Interview with Cris Kirkwood
Bassist/vocalist with Meat Puppets
February 19, 2012
Transcribed by William Jergins
Cris- Just for honesty’s sake let me say up front that, even though I know who you are, you might have to introduce me to yourself to me the next time we meet again. I have what is known in the literature. . .it is called brain damage.
Matt- Is that a technical term?
C- No, it’s a hobby.
M- I understand.
C- I may be majorly spaced, but I know who you are. After you say, “It’s me, Matt,” I’ll go, “Oh hey. Hi. Good to see you again,” and we’ll recall that we actually had this conversation.
M- Last time we had a formal interview was back in 2010, and we talked about Meat Puppets II. I’m onto the next chapter of my book, Up on the Sun. In the book I’m focusing on these two, and then I’m going to skip your middle career, of the original band anyway, and go to Too High To Die and No Joke. I’m focusing on these two because they’re considered the classics to people who write and pay attention to such things, and fans as well. You guys recorded Meat Puppets II in early 1983. For whatever reason Spot holds onto the tapes for eight or ten months before releasing them. So Meat Puppets II comes out in early 1984, and then you don’t record Up on the Sun until early ‘85. What are you doing in those two years?
C- Jackin’ my shit. I don’t know, it was a long time ago. Nothing. The reason I got into punk rock. Lay around listing to the hair grow out of my nostrils.
M- How about as a band, what are you doing?
C- We continued to play. We were all young. Curt had kids in there. His kids were born. We moved into another house. We were just playing. Doing that kind of crap.
M- So you stopped living together. The three of you, right?
C- No, we were still living together.
M- Doesn’t Derrick move out at some point?
C- When did Derrick move out? No. He didn’t move out until we went down to Tempe. We were definitely working on Up on the Sun stuff. Did Derrick live at that house? I can’t fucking remember. You’d have to ask him. We moved out to another house. The house I associate with Up on the Sun with was up in, like north Phoenix. Meat Puppets II happened out on the West side; the house that the babies were born at. Meat Puppets I was at a little house down in central Phoenix. Up on the Sun we were moved out of this house, when that material started to come together, I think Derrick lived there, or maybe he didn’t. Maybe he was living back at his mom’s.
M- Derrick claims that he moved back with his mom.
C- He did, he moved with his mom. That’s what it was, and we moved to the West side. What did he say?
M- That you and Curt and the kids and maybe the kid’s mom were all living together somewhere.
C- Yeah, and my girlfriend Kelly. We moved back to north Phoenix, and that’s what I can actually remember about that. As far as what we did day-to-day, what does anybody do day-to-day? Curt was busy writing material. I was writing some stuff. One of things that we did was in-between Meat Puppets II and Up on the Sun, you know, Curt had the kids, and we were just looking to work on the next project, and we actually decided we’d just make it at home, so we borrowed a sixteen-track tape deck. Fostex used to make a quarter-inch or a half-inch sixteen-track, maybe it was only a quarter-inch tape. We borrowed that from a guy down at a music store in town here that we knew, and started recording Up on the Sun. It wasn’t called Up on the Sun then, but it was basically the same material. A lot of that has seen the light of day since, like on that rerelease. What led us to not pursuing that project was that the guy sold the tape deck and we had to give it back to him.
M- So where were you recording? In a garage or what?
C- No, I think it was a house. Whose house was that? Was it Darrell’s house? It might have been our old sound guy Darrell’s house. Quite a bit of stuff got recorded. And Darrell DeMarco, our first sound guy, who’s a friend of Derrick’s from high school, was doing the engineering on it. Up on the Sun was an easy record to make and was a really fast record to make. Because for one, we were young and on top of our game and all we did was play music together. The record has gone on to be a classic for a reason. The material was particularly giving.
The arts are an odd thing and it’s a little off putting to have classics because it means the rest of your work is what, shit? I like them all. People can keep their fucking opinions to themselves for all I care. But one of the reasons I think things rise out is because the material itself is particularly giving. You’re just at a special place, the place where we were at at the time. We were a really fucking agile band at that point, had been about the same thing essentially for years and continued to pursue it, and still are. It was easy to make the record because all the songs, the arrangements, were done. We actually worked on the stuff in the studio. If you listen to the thing, the songs from the session, they’re a little more wastey from the home studio session. They’re a little more stoney. They’re a little slower. Little bit more psychedelic. The only one that I can recall actually hearing, and that I’m speaking about specifically is, the version of “Up on the Sun” that we did. It was definitely real wastey.
M- Where are you rehearsing?
C- We rehearsed at mine and Curt’s places. You know where the band lived.
M- And you’re pretty serious at this point saying that you’re going to be a career rock n roll band. So you have a schedule or what?
C- No, we never did that. No. Curt and I were brothers. We weren’t that particularly close, but our lives started drawing in around music together at a particular point. Kind of in the way that they had drawn in around motorcycles. The things that I had been drawn into with Curt are kind of more his lead. He was a little older than me. So motorcycles, I can’t remember if I ever really gave a fuck about them, but once we had them I thought they were neat. The music I came to on my own. Curt and I started to coincide on a musical level. But as far as it ever being a fucking career, we never sat around and went like, “Here’s the plan,” much to my chagrin as an older poor person. Cuz back then especially, the music industry could earn you a lot of money. Have you ever seen that movie? What is that one about heavy metal? The decline of
M- The Decline of Western Civilization?
C- Yeah. And all these bands are talking about, “We’re gonna make it. We’re gonna make it.” It just was never really a part of what I was doing this for. I never was that big of a fan of rock and roll as a kid. I got into playing music when I saw Deliverance. The banjo I just thought was fascinating. I went and got a banjo and suddenly realized what the arts meant to me, what they could mean. It was my touch to humankind, if you will. Just how some people get into math or money or whatever. I’ve never thought I want to be a rockstar. It just seemed dorky. And I thought rock ‘n’ roll was fucking dorky, but I really enjoyed playing music. No, we didn’t have band meetings.
M-How did you enjoy your relationship with SST and those guys?
C- It was a gas. We did whatever the fuck we wanted. We’d record a record and then give it to them, and go, “Here’s our new record,” with all the artwork and everything and they’d put it out. They were buddies at a certain level. They were odd folks on a certain level as well. It was fucking Black Flag! It was just like, “Whoa, hard core, far out!” And I dug Flag. They’re a fucking good band. And I dug some of the other bands around there a lot. I really dug The Minutemen. I really liked the people in the band. It started with people doing similar things, and doing neat things as well. It was all part of the cool side of punk rock. It was like, “Oh yeah, I guess you can just go out and get records made.” It’s just a question of paying somebody to do it. Do it yourself, that kind of a thing. It was interesting. It was all such a hands-on sort of affair. It was fun.
M- Was it frustrating at all that it took so long for Meat Puppets II to come out after you recorded it?
C- No. It seemed natural. We started recording the instrumental tracks, and I remember driving home from that session, and being so pleased, because I was high as the dickens when we made that. That was our MDA record. We went into record Meat Puppets II with a fat sack of MDA; had a hook up with the guy that made it. We were fucking plowed out of our gourds putting down the instrumental tracks to that thing. And I remember driving home across the beautiful eastern half of Southern California, and listing to the thing going, “Oh neat,” because I had some of my faux-hippie-stoner improv bass riffs to listen to. We recorded the instrumentals and eventually went back. Curt sang the thing later. It was just the amount of time that shit took to get out.
M- Because with Up on the Sun you end up doing everything in three days from start to finish.
C- Yeah, that thing was recorded and mixed in three days.
M- Three days. I’m wondering if you didn’t want to wait around for that one to be done.
C- No, that wasn’t what it was. If Derrick said that he’s right. I don’t know. The three days thing was right but, no, that didn’t have anything to do with it. Like I said, we were really well practiced. No dicking around. It’s a particular way of making a record as much as anything. At this point we had made so many records. It’s just one way of doing it. Get the material down first, and then demo. Ultimately what’s going to be Up on the Sun turned out to have been demos. Then you get the material down and you just go and record the shit. It’s not that big of a deal. It’s just a little bit of music. But it wasn’t about, “The last record took so long to get out we’re going to record this one real fast so we can get it out fast,” or anything like that. This stuff happened as it could. SST was doing it in the same way that they were doing Black Flag. It was a fucking art project, and it was a business consideration as well, but they weren’t businessmen; bunch of fucking lefty freaks!
M- So another thing you did in between those two records, Meat Puppets II and Up on the Sun, is you went on that tour with Black Flag and Nig Heist. This is one of your first major tours, isn’t it?
C- No. I mean all that stuff at this point could all be considered one of the first, but we went on our first tour alone in ’82. Our first national tour.
M- And how was the tour with Black Flag. Any remembrances?
C- It was fine. It was interesting back then. It was definitely neat, you know, as a kid, grew up in Phoenix, to be able get to these different cities. The first tour was a trip, when we were really young. I had never been to the East coast before. By the time we did the Flag thing our relationships with a lot of those people had already been developed, through the scene itself. Flag is struggling to meet the rigid requirements of the discerning punk rock audience and they got Rollins on vocals. That was in play. The dudes that like to dress up in the punk rock fashion come out to the Black Flag show in force. It was fun. It was neat. It way before, any real commercial considerations were in play. It was an interesting route to take to go out and make music. To me it seemed like how it must have been for the first rock bands. Elvis touring around in a station wagon. People just making their thing. It’s music being made because people want it, as opposed to it being a business model that eventually develops out of that. It’s the nascent phase of it all. The beginning of it all before it becomes, like, “alternative.” It’s just a bunch of people in different places making things happen as they could.
M- How did the Black Flag audiences react to your show?
C- I don’t know. I can’t remember. It was a long time ago. We never went over in punk rock. The punkers always hated us. But those were the only places we played shows. It was weird. We got into the L.A. scene through Derrick knowing some people that moved out there from here, that got in there early, real early, late seventies L.A. punk scene. Namely David Wiley, who was the singer of The Human Hands and was in a band from here called The Consumers. And the guys in The Consumers went on to be the guys in 45 Grave. Jimmy Giorsetti’s from here, who’s Don Bolles, the drummer for The Germs. So David got in a band out there and then kept in touch with Derrick and once we started playing Derrick got him some tapes and that’s when we wound up going out to L.A. and that’s how our first seven-inch came out. That was the arty side to the punk rock scene. And David was gay. That gay contingent was well-represented and just less of the hardcore thing. The hardcore thing hadn’t quite become so formulized or solidified as it became a few years later. Black Flag, weren’t that, they didn’t dress that way, they didn’t wear their hair like that, but that’s who came to their shows, though, in droves, was that batch of kids that suddenly came up who were all into Doc Martins and skanking and being bald.
M- And these are the people you were playing for, right?
C- Well, no. Those people we were playing for, like, the Black Flag thing, but before that we got into kind of the arty L.A. punk scene. It was an interesting time. Shows just happened and there would be these different kind of bands. We were able to go all around just how we still do. It’s just that punk rock allows a band like us the opportunity to play shows out. Especially back then it was like, “This is attracting an interesting cross cut of somewhat like minded people.” At base the likemindedness was to have the shows happening and put records out. And it was neat. The shows with Flag after that were not the arty style of shows. They were fucking punk rock shows flat out. And Flag was fucking good at it. It was fucking hilarious. And occasionally the cultures would mix, the worlds would mix, or were starting to at some points.
One time we played at The Rainbow in Denver. It was Barry Fey’s club, he’s this promoter. I don’t know if he’s still around, probably is. It was Feyline Productions. I remember that shit from in the seventies when I was going to shows as a kid. Feyline presents. It was a pretty big promoter in the Southwest, and the Rainbow was his showcase club in Denver. So we were booked in there with the Heist and Black Flag. Nig Heist is, like, fucking Mugger. You just won’t meet a more fearless person, a cool representative, especially now to look back on how it all played out, just an interesting character on the punk rock scene. He was a fifteen-year-old runaway that just became a part of SST, and ultimately wound up being one of the owners, and has fared the best, financially at least, out of Chuck, Greg, Mugger, and Joe Carducci, the guys that were the core of the thing. Mugger actually took what he got out of, I think, his settlement with Greg and went to school and became a financial guy, and he’s retired and wealthy. You’re talking about the dude who didn’t finish high school! He was the lead singer of the Nig Heist right?
Mugger would come out and he’d wear fish net stockings. Mugger was a little hardcore dude. He didn’t wear Doc Martins but he was a little baldy. So he’d put on this long hair wig and fish nets and he’d wear a dildo holder with his dick and balls pulled through the hole. “Well that’s pretty much, I guess that’s a sexual innuendo of a kind.” Davo was drumming. Trocolli was faking bass and Dukowski was playing bass behind the curtain, and Billy Stevenson was playing guitar and Billy would wear a long haired wig. He wouldn’t show his junk though, but he was the drummer from Flag. Billy would play guitar with Nig Heist. And Davo who became our sound guy after he worked with Flag, and then he worked with Firehose. Another one of the guys that Flag attracted, that SST and Flag attracted, these lost souls that found a home. And they all had a pension for being cut. Davo still is just cut to the walls and alienated as fuck and I haven’t talked to him in as long as I haven’t talked to Derrick. So anyways. . .
So Trocolli would come out naked. From the start of the show you’re talking about at least public nudity. I mean, I don’t know, is that legal if the club says it’s legal. Is a club that lets kids in allowed to show wieners? And the pigs were around the punk rock scene a lot, for sure, and Flag was no stranger to run-ins of a legal nature and was no stranger to having their shows turn insane. Those guys were involved in that riot in Hollywood. That notorious punker riot. The thing grew out of one of their shows. So they’re definitely pushing the boundaries artistically and socially and what naught. You know, showing your wiener is something, right? And the songs were like “Tight Little Pussy”: (singing) “She’s got a tight little pussy.” Heavy metal. About fucking, “Tasting my meat.” Just really gaudy shit and Mugger was just fucking fearless and ribald and would sit there and tell the punkers who were flipping out, he’d like, when they’re lugying at him he’d tell them to make sure to aim for his butt hole cuz after the show when he’s getting booty raunched he wants to have plenty of lubrication. He backed it up. He was a stout little fellow, and it was some interesting shit.
There’s an interesting, telling part of the whole thing: Black Flag’s relationship to their audience. For one thing it’s a business consideration that’s telling in terms of the do-it-yourself ethos and where everybody was coming from back then, not having some local band be on the bill. You’re dictating the actual content of the entire evening, plus you’re not having to slice off the extra money to pay your roadies to open for you. Because that was essentially Black Flag’s crew.
Let me finish the story. So those guys are playing their show. Oh yeah, and it’s telling that Black Flag would want to have not only that side, the financial reasons, but then also what they wanted to do to their audience. Because they purposely were goading the punkers. By that point, Flag had really drew-out the hardcore guys. Suddenly hardcore happened and that was like a very clear cut kind of a movement. It had its own look, its own sound, its own macho stance. And that was a big part of it. It really was to get those guys to go off. You were asking how they responded to us. Nig Heist was a purposeful “fuck you” to those people. Artistically it’s neat to go out and have the people that work for you purposely go out and goad your audience before you play. And they were good at it. That night, anyways, they’re up there and they’re doing their thing.
M- Nig Heist?
C- Yeah, and then at one point they pretend to butt fuck, and they’re both naked. It’s a couple of dudes completely naked pretending to butt fuck. It was all totally fine with me. It’s just like, “neat.” I mean back then I recognized that artistically, “This is fascinating. Socially there’s all sorts of interesting elements going on here.” What the fuck else are we if not little thinking bots. Right? It’s like, “Here you go mind, here’s some input.” You don’t see that every day. It’s easy to imagine. How is it that people don’t butt fuck on the street constantly; thin veil of civility. It’s just like, “Well pish-posh good. Keep that up. But as soon as I get my pet home and that door closed oh-ho-ho the things I’ll do to your children.”
So Fey gets wind of it and he’s bummed. He’s not happy at all. And the fact that everybody’s younger, but no body’s a kid, and we’ve all been doing this for a while at that point, but we’re in his club and we’re back stage waiting to go on and suddenly Barry Fey comes in. He’s this middle-aged business man who’s been a rock promotor for years. Definitely not unsuccessful. You know, used to being the boss, especially at his own shows, and especially at his own fucking club which, you know, is a nice medium-sized club in his home town. And he bursts into the back stage and he’s like “Uh-buh-buh-buh-buh-buh.” And were just like “Whoa.” He’s pissed! He’s like, “What’s up with this fucking band! Get them off!” And were like, “Get them off? We’re just the next band.” We couldn’t get them off. Like we were in charge, right? And as he walks out we were like “I think that was Barry Fey. That was Barry Faye.” And he hears us and he comes charging back in there and he’s like, “I’m Barry Fey. Got a problem with that?” And it’s like, “Settle down.” So he calls the pigs and they arrest Mugger and Trocolli for simulating anal sex right? So the next day in the paper, this is the whole long story that you said earlier, do I have any tales from then? This is hilarious. The next day they get out of jail fairly easily. But the next day in the paper as we’re all convening we look in the paper and there’s an article talking about “Black Flag at The Rainbow Last Night. Winds up with arrests.” And it says in the paper, “Members of The Meat Puppets were arrested for simulating anal sex on stage.” It’s just like, “Yeah! Fucking classic!” It’s just the kind of thing you just, I mean look, I’m telling this years later. Funny enough that they’d have a band that far out that actually does that and funny enough that the pigs would get involved. And what a hoot that it gets misreported in a funny way. Our stoner little pseudo-hippie asses were like, “What? We didn’t do that. We play tweedy pop, haven’t you heard? I mean we just got a little bit of a glitch in the band naming process otherwise we’d be “The Beloved.”
M- We don’t hear much of this hardcore punk rock thing anymore on Up on the Sun. There’s a little bit of it on Meat Puppets II but not really on Up on the Sun.
C- None of it sounds like punk rock to us. It was just so entirely and completely material that we wanted to do. For sure punk rock had a freeing influence on Curt and I. Derrick was already there and turned us onto it to the degree that he did. It had been around for a while. I kind of was at a different place to not quite be able to get to some of the shit that was happening. Some of it I really dug and I got to on my own. Derrick had the singles and that kind of shit. One of the things that you can do is just fucking scream as hard as you can and I found it to be interesting artistically to play like that sometimes, but we were always doing different things. The first record established that. We put stuff like “Walking Boss” on there for a reason. Just purposeful.
We’ve always been very protective, really possessive, of our insistence of doing whatever the fuck we want to. Why else to be in the fucking arts? Cuz that’s the kind of the band that we were. Talking about whether we had band meetings and what naught. We definitely did, but they had to do with us sitting around on acid talking about how great we were to each other and how much we only wanted to do whatever we wanted to do. We didn’t even need to say that, but just to tell each other how totally great we were. So what we were doing just wasn’t hardcore punk rock. The faster kind of grindy shit was what it was. Then the next album, Meat Puppets II, the whole record is stuff slowed down but still kind of fast paced. Back then it was more of the thing to go, “God, everybody else paints stuff into a small little corner, and I just don’t want to it.” I didn’t get into playing music to do that. It’s the realm of the imagination. It is only limited by my ability to imagine it, at least to think of it, to realize your ideas or whatever. And then you have to figure-out how to do that and what naught, but that’s called making art. Thinking about it’s fucking limitless, and that’s what drew me to it as much as anything. The sciences are too fucking hard, math is like whatever, and school smells funny, and I don’t like other people. And it’s just like, “Where am I going to go? The military looks kind of cool.” But I would want to go in as a ranking officer of some note. I would insist on going into battle on a white charger. But it’s other people’s opinions going, “This record is this and this record is that.” But it was us playing the music that we were playing at that particular point. And our music just came to us. That was the cool thing about it. “Meat Puppets” was a song Curt wrote before we had a band name. We were a band but we hadn’t figured out what to call ourselves yet and started writing some material, and Curt wrote a song called “Meat Puppets” and that’s where the band name came from. As cool as anything, and Curt probably said this, and I know he doesn’t mean that’s what the band name means or anything, but the concept of the music playing us.
M- It seems like on Up on the Sun you guys are really coming into your own as musicians.
C- Oh yeah, definitely. That’s a sick record for sure. And it’s interesting to see pictures of us back then. One of the things I like about the arts is, again, some of the stuff I can tolerate about humans. It’s like a framework I can use to look at human kind, meaning me, and be able to stomach it in some fucking way, and one of the things that does that is the way the arts relate to the artists that make them and how their circumstances effect the art that’s made and how the art moves you and how it was made under particular circumstances, and what goes into art, and what are we as creatures. Back then we were all in our mid-early-twenties and on our game and we’ve been playing together for a while and suddenly Curt was writing some really really neat sparkly things. And he and I would collaborate, or he’d write something and he’d let me come up with something and stick it into his songs and just cool, trippy, organic waves. He had his babies. He had twins, a boy and a girl. And it was a neat time. And we were good players, but the players thing has always been there, but that record that has got some great playing on it. And on the subsequent records it all continues to develop along those lines.
M- Did you ever think that you guys would become a popular band?
C- I really didn’t notice. I never really kept track of certain indicators. I’m kind of surprised now with the level at which it was reaching people even back then. I remember we went on tour with Flag someplace back East and a review from Meat Puppets II came out in Rolling Stone that Kurt Loder wrote and it got four stars. And it was like, “Well that’s nice.” It was a good review or whatever, but, the fucking amusing thing was just like, “Oh, it’s in Rolling Stone.” One of the hallmarks of the whole thing had been its absolute complete disregard by the mainstream music world. It certainly wasn’t intentional, though, to be unpopular. It’s just wasn’t the side of it that I was aware of. I definitely started to become more aware of it somewhere in there. We were doing the things that you do to be a band. We got fairly popular somewhere in there.
M- Starting with critics.
C- It continued to be a critical sort of a thing for a long time as much as anything. It’s what our bones are made of. And then we sold more records and had the hit record later and got on TV with Nirvana and so those are the things that are real visible, like commercial, sort of markers or high points, legitimizers or whatever. But for me, I made a lot of fucking music. Which is what I set about to do.
It was somewhere in there that things started to kind of burble along. Things that I couldn’t relate to started to happen with other bands who were suddenly getting noticed. Hüsker got signed to Warner somewhere in there. REM started to do really good. Bands that I thought were really good and it’s just like there’s no reason for it not to happen. Somewhere we went and met with Geffen. Maybe after Meat Puppets II, before Up on the Sun, maybe after Up on the Sun, somewhere in there; Gary Gersh, who’s still around and definitely has done well. And Gary told us he had just signed Gene Loves Jezebel and showed us pictures of them and stuff, and they’re like limey brothers, and Curt and I are brothers and it’s just like, “Well, dude, we’re from fucking Sunnyslope, you know? It just totally isn’t as styly as London.” But he told us at that time that we were too unfocused and it was like, “I understand what you’re saying. We’re not an easily marketable single thing that you’ll use for a couple of years.” The business had already come down to that. Then MTV happened and it became even more of that. Definitely the business side has to be attended to and you hope to not starve.
M- So was the actual recording of it much different then Meat Puppets II?
It was the same place and the same guy engineering it.
C- Yeah it was back at Total Access. And Meat Puppets II came out sounding really nice. Spot did a really nice job. The studio sounded really good; captured the band in a way that sounds really appealing. Just a really appealing sounding studio. You know what else was recorded there was Great White’s big hit album. It was a nice board, at the time that analog was all there was, and Spot did a great job, and the band was well practiced, so it was an easy record to make in a way. I remember Derrick got pissed off at one point and left or something. Maybe that was Meat Puppets II but I think it was Up on the Sun. He left for like five hours or something and came back and banged the whole thing out real quickly. But that was all part of it because, back to SST not being that financially solvent, just making the records that we could. Those guys could come up with some studio time, you know.
Here’s some fodder. I recorded Meat Puppets II on my Jazz Bass that I got when I was a kid, and Meat Puppets I and our first seven-inch are all on my Jazz Bass, which I lost when I got shot and had to go prison that last time. I had my shit pawned and I lost my fucking first bass that I ever got. Then I played a P Bass on Up on the Sun. It was bitchen. It was like one of those ’57 reissues with the sunburst, the dark sunburst reissues. I started realizing what I was going for. I was getting better and better at copying my heros. I was copying hipper guys.
M- Which hip guys are you copying?
C- I thought Mills was great. I really dug what Mills was doing in REM. It was just a cool use of the bass that was reminiscent of the bassists that I love. There was the McCartney element there. It was singing bass lines. Melodic bass lines that are a little sub-melody support thing within a standing chord that the guitar players arpeggiated or something. It was just cool, a cool approach that reminded me of stuff that I really liked. Meat Puppets II is stoney. That’s like Phil Lesh, wastey, jammy shit. Any of the bass runs on that are improvised. Improvised knowing what the chords are, but as far as the little doodads that I tossed in, that’s coming from that place. And I still play that material that way. It doesn’t have specific little set parts, whereas by Up on the Sun it was written parts. Some of the stuff on II has written things, just little things tossed off here and there, whereas Up on the Sun was constructed. And you know who else I really dug was John Taylor from Duran Duran. So you listen to some of that funkier octaving, you know, I’m going for root octave and I’m going “[makes bass noises].” There’s a bit of John Taylor in there. And still back then that was all picked. Just going for a pick and started to customize my basses a little bit just styling the shit that I liked.
M- So the songs were all set then when you went into the studio for this one? Not a lot of improvising.
C- No, they were all right up against it: real tight little fucking finger toy pop songs, with middle-parts and cool little instrumental intros. Those are things that make songs easy to play.
M- You get writing credit on two of the songs. Did you contribute more on those two, on “Animal Kingdom” and “Maiden’s Milk”, than on the others?
C- Yeah, that would have been specific parts. “Animal Kingdom,” I got song writing credit? I wonder which part I wrote, probably that intro, “[sings/hums the intro]“. And I could tell you what I wrote on “Maiden’s Milk”. I wrote the whistling parts. But that was a cool collaboration. That happened when we were doing the sixteen track stuff. The song had been recorded and there was that whole pretty kind of instrumentally part, well the whole thing’s instrumental but there’s the parts that aren’t the.
M- Before the whistling came in.
C- Well it’s those chords. Before the whistling came in there was no whistling. Right? So it was just those chords. The C, whatever it is C A, whatever the fuck, F G, something like that and, oh no, it’s G F C A. I think.
M- You’ll remember the next time you play it.
C- Yeah. Oh yeah. No, it’s G F C A, that’s what it is. So I was like, “I got an idea,” and I put a guitar part on, and put the other part on, the two little guitar parts. Then when we got around to making the record Curt was like, “Well how about we whistle that?” It was a cool little collaboration. That’s what it.
By that point Curt had already filled the role of the songwriter by fucking ability. It happened on Meat Puppets II. Just suddenly. I’m still at bar chords land and he suddenly started writing guitar-based little chordal things where you break the little things down into the chords, little finger pick things that suddenly give the song, you know, that was the song. Like, “[sings/hums first seven notes of ‘Oh, Me],” on “Oh Me”. And it was like, “Oh, you’re writing riffs and things and lots of them. Damn, that’s a fucking cool song dude.” And then Up on the Sun started to happen and it’s just like, “Yike!” It was apparent that he was going to allow us to make more records by coming up with a lot of material and really compelling, interesting shit. So my writing credits are things that I kind of honed in on his crap. Unless it’s got my name on it alone, then I wrote it.
But we’re different people. I mean look what I wound up doing to myself. I mean, if talent is the thing, both of us could do this. Just like anybody can do anything if they apply themselves, we applied ourselves to this in doing it a particular way. But he’s somebody that has the ability to write songs. He says he made himself do it back then. He had kids and there was no reason not to. He wanted to support his family.
I remember reading a quote by Keith Richards talking about the bass player in that band, a great bass player in a great band. It has something to do with Wyman wanting to write more material or something, but it was Richards talking about it, someone who’s written half of the rock cannon. That’s all fine and good. You would like to do that, but he’s the guy that actually does it. Somebody actually has the wherewithal to come up with this shit in bands, and who does it? In our band it became really apparent that it was Curt that did it. And I’ve said this for years. It was Curt that allowed us to continue to put out record after record, year after year. And that’s why I’ll get a little defensive. “Oh, our classics. What the fuck ever.” All of it’s fucking completely and totally great. “You do it Mr. Opinion haver.” The idea that some of it’s not as good or whatever. Have an opinion. I don’t care. I have an opinion about it and I’m in the band. This is what Keith Richards was saying. You come to have these opinions about Curt’s work. It’s like picking through somebody else’s shit. Like, “Oh, you made this now let me tell you what I think of it.” The thought that you have about the thing happens after the thing is made, and he’s the guy that was making the stuff. And that’s basically where Keith Richards is coming from. And that developed with us. I can see that. And he’s the one that continued to make the fucking things.
The cool thing about the Meat Puppets is that we were a band. The three of us is what made it. Definitely. Derrick was integral. And I haven’t even talked to the guy in fucking fifteen years. Not a word. It’s compelling. He’s a serious certain kind of a guy, just like Curt and I are. And that’s what makes good bands. We were a cool band and Curt’s a cool songwriter regardless, and can be taken as separate from that, but what allowed him to be, it might have gone differently, but what allowed him to be this long of and as storied of a writer as he is, is having a fucking band to play his shit. And what drew the songs out of him was having the band, and the band was definitely the three of us.
That’s one of the things I like about the arts. Back on careers, it’s interesting. I love reading about the lives of artists. I read such a neat book. It was a couple years ago now. I found it in Oxford, Mississippi, in a little coffee shop. The first time we had ever played in Mississippi after all these years, and there was a book store open and we go to get a coffee, browsing the racks and I find this book about Michelangelo. And it’s written by these two Jewish scholars who are both art historians, but they’re Jewish, right? And they’re familiar with Jewish art history and so the book essentially is their take on his work in the Sistine Chapel, and what they’ve decided after studying the art in there was that Michelangelo used his neo-platonic education at the hands of the Midici’s to insert all the cabalistic imagery in art at the Sistine Chapel which had to do with Michelangelo’s resentment towards the Pope and the powers that were that made him do the arts that they made him do. And it’s fucking hilarious. It’s stuff like this particular symbol has a leg cross like this, right, and it’s just in the exact shape of this certain Hebrew letter that means “fuck you” to the Pope. Shit like that. Really hilarious book. So looking back over the career of the band is interesting. And I’m not surprised that at this point people are interested in writing about it. Cuz what else are you going to write about? Some other fucking artist?
M- Well okay, Cris. I appreciate it and I’ll get in touch with you again some time. Good luck in Italy.
C- Oh yeah. We’re doing that. That should be fun. Italy is a neat place. It’s gonna be wonderful. Speaking of Michelangelo. Oh God, were going to Rome. I haven’t been back to Rome since we got back up. The first time I went to Europe was in ’75 with the Jesuits. Curt and I went to a Jesuit college prep for our high school years. And I live right around the corner to it now. The school we went to in central Phoenix. It’s Brophy College Prep. And a couple of the priests there had a summer tour of the humanities in Europe that they did every year so I went on it after my freshman year, and when I was in Florence I was reading Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy, which is a novelized account of Michelangelo’s life. Historically accurate as best they know. But it was a great book. And I would, as such a cool little kid, read about this particular church or this or that mediaeval palace or that kind of crap and then actually go suss the places out.
It was Brophy that got me playing music actually because it was the summer after, let’s see, the summer after my eighth grade, because it was the summer after my freshman year, so yeah, the summer after my eighth grade. Curt would have been, it would have been the summer after his sophomore year, and so it must have been the beginning of the next school year. Maybe he was a junior, the end of his senior, sophomore year, whatever it was. Maybe it was his junior year because they were reading American authors, no that was English authors, that would have been senior. Anyways they were reading A Clockwork Orange. I think Burgess is English. And then the movie came out so he was supposed to go see the movie for an assignment. So mom took us to go see A Clockwork Orange. It was a double feature and the first movie was Deliverance and I saw that and I just went, “Hey neat! I gotta get a banjo.”
Well, cool man. I hope you got the info that you were looking for.
M- I think I got that and more.
C- Well thanks for taking time to write a book about the band. How neat. And I hope that you get it made and actually out.
M- I do too. I have a publisher. I teach full time so the plan is for summer of 2013 to have it finished, so I still have a little ways to go.
C- Well that’s neat. Ultimately I think that the band as an entity is deserving of the attention considering the shit that this culture promotes, especially these days. God. When we started we just didn’t think about it much. But these days it’s like, “Oh my God!” I absolutely think that Curt as a songwriter and lyricist is deserving of whatever acclaim has come his way and has yet to. I think Curt’s a fucking American classic at this point. He’s right up there with Vonnegut and Twain for me. And all my favorite rock writers too. Somebody like Robert Hunter. Shit that I can sink my teeth into.