Interview with Derrick Bostrom
Drummer with Meat Puppets (1980-1995)
February 18, 2012
Transcribed by William Jergins
Matt: The last time we talked which was a little over a year ago we talked about Meat Puppets II you’ll remember. Let’s do just a slight bit of overlap then. You recorded Meat Puppets II in early 1983, then for whatever reasons there are, Spot holds onto the tapes for eight or ten months. Right?
Derrick: More or less, yeah.
M: And it comes out in early ’84 officially, Meat Puppets II .
M: Up on the Sun comes out in early ’85, and I’m looking at the sleeve. It’s recorded, engineered, between January 26th and 28th, 1985. What do you guys do in those two years?
D: We start recording Meat Puppets II which actually I believe it was three sessions. It might have been two sessions. No. I think it was three because we did the basics, we were very satisfied with that. We went back to California and, I think I might have touched on this before, it took a couple of sessions to get the vocals done because the first one Curt went in with one strategy which was kind of based on his earlier, you know, growling what-naught. Once he started recording the vocals he realized he kind of needed to rethink his strategy around how he was going to get the effects he was looking for which were, he was basically needing to stretch. So he had to clean up his performing, his singing style a little bit, so that he could hit all the notes he wanted and to hit all the spots he wanted. So you’ll see that in, for instance, “Plateau” where he, like, needed to sing some of the parts low and some of the parts high. So the first time he went in he was just kind of going in cold, then he realized that he was going to need to woodshed a little more. I believe it took a second session to get the vocals done, and then came the usual, “How do we sequence it? Are we happy with this?” Because it was a big departure, so there was a certain amount of second guessing and concern, not just on our part, but on the part of other people. I don’t know why it took so long to get it done. Either Spot was working on another project or there were things internal to SST that we weren’t a party to, but either way we got the thing mixed in the Fall of 1983. During the summer we basically sat around and smoked pot and didn’t work and worked on our music. A lot of the stuff that came out of Up on the Sun was conceived during that period. We had a lot of really cheap shitty demo’s using two cassette recorders. There’s like a couple surviving ones still. Curt was writing. Curt was exploring whatever his vision was. And then it came out and we planned a tour with Black Flag which we did, a six week tour, in the spring of ’84.
M: And Nig-Heist right?
D: And Nig-Heist. And that was reasonably well documented. During that time both Black Flag and Meat Puppets were trying to stretch and expand their musical vision. It was the typical grueling Black Flag tour. I remember we were jamming to long jams of things like “Poke Salad Annie” and “New New Minglewood Blues,” the Grateful Dead song, so we were still playing way against type. We weren’t necessarily out there promoting Meat Puppets II. We were finding it hard to get. We were going to record stores and not really seeing it in a lot of the towns we were playing in. Shortly after that tour we decided we would rent RV’s and start touring in RV’s, and we did maybe two tours in ’84 in RV’s. In 1984 we rented a half inch eight track machine or maybe it was a quarter inch eight track machine. We rented a machine from our local music store and began laying down demo’s for Up on the Sun. We were actually hoping to flat out record the album ourselves in our own homes using the, at the time popular, DIY ethic, because we didn’t like the fact that SST had made us wait eight months to mix our record, six months or whatever. So our plan was to finish the record in our living room. We started getting into fidelity problems. I didn’t like the way the drums were sounding. I tried one strategy, which was popular at the time, which is to record the kick drum, and then record the snare drum, and then record the hi-hat, and the other guys didn’t have patience for that, and it didn’t work out very well. Basically, it was just too lo-fi and too cheap an approach and we got a lot of really great demo’s out of it, some of which got completed, some of which didn’t, and it’s all pretty muddy as you might expect. So eventually we were like, “Ok, we know all the songs. We’re going to rehearse really well and then we’re going to go in and do a three day blackout,” which is like Friday through Sunday. That was the January sessions. The first thing that I encountered was getting everything post-miked, and everything sounding right. You’ve got to take your live performance and figure-out if it works in the studio. We wanted to go for a certain clean kind of sound and once we miked up the drums I was having trouble getting the sounds I wanted. And once again I encountered, as I did throughout my career, that nobody really wanted to wait for me to get my parts right. They were like, “Get your drum parts done so I can move on to my parts.” So I had to leave the building, take a walk around the block for a half an hour until I could get my head around it. And then in the process I had to simplify a lot of my parts down, specifically a lot of the kick drum parts, because I needed to get consistent audio quality. Once I was able to get my parts rearranged on the fly, while the clock was ticking, we were able to move forward. And the record benefits from the streamlining of the arrangements because it’s got a lot more of an immediate kind of up-tempo and spontaneous feel to it. But there was a certain amount of on-the-fly rethinking of what I was going to do. And I was able to get it done and we were able to get the whole thing done by the end of Sunday night: basics, overdubs, vocals, mixing, cutting, sequencing and it was fucking done. That was definitely an incredible thing for us to do. So the space between the two years was just sitting around either touring or working on the other songs. And Curt had his kids. So from the fall of ’83 that was his main focus.
M: At what point do you all stop living in the same house?
D: Right about the time the kids were born. As the kids were being born we were getting a little bit more tense. Things were getting a little bit weirder. The party scene was kind of breaking down and I finally moved back to my parents, probably about a month before the twins were born. It really came down to their mom, who paid for the house, pulled me aside and said, “Look, you’re going to need to go back. We’re going to shut this party scene down.” Basically she sold the house and she’s like, “Listen I’m selling this house. I’m going to set Curt and his kids up in another place that’s not going to have room for you.” And I was like, “Thank you.” So I’m out of here. I went back to live with my mom which was, I was twenty-four. By the end of summer 1985 we had done well enough with Up on the Sun and with touring to be able to afford to. . .We all moved down to Tempe. But from the fall of ’83 ‘til about mid-’85, I think, those guys lived in what was essentially converted trailer kind of a place; a very inexpensive, not good area where they raised their twins for the first year and a half of their lives before we started making money and moved down to Tempe. At which point Cris and I lived together for a little while. And then Curt and his family lived in another place a couple blocks away and then I eventually moved out of Cris’s house and by’86 the two guys lived in houses next door to each other in Tempe. I had my own place with my own roommates, and we practiced in the back of Cris’s house in a converted garage, which we had covered with mattresses and carpet and put in an air conditioner into and all that stuff.
M: Curt goes and lives with the kids’ mother, does Cris go with him, or does he go somewhere else?
D: They lived together until 1985.
M: And you’re living with mom?
M: So how does this change your rehearsing? Where are you rehearsing at this point?
D: We were rehearsing at their house, and I don’t think I had a car. When we started we were living in Paradise Valley off the fruits of my mom’s impending divorce, in a guest house that used to have my step father’s study in it. Once the whole divorce thing had become settled there were no extra cars lying around and my mom was working and she was looking for a new husband, so I didn’t drive.
But there was an interim step. They were living in this converted trailer and then they moved just next to the Paradise Valley Mall and I used to actually take the bus. It was maybe ten minutes away from where I lived, but sometimes I would just jump on a bus and go over there or get a ride from my mom or they would drive me or whatever.
We still rehearsed. In fact our rehearsal got more targeted once we weren’t living together. That’s a key point. When you can rehearse anytime you probably don’t rehearse as focusdly. Once time was a little bit more dear, our rehearsals got more intensified. But we really didn’t get into a good rehearsal workflow until we all moved to Tempe, and when we all lived close enough and we all had vehicles and had a set place that we worked in. Once we moved to Tempe we were no longer rehearsing in a place where Curt was living, so we were rehearsing someplace other than where his kids were living. They may have been next door, but we were able to have our own space aside from Curt’s family so he could kind of create a little separation there. And then we were able to focus more on our performing.
M: So do you immediately start thinking about a new album even though Meat Puppets II isn’t out yet? You’ve finished recording it but it’s not out in these months.
D: That’s a good question. Obviously Meat Puppets II did well.
M: But it’s not out yet. In the period before it’s out.
D: Curt was still writing. That was really a fertile period for the writing. The writing period got less fertile as we moved forward, but at that point up until probably the end of ’85. A lot of it, you factor in things like having to work with the spotlight on you, once you’ve seen a bit of popularity, and suddenly the whole indie movement has become kind of a horse race. Who’s going to get a hit and who’s not? It becomes a different environment by the mid-eighties when suddenly we’re part of a national scene instead of a series of local scenes. And suddenly you get your Replacements, your Hüsker Dü, your MTV. What was the name of that show they used to have on?
M: Hundred and twenty minutes.
D: I think so, yeah. So there was all this pressure on us. Suddenly you’re like, “Oh, these bands have to get out of the ghetto.” And there was only one answer: “You have to make it on our terms.” There was no remaking the industry. There was either joining the industry or failing. And then the dynamic comes between independent distribution networks, like the one SST was involved in, and bands like The Replacements and Hüsker Dü jumping ship and joining the mainstream distribution and therefore depriving the indie distribution network of revenue. So you’ll hear stories of the tension between SST and the bands that moved on, or the tension between The Replacements and their old label and their management as they moved on. So some of that was playing out as well. It was just a whole uncharted area where people didn’t really know what they were doing, and your indies, like the SST people, were trying to say what we’ve got is good enough, and of course the bands just want what bands want, which is to be as big as Madonna. So Curt, you see it in his interviews with you, “I felt that I could be as good as David Bowie,” or, “I listened exclusively to Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen albums.” The artist doesn’t want to apply what he considers to be arbitrary constraints, whereas the indie network was like, “we got this,” and the bands were like, “you don’t got this, we’re going with these guys.” So that has an impact on how the bands conceive themselves and on the work, which you do see in our band.
M: I’m trying to get you to think specifically about this time, because Meat Puppets, the first record, comes out what ’81? Right?
M: And then you record Meat Puppets II in early ’83 and it doesn’t come out until early ’84. So you guys don’t know that you’re going to be successful yet for a while, do you? You’re not sure that this is going to work, especially in 1983 where you don’t have a record to tour on.
D: We felt that Meat Puppets II was definitely gonna be successful. Even Meat Puppets I was considered successful, and we thought that Meat Puppets II was gonna be great and that’s one of the reasons we were so chaffing at getting it out. And then when it came out we were on the road with Black Flag. We must have talked about his on the last interview. It came out while we were on tour with them. It got a four star review in Rolling Stone. They’re kind of miffed. We’re seeing tons of their records in the stores and almost none of ours, so we’re kind of miffed. And then we’re getting lumped in with Nig-Heist and Black Flag and we’re feeling kind of constrained. No, we thought we were definitely going to be real successful and the focus pretty much from the beginning, but definitely once we got Meat Puppets II out and we had gotten the success we had wanted, we were definitely looking to move as far ahead of the pack as we could. There was a competitive zeal in the band and as far as Up on the Sun goes, Curt will tell you that was very influenced by Duran Duran or something like that. I’ve never seen that. I don’t know if he still thinks that, but definitely at the time we were like, “We’re going to make indie dance music with Meat Puppets flair. And we're going to be clean sounding and we’re not going to be alt-country. It was post-Duran Duran, post-REM kind of record. The Up on the Sun one is us feeling very confident that we could play the game.
M: So in this period of ’83 after you’ve recorded it, before you’ve released it, you’re already focused on making a new record. Curt’s writing new songs focused on a record.
D: We’re just in an environment where we’re always working. Curt was always working on stuff. In terms of what he was listening to or what he was thinking, I remember that Thriller had come out during that period, and he was definitely into Thriller, and there was a period when it suddenly clicked in his head how that related to what he wanted to do. He was woodshedding and woolgathering as they say in the writer’s world. He wasn’t necessarily putting everything down on paper. We weren’t necessarily getting together and focusing on stuff. We were just learning songs, one at a time, and he was formulating his next moves. But the thing about it is as he was becoming a father he was kind of separate from us. And he was dealing with stuff that was based on what his plans were going to be for fatherhood. He wasn’t married to the woman. So the first thing you gotta do then, “Am I going to stay with this woman? This is happening to me. I gotta get right with it.” You know, at one point you have a girlfriend. The next thing you know she’s pregnant. Next thing you need to decide, “Is this a family?” So a lot of what was going on in his mind is reinventing himself as a father of twins. That took an awful lot of energy. It’s easy to just say Up on the Sun has all these fatherhood themes, and I know that there are definitely a lot in there, and it’s true. But on Up on the Sun you see a lot more of Curt holding his own council. And it’s much much less of a group thing. You’ll see us make our own specific contributions. Curt’s vision is, he’s not just a guy who’s contributing songs to a band. He’s stepping into a, I wouldn’t even say it’s a leadership role because for Curt it’s really about Curt. To him, he wouldn’t say that there’s a difference between Curt Kirkwood and The Meat Puppets. He wouldn’t say, “I’m a member of The Meat Puppets.” He would say it’s one and the same. He talks this way. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s like, we don’t really give a fuck about things outside of us. We don’t really give a fuck about the world. It comes very naturally to just be very, very self focused. And you get more of that in the Up on the Sun songs. They tend to be very personal, whereas the Meat Puppets II songs do, we’ve talked about this before, were all about the notion of young men growing into their careers and figuring-out what they want to do with their lives. But Up on the Sun tends to have a lot more personal kinds of themes that are personal to him.
M: He starts moving to what he calls “oblique,” putting images together where a lot of the songs on Up on the Sun it’s hard to get a theme to them.
D: Here’s what he used to tell me. He would write a bunch of stuff, and this was obviously his way of oversimplifying for humorous effect, but he would write things that meant something to him and then he would change the words around so that nobody but him would know, so that his original meaning would be obscured. And I try to describe the way I understood the way he used language the last time. Just a very plastic thing. Words are tools and we can do with them what we please. He will change the words around and they will retain their meanings. And everybody has their own limitations. It’s not like he’s one hundred percent successful in that. Somebody with a greater mastery of words might have had something that was both oblique and made sense. Sometimes it was enough for him just to obscure some of his meanings, and just experiment with words. What happens, then, when you’re not a master, theme becomes word play instead of something larger. Sometimes when it’s not as successful the theme becomes word play. I think that “Two Rivers” is one of the best things we ever did. It still knocks my socks off. A song like “The Whistling Song” and “Two Rivers” are probably the best things we ever did.
M: What is it that you like about “Two Rivers?”
D: I think it really comes together well. I think that the music is unique and hard to categorize. It has a sublime non-categorized quality. I think that the themes come together in the music and still retain that sense of word play, and I don’t think that he tries to cut any corners on it. Not everything in life is successful and if you can have one or two really ‘A’ things on your plate that’s pretty good. A lot of life isn’t like that. I always pick my favorite thing of any one of our records and that’s my favorite thing on that record, and it’s one of my favorite things we ever did. Whereas something like “Enchanted Porkfist” was a fun jam to play, but I don’t take to much solace from the lyric.
M: That’s one of the hardest to try and figure anything out lyrically.
D: It’s supposed to be like “Liquified” or something. It’s just supposed to be kind of fun.
M: I read some old interview of Curt’s where he says Up on the Sun is like your Beach Boys record with your multi tracking. Do you see that?
D: One of the things you got on Up on the Sun is Curt had gotten a Rockman, so he had invested heavily in the Tom Scholes compression Technology.
M: So tell me what a Rockman is please.
D: The Rockman? You remember the band Boston right?
D: And Boston’s leader Tom Scholes was an engineer and he developed a technology that would allow for a purely electronic compression algorithm that would sound like a Marshall Stack, you know, a wall of stacks. If you look it up you’ll find a much better explanation,
but what it allows you to do is to have a lot more control over your guitar sound in terms of how dirty it is, how clean it is, so you can get a very clean dirty sound. Listen to some of the Boston albums and then go back and listen to Up on the Sun and you can’t miss it. It’s really obvious. It allows you to have a greater control over a wider range of guitars because you can have a finer control over the color, the sound, rather than having it all just mushed together. Cuz you put a mic up to a speaker. So if you listen to the record on headphones you can see how compressed it is, how compressed that signal is and how it allows you to have three distinct guitar tracks that are, like I say, distinct. So, when he’s thinking of Beach Boys he’s also thinking that’s the first record where they tried to do vocal blends as opposed to, say, country harmony. You’re gonna see more than just two voices. He’s going for the blend and the Beach Boys thing is all about blending five voices into one. So you’re going to get a vocal theme that’s supposed to be a blend instead of a single voice. You hear it on “Maiden’s Milk” for instance. There’s a good example of it. It’s not like all the songs do that, but you definitely get it on “Maiden’s Milk.” You also get that more on Mirage and after that we kind of let it go. They had me singing on Mirage and it’s like, “Oh we got three voices,” and I was like, “Whatever.”
M: When you wrote about Out My Way you brought up the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Cris and Curt flexing their musical prowess. They seem to be doing that on this as well aren’t they, on Up on the Sun?
D: More or less. But the songs are still real short and have more of a pop structure. They have intricate parts but they’re not so much designed to showcase. It was just better integrated so you got interesting instrumental parts budded to songs that they fit in rather than having like a five minute solo song or something. They get back to it in Mirage where the song structures are basically more pop oriented, and they try to integrate the playing into the pop structure. A lot of the songs on Up on the Sun underwent a lot of transformation. If you listen to the bonus tracks you can tell that the songs started out as a kind of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath vibe and they were more slowed down, a little grungier, a little heavier, and then once we ditched that and honed them down to a three piece core that was more up tempo and not quite so, God I don’t even know, just not quite so heavy.
M: This is not a heavy album.
D: No. But it was kind of conceived to be heavier than it ended up being. Because we were listening to a lot of Zeppelin and guitar seventies bands and then, again, the more danceable sound of the mid-early eighties. Your Duran Durans and Michael Jacksons begin to penetrate more. Because we were really into a seventies rock bag in like ’82, ’83, ’84. You listen to My War and you see they’re heavily Black Sabbathed out. By the time we’re actually recording Up on the Sun we’re not into that bag anymore.
M: And you’ve left punk rock behind completely.
D: Well we haven’t left punk rock behind completely because we’re still working in a rock ‘n’ roll pop structure. You hear a song like the title track, which you may have come across descriptions of a show that we had done when we were opening for Suicidal Tendencies, and Curt started singing about his daughter over a rambling figure which ended-up being that song. So Up on the Sun has its core in that tension between us and the punk audience. We’re still taunting them, although that’s not what it’s about, obviously. It’s about Curt and his kids and what-naught, but we were still playing a lot of punk rock shows and it wasn’t until after the long tour with Black Flag where we were like, “We are definitely going to go our own way with this thing.” By that time we were already working on the Up on the Sun album, so you’re going to see a confluence there of the old styles and the new. It’s transitional and it comes together really ridiculously serendipitously well when you consider how many diverse things are actually put to bear on it.
M: Curt doesn’t think you guys did the songs justice live. Live you played the songs a lot punkier, a lot heavier, than the songs on the album.
D: Definitely not. And that was a problem. That began to become a problem as soon as we started. Like I said, even when we had Meat Puppets II out, and that stuff was pretty rudimentary, it was hard for us to pull off shit that wasn’t rushed through, speedy, get it out of the way kind of stuff, and a lot of that is due to my own limitations. Because it’s real hard not to play too fast. I was still struggling to learn how to not rush the tempos to the very last day of the band. It was only in 1995 that I was starting to say, “Alright, I really need to know how to not rush tempo’s.” But back then it was like, you know, we get into situations where the other guys drive all the way to San Francisco and I’m lying in the back and they’re tired from driving and they can get it up and I just don’t have the energy to get through a whole show and they’re just like, “What the fuck?” And I literally, part of what I had to do to get enough energy was to start doing aerobics and start exercising and getting my lung and heart capacity up and working out to try to be strong enough to put the power into the material that it really deserved. It really became apparent in around 1985 that we did not have a live act that we wanted. We were still doing a lot of fucking Elvis covers. We were doing a lot of hippie seventies covers and we didn’t really have a handle on how to do the material that we wanted to do, that we were recording, live. And it wasn’t until Huevos that we were really able to put it together where we could record what we were doing live and perform live what we were recording. And it continued to be a struggle for us until the very end. It just wasn’t that easy.
M: This seems to be about the most upbeat and happy record you guys put out.
D: Yeah. It’s funny. You think of The Meat Puppets as quirky and you think of some of the records as darker than others, but they’re all pretty dark. And that one seems to be lighter in a lot of respects. Certainly we were probably taking a little less acid with the infants around. You have to assume that the biggest drug that Curt was on during that period was lack of sleep. There’s just no way.
M: I was doing my research on this record, I’m thinking of the cover now: the painting, the coffee mug. I had never seen that as a marijuana leaf on the coffee mug.
D: It’s not.
M: No. But the people who want you guys to be marijuana smokers see a marijuana leaf on there.
D: And then there’s some people who’d rather focus on Ron Paul’s presumed racism rather than his crazy foreign policy. People pick and choose. There’s no accounting for tastes. No. Curt’s mom’s father had a resort down in Mexico. We had a lot of Mexican crap around that she would bring back. She later became an importer of Mexican furniture and stuff. That’s just a standard garden variety Mexican ceramic cup that she had brought back from somewhere and he did a painting of it. It was just a still life. That’s the exact cup that he had in his house, sitting on his counter. It’s supposed to be mundane. It was just a lark to put it on the cover. Just a fun idea.
M: What you guys seem to be telling me kind of flies in the face of what a lot of us believed, that Meat Puppets were always stoned and irresponsible. It sounds like you were pretty responsible human beings.
D: We were always stoned and we were always irresponsible compared to people who aren’t stoned and are responsible. I mean Curt was the kind of father who, during the time he had infant kids, he had long blond and green hair, wore women’s glasses, and they used to feed their kids food coloring so that they would shit different colors. And Curt never curtailed his smoking around his kids. They grew up watching him do bongs. Kind of freaked out some people that new us and others didn’t care. We believed that we were going to be successful career musicians. We were responsible in the sense that we were going to do what it took to be responsible rock musicians. We were certainly no less responsible than your average rock musicians. So within that framework we were responsible. We cared about our art and we treated it as a career. To the extent that we knew what that meant is another story. We weren’t necessarily good at it because we were making it up as we went along. We didn’t have a manager. We didn’t have a plan. We didn’t have a consensus. We shoved a lot of shit under the rug and moved forward, and when things blew up we dealt with it then. It’s funny. We were no less responsible than my current employer. Or any other fucking business. You can’t say that we were irresponsible and then look at the shape of the American economy. If we were irresponsible what does that make them? At least we didn’t throw the whole thing over the toilet and off the cliff.
We had investors. The Kirkwood’s grandfather left them a decent inheritance which allowed us to keep the world at bay and it wasn’t really until the inheritance started to run out that we started to buckle down a lot more, but that wasn’t until probably ’86, and from then on we were either out on the road or working on our next record. We had very, very few breaks. We worked almost as hard as a regular job. We didn’t work as hard as I work now, by any means, but we focused on the music as our career. So we were responsible in that respect. On the other hand that means that we were focusing on how to fuck shit up and get out there and drive people crazy, but that was how we made our bones.
M: On “Two Rivers” it seems like he starts writing about nature, which continues through on a lot of other albums.
D: Yep. Well, it’s obviously about relationships. It’s obviously about joining two things. There’s the metaphor of the river joining and what-naught. It’s spiritual relationship stuff. Well executed.
M: A lot of escape kind of songs on here.
D: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s the flip side of the fatherhood theme, wouldn’t you say?
M: I would say the fantasy of getting away from the family every once in a while I guess?
D: Or the brothers.
M: Or the brothers.
D: Yeah, the family, the drummer, the responsibility. I think it’s really the responsibility.
M: It seems like the escapes are happy escapes on this album.
D: Well let’s go back to what we talked about last year. If Meat Puppets II is about boys growing into men then Up on the Sun is about new men looking back at their now lost boyhood. There’s the soundbite for you.
M: A quote from Carducci quoting Mike Watt who listened to it and says it sounds like Talking Heads which is a band you haven’t brought up as a reference yet.
D: Eh, I wouldn’t discount it. By the mid-eighties the Talking Heads were already like a dance band anyways. So I wouldn’t say Talking Heads, but what I would say, and I would say it very strongly, and somebody else we haven’t brought up, is Brian Eno. That’s not our Brian Wilson album, that’s our Brian Eno album.
M: Is there any Rush in there?
D: I don’t even think I was aware of Rush in 1985. I learned about them a couple years later and I never cared for it. The Kirkwoods were into all of that stuff. ECM jazz was Cris’s favorite shit. They loved Art Ensemble of Chicago. They loved, who are these guys? Ralph Towner. I can’t even remember everbody’s names. They liked all that Miles Davis influenced fusion jazz and stuff. That’s where they came from. Curt really liked Zeppelin and ZZ-Top and stuff. Cris really liked fusion jazz. Curt listened to a lot of that stuff and it informs a lot of his playing and a lot of the way he sees music.
M: There are a couple songs that have Cris’s name, just two of them, “Maidens Milk” and “Animal Kingdom.”
D: That co-songwriting experiment was one that was more or less deemed a failure by Curt. It was really Curt throwing Cris a bone. Cris wrote a bass line for that song that was more or less prominent. Cris tried to make a case that he had written a part of it and Curt was like, “Fine, whatever.” What Cris did was help arrange a song, and if you want to say that the arrangement is a part of the composition, great, but really those songs were written by Curt. Cris didn’t really actually write any of the parts so much as maybe suggest a bridge. I didn’t get a song credit for the two or three songs that I titled on Meat Puppets II, but to me it’s like you give a song a title you give it focus. But there was no more song writing that Cris did then I did on things like that. But yes, Cris is coming to the fore, you see it even more on Out My Way where it’s really starting to go and when you listen to these Mirage outtakes I’ll be posting here within the next month or two, depending on how long it takes me to get the writing part of it done, you can really hear how integral Cris becomes to the sound. And he was really starting to play that role in Up on the Sun. Not so much on Meat Puppets II. But if you listen to the way he’s stepping up on that record he definitely deserved, quote unquote, the credit he got from song writing, but it’s more of a reflection of his contribution than he actually wrote something in the songs. He’s really starting to drive the arrangements, which is one of the reasons why I was starting to fall behind, because his musical vision is way different from mine, much more fusion jazz relayed. I’m a bubble-gum guy. I’m an Elvis rocker guy. I had no fucking idea.
M: I’ve asked Curt a couple times, on the album sleeves the lyrics will be printed one way and then on the vocal tracks he’ll sing different verses, different stanzas, put different words in. In typical Curt fashion he just kind of blows it off and says, “I just sang whatever came in my mind.” He suggests that you were the one who was responsible for getting the final album sleeve cover approved, and you probably turned in the lyrics for most of these albums.
D: That’s accurate. Basically you got your lyrics, they’re basically a set of words. They’re all done. In the studio he’s going to sing it. What you’ve got is a performance of the lyrics which takes liberties where the performer deems necessary. I would usually take the lyrics and draft them to be read. They were supposed to be a take on poetry. So I would never consider printing the same verse twice. If it may show up twice in a song I wouldn’t print it twice. It’s not like a drastic change, it’s just that my editing approach is to take a body of a song lyric and put it down on paper so that it reads well. So that it’s not just cuz you’re following along and listening to the song. And, yes, I made the conscious decision, which is the way I viewed things, that this is not the words to the song that needs to be followed along to. This is a work in and of itself. So part of what I’m trying to do when I’m presenting the song lyric on the paper is to say to the viewer, “This is a work. This isn’t just a fuckin’ side thing that you do.” You got your song, you got your lyric, you got your performance. The whole point is that it’s trying to make it seem legit.
M: So he never gave you a sheet? You wrote the lyrics down yourself?
D: I took his lyrics and retyped them. I rarely deviated from what he wrote down. He may be just blowing it off like, “Ask Bostrom about it, he finished the record covers.” But it’s not like I would take his words and change them. I guess this is the point. When I was doing lyric sheets I wasn’t basing my lyrics on the recording, I was basing it on the lyrics that he had written.
M: You even point us in the write direction on “Animal Kingdom” where he sings “Up in the mountains,” and you put in parenthesis “my head.”
D: Right, cuz I think he says it twice. That was a condensation rather than putting the entire verse down twice with two different words. I just put it once and then put the second ones in parenthesis. You also have to keep in mind space considerations, layout considerations. So you’re going to go in and snip a word here, change an “and” to an “&” if you need to get space. Avoid widows and orphans and the usual sort of thing.
M: I’ve read where you’ve said that this and Meat Puppets II are deservedly your best and classic records.
D: I think if Meat Puppets II and Up on the Sun were removed from the equation, say if the band had come out and started with Out My Way and then moved forward, we might be as well remembered as, I don’t know, The Swimming Pool Q’s.
M: I remember them.
D: There’s plenty of bands that were able to work. And certainly we would’ve been able to work and be a fixture on the circuit, but really it’s Meat Puppets II and Up on the Sun that makes a project like yours get green lighted. You’re not going to talk a publisher into doing a book about the lyrics to Monsters.