Puppets for them.

D- “Here’s the history lesson, Sonny.”

M- Well, cool Dan. Is there anything that you think I’ve missed in our interview.

D- I know that you’re concentrating on the lyrics. But you’ve missed the instrumental songs.

M- Right. “Aurora borealis” and “I’m a Mindless Idiot.”

D- “I’m a Mindless Idiot” is the last one. It’s like an early riff to “Six Gallon Pie.” And “I’m a Mindless Idiot” is now being played in the set.

M- He seems to enjoy playing that one, you can see it in him.

D- And “Aurora Borealis” is also being worked on to be brought out. I think they’ve recently practiced that.

M- Just recently they did the whole album at. . .

D- All Tomorrow’s Parties; ATP.

M- And they’re going to do Up on the Sun.

D- Yes, and they’ve been working on that recently and learning how to do it again, ‘cuz it’s like, “I was I was so much better when I was young! What happened?”

M- A lot happened.

D- And in a couple days he had it.

M- That’s cool. Right on. I appreciate the interview Dan.

D- No problem, man.

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