Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A "Monsters" Interview with Derrick Bostrom, August 11, 2013

Skype to Skype Interview with Derrick Bostrom
Meat Puppets
August 11, 2013

M-        We’re going to talk about Monsters today, or up until Monsters.  We’ve already talked about from Monsters to Forbidden Places a few years ago, probably.  So let me tell you how the story goes in my mind.  You finish Up on the Sun.  You tour for awhile.  You decide you need something out, so you do Out My Way, in Phoenix.

D-        Well, it was a year later so it was time to do another record.

M-        So you’d do a record a year and tour on the record.

D-        Pretty much.  We had been touring a lot on Up on the Sun and hadn’t had as much time.  Plus, two of us moved women into our houses.  Curt had one-year olds, so we didn’t have as much time as we’d had.  On the previous records we had kind of lived together for a couple years.  Out My Way was the first record where we had really had less time to woodshed so we decided that we’d do an EP.  In the meantime the boys had bought, we had sort of stabilized in Tempe whereas before that we were scattered.  Once we had stabilized in Tempe we put together a practice space, getting more equipment, doing proper demos, and had the ambition to do a bigger record but we needed to get something out, so we did Out My Way which was more or less looser, longer tracks that were more jammy, not quite as worked-out.  They were plenty worked-out, but we had an ambition to do something a little more ambitious and that wasn’t gonna be the record.  We did that one in hopes that we could reconvene with more time and more head space to actually do the record that we wanted to do, which was Mirage.

M-        Had you planned all along to do Mirage at the same studio?

D-        Part of the whole planning that we needed was to find a place.  Out My Way was somewhat more tentative because a lot of the stuff we were just getting started with.  It wasn’t like we had it all planned out like, “Ok, we’re going to find a studio in town, then we’ll do a test record, and then if it works out we’ll do a proper record.”  It was more like, “This is what we have so let’s just do it.”  It was a reasonably spontaneous thing.  We wanted to do a record, we wanted to tour.  SST wanted to do a record.  Obviously, they wanted a follow-up to what was a successful record, so they were encouraging us to get something out.  Perhaps if we hadn’t had that encouragement from them . . .I’m speculating cuz I can’t remember specifically, but most likely they were encouraging us to get a record out.  So we agreed to do the EP.  If we had gone to the studio and suddenly found ourselves with an album full of material we would have put it out, but we just didn’t.

M-        When you say “encouraging,” it’s not like London encouraged you.  When SST encouraged you was it truly encouragement or is it pressure?

D-        Same difference.  We’ve got a hit record out, we should follow it up so that we can make more money.  It’s not something we were resisting.  It was the obvious thing.  The label can see that where their sales are.  It’s their job to determine when the best time to put out something is.  They’ve got a release schedule so they were like, “We could really use a Meat Puppets’ record now.”  Also keep in mind that if you’ve got a slate of records and you’ve got, Up on the Sun did really well, so the distributors are like, “When’s the next Meat Puppets’ record coming out?”  They want to slate it so as to encourage their distributors to take their other records and that’s always the case, especially back then with indies, you’re gonna balance records that you are pushing based on records that are more-or-less presold which would be, like, a follow-up to a hit.  So they do need a record that they don’t have to work as hard in order to balance out the stuff that they’re trying to break, their newer records.  That was around the same time Painted Willie’s record was coming out, and a couple others that were newer bands, as opposed to the core three or four that they started with.  So there was no question that they needed product.  That’s not controversial.  We didn’t have a problem with that but, on the other hand, we didn’t really have a whole record fleshed-out and ready to give them.  So we decided, “We would like to put out a record.  We want to record.  We haven’t done it in awhile.  So we’re gonna do what’s essentially an EP.”

And we were also, at the time, exploring the possibility of maybe getting off SST.  It wasn’t something they were necessarily helping us with.  On the contrary, I understand from friends who were around at the time that SST was getting inquiries from labels and they were not passing them on to us.  And that was something that we were beginning to suspect.  So we were going out and talking to other labels but we weren’t getting anywhere.  If I’m remembering correctly, in the spring of ’86 we were exploring the possibility of joining Hüsker Dü and the Replacements on a major label.  That may have partially delayed our focus on getting another record out on SST.  It may not have come to anything and we needed to cut our losses and get a record out.  I definitely remember that around that time we went and had a meeting with Gary Gersh who told us he couldn’t sell us cuz our look was too scruffy.

M-        That’s the often told story of Gene Love Jezebel.

D-        Right.  That’s right around there.  I’m pretty sure that coming off of that meeting, we were like, “Let’s do another record with SST.”  At that point we more-or-less took it to heart that we were unsellable.  We were not particularly happy that some of our counterparts were crossing-over.  We didn’t think that the Replacements or Hüsker Dü had something we did not have, but one of the things they did have, which we didn’t have, was strong management and people who were really working that angle for them.  Whereas, instead, we only had SST and they were actually, as it turns out, withholding information about major label interest, for their own purposes.  So, like the extreme potheads that we were, we took the path of least resistance and continued to work with SST for a number of years.

M-        When we talked twenty-years ago you told me that one of the things you thought might keep – and this was between Forbidden Places and Too High to Die – Meat Puppets from really breaking through were the obscurness of Curt’s lyrics.  Do you still think that?  Did you think that then?

D-        I suspect that what was really holding us back was our lifestyle.  There’s no accounting for taste in the world.  What really matters is if you can do business.  We didn’t do business.

M-        At least not yet.

D-        No.  Not until we . . . By the time we got seriously involved in the major labels everybody was over there and there was no indie network anymore.  We really had no choice.

M-        So you put out Out My Way, you go on tour and Curt breaks a finger.

D-        Yes.

M-        So y’all have to go home.  He can’t play.  You can’t be a band.

D-        That’s right.  By that time Cris had an eight-track, so he was doing his own eight-track recording.  I had my own drum kit set-up, so I was rehearsing on my own a little bit.  So we had moved back to our own corners and were continuing to work but, you know, Curt had to heal.  And while he was healing he was relearning his stuff.  He had been practicing.  Once his finger was building-up, he was building his muscle strength back up, so one of the things you see, especially on Mirage, is that more self-conscious playing style.  Whereas he got into punk rock to really kind of mess-up and do wild things, with Mirage it’s much more, I don’t want to say “focused,” but just more self-conscious.  It’s kind of scale oriented.  You can imagine a guy, sitting on his couch with his finger healed, you know, working on scales.  You hear a lot more of that dexterity.  You can tell he’s been practicing in a real specific kind of way.  A lot of the guitar figures on Mirage show that.  They’re almost like scales.

M-        And you spent a lot of time on Mirage, making the record.

D-        We spent a longer amount of time, but you have to keep in mind that before we were doing black-out weekends.  Once we were in town we had the luxury of booking time as we wanted.  One of the advantages of having done Out My Way and getting it out of the way is that there was not as much pressure to get a record out.  We still wanted to get a record out in approximately less than twelve-months of Out My Way.  Obviously we had hoped to get it out in the summer, but the finger break changed that.  So we got pushed back.  We were going to do something for the fall of ’86, instead we did something of, like, January of ’87.  We took about six weeks on it. 

M-        And you were home, so it was a little more comfortable.

D-        We didn’t have to travel as much, we didn’t have to block-out time.  We could just grab a day here or there when they didn’t have anybody up.  Basically, once you get your basic tracks recorded you can give the studio back its space.  You can just go in and mix and plug in an amp.  You don’t have to take over the entire area.  We got the basics done pretty quick, within a week probably, maybe even less.  After that you can tinker at your will.

M-        So you get that record out and Curt’s ready to tour again.  You start touring and decide you don’t really like playing the songs on Mirage live.

D-        I had bought an electronic kit.  They were fine enough in the studio.  Once you really put them through their paces it becomes more apparent what their limitations are.  It was obvious that they were not gonna work live.  So right off the bat I went out and bought a better set of drums.  Then we began to rehearse as a trio for a live situation and a lot of the songs were just, like I said the Mirage record really didn’t fit in with the way we used to do our live thing.  And of course we had taken a break cuz of the accident.  Curt had been working on these scale-based parts.  Once you get back out onto the stage he realized he really just wanted to turn it up and play power chords.  Having to play all of these dexterous parts and do all of these difficult singing parts took away a lot from the fun of doing it.  Plus they didn’t come off as well.

          We were doing all these kinds of things to try and get ourselves up to play this material.  We were rehearsing a lot and doing aerobics and taking performance enhancing herbs and stuff like that and doing our usual psyching ourselves up for it, but at the end of the day it was like, “We could just be rocking out.”  As we started playing we started including more and more covers as you do.  I think during that time is when we started to really hit that George Jones catalogue, whereas before we hadn’t.  It’s just a natural progression away from this stuff that was not as well suited to the kind of live band we were.  Obviously, playing difficult parts that are really specific was definitely not my long-suit.  I only wanted to mess around and get wild on stage.  I never had any real interest in rising to the challenge of playing dexterous parts.  It was something I was always pushed to do and I never did it well and it probably would’ve been better if we never even bothered.  But for a lot of that period we were struggling to do something that, in my opinion, we weren’t that good at.  We had periods where we were doing that, periods where we weren’t.  But that was our first real foray into trying to get that musical.

          Hell, you look at what bands do now and nobody would try to do that with a three-piece.  You’ve got, like, sixteen members offstage and prerecorded parts and light shows and electronics and stuff and you can put your record out on stage just the way it sounds.  We were trying to do that as a three-piece on an extremely limited budget.  We had interesting results.  But we took away what could’ve been a lot more fun.  It was a lot more fun in the early days when we were playing punk rock.  As we began to challenge ourselves we felt it was the right way to go.  Hindsight might tell me that we would’ve been better off keeping it looser, making it more fun, but that’s not what we did.

M-        Did you ever play those drums live?

D-        Once.

M-        Were most of the songs that end up on Huevos already written and ready to go when you recorded Mirage.  It sounds like, the way you tell it in interviews that I’ve read, it could of almost been a double album.

D-        I’ve released all the demos that I have from those sessions online, and you can tell which songs we were working on.  Some of them just didn’t come off as well.  We were trying to get the basic tracks done pretty quickly and when you’re doing a basic track you’re basically looking for a good drum track cuz you can overdub everything else.  The tracks that I was able to play on electric drums in the studio, successfully, were the ones that we kept.  The songs that just didn’t work-out with that kit we didn’t use.  Once we got a proper analogue kit again, and we’d been out on the road for three or four months, those songs started to come together, and then we had the genesis of another record which was gonna be more live sounding.

          So it’s not like all of them were written.  Maybe three that I can think of were definitely ones that we worked on during the Mirage sessions and got short-listed.  “Sexy Music” had been around for a long time.  “I Can’t Be Counted On” was kind of a rewrite of “Baby What You Want Me to Do” or something like that.  That one came together very quickly.  “Paradise” and “Look at the Rain” were new.  But some of the other ones had already been written.  There were three songs on Side B which we worked on on Mirage and rejected.  It’s just kind of a hodge-podge.  Some of them were old songs, some of them were ones that we just did really quickly.  Kind of leftovers.

M-        You quite consciously, as a band, for Huevos, decided . . .you recorded it in three or four days. . .You were gonna do it almost live.  That was very conscious.

D-        It was the way we had worked successfully on Meat Puppets II, or rather on Up on the Sun, not so much Meat Puppets II.  We were like, “We know we can do a record in three days.”  It was one of those things where Mirage wasn’t well-received.  We’d basically blown our shot at following-up Up on the Sun by putting out these two records which people didn’t really care for.  The sales were fair to middling.  We were looking to do a lot better.  We weren’t looking to stay in place.  So we were like, “Let’s try this.  We had a success.  Let’s try to duplicate the immediacy of Up on the Sun.”  It wasn’t entirely conscious.  It was just like, “Let’s just go in and do this record.”

          We were always dissatisfied during this period, with everything.  Always.  We were dissatisfied with our place in the industry, with our lifestyle, with each other, with our label, with the music that was being made, with the successes of others.  We were very hungry and very agitated all the time.  We were antsy.

M-        You release Huevos the second half of ’87, Monsters doesn’t come out until ’89. . .

D-        Nobody was fooled by Huevos.  They were all like, “These guys don’t know what they’re doing.”  Some of the fans liked it, other people were going, “This sounds like a band that has given-up even trying to put out records that anybody wants to listen to.”  It wasn’t any more successful.  It didn’t help.

M-        Which isn’t completely untrue, cuz you just said a minute ago that you had given-up trying to please anybody.

D-        We were just so busy.  We were getting ready to go to Europe.  We got off of a summer-long tour.  Then we had a week or so in town.  We did this album.  Then we went straight to Europe for a month.  We were making a living.  So we were like, “If we put out records we can tour.  We can put out records and tour.  That will pay our bills.”   By ’88 we were like, “We’re gonna really burn-out on this.  God, we have to do this again.”  We were so sick of each other.  It’s exhausting.  We’re trying to be good.  We don’t feel satisfied.  By the time we were finished touring with Huevos, which would have been Summer of ’88, by that time we were just at each other’s throats.  It was not as fun as it had been.

          Of course, when we started out we could play local shows and it was fun.  Once you get out on the road it’s like, “Oh, god!  This is what we’re doing.”  The road is so much more grueling than throwing your equipment into the back of your mom’s car and driving to the local club and playing once a week.  So it was like, “This is a tough thing to rethink, cuz we have overhead.  In order to do it it costs a lot of money.  The costs are going up.  The only way to keep the costs down is to really make sacrifices.  It not only makes the music bad, but it makes us hate it.”  So we began to get into this kind of vise.  By the end of the summer of ’88 the Kirkwood’s were not happy.  I was definitely not happy, but that’s a given.  But they were fighting with each other a lot.  We were trying to drag our lives on the road.  They had their girlfriends with them, we brought a dog with us.  But Curt had his kids at home, so he was never going to be able to integrate his life with, like, the road thing.  So it became very difficult for him to deal with.  A lot of this is me speaking in hindsight, of course.  But that’s basically the way it went down.

So it was like, “We need to get on a major fuckin’ label.”  We started making inroads through our few contacts we had.  We had a booking agent that we had worked with who was for real.  This guy, he was back east and then he moved to Los Angeles and started his own company.  So we were getting a little bit better contacts on both coasts.  From being out all the time we were making contacts outside of the SST group.  Meanwhile they were having their own situations in that the Black Flag nucleus was coming apart.  The original partnerships, that thing was growing beyond its original momentum.  They were trying to get bigger and yet hold on to their principles.  They had their own booking agency.  The whole thing was just fragmenting.  And then as the majors started snapping up the artists that were paying the bills, distributors were failing and it was becoming more and more difficult to manage this independent network on a macro scale and it ultimately did fail.

So it was like, “Well, we did three records in the span of, like, a year and a half, or two years, or whatever, a year and half.”  So we started, you know, the basic goal was to get on a major.  In the meantime we had some housecleaning to do because we were trying to mend fences with people who we’d pissed-off over the years.  Obviously we’d pissed-off people by canceling a tour, cuz Curt’s finger had broken.  We pissed-off certain DJs by being too high in the studio over the years.  So there was a certain amount of needing to take a break.  A need to come back and reform as something that people could count on and get behind and not just these fuckers that obviously came out on the road woefully unprepared.

M-        I’ve always thought that you guys, especially Curt and Cris, often, in the public eye, shot yourselves in the foot with some of the interviews you guys used to do back then, why would anybody want to interview you a second time?

D-        That’s right.  Well, you still get that now.  You’ve interviewed us enough just recently to know that we reserve the right to be prickly as necessary.

          But there were some people who were not playing our records and we needed to get them back on our side.  In some cases we did.  Obviously, as the thing progressed we got professional management, and we got a major label, and the major label has their own radio people and they would keep a closer tether on us, which we didn’t love either, but that’s, of course, getting ahead of the story.

          As far as Monsters is concerned, we did the whole record more-or-less as a demo in the summer of ’88 using a mixture of electronic drums and live drums.  I had still felt that we needed to incorporate modern digital drum sounds into our stuff if only because so much of the parts that were popular and getting played were not human.  It was like, “I can’t keep this kind of time and play with this kind of precision and nobody else is either.  These are machines.”  So we started experimenting with machines.  We had some successful results, so I was able to talk Curt into doing more with that.  We combined electronic sounds with live sounds and started shopping this demo around.

M-        Did you do this demo in Phoenix?

D-        Yea.

M-        At Cris’s place, or where are you doing these demos?

D-        I guess these were done at Pantheon again.  These are online as well.  Unless the links have died in which case you’re S.O.L.  Fucking links!

M-        So you guys very consciously said to each other, “This is a make or break moment.  This is the record we want to get signed with.”

D-        Yea.

M-        You said that to each other?  That was a conscious goal of the record.

D-        Well, yea.  It succeeded.  We sold the record.

M-        But it’s gonna influence how you make the record.  Like you were saying in going to electronic, digital, drums. . .

D-        Awful fuckin’ Guns ‘n’ Roses style, big hair metal sound.  Not my favorite material.  And from the point-of-view of your project, definitely a toned-down level of imagery.  No question about it, in terms of the lyrics.

M-        So you were consciously thinking, “Okay, these are the kind of drums. . .”  Actually, if you go to Wikipedia and type in “Linn Drum” they’ll say anyone from Madonna to Metallica.

D-        Metallica.  Why am I being compared to Metallica and they are obviously using fake drums.  I’m like, “You want me to play that!?”  I hated Metallica.  And yet this is the kind of style that people were . . .this is what people seem to want to hear.  I forgot about them because they are not on my radar.  That is not what I like.  But nowadays they’re accepted as a member of the same rock pantheon  that we’re in.  I’m like, “Okay.”

M-        So you do a bunch of demos in Phoenix.

D-        About half an hour’s worth.

M-        This is, when, the summer of ’88?

D-        Yep.

M-        And what did you do with the demos?

D-        Sent them around.

M-        And the result?

D-        Some rejections.  Some relationships were formed.  Obviously the main one was formed with Peter Koepke, who we ended-up working with.  But, again, we hadn’t had a record out since September of ’87 and it was now over a year later and we were like, “Fuck, we gotta put out a record.”  Now it was late ’89.

M-        ’88.

D-        Yea, but by the time we had given up on being signed it was ’89.  I guess Curt went to California and met with Greg and he was like, “We need to do a record.”  Obviously they knew we were looking to get off.  At this point we had been stalling them for awhile.  I don’t remember any specific details, but just look at the timeline.  It was over a year later.  In the meantime we were kind of broke, but we were getting back to playing every week.  By that time there was about four to six clubs across Arizona that we could play at, so we were sustaining our lifestyle through money from our records and playing out two to three times a month.  We did that for a while.  You can see that on my website if you look at the flier gallery, you can see that we’re rotating Arizona gigs throughout that period pretty heavily.  That was nice.  It gave us a chance to work on our material without having to be on the road.  And it was more-or-less sustainable.  And of course, Curt’s kids were getting a little bit older so they weren’t requiring so much constant care.  They were, by this time, five or six.

          But, you know, costs go up and, “We gotta do something here.”  Ultimately, we were unable to get signed.   So we decided we’d do another record with SST.  Curt went out, made the deal.  Meanwhile Greg had gotten a Linn Drum, and he went in and with Greg’s equipment did a demo of the song “The Void,” which is the same track the ended-up on the record.  He liked the way that the vibe worked.  It seemed to fit the style he wanted to do.  Obviously it influenced the style he wanted to do, cuz I’d been pushing.  So we ended-up doing this record with this Linn Drum.

M-        What did you use on the demos?

D-        A small Roland drum machine.  We had a bunch of our own cheap electronic stuff.  If you listen to the demos you can tell that they are much more rinky-dink sounds.  Obviously they were just recorded quick.  You’re basically gonna get a kick-drum, snare-drum thing, and some tom fills, and then we would either add extra percussion or just.  . .Just listen to the demos.  They take different approaches.  But the live drum sound versus the tight attack of the electronics is worlds apart.  We wanted to go with that modern electronic sound cuz it was very, very punchy, but you do lose a certain amount of feel.  But at that point we just weren’t really that concerned about it.

          So we went into the studio in Orange County and recorded the Monsters record.  But by that time the Kirkwoods were just not getting along.  We never actually all got into the studio all at the same time.  Curt and I would go in and he would play scratch guitar while I worked out the drum parts, then I would go back.  Then Cris would go in and do his bass parts and then Curt did his guitar parts, and then I went in and filled-in the rest of the missing percussion parts, and then they did the vocals.  So we never got into the studio all three of us at the same time for Monsters.

M-        Never?  Not once?

D-        Not once.

M-        What months were these?  I can’t find anything on that.

D-        I can’t remember.  It was, like, Spring or Summer. . .I think it was Summer of ’89.  I don’t remember exactly what the dates were.  I think May, but I could be wrong.  It would’ve actually had to have been reasonably early probably Spring of ’89 because, keep in mind that once we got it recorded we started shopping that around.  We were playing these tapes for people that had rejected the demos and that’s when Peter Koepke came in and said, “Yea, Atlantic will buy this.”

          And we were like, “Great!  Hey, guess what SST?  We’re gonna put the record out on Atlantic instead of SST!”

          And then they were like, “Fuck you.”  And the whole thing ground to a major hault.  And we started strategizing about how we were gonna fuck with those guys.

          And Koepke was like, “Yea.  No problem.  Go fuck with them.  Let us know when you’re done.  Give us a call once you’ve got the record.  Bye.”  So a lot of time and energy went into this disasterous effort which ultimately involved SST getting the record and us having a bad relationship with them.

          Then Peter Koepke left Atlantic and said, “Yea, I still want to work with you guys but I’m going to another label.  See you in a year.”  And then we just didn’t work.  We went out on tour with more major label acts opening for us.  They had lots of support.  Our record was hard to find.  It was also not well received, for obvious reasons, cuz it’s not very good.  And we were not feeling particularly happy, once again, with our career.

          Here’s the thing.  There is nothing in the lyrics about our desire to be on a major label on that record.  All of the lyrics are pretty basic.  There may be some strivings in some of the earlier records, not so much on that one.  That one seems to be more formulaic, in my opinion.  There’s more love songs, there’s more, you know, goofy shit.  Can you pick a song that would mirror the events of the band’s history in any of those songs, specifically?

M-        Maybe with “Party ‘til the World Obeys” and “Like Being Alive” seem to be more, like, being constrained, wanting to break-out but something’s holding you back.

D-        That’s possible.  “Party ‘til the World Obeys” is just a joke song based on something that Davo once said.

M-        Right.  I’ve read that.  But there are a couple of really good songs on there, not just lyrically.  “Attacked By Monsters” is a pretty good song.  I absolutely love “Touchdown King,” I think it is one of your best recorded songs.

D-        It’s not bad.  I just don’t like the way the record comes off.  I liked “Meltdown” when we did it live.  There’s some versions of it that we recorded live in the studio on the radio that we released on our compilation record. . .

          Eh!  Just so hard to. . .It’s so hard, at least for me. . .We weren’t really playing together, and it’s hard to get all that bullshit out of your head so you can just play and just focus on the music.  It’s the same thing with writing.  Sometimes you gotta force yourself to write ten minutes.  You keep saying to yourself, “You know, if I just could do this, then I could really work.”  This was one of those periods where it’s just very, very hard to get clear.

M-        Were you commuting from Phoenix to L.A. to record it?

D-        Yes.  It was over a series of several sessions and we drove.  It was not one session, it was, like four or five or six.

M-        Y’all drove out there together?

D-        No.

M-        If you needed to do some drums you’d go out there?

D-        Yea.  I usually went with Curt.  I did not work with Cris.  Maybe I was in the studio with him once.  He was spending most of his time with his girlfriend and future wife.

M-        There’s an interview somewhere with Cris where he says that he and Curt did some of the drums as well.

D-        That’s not true.  I recognize all those parts as my own.

M-        So a series of six or seven sessions. . .

D-        Including the mix-downs.

M-        With a guy who goes by “E.”

D-        Yep.  His name was Eric.  I don’t remember his last name.  His grandfather was an actor, somebody O’Brian.  I can’t remember the guy’s name.  An old Irish actor, ‘40s guy.

M-        How did you hook-up with E?  Through SST?

D-        Yea.

M-        And the same with the studio?

D-        Yep.  Greg had been using them for some of his projects.

M-        So you’re still on good enough terms with Greg where you’d take his advice, at that point.

D-        We didn’t have any other options.  We got more-or-less kicked-out of Chaton cuz they didn’t like our drug use.  Or at least we were sour on them because they didn’t like it.  We had used Pantheon but, I think, our regular engineer had left by that time, he wasn’t in town anymore.  We didn’t much care for the other engineers that we had worked with.  They were all the usual, you know, local rock guys that didn’t have a great amount of sensitivity for what we were doing.  If you listen to the demos you can tell that they are not particularly sonically satisfying.  We were just not interested in working in Phoenix anymore, plus it hadn’t gotten us anywhere.  We were trying to show that we were wanting to play the game.

M-        It seems that you were caught between, I don’t know if you still had some sort of DIY ideals, doing it yourself and getting people to help you out at the same time.

D-        We didn’t really have anybody.

M-        The guy who worked with you on those three records. ..

D-        Steve Escallier.

M-        He was a relatively big name for you guys to be working with, wasn’t he?

D-        Well, he had a lot of experience.  He worked with. . .What’s the name of that movie that came out last year, earlier this year, when Dave Grohl buys the board.

M-        I know what movie you’re talking about.

D-        Steve worked at that studio.  He worked with Keith Olsen.  He had a long list of names that he’d worked with.  But he’d never really done anything big on his own.  He was just an engineer and he had moved to Phoenix.  He was more-or-less already transitioning out of that part of his life by the time we met him.  He was continuing to transition out as we continued.  Also, in some ways he wanted to do more and more with us and actually be more and more of our producer and we didn’t really want that.  To a certain extent the relationship had reached its course.

          So, anyway, Monsters is very transitional.  There’s no real plan there.  We went to Greg and said, “We’re gonna do another record.”

          Greg is like, “Here’s a studio that you can use.  And here’s a guy that I’m using.

          And we’re like, “Okay.”

M-        When he says this, is Greg paying for the studio?

D-        Of course.  SST always bankrolled our sessions.

M-        You did it over six or seven sessions.  You didn’t blackout anything.

D-        Nope.  It was done over the course of a month or so.

M-        And you actually gave a finished product to SST, right?

D-        Yep.  It was all delivered.  The record cover was done.  Only after it was all done and it was already scheduled for release did Peter Koepke come back and have us try to take it away from them.  Even though it was all done.  It was all slated.  It was very much the eleventh hour when we tried to yank it off of their thing.  And as I said earlier in this conversation, that’s not something an indie label can really do.  It doesn’t really work.

M-        So it’s understandable why Greg might have been upset.

D-        Absolutely.  No question.  They paid for it.  I think part of it was that they did owe us a certain amount of money, so we felt somewhat justified in, technically, we were paying for it.  Our attitude, of course, was, “You’re putting out all these records that we don’t give a fuck about, we’re the ones that are selling.”  We felt entitled.  We were like, “If it weren’t for us and a couple other bands, there would be no SST.  Who the fuck do they think they are?”  But that doesn’t mean that you can just go in and say. . .It’s entirely understandable.  The thing is that it’s only understandable up to a point, because Atlantic offered SST a lot of fucking money.  And we felt, and we were probably not wrong, that there was a certain level of spite involved, if not against us then against the industry, on Greg’s part.  And that was certainly the way we felt, was that, “This could really help us out.  They should do it because we want it.”  We always had the understanding with them that that was how we were going to operate.  We felt entirely justified in asking them to do what we asked them to do.  We felt blindsided that they didn’t want to do it.  Especially when we felt that we had brought what we considered at the time to be an acceptable deal to the table and they just rejected it out of hand, at which case Curt just more or less went ballistic.

M-        And I’ve had that conversation with Curt already, and it’s already written down quite well.

D-        He wouldn’t disagree with that.  He sometimes gets some of the timeline confused or, at least, at odds with me (maybe I’m missing it), but I don’t think he’d dispute any of that.

M-        And apparently some of those other bands had disputes with SST as well.

D-        Over various and sundry reasons, yeah.  Slowly but surely SST got backed into a corner by those of us bands that weren’t happy working with them.  It’s just one of those unfortunate situations.  Just like when wars happen.  Shit gets out of hand.

M-        I think Greg was the only original guy left at SST at this point, wasn’t he?

D-        It depends on where you draw the line.  Mugger was around.  I think they had kind of separated out their booking agency, I’m not sure who was working there.  But, yea, there were a lot of new faces, definitely.

M-        Okay.  I think I have what I need, Derrick.

D-        Sounds like a good interview.  I remembered some stuff that I had not remembered before.  I enjoyed it.

M-        You had an interesting comment in a different interview somewhere.  You said you kept the preprogrammed drums a secret to see how people would react.

D-        Yea.  More-or-less.  We didn’t put it out there.

M-        And some people said it sounded like one of your more live albums.

D-        Yes, indeed.

M-        I feel the same way.  Again, with . . .

D-        That’s because I sucked.  That was part of the reason why I wanted to use machines, because I couldn’t hack it as a real drummer.  So people were refreshed by what they considered to be a much more energetic drum performance.  It’s no wonder I would’ve kept it a secret.

M-        This is when I started seeing Meat Puppets live, the first time was in early ’89 in Tempe, and then I saw you a couple times up in Flagstaff in ’89 or ’90.

D-        I could play pretty well live.  But playing in the studio was quite more difficult.

M-        But on songs like, again, “Touchdown King,” there’s these time changes on a nickel, and that’s what you guys were doing live.

D-        But we could never get that done in the studio.  Especially with brand-new songs that we were still learning or that we hadn’t played out in a long, long time.  Just very difficult for me to pick-up material and compose something really special on the fly without having the adrenaline and the repetition of the live experience.  Cuz then I would have more control.  I had more control in a live environment because shit’s happening and you’re making decisions and you can live and die by them because there’s no going back.  But once you’re in the studio and things start to get second-guessed and people are listening more closely and everybody has an opinion.  I was much better live.

M-        If you’re all in the studio individually at this time, who’s in charge.

D-        Curt’s always in charge.

M-        But if it’s just you in the studio with E?

D-        Oh, no.  Curt was always there with me.  It was still Curt’s project.  The only projects that I really had more. . .Meat Puppets II was the last record where I really had much project management hands-on to it.  By the time we were done with that record, the boys were comfortable enough in the studio.

M-        And this is the same time that the Live in Montana things were recorded.

D-        ’88.  Yea.

M-        You could see what kind of stuff you guys were doing live.  The variety and the beginnings of “Attacked by Monsters,” the Beach Boys version.

D-        The Beach Boys version.  Right.  By that time we had already been touring with Huevos for a year and you could tell we were seriously at loose ends.  That’s why I like that record, cuz it fills-in a gap.  It’s that missing year.  It covers what we were doing in 1988.

M-        Fabulous, Derrick.  Anything else you would like to say to me?

D-        Our voices are going out, it’s time for us to end.