Skype to Phone Interview with Curt Kirkwood
June 8, 2012
Matt- Why did you sue SST Records?
Curt- To get the records back.
M- What records did you not have? Tell me the story, please.
C- All of them. We wanted to get Monsters, which was already done, we gave it to SST, and we wanted to get it back, try to get it over to Atlantic, who wanted to make an offer for it. We’d been doing these things on our own dime all along and never gotten any advances or anything like that, and the thing is is that I’d never signed any contracts. I was always real punk rock about it. It was kind of a conceptual thing. It wasn’t anything I ever intended to do, and they didn’t want to play ball with us or Atlantic. It was a pretty good deal, down to like whatever front money Atlantic has, we’ll make that available, and they were offering pretty good money on a record that was already made. But they were pretty cheezed-off about the whole thing, SST, and I can’t say that I blame them. We had given it to them. I said, “Let’s make a deal with Atlantic, you guys can still be involved.” They just got real sore and the negotiations fell apart.
Then we started trying to figure out, “What’s the deal with these people?” We started talking to some other people around the label, and when SST found out they actually sued us first. They sued me for libel.
M- Because you were talking to a major label?
C- No, because we were talking to other acts on SST about their business practices. I was pretty bummed out that they wouldn’t deal and just being kind of nasty about it. They said some stuff that ruffled my feathers. My manager at the time and I were checking around talking to some other people, “What have your deals been like?” I can’t really remember what we were saying. It was a pretty ridiculous claim, the libel. But once they did that we went, “Fine. We’ll sue you and get all the records back.”
M- So you never signed any contracts with any of your records up through Monsters, right?
C- No. Well, that was one of the things that in the long run settled the whole thing. They were like, “Come in first and ink all these contracts. We won’t even talk to you about this Atlantic thing until you sign these contracts.” So I went in and did that.
M- Derrick, when I talked with him a few days ago, said that after you turned in Monsters you did sign some kind of contract where they had the rights to your back catalogue, SST did?
C- Yea. I signed them. I didn’t have any plans to try to get stuff away from them or anything like that. I figured if that’s what they want, I’ll sign them. We talked about this deal and then signed them. But it was really just a ploy. They were like, “No, we’re not doing anything with Atlantic.”
M- So you signed this contract with them after you wanted to get Monsters to Atlantic, after you told them about the Atlantic deal?
C- Yea. Like I said, they said, “If you come in and sign these then we’ll talk about the Atlantic deal. We won’t even talk about it until then.” And then they didn’t even want to talk about it anyway. They had some other addendums. There was a contract for each one of the records we’d done, and then a publishing addendum which Cris and I saw as, “What’s this? Publishing, too?” So we tore all of those off and signed the contracts.
And then things sort of went downhill with the suit, our law suit. It went to pre-trial, had some depositions. It wasn’t protracted at all. It went to pre-trial, our lawsuit, and the judge told them to settle. They didn’t have a case. It was coercive the way they got us to sign. I didn’t even have a lawyer involved at all until we had the suit going, then I hired some lady that wasn’t even a music business person, out in L.A., a real good lawyer. She was to the point, and the pre-trial judge told SST to settle. There wasn’t ever any real court action or lawsuit, there were suits, but they were just the challenges. The settlement was, “You guys [SST] can have all this crap for seven more years.”
M- What year is this?
C- Probably ’90. Right around the time Monsters was coming out.
M- Did this happen before you released Monsters or did it get released in this time?
C- I don’t really recall. I don’t think it held up the release of it. They put it out anyway. The thing with Atlantic wound up leading to the Universal thing, cuz the guy went over and started London. It was a kind of awkward way we ended up getting over to the majors. And we just had that one record [Monsters]. I wouldn’t have even tried to get it back except the thing cost me eight or ten thousand bucks and they were offering significantly more for it. I was like, “Whew! I really need the money.”
M- Who was running SST at this point? Greg? Chuck and Joe weren’t in it anymore, were they?
C- It’s always pretty much been Greg. The other guys are lieutenants. I’m still good buddies with Chuck and Joe; I haven’t seen or talked to Greg since then. I don’t have any animosity there, either. I was just trying to be ethical about something that was kind of shitty on my part. I had given them a record and, well, “I want it back. I didn’t sing a contract and I paid for it.” It was traitorous behavior to them.
M- At this point do you have control over all your records?
C- Yea. I got them all back. It legally reverted back to me. They lost all the masters, so they said. I went to get them back seven years later. I got a deal with Ryko to rerelease them.
M- I have one more question: In talking with Cris and Derrick, they both suggested that in recording Forbidden Places you were frustrated with the way they recorded the vocals. Do you remember that being true?
C- I don’t think I was frustrated.
M- You were used to going in and winging it and Pete was more demanding about the way you recorded them.
C- For sure, he was. He paid a lot of attention to it. He was used to dealing with aces, dealing with Dwight Yoakam who is an amazing natural singer, and other folks that weren’t as rustic as I am. I just didn’t have much technique, admittedly. I don’t think “frustrated” is the word. It was kind of hard for me to learn. I had to give up and accept, “Oh, they’re gonna do what they need to do.” We’d do, like, three passes at each line and then punch in the words that weren’t right, and then boil it all down to one master take, and then sometimes fly a chorus once it was already done. I just had no idea they did that. I was like, “What is this?” We had always, you know, we just didn’t redo stuff. We sang it, “There it is,” for better or worse. I like the way it all came out, that’s for sure. It’s growing pains more than anything. I just wasn’t experienced with that.
M- It’s in tune, that’s for sure.
C- Definitely. And by the time we did the solo record, Pete and I, I understood him by then because I had done a record with him. I got a little better from doing solo shows and just figuring out how to get that stuff right. It was the same with Paul Leary. Everybody that’s ever worked with me is kind of going, “Well, I wanna get that right.” It’s always the vocals.