Curt Kirkwood has seen it all, played it all and come back for more.
His band, The Meat Puppets, hit their stride in the '90s with a namecheck by Kurt Cobain and a legendary MTV Unplugged performance together. Alt-radio success came after, and the band enjoyed the beginnings of a cult following. Soon, Curt saw his brother, Cris, take a twisted path through the tangles of drug addiction in the '90s and early '00s (resurfacing during a 2007 reunion tour). And that was just the first 30 years.
New album Rat Farm, released in this, the 33rd year of Meat Puppets, is a bit of an exception to the Puppets' trend. It, more, than any other recently released Puppets album, harkens back to those days on SST Records, where the Puppets released a combination of Americana-twinged punk and alt-rock. Kirkwood, the principle songwriter, wrote a batch of what he calls, "real, blown-out folk music." We call it a return to form for the Arizona rockers.
NUVO spoke with Kirkwood by phone before their Friday date at Radio Radio.
NUVO: I always like to ask artists that are coming through if they have any memories of playing in Indy.
Curt Kirkwood: Well, the last time we were there, there was a football game going on and we were at a place having a party. It was the championships, a couple years ago. So, that was a pretty big deal. Lot of people downtown. That's my most recent memory, but I have a lot of memories of Indianapolis, actually.
My earliest one was going to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix when I was a kid and watching the race on closed circuit TV back before you could get it on TV or Pay-Per-View, or anything like that. They put it on a huge screen in the Coliseum. It was a huge event. I was always really into that.
NUVO: You're spent the last month or so in Europe, touring Rat Farm.
Kirkwood: Yeah, we were in Spain and Portugal, England and Scotland. We were there in December before that. We go there about once a year.
NUVO: How does the reaction from European audiences differ from your fans in the US?
Kirkwood: It's not so different, really. That's where things get kind of the same between those two continents. You put on a show, they get into it, they yell. You can't really tell they don't speak your language.
NUVO: I was reminded of this when I was going through my email this morning looking for the right number to call you at - this interview was actually set up by a fan of yours in Indianapolis, who reached out to me.
Kirkwood: That's pretty cool!
NUVO: How have things changed since you added your son to the band?
Curt Kirkwood: Well, it's just a little bit more of that unconscious communication. I think the whole band kind of has it, and I think it has to be there, in my case. I've always played with my buds; I've never done a tryout or something like that just to play with someone on merit. It has to be people I get on with.
I don't know whether it's because it's something I started doing when I was a teenager - playing with my friends - or because the first few bands I was in, I just kind of got hired, and then they would fire me when they didn't really like my personality or my personal habits. So I got the clue there. Maybe I just feel a little safer. But it is a pretty personal experience and it is good to be able to play with people that you're close to; you don't have to make excuses.
NUVO: I was reading an interview you did a few years ago, and you mentioned a few songs you remember listening to when you were a kid. In particular I noted the song "Ghost Riders In The Sky," which is a track I haven't thought about in such a long time. But I remember listening to that when I was young, too.
Kirkwood: It's a good one. Whenever they used to have those little jukeboxes at the tables in some diners. Each table had its own little one and my grandmother would always put that on for me. I thought it was a great one. I loved the spooky stuff when I was a little kid; Frankenstein, that kind of stuff. I thought "Ghost Riders" was a spooky song. But it's also just a beautiful song.
As it turned out, that was kind of formative for me, for sure. I wound up being a huge Marty Robbins fan. I think it was probably Riders of the Purple Sage - the guys that did "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds" and "Cool Water," all those classics. Then, just the high and lonesome country stuff. Marty Robbins, George Jones, Hank Williams. Those [guys] were formative on that side. Then, I got The Monkees through pop culture, and The Beatles.
NUVO: I was thinking about all of these bands, and all of these bands your band has been such a huge influence on. Some of those are my favorite bands, like Pavement, Dinosaur Jr. It must be an odd experience - if this is true - to listen to these bands and hear a bit of yourself in them.
Kirkwood: You know, honestly I don't. It always kind of puzzles me. Maybe it's because I'm too close to my own stuff or I'm not too analytical. It's hard for me [to hear] unless it's clear cut, like, "That sounds like country music, or that sounds like hard rock." Every once in a while, I can hear it in others, think, those people were way into The Beatles, or something like that. But I can't tell [when it comes to me].
NUVO: I was at a festival this weekend and walked by a stage and thought immediately, "Oh, he thinks he's Bob Dylan."
Kirkwood: Right! That's always a good one. Bob Dylan, Lou Reed. Someone with an idiosyncratic voice, you can trace it pretty easily. I guess, in that way, I would say, "Oh, they can't sing. That sounds like me!"
NUVO: I guess it would be a lot harder [to pinpoint yourself as an influence to a specific band] because The Meat Puppets have gone through so many different genre transitions. You've just done whatever you want, really. So, you would have to say, "That sounds like me in 1987," or something like that.
Kirkwood: That is a really good point. A point people don't make a lot. I hear a lot of, "I was way into '90s music," and I'm like, how about '80s? They're trying to reference us through the '90s. But that's just one decade. How about our cow punk era? Or when we were thrown in with Americana? Or when we did our Def Leppard rip-off?
We have done what we wanted and have been indiscriminate about sticking to some sort of format and trying to define ourselves that way. I always thought it was, held together with pretty crummy singing. And I thought that was the touchstone. The way I always look at stuff, like my favorites like The Stones or Led Zeppelin when I was a kid: they play a lot of different things in there. You can't try to define what they are. You just know that's Mick Jagger.
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