Skype to Phone Interview with Cris Kirkwood
May 10, 2012
Transcribed by William Jergins
Matt- The reason I skipped from Up on the Sun this far: you seem to be on a certain level when you make these last three or four records for SST, and then you make this jump to London Records. You’ve already told me in an earlier interview about some talks, say with Gary Gersh, but how do you end up on London Records?
Cris- Let’s see. Peter Koepke was the guy at London that signed us. Lorie Harbough was the A&R person. It’s all business. I think that certain things were suddenly a little more vogue, and the Seattle thing had happened and suddenly our clothing style was a little more hip, or lack of clothing style was suddenly in. There’s that side of it. Also the band was definitely fucking lethal at that point. The records we made in between Up on the Sun and the London years had definitely been a continuation of the same trip that we had always been about. People definitely focus on those first few early ones, and they do have a lovely sound I think. We worked with Spot on II and Up on the Sun and both of them were done at Total Access in Redondo. And, you know, there’s a really nice little combination right there. The next records we made out here with Steve and Scotty doing the engineering and they have their own distinct feel. But the main thing is we continued on a particular thing that we had been doing. So by the time that it got to the point that the business people thought that bands like us could make them some plans, or they could do business with bands like us, or us in particular, we were already at a point. That’s what they figured, I guess. You’d have to ask them.
M- I’m hoping, in the interview today, I don’t want to get past Too High to Die, when the really big hype starts for you. I want to go right up to Too High to Die. In the ‘80s a bunch of your buddies get signed, whether it be Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, or Firehose, you were in the last of that bunch of groups. Were there other labels that you talked to? We’re you involved in this yourself?
C- To a degree I was. The band made decisions together at that point. But we weren’t really approached by that many other labels. And all that stuff, honestly, it’s just the ability to get the records made. There’s definitely a relationship between the commercial side of it and the art, because the art has to be commercialized.
One of the reasons we made the subsequent SST records out here is cuz we could. That’s why Mirage and Huevos came out in the same year. Because we could. It was a very groovy place to be making art from in that way.
M- So were you, then, actively looking to move to a major label?
C- No. We never actively did anything in the business realm. That stuff just happened. We were way more about pullin’ the Bs. No, we weren’t actually pursuing it.
M- So then why did you decide to go to London Records? What was it about them that attracted you to move?
C- These business opportunities presented themselves, and we weren’t on SST ideologically. Suddenly another opportunity presented itself. And it seemed like it would be an interesting thing to try, because the budget was bigger. So there you go. There’s commerce playing a part in the art. And it wasn’t like we were against it happening or anything, being on a major label, but it just had never happened until that point.
M- What did a bigger budget do for you other then maybe get a bigger paycheck once in a while? What did it do for the band?
C- It certainly didn’t give me a bigger paycheck, but it did allow us to make Forbidden Places at Capitol Studios in Hollywood in the Capitol Building and spend a fuck of a long time doing it with a producer and an assistant producer and an engineer and an assistant engineer. It was a different way of making an album for us. And it was interesting. It was a fun way to do it. I definitely enjoyed the process and learned a lot off it. That was the record we made with Pete Anderson, who was an interesting fit, because here’s this band that’s been around for a long time. If nothing else, it showed that it really is our main interest in doing what we wanted to do musically, and then continue that for a long time regardless of the commercial circumstances, within the commercial circumstances that we found ourselves. So suddenly it’s moved to some other building with other people who had a particular way of doing business. You could tell. You know, MTV had been around for a while and stuff, and just rock ‘n’ roll had been around for a while. The music business had been around long enough. And to try to figure out how to do business with them. They talked about a producer and we’d met Pete years before when Dwight had opened for us. Because Pete is Dwight Yoakam’s guitar player, and produced all of Dwight’s records as well. And they played with us at McCabe’s years ago, the little guitar shop in Santa Monica. It seemed like an interesting fit in a lot of ways as far as trying to pick out a producer. And in the same time span we picked out a manager. We were suddenly readjusting our business model because the opportunity presented itself to try these different things. And ultimately it all went very well until I scuttled it.
But as far as Pete, once it got down to trying to do business with these folks and having Peter sign us, Peter Koepke, trying to make the first record, they wanted us to do that, and Pete’s a guitar player. A real good guitarist. And we had our redneck band, and we had a little bit of a twang to us, one of our fairly consistent aspects. So we started making a record with him, and it was a very interesting way of making a record. Definitely more expensive. That’s for sure. But you get everything in tune. Back then it was all analog tuners, it was before Pro Tools. It was right up my alley, cuz we had had the studio by that point for years in my back yard, it was just a detached garage that we had sound proofed and practiced in and had a half inch Tascam 8-track out there. It was in my back yard at my house. I like recording. I like farting around with tape, and music. It was a trip. It was charming. It was charming in a really bitchin way. A very cool thing happening.
Derrick would do his drums and then split at points, dependent on the project, and on that one he did. He finished his drums and split. And then we’d put a little bit of this and that on the record, here and there, little extra things, and Pete decided he wanted to hear some shaker on one song, one of those little eggs with beads in it, you know, “chicka-chicka-chicka.” “Do you want me to do it?” And you know where Pete’s at. Listen to those Dwight records. You hear some fucking cool production. Pristine. And he’s like, “Studio guy.” And who should he get but Alex Acuña.
And it was just so charming to me because being from the seventies, there was a point where I realized, “You know I think my brother smokes grass.” And I’d been smoking grass for a while, and I started finding seeds around. I think I found some seeds in his car or something. And we weren’t that close, but we were going to go see Weather Report together and it was that night we blew a J-bar. The first time Curt and I smoked pot together was before this Weather Report concert in Phoenix in like ’75 maybe. And who should be the drummer on that gig, and I’m a bass player from the seventies so I’m a hopeless Jaco-phile, but Alex Acuña was the drummer that night with Weather Report. So I’m like, “How cool.” And the guy comes in and does the shaker part like completely spot on, one take, just like “Oh wow.” Like professional egg playing right? That was definitely fucking perfect. And then he smells weed and he’s just like, “Who’s got weed?” And we have good weed, so we go get stoned. And I’m smoking pot with the guy, and I tell him this story, that “the first time me and my brother ever smoked pot together was one of your gigs in ’75 with Weather Report, and now here you are playing on one of my records and getting stoned.” Charming. The guy’s like, “Man that was like fifteen years ago. I can’t remember five minutes ago.”
It was a new way to make a record, definitely. And they were down with it, because they definitely spent some money to get the thing made.
M- So this is a far cry from blocking out a studio for three days with Up on the Sun I imagine? The recording for Forbidden Places takes place over a number of days or sessions or what?
C- A week.
M- Were you’re staying there and then going home and then going back, or did you live in L.A. for a while?
C- I stayed out in L.A. with an old friend of mine from high school who had moved out quite a long time ago and still lives out there. At the time he was an editor. He worked on that CSI thing for years. Now he’s on some other pop thing about vampires or detectives or something. But at the time he was working with Jodi Foster on Little Man Tate, and he’s an old dear friend of mine, Johnny Ganem. So I stayed there. Curt stayed with somebody. And there were points when we were at hotels, but for the bulk of the thing I stayed at my friend John’s house. And it took a while, we’d go in in the afternoon and do these sessions. It was a completely different way of making records back then. Analog. It’s completely different and it was something we had never done before. The main thing being getting everything so precisely nailed down. Something we managed to do before just by luck. Not at all like on Meat Puppets II. That mother fucker is beyond sloppy. It sounds like were on a big fat fucking sack full of gack. And it’s just like, “Oh well, that’s what people like about it? Why even try?” But I try because there’s different ways of doing things. So the Up on the Sun thing we actually prerecorded it. I told you about that. We actually went in and it was nice and specific and we really tagged that shit. There’s some really nice tight playing on that. But there is on the next records as well, the subsequent records, there’s some sickeningly tight shit, on our SST records. And we did it on our own just because the band was developing along those lines and it’s just one of those things that Curt and I found interesting. It’s definitely one of the directions you can take music into and for a long time it was where I was at, you know, very picked, articulated, psychedelicized, fueled by hatred.
Anyways, yeah, it was definitely a different way of making it, and I liked it. One of the main things being the vocals. And really that was where I kinda got a lot better at singing in a lot of ways. Because you listen to some of that stuff, it’s me singing back up on some of those records, but Curt’s singing with himself on a lot of it. I’m on a lot of it, some of those things are Curt as well. But it’s a certain place we had gotten to on the next thing, making a record with Pete. We were getting into recording at a different level of singing reality. It’s something I’ve never really been all that good at, and same with bass playing in a lot of ways. I’m self-taught.
M- So a lot of the creativity is happening in the studio as opposed to Up on the Sun?
C- No. Not really, no. With Forbidden Places we definitely had the songs down. We had practiced them. We actually had a prerecording session with Pete and we were at a rehearsal studio playing the songs with him. At one point he tried to get gruff with us about practicing. We rented gear and it all sucked and we had Davo drive our shit out from Phoenix so we could do this preproduction session with Pete with our own gear and Pete at one point got frustrated with us and was like, “re-meh-me,” getting gruff about the gear, like making a point. And we took him aside and told him, “Dude, don’t even think you can yell at us.” He actually yelled and it was just like, “ha ha ha.” And now you’re getting us into a realm that we live in. I mean we had been masters of our reality for a long time at that point, and certainly had not gone into business with these people to get yelled at. And I don’t give a fuck, back then if someone yelled at me it was like, “Hey, dude! Don’t yell at me, man.” It was one of those things that made the relationship healthier with Pete. “We’re getting the gear out here. You don’t need to yell at us. You know we know what we’re doing. This isn’t just us wasting our time. That’s not how this session needs to be handled.”
So the songs were worked out before hand. And Pete’s such a guitar head and through the process became such a Curt head, really fell in love with Curt and Curt’s work, really recognized it for what it was. Years later look at the solo album that Curt and Pete made. And that was Pete going to Curt just wanting Curt to do it. That was Pete’s idea, because he likes Curt’s work. But he’s definitely a great guitar player and it was fun making that record with him guitar-wise and music-wise. Plus he was a badass at that point. He made some huge records and he actually had Dusty Wakefield in there as the assistant producer. Pete wouldn’t even be there, he’d let the work down for the day, because it’s pretty industrious at that point, because it’s analog. You just multiply the time you’re in the studio by however much from just rewinding the tape deck. And then Pete would come in, and examine the work that had been done, make his suggestions or whatever, and maybe cut out. It was just a bitchin way to make a record. The love of the craft itself. Also just a bitchin set of ears, and getting us beyond our light, and it’s a fine sort of vibe in a way. Our first go around with that. Somebody else sitting there going, “Hmmm, well I think.” And us actually allowing that.
M- So it sounds like you guys were kind of ready for this kind of recording after ten or twelve years of doing it by yourself.
C- Well, no not really. I mean ready? We had been making the records we wanted to make for a long time and it was just a different way of doing it. It was more time in a nice studio, and I liked being in the studio. You’d have to talk to Curt about this, but the guy had become just the composer for the band flat out, which puts him in the position where everyone goes, “Hmmm, well I think.” And I was first in line for that shit. Because he’s the composer but it’s also our band, not his band only. And also I’m his little brother but like, “Yeah, but fuck you it’s our band. So I think, goddamn it.”
M- The historical twist of fate of course is that two months after Forbidden Places comes out Nevermind comes out?.
C- Is that what happened?
M- It’s two months later, yeah. That changes everything, right? As far as marketing and business goes for you guys?
C- Did it?
M- I think. I mean, don’t you?
C- That was Nirvana’s record, it didn’t do anything for us. I’m not sure what you mean exactly.
M- I mean as far as marketing the Meat Puppets from a label standpoint.
C- Oh, well, that’s the labels job. And for sure they had their opinions and you can get really into the specifics on this shit. I don’t really care to in a lot of ways because it’s talking about people that are still around that I’ll still see, and people who were doing their best at the time and have their opinions. And no matter what I’m the one who fucking wrecked everything so I can pretty much talk about whatever because it would only ultimately be self deprecating at the end of it all. Because the only thing that lends me any credence at this point is being able to own what I did.
But I would say definitely once Nirvana broke, sure. Because already the major labels had had a hard time figuring out how to sell bands of our ilk. Hüsker, who were exceedingly focused, those guys really had a unique sound and a consistent sound. Bob and Grant had different writing styles but ultimately the delivery still managed to sound like Hüsker. They were consistent and their album cover art was bitchin. So Warner signs them and didn’t manage to do what whoever did with, like, REM or something. And Firehose was on a major label and they obviously didn’t turn into REM either, or Talking Heads, bands that were not hard rock that the labels managed to figure out how to make big. So when Forbidden Places came out and didn’t do anything it didn’t surprise me.
M- Well, again, it gets buried, as a lot of things did, under Nevermind.
C- I think it just got buried in the same way that we still get buried. It’s just like who gives a fuck. How much does anybody give a fuck? All we’re talking about is how many people are aware of it at a particular point. How many of the things we sell. And no matter what it’s only rock ‘n’ roll so you’re still talking about a few million at best. There’s billions of people on the planet, and there’s been billions of people. And everybody that’s on the planet now will fucking die and all the rest of them to come will die, and as much as you can add it all up, unless you’re able to live forever and actually control the universe like a box of tinker toys, what’s the point? What are you trying to get to? Ultimately it’s just about playing some music for me, and you get caught up in these other things. The rest of it’s just some little variations that the human monkey that we all cling to so desperately or so humanly.
What happened then was that Nirvana made it easier for bands to get over. Well, not make it easier, but definitely made the business people realize that a scruffier look seems to be the new wave. And we just happened to be one of the bands that the next record managed to catch a little of that, and now you look back and it’s kind of like we were the progenitors of this particular scene. And people that were into shit that we were into were into us, they caught it, made a commercial splash. And we were one of the bands that were still around and caught the tail end of that. I don’t give a fuck about that. It’s marketing shit. It’s complex and detailed. And look what can be done with it. Look what marketing has gone to now. It used to be like these trends would happen, it seems, of their own volition in odd places like speed fueled drunken redneck bars or coked-out gay bath houses or wherever and suddenly you got shit-kicker music or disco. And it’s just like a pimple. It’s like a swelling at the neck and the groin brought about by the plague. And then it seeps out into hinterlands and suddenly it’s a commodity to be capitalized on because it’s caught on as the next movement in the cultural shimmer that seems to happen. And that’s what happened with stuff that could be essentially called punk.
M- So it seems to me, though, what happens is that you guys get signed, then Nirvana happens, and your label is sitting there going, “Well what can we do with Meat Puppets?”
C- Oh definitely. So the brief synopsis is that we spent quite a bit of money on Forbidden Places and it didn’t do that well. It didn’t do as well as they hoped it did immediately. Like so many albums don’t for bands that get signed, the first album. Then we struggled to get the next one made at all, for them to consent to let us make it. And we were so used to making our albums when we wanted to and we wanted to make the next record and had some songs and the record label was trying to steer us in a particular direction and all that stuff started to happen and they kind of wanted us to play along with the mode-a-day grooviness. You’re talking about fucking old dogs in a way. Where it’s like that isn’t going to work. It was them trying to figure it out and asking us to try these various things and try some different things out. And ultimately we got them to let us go out to a studio that they had a lease agreement on out in Memphis with our old pal Paul at the helm, in the producer’s chair. He had done some Butthole stuff, he had done the Bad Livers at that point, but for years Paul had been into studio shit, into the actual gear how it worked. And he got so into it. I remember this one time, this is such a bitchin story. We had known them for ages and they just seemed akin to us. They’re old dear pals, and Paul is such an interesting cat. We went out to, they had a place outside of Austin. It was like Dripping Springs or wherever the fuck it was. It was kind of a neat house because you could get a bigger house because it wasn’t in the city, and those guys were doing well enough. So they had a neat little house and they were putting a studio together and we go in there and there’s Paul doing all the welding on a patch bay. The studio is a complex thing with hundreds and hundreds of welds. You know, hundreds of wires and hundreds of welds. Teeny-weeny little, not welds, soldering. And people do that constantly. I mean it’s just constant. There’s this constant level of detail that people do. And I’m so pleased that people do do that. I’m fascinated with people’s ability to come together and create these systems that are just so complex, like the airlines, or the stock market. What the fuck is going on there? Any of this shit: countries, language, good lord! Music.
So anyways, Paul had pursued that as well, not just specifically playing guitar in the Buttholes but had just gotten down deep in the studio world, with the gear itself. We had talked the label into letting us finally getting into the studio with Paul to make Too High to Die. And you know then it just went through this interesting permutation to where certain people heard it and then Nirvana suddenly saying they like us.
M- Did you finish your Butthole story about their house out in Austin?
C- Oh it was just that. Yeah, his house outside of Austin. At one point they were showing us their studio and there was Paul with his coal black eyes. And the guy just seemed to be like a walking acid trip, which is what I always got off of Paul, one of my dearest old pals, just one of my favorite people through all this punk rock shit. And there he is and I just realized he has a technical grasp on this shit that we use to make these records with. I mean I know how to push “record” and “rewind” and shit, but I sure as fuck don’t have the patience to get to the level that you’re making your own patch bay. Jesus Christ! It was a very cool thing to see. I’m reminded of The Dead, The Grateful Dead, and how their scene was so rife with stoner techy dudes. And maybe that had to do it being a slightly bigger cultural phenomenon, the hippie acid vibe, as opposed to the punk rock hatred vibe. It attracted a different element. It seemed like it was the application of psychedelia towards the tastiest of sounds, and the tastiest of live shows. It’s the wastiest of experiences, and not just your happenstance but you’re actual control of some of the disparate elements that go into allowing some bitchin art to be made. You actually know like what “impedance” is.
M- So how does the recording of Too High to Die differ from the recording of Forbidden Places?
C- Well, it was out in Memphis, for one thing. So I was staying right out on the mighty Miss, in an extend-a-stay kind of thing, kind of a slightly beat up-ish looking one, but with our balcony overlooking the river. And the studio itself was in an old converted cotton warehouse, an old cotton mill warehouse thing. So a big old building with big old wooden beams and a couple of studios in there, and the whole time we were doing it in the ‘B’ studio, there were these Memphis rappers who were like, you know, I mean rap. It has its own thing, the urban black experience. There was some fucking hard-core kids in there. It was like, “Alrighty then. You kids aren’t just rapping about guns, you have them.” So it was just an interesting scene and we were off in another corner, one of the studios, not in the middle of Hollywood. You know what I mean? We weren’t in Los Angeles, we were in Memphis. It was with our pal Paul, and Stewart Sullivan was doing the engineering, who Paul had worked with. And it’s just a completely different kind of a thing. Paul is an old pal of ours, and we were pleased to be back in the studio finally. We had tried several different things. The record company thought that we should go in this one particular direction and then they kept not being happy with the results. Because they were trying to get us to do stuff and we were trying to play along. It’s like just the same old shit. We were trying to get records made, and move forward, and do our best. So it was quite a different feel. It’s just us again in there with Paul. And Paul was real good about it. He was real diligent and obviously interested in working with other bands and had ideas about what it took to get records to sound a particular way, to his satisfaction, which is basically what it takes to be a producer. Going, you know, “Well I have ideas, and I think I can bring something neat to this.” I mean he was changing the guitar strings after every take. Shit like that. It’s like, “Well, okay. That’s fine. If you wanna do that.” And there’s slight variations in strings that have been used a couple times since as opposed to just once. And attention to detail to keep things as crispy and clear and it worked out good.
The main thing about those records is it gets back to the vocals for us, some vocal issues. Back then they were into taking the vocals and doing things with them, and the whole process about making the record with Pete had been very extensive about the vocals. Without Pro Tools. Now it’s just seems so archaic. Their thing was to sing a half a dozen versions of the same line. Go through line-by-line and pick out each word that has the best intonation, or each phrase. And then you put together a comp track. You take all of those separate snippets and put them together as your comp track, as your best vocal take, Frankensteined together out of a half a dozen good enough takes. Before we would have been, “Fine, next.” And you take that and put it on a synthesizer or sampler and you actually use the little knob that can like waver the tone up or down and adjust each little part where you can actually here your heart beating if you hold a note. And you put all these little wavers up. They called it “flying and fixing it.” You fly it and fix it. And you realize, “Oh you guys have been doing this on every fucking record for the last decade. Good lord, what a laborious process. Somebody’s getting paid here.” The vocals are all nice and in tune. And I didn’t really have any problem with it because I liked the recording process. But ultimately Curt’s a fucking artist, and so am I to the best degree a halfwit near retard can be, but Curt definitely has real specific ideas that he’s on about, and then has other people tell him where to get off with it. But we went along with that and we wound up with a record where all of our vocals are really nice and in tune. Forbidden Places is in tune. And it was all done like that. And these days they do it just, it’s still done, but now it’s all Pro Tools. You don’t have to do any of that shit now. You can have anybody sing anyway and have it be manipulated unendingly to have it sound like Pavarotti. And it’s easier to do because there’s no rewinding, it’s all digital. It’s like video games now. Suddenly the recording studio has turned into World of Warcraft. Lots of buttons.
M- So how long were you out in Memphis?
C- I can’t remember. Curt could tell you. It was a while. Couple weeks. There’s a couple really cool things that went down. Curt had written a song that eventually became “Backwater.” He had the riff and he had this thing and he had this part for it. Curt had been writing for a long time and suddenly he writes this kind of blues riff, this bluesy kind of a riff, and it’s like just a slightly different feel for Curt to the degree that it inspired another song from Derrick and I called “Radio Ready.” Anyway, Curt had written that main riff to “Backwater.” You’re talking about the band having gotten to the point where we’re all good players, and we were still young enough. And live we were just fucking lethal. We had a good solid crew and took our outboard gear with us that we plugged into the PAs every night, and Davo our sound guy back then would manipulate the sound back there with our outboard effects. It was all about the experience, and very, very focused.
So anyways, we’re in the studio there and Curt’s got “Backwater” by that point, it’s up to him having lyrics and everything for it. And it was down to, it was one of those songs where I had an opinion. And go back to our catalog and you’ll find songs that are like “Kirkwood/Kirkwood,” and that’s generally a song where I had an opinion, and Curt was kind enough to let old little tag along put in his two cents on his work. So “Backwater” was one of those things again where, you know, “Gee, I really thing you could use a little part. I mean if you listen to ‘The Union of the Snake.’” So, I mean, Curt wouldn’t be who he is if he hadn’t all along been at the point of “I fucking don’t care.” But he’s also my brother and he’s magnanimous, or what the fuck ever, or at points he just agreed, or liked what I wanted to interject. But at this point with “Backwater”, this was a beautiful thing, he’s standing there and the idea would come up about a ‘B’ section. And this was right in the studio and all this stuff is well practiced. We know the material. We’ve been sitting on it for a while trying to get the record made. And he’s kinda got his head down, right, kinda like, there’s my “Fuck you. Leave me alone, onward.” And instead though, he’s actually ruminating on it and just decided that maybe a middle section might be appropriate and he sat there for a minute or two, and whipped out that middle part to “Backwater,” that “Hey I’m blind/good,” you know that part? And he just sat there right? And this has been one of the coolest things that’s allowed me to be Cris of the Meat Puppets is that suddenly Curt developed into this composer. And it’s like, “neat!” And it’s one thing to sit around and fart around on guitar, and I can do it unendingly, but to actually write something. I mean the guy actually started to be able to write things that I was willing to play, or wanted to play. It’s a different kind of thing to be able to design on an idea and get behind it. It has to do with who you are. It has to do with you being able to say something.
M- This is the first time, in a long time anyways, that there are just Cris Kirkwood songs on an album.
M- It’s kind of unusual.
C- I guess maybe it’s the beginning of the end or something. Maybe my ego had finally broken, and had I been healthier all along it could have been a different story. I finally started to get to the point where it’s like, “Hey! I can write a few things here that are good enough for the band. That can actually make it onto our record, or I can sing, or whatever.” Or maybe they were just desperate cries for help or attention. It’s all just about attention. I’m the little brother. Mommy didn’t love me enough. It’s one of those simple things. It’s not that complicated.
M- Curt had to agree to put them on. He could have said “no.”
C- Yeah, well, they’re good songs. They’re really good songs you know?
M- Yeah they are.
C- And he was down with that. And then he takes them and bitchins them up a little bit. I remember like on that one song, “Every thought’s a game/a pack of chimps I cannot tame.”
C- Yeah, “Station.” “He’s the one who went “dunt dunt buh digga dunt.” He put that chugging thing on there, whereas mine was more strumming, like the demo version of it. Or like I wrote that little line “du du dit du du dit du du dit du du du du dit,” and he makes it liquid, and takes it out into a special place that’s neat. By that point I’d grown a lot. Making that last record had been right up my alley. Forbidden Places was so like, “Oh this just fits right in.” I liked being in the studio and I spent all the time in there. Curt would just do the singing and split, but I stayed the whole time. Because I liked being in there and I liked the work as well, and was in on all of that vocal work that we did with Dusty, who was the assistant producer on Forbidden Places. And, you know, does it matter that we did all that? It just makes the vocals come out more in tune. But that’s just a question of tuning and whether you give a fuck or not. What matters and what doesn’t, you know, we don’t need to decide that. But at least it had been a realm that I felt comfortable with and enjoyed being in the studio. And also on Too High to Die. We had been making our own records for a while. But I don’t know, I just wrote a few songs. And it was just when there was the potential for things to change for me to go a lot better and I just didn’t manage to make it go that way. It could have been different all along, but mommy didn’t love me enough.
M- It seems that London, once this is coming together, were ready to push you.
C- No, they weren’t at all. What happened was we finally got to make the fucking thing and then suddenly Nirvana is this band that comes, not out of nowhere because the Seattle scene had been kind of burbling along, and it had been picked for a while.
M- Nevermind had been out for two years at this point.
C- So they were just gigantic at that point. But even before that Seattle had started to be cool. Like, “Hey, everybody’s wearing dime story beads.” And a lot of those bands spoke highly of the SST bands. And for sure there were some tours up through the Northwest that were fucking scorching. And a lot of us people that went on to become famous rock starts were exposed to some of this shit just like we were exposed to shit and the shit we were exposed to was exposed to shit. But we just happened to be in this particular batch of folks that suddenly this popular movement were citing as some of their influences. And then Nirvana was suddenly the biggest band in the world, and they were talking about us. And the record company was like, “Well huh duh duh duh.” But it hadn’t come at that point yet.
What really happened is we played a show out in South Carolina at a radio station, this pal of ours. The cool thing about Too High to Die is that it was completely the record that we wanted to make. Bitchin shit went down during the making of it, with Paul, our old dear pal Paul from the Buttholes. And it lead him on to do that Sublime record and is now a go to, I don’t know if he’s Brian Eno or Rick Ruben, but he’s genius to produce records, and had a gigantic smash hit with the Sublime thing. And it was a fun record to make. It was completely the record that we wanted to make. It was beyond the record company trying to figure out if they could talk us into doing things that they thought would make it easier for them to sell us or. It got down to us making the next record that we wanted to make.
Some bitchin shit happened. I remember Curt wrote that song “Shine”: “She’s got rings on her fingers,” it’s so pretty right? We were in the studio and he specifically said, I was working on the bass part, and he’s like, “Do an Africany sounding thing.” And I was into that shit back then. There are some bitchin African bass players. And I’m like, “Oh, okay, groovy, groovy, groovy. You’re talking the middle of a neck. Alright. The frets are closer together. Sounds easier to me.” And I whip out that little bass line on that, which is a real fun little bass line in a lot of neat ways and just locks into Curt’s line so readily. It was so down and deep and it was such a part of the band to me. And it flows out so sparkly and neato. It’s very much a Meat Puppets record.
So then more of the same old shit where this friend of ours we’d known for years, who loved the band from the old days, and he owned a radio station out in South Carolina, in Charleston. He had us play at this big festival, and made Hootie go on before us even though they were getting ready to break, but it was a question of respect. It was a huge festival and the record company had an influential radio guy come down and watch it, him and his wife. And they’re big and they think all radio stations should play this, like a hundred in the Southeast. You know how that used to work. And these guys saw the set and said, “These guys are rockstars.” And they made the record company take another look at us, made somebody else at the record company come and take a look at the record at PLG, London’s parent, PolyGram Label Group, and a bunch of guys from that. And I don’t even know their names, but one of them heard “Backwater” and decided that song was something. So they made that the single, got it out on record. And they had gone into Cobain and had asked him for an endorsement, and they put a little sticker on it with him and Perner and, you know, Dave’s an old friend, and they had gotten huge, they put a little sticker on it for endorsement. Suddenly you could see they’re starting to have an idea of the direction to take this. Just the guy hearing the song thought something. They made that the single. And the next thing that happened was people responded to it. People liked “Backwater.” So it started getting a lot of good phones, a lot of people calling in for it. The next thing you know it’s like, “Whoa!” We became the focus of their next sales quarter. Us and, like, Salt-n-Pepa.
M- Well the Unplugged thing helped right too, because that happens right before Too High to Die comes out.
C- Oh did it?
M- Unplugged is in December and Too High to Die comes out in January.
C- The thing that really made it work, even going on TV with those guys and stuff, people really liked “Backwater.” People really took to that song.
M- It’s interesting from a marketing perspective that, to this day, it’s the only album with photos as an album cover. It’s not Meat Puppets art on your record.
C- Oh wow! I think the President is flying over or something. That’s weird. There’s this huge airliner and it’s being fucking flat out hemmed in on both sides on by fighter jets. What is it today? Is the President in town? Is that the Vice President?
M- I don’t know, you’re in Phoenix right?
C- Yeah. That’s definitely something I haven’t seen. I haven’t, I mean I don’t know if I’ve noticed, like terrorists flying around or something like that. Or maybe someone’s just stolen the jet and they’re about to be shot down.
M- This could be a moment and we have it on tape.
C- Yep. They’re taking the normal flight path out of town but it’s just a big fucking. . . I don’t have my glasses on. Unfortunately. I’m in my back yard and I can’t see very good. So I couldn’t quite tell if it’s actually a commercial jet or. Where are my fucking glasses? Goddamn it! But it’s definitely like one of those Air Force, or Air Forcey-like jets, one on each side of the fucking thing. Interesting. Look, there’s my mailman. Maybe I can ask him.
M- Okay. So anyway, is there more to say?
C- I don’t know. It’s your interview.
M- Other than you didn’t respond, because of the airplane, to my comment about it’s the only Meat Puppets record to this day that has a photograph as the album cover. It smacks of marketing to me.
C- Oh yeah. That was theirs. I think they actually designed that. We came up with something and they turned it pink.
M- Is that why you’re wearing dresses?
C- That was us. That was us just farting around. That was a photo shoot we did up in Sedona. They didn’t ask us to do that. That was just a photo shoot we had done farting around with dresses on. But I think it was their idea to make the record pink like that, and it was definitely their idea to put a sticker on it with our contemporaries’ endorsements. And it’s just like, “Eh, yeah,” because we’re the ratty old Shit Puppets who nobody likes. So it’s like, “Look kids! Come on kids! Come on kids!” It’s just marketing crap. I’m not into the entertainment industry in a way to really play along and to repeat something that would be easily marketable. I don’t got anywhere near a big enough a dick. And I don’t compensate for my lack of penile girth with a fancy hairdo or stylish clothes. Better look elsewhere. I really am a fucking horrible person. I think I’ve proven that without fail. Repeatedly. And it’s marketing weirdness, you know? And I made a band with my brother and I’m still in it. If it was down to the marketing shit we’d have stopped. Immediately. Or not named ourself something like Meat. If it was down to that I’d have stayed in school and became a dentist.
Look what they do now. They take bands out. They don’t sign things and try to work it through those channels. Now they just put singers on TV and go, “Who do you like? Which one of these do you like?” Until they get the one that people that watch the show like, and then some of them become gigantic fucking stars. And most of them don’t still, but they don’t have to waste a lot of vinyl at least trying to see which one’s going to stick, which one people want. It gets back to Michelangelo forced to spend years of his life painting. The guy wasn’t into it, wasn’t his bag. But if you want to get the work done that you wanted to do, you had to do that. Same old shit, right?
C- I’m a side guy, dude. I’m a side guy in a band. I’m Curt’s most devoted and longest lived employee.
Here’s the lowdown on everything at this point. Two weeks ago I lost my dearest, dearest friend. My sweet, sweet doggie Horky. He had been with me a really fucking long time. Michelle, my late wife, got him after our dog got hit by a car while she was in jail eight months after my mom died. And Horky was all that remained from those dark days. Except me. I’ve come into my reality really fucking well, and it’s because of who I am, obviously. I did the things because of who I am. But Horky was a very, very dear friend, and about my only friend. It’s a tough thing. Things just continue to be tough. I’m just fucking readjusting to my life without my sweet little doggy, who’s been with me for so long.
Horky was a magical thing. Michelle, you know our dog got hit by a car while she was in jail, our dog Rosie. Just like all these improbable series of fucking torments brought about by our irresponsible behavior. And one day she comes home, after she’s out of jail, with a teeny weeny little puppy that had been adopted and brought back because the people thought it was sickly. It didn’t have a mommy or brothers or sisters, and was on its last day. They used to put up little announcements saying this dog is scheduled to be euthanized tomorrow. And she brought him home and he became Horky. He was Horky. And then she died. And it really got down and I just devolved into such a me reality. It was just me and Horky, such a primal netherworld.
And that’s where I’m at these days. I think the band is a venerable wonderful fucking thing. And I’m very, very pleased to have found the wherewithal to have been invited back into my brother’s world and the bitchin world that we made together as kids and allowed it to have another really seriously interesting continuation. To let it have this next phase to happen and to have continued to happen and to have taken it to where now it can be this kind of a thing where it was already a bitchin band that did some neat shit and made some records that were popular and that people liked, and to have gotten up again in the way that we did and for Curt to have kept it going. It’s exceedingly human.