Get Up Off the Floor:
The Meat Puppets Come Back from the Grave
(l to r) Curt Kirkwood, Cris Kirkwood, & Ted Marcus.
Eleven years ago, when I saw the Meat Puppets at the Astroarena opening for Stone Temple Pilots, they were pedigreed by Kurt Cobain via Nirvana's MTV Unplugged appearance, they had a gold record in Too High to Die, a hit song, and a new record that was supposed to solidify them as post-grunge cow-punk superstars. But they broke up, moved back to Phoenix, started a few different supergroup bands, got back together, broke up again, and even went to prison. (In the case of Cris Kirkwood, who somehow got shot twice after fighting a security guard and still went to prison.)
Back in October, the Kirkwood brothers brought their reunion tour to The Proletariat, on Richmond, a considerably cozier room than the Astroarena. The title of The Meat Puppets new record, Rise to Your Knees, could describe Cris Kirkwood's journey from rockstar to prisoner and back to club performer, but the record finds them in typical Meat Puppets humor. And if the Kirkwoods' fortunes have reversed, then it's worked out well for the audiences that are getting up close and personal with the godfathers of cow-punk.
I talked to Cris Kirkwood for an hour and a half after their show, starting at 2 AM.
SCR: When you guys started kicking around and making noise in the scene, was there any specific moment where you said, "Holy shit, we're going do be a big deal"?
Cris Kirkwood: [laughing] Yeah, a lot of that shit was unexpected, but we really put a lot into it and it was nice to have a lot of other people taking it in and going with us. We weren't a band that could be disected, but we were [being dissected]. It was hard at first, 'cause we had the "grunge" thing. But we played everything. We'd have people call us out for being this or that, but we were having fun. Having a crowd agreeing always makes you feel like a big deal. But we were just making music and having fun.
And the whole Nirvana thing came after you were already established as an underground band that was making waves. Did the Nirvana cover of "Lake of Fire" do anything for you personally or even effect the band?
Well, you know, he took a song that obviously inspired him enough to perform it at that level. And people that were inspired by him that might not necessarily have access to us got a taste test. And Kurt inspired a lot of bands like we did him. We didn't really think about the whole thing until he offed himself. To be honest, man, it meant more to me when he was alive than after his death. He didn't want to be Elvis, and we didn't feel any cooler being on that CD after his death than we did the day we found out he'd covered us. He was just another one of us. He picked a good song, though! Man had taste! [laughter]
So you guys are back on track, touring around... [interrupted by bouncer]
Bouncer: [frighteningly loud] Everybody out! I'm being serious. Get out of here now.
Cris: [to bouncer:] Hey, man, do me a favor and go guard the fucking door so I can do my interview.
[to SCR:] So, back on track, right? Yeah, man. We're getting there. And it feels really cool to play these shows and see people singing back. We get a lot of attention now and being able to take one night to see the entire crowd smiling back at us alone is great. We knew our fans were out there, but to see some singing really old obscure tracks back at us was nice.
Any plans for a tour that has you as the only headliner?
Of course, of course. [laughter]
Care to give me a hint?
Well, man, we're writing new material. For now...shit. Hold on. [cell phone ringing] Okay, got a bunch of fucking babysitters, man.
Do you need to go?
Yes, when I fucking am ready to. [laughter]
Meat Puppets MySpace Page
So the whole MTV craze that made everyone love certain bands, and allowed others to romanticize the bands that "they knew" really seemed to be an issue for you and the Butthole Surfers and bands in that area. I mean, you can't tell me it didn't burn your ass a little to see the Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox 20 getting their asses kissed when you knew what you were into was fucking bigger than anything they could've ever even not wanted to do.
Are you interviewing me or David Mathews Bands [spelled as he said it]? Who gives two shits about those bands? At least we are able to come back. With taste. With that shit-flavored ice cream our fans love. You really shouldn't have asked that question if you were going to name assholes like that. [laughter] Really, man, bad question.
Yeah, man, bad call.
So are you saying your hit that was compared to the Toadies is a bad assumption? You did put out a floater album, given your power with the indie scene, and your single "Backwater" was pretty poppy.
Okay, so you know your history. I didn't write that song. But I really thought it was funny. Did anyone track it? [laughter] Hell, no! Go back and read it, man. It's funny. It was perfect for our band at the time. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, something catchy. Way to catch on too late, motherfuckers. But I did have better intentions for that song.
When you look out and see the crowd, are there familiar faces, or is that even something that crosses your mind on stage? For instance, the singer from Sprawl and one of the guys from the Judy's, two big important bands for Houston in my world, were rocking out and having a blast. Is that anything you care about, or do you just get up there and play your tunes?
[laughs] Well, fuck, man. Of course I care. At one point I just took my glasses off and looked. It was reviving to recognize other artists digging on your shit, but mostly just seeing a room full of people having fun and doing their thing while you perform is always a good thing. We had a fucking blast, the crowd had a fucking blast, hey...that's all it's about. That's what it always was about.
With new shit coming out, I still recognized a lot of your set. How many of the songs were new that you played tonight?
Man, figure it out. [laughs] No, man, but like three were new.
(l to r) Cris Kirkwood, Curt Kirkwood, & Ted Marcus. Photo by J. Cultice.
Is it still in the same vein as the old-school stuff, where it was all over the place with genres?
Like I said before, man, we don't sit down and say, "hey, let's go here or go there." We just show up, and one of us is like, "listen to this riff," or, "read these lyrics." And if gets to us, we go with it. If it doesn't, we go with it anyway. [laughter]
[SCR contributor Creg L. walks up and hands Cris his Blackberry.]
Creg: Can you tell my girlfriend that you're you? She's a huge fan.
Cris: What's her name?
Cris: [speaking into the phone] Becky! I'm great, how is your day going? Thank you, that is great. I just got my girlfriend, who is a stand-up bassist, another stand-up bass signed by Wanda Jackson. 'Cause I smashed her last one...
[after Cris finally hands the phone back:] Do you have anything you want me to put in this article?
Hopefully our conversation. [laughs] But no, man, I'm happy to be playing again and I really am excited to see what comes and what goes and all that shit.
So, no pearls of wisdom?
I made you a fucking necklace, man. You have to string it all together! [laughs] I mean, we are still just like always. Doing our thing. END