Louder Than War were recently offered the opportunity to chat to iconic US rock band Meat Puppets about their new album, their upcoming tour, what it was like being on SST as well as their recollections of & ongoing friendship with Nirvana.
Long running American rock band Meat Puppets recently released their latest album since they reunited in 2006. An excellent addition to their pantheon of releases it follows in the footsteps of their last few releases in that it keeps things simple while also throwing in a few nods to the quirkiness of their former years back when they were (label) mates with the likes of Black Flag, Husker Du and The Minutemen.
The band’s second album (Meat Puppets II) is one of the more important records of US alt rock history (& one of my personal top 10 records of all time) so when offered the chance to fire off some questions to one of the bands founder members, Curt Kirkwood, I obviously jumped at the chance.
Louder Than War: Really like the new album. It’s your 14th right? You obviously manage to keep your enthusiasm going somehow as it sounds as good as any you’ve done recently, so how do you manage to stay passionate after so many albums?
Curt Kirkwood: Thanks…I believe thats right. I just take it one step at a time…one record every so often, and do the best that I can with what I’ve got to work with. Somehow it always seems like a fresh start which is one of the cool things about music…it’s kind of an endless stream.
Louder Than War: What was the process with writing the album? Has the album writing process changed over the years at all?
Curt: I sat around and dranks beer and sang stuff into my cell phone…pretty much the same as always. It’s coffee and beer.
Louder Than War: Your “sound” is pretty idiosyncratic what with with the languid vocals & trippy guitar work. Even going back to your first album you sounded like no one else (especially going back to your first album you sounded like no one else in fact!) – and that despite the fact that your sound’s changed quite radically over the years. Is being unique important to you or is it not something you think about really?
Curt: It’s something that I can’t seem to shake…like Popeye said “I am what I am”. When I try to be what I’m not it’s very obvious…especially to me.
Louder Than War: You said that fans can expect to hear “real blown-up folk music” on Rat Farm. Was that the sound you were going for? Is folk music mainly what you listen too these days? What other influences were there on the album? (You may want to roll this answer into number 6 but as I’d already asked 3 questions in this one I felt I couldn’t really throw in any more!)
Curt: I was trying to write fairly simple, easy to learn tunes. I do listen to a lot of folk music but I listen to a lot of other stuff too. I think there’s a lot of 70’s rock influence this time around as well.
Louder Than War Would you say folk music is the genre you most identify with then? Personally I’ve always maintained that ‘folk’ & ‘punk’ harbor a lot of similarities but I imagine most people would consider your going from hardcore to folk to be a pretty weird journey eh? Did it feel natural to you?
Curt: I’ve always played a lot of both…rock, punk, folk, country…they’re all peasant music. All the way back to the first record we were doing it with stuff like Tumbling Tumbleweeds, Walkin’ Boss…Lake of Fire and Plateau are good examples of earlier stabs at that.
Louder Than War: You’ve been quoted as saying you wanted to keep this album as simple as possible “because it tends to make something stick for me a little better”. Can you elaborate on that please?
Curt: Sometimes I just don’t have the patience to learn more complicated tunes or to have them stick around long if I have learned them. I wanted to be able to quickly learn these this time and play them live. Sometimes we’ve made whole albums that never really make it to the stage.
Louder Than War: Where would you put Rat Farm in your pantheon of releases? How do you think it stacks up against the the other 13?
Curt: I don’t really have a clue. I like it and it’s fun to play. It’s new so it has that appeal to me but generally I think I’m not a very good judge of what I do…I’m too close to it and what I like or don’t like about my stuff might not even exist in the actual song. I always think that I’ve done the best I could though.
Louder Than War: You’re coming over here for some live dates soon, do you still enjoy touring? I see you’ve got dates lined up with Mudhoney too – do you find a lot of people lump you in with the whole ‘grunge’ scene? How do you feel when people make what they think to be obvious connections between you & Nirvana?
Curt: I do enjoy touring…it’s great to be able to travel and to play to a new group of folks each night. I don’t mind any comparisons…there’s been a lot of them over the years. We do have a strong connection to Nirvana from the Unplugged record and from the continued friendship. We just played the SXSW festival in Austin opening the show for Dave Grohl’s Sound City Players…Krist was there too playing bass for the Rick Neilsen part of the show and it was a lot like seeing family.
Louder Than War: How would you describe the general dynamic of the band now, both while you were recording the album (in your time honored 3 piece set up but also with relatively ‘new’ member Shandon Sahm) and now you’re playing live as a four piece with Curt’s son Elmo? What can we expect Elmo to bring to the game?
Curt: It’s still a very cool intuitive feeling to play in this band…a lot of stuff just pops up without thinking about it and the flow is very natural. I’ve played with Shandon for 15+ years and Elmo and I have done lots of guitar duet shows for the past 8 or so. It’s real easy to do this. We tried to play the album as a group in the studio as much as possible in an attempt to capture the organic band sound…like setting up and jamming in the living room.
Louder Than War: Who are your favorite bands at the moment? What do you think of today’s alt music scene?
Curt: We played with Lite (from Japan) recently and they were very good. Also played with an Irish folk band from Austin called Come See My Dead Person which I enjoyed a bunch. George Jones is still my favorite singer.
Louder Than War: Are lyrics important to the band?
Curt: I don’t put too much weight on the lyrics but in the overall perception of a song I think they’re pretty important…I know that the people who listen to our stuff seem to make what they want out of whatever I write so that gives me a sense of freedom to ignore explicit reference and common sense.
Louder Than War: Do you find a lot of younger bands coming up to you asking for advice?
Curt: Sometimes…the only advice I’ve ever had is keep playing.
Louder Than War: I asked James while we were setting this up if there were any subjects that were off limits & whether or not I should just focus on your contemporary work. He didn’t reply so I’ll slip in a quickie about MP II if that’s ok? I’m guessing a lot of people ask you about it & frankly I could’ve dedicated this whole interview to it as it’s one of my top 10 all time albums. So how do you feel about MPII now?
Curt: I still love a lot of those songs and play them with regularity in the live sets. I listen to the album every so often but more enjoy playing the songs and elaborating and augmenting them…they’ve held up well over many repeated bashings and live mutilations.
Louder Than War: What do you remember of your years on SST & all your labelmates back in the 80’s? Esp interested in your thoughts about The Minutemen as they’re probably my all time favorite band! Did you ever imagine you’d be the ones who’d still be together 30 years later?
Curt: It was like a clubhouse sometimes…we were friends with The Minutemen, Black Flag, Husker Du and Sonic Youth to name a few of the bands from the time. We all seemed to have a similar “just play music” approach to the game and there was a shared levity and sense of humor no matter the intensity or serious tone of the music. We played off of each other and there was some playful, healthy competition. I’m still friends with many of the folks that were on the label and I feel really lucky to have been there in the day….and lucky to be here now still doing it. I never really gave the future much thought back then…probably lucky for that to.
Catch The Meat Puppets at one of the following locations on their imminent tour:
Sun 2nd Bristol The Fleece
Mon 3rd Brighton The Haunt
Wed 5th Glasgow ABC with Mudhoney
Thu 6th Newcastle Academy with Mudhoney
Fri 7th Manchester Academy 2 with Mudhoney
Sat 8th London The Forum with Mudhoney