“The Meat Puppets’ name is cool, and that’s the entire story behind it.”

By Julia Barr

The Meat Puppets have been playing music for decades yet a lot of people have never heard of them. The punk/country band’s Curt Kirkwood recently chatted with Zoiks! Online to talk about their favorite songs, their approach to music, and random stickers on their instruments.

Q - Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?

A - Yeah, I was really young. I used to write these joke songs with my friend Sam in fourth grade - this one was about these two horribly deformed people, this guy with no face and this girl with really horrible acne who worked at a soda fountain, and in they end they met and fell in love. I really didn’t start seriously writing songs until the Meat Puppets. Before that I just did cover songs.

Q - I noticed that you do a lot of cover songs and put your own spin on them. One of the first Meat Puppets songs I ever heard was your version of “Tumbling Tumbleweed” and I was amazed by how different it sounded. How do you pick the songs that you cover?

A - We just play our favorites. “Tumbling Tumbleweed” was a childhood favorite. I know a lot of people cover songs and try to make it sound exactly like the original band, but I’ve never been a good enough singer to make it sound like the original band, so it just ends up sounding like us.

Q - You guys were one of the first bands on SST records. How did you get started on label?

A - We toured with Black Flag, and Greg Ginn asked us if we wanted to put out a record. I think he had really good taste, there were lots of great bands on that label and I don’t think it was an accident. I think he knew what to look for and that’s something I would never have a clue about.

Q - Something that really sets the Meat Puppets apart from other punk bands is the country element to your music. Did you guys listen to country music growing up?

A - Yeah, it was just around a lot, we’d hear it on the car radio. We grew up going to the racetrack every Sunday. We were raised on a small farm, did 4-H, we had goats and chickens.

Q - Do you still go to the racetrack now?

A - No, now I don’t really want anything to do with horses. I mean I like them ok and all, they’re good animals but, horses are big and scary.

Q - When you write songs, how do you approach it? Do you write together or separately and then combine it?

A - Well, Cris (Kirkwood) has only written a couple songs, it’s usually all me. I’ll write a song and Cris will add the jazz rock fusion part. Collaboration is kind of a mystery to me. I collaborated with a friend for some songs on “Snow,” but I usually write by myself.

Q - Do you write the lyrics first or the music?

A - I write the music first and the lyrics come after.

Q - What amazed me the most about seeing you live was the insane speed and energy that you played with; even the mellow songs were sped up and intensified. How do you get yourself pumped up before a show? Do you have any certain rituals?

A - I think it’s mostly just carelessness. We get going on a tour, and it gets boring after you play it so many times, so we get going fast and hardly even notice it. I actually think we could chill out sometimes and play it the way it sounds on the album. I think we sort of blew it with “Up on the Sun.” That was a nice record and when we played it live, we just trashed it. I also think it’s societal. We’ve always played fast but now society’s caught up to us. People want their teeth to be extra, extra, extra fucking white! They brush their teeth with intensity! And because that’s how it is, we can play folk songs like idiots and it works (laughs). It’s definitely a show-to-show thing too, like the last show we played in Waterloo; the gig was in the toilet from the get-go. Chad was drunk, we didn’t know how it was gonna turn out, so we just tore it up, and it was total mayhem, but people liked it. Other times we’ll play a show thinking “here’s a show for the listeners” and play everything really nice and precise. It all kind of depends on who’s there, and how we’re feeling. I don’t have a set list; I always make it up as I go. A show is really like a conversation, you to the audience, the audience to you; it’s a set of feedback.

Q - What have been the best shows on this tour so far?

A - We just played Summerfest in Milwaukee. It was outside. There were lots of people, and fireworks. That was pretty crazy. That and the show at Ribco were both good.

Q - On “The Monkey and the Snake,” you whistled throughout the entire song. Do you have to practice whistling like that or are you just a naturally gifted whistler? That was one of my favorite songs on the new album. What was your inspiration for it?

A - I’ve just always liked to whistle. I wrote the lyrics when we were recording “Sewn Together,” but I wrote the first half of the song a couple years ago. The tune came from this 19th century statue that my grandpa used to have. It was a wooden statue of this guy leaning against a lamppost, and when you’d wind it up his head would go back and forth and he would whistle. It was connected to a music box and there was other stuff on the music box too, stuffed birds and things. I’m not sure if the tune from the “Monkey and the Snake” actually was the tune it played, but it’s what I think of when I think of that tune.

Q - I noticed some sort of stickers covering your guitar. They looked to me like cat stickers, but I could be mistaken. What kind of stickers are they?

A - Clowns, they were just the kind of stickers you get from a little kid’s birthday party or something.

Q - Is there a story behind the name the Meat Puppets?

A - Not really, I just thought it was a cool name.

Q - How do you think things have changed, with music in general? And how have you guys changed as a band?

A - I don’t think we’ve changed much as a band, we’ve just gotten older. But music today, it’s been a while since I’ve heard anything that really floored me and made me think, “that’s just neat and stuff.” I have a buddy who puts out foreign compilations. His label is called Sublime Frequency. He put out one with pop music from Cambodia; he’s done Burmese music and Algerian music. He’ll go to the countries and rip stuff off from public libraries, or record off of the radio. Those are really fun records. Most of the (American) popular music I hear now is just not as satisfying. I think the majority of music today is full of too much weird emotion. It’s all, “poor me, my computer won’t work, mom and dad don’t give me enough attention” - just whiny pop crap. With my own music I’ve always thought the best thing was to pretty much leave emotion out of it. I mean, you’ve got it built in with the sound, but listening to the “crying of someone’s inner self,” that’s just about the last thing I wanna hear.

Q - What would you say you do want to hear? What makes a piece of music resonate with you?

A - I want to have chills running down my spine, feel elevated. It’s just this indescribable passion; beyond emotion. It’s hard to put into words though because words can’t really touch it. Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.

Q - What’s one of your favorite Meat Puppets songs?

A - Right now, my favorite song off of the new album is “Go to Your Head.” I liked a lot of them but that’s definitely one of my favorite ones to play. I really like the title track, “Sewn Together.”

Q - Where did the idea for "Sewn Together" come from?

A - I had a painting that I’d done, the one with the stitches on the cover of the album, and then I wrote the song, and so we just decided to call the album that. I have to create this product, for the masses, and come up with a clever name for a collection of songs, and it’s actually a pretty cool thing sometimes to call it something more abstract than the collection of songs itself. I did that on “Too High to Die,” named the album something that wasn’t in any of the songs on the album, but for this one, “Sewn Together” just fit.


Julia Barr is a creative writing major at University of Iowa who is obsessed with music of almost all genres. Check out her Facebook or shoot her an e-mail at julia-barr@uiowa.edu.

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Acid Abortion said...

I was at Summerfest this year. The Puppets put on an EXCELLENT show.



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