Interview: Meat Puppets
Published on April 15th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
This week sees the release of Rat Farm, the sunnily disposed, infectiously melodic and beautifully light-of-touch fourteenth album from legendary Arizona rockers Meat Puppets. In June they shall be touring the UK in support of fellow survivors Mudhoney (click here for dates), with a performance at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival to come towards the end of May.
In anticipation of this forthcoming activity, not to mention the Pups’ latest studio triumph, Rocksucker was granted the honour of a telephone conversation with singer/songwriter/producer Curt Kirkwood. We asked him about the LP’s genesis, the addition of his son Elmo to their live lineup and the many great artists his music has inspired over the years (Nirvana, Pavement, Soundgarden, REM, Black Flag, Fugazi, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Stooges, Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh: not bad, eh?)…
Parts of the new album remind me of Big Star and Teenage Fanclub. Are these bands that you admire?
I’ve heard Big Star quite a bit and I like them, but I’ve not heard as much Teenage Fanclub.
How do you go about working out the harmonies?
They kind of make themselves, really: we work them out in relation to the chords and it’s usually obvious what works and what doesn’t.
Were all the new songs written in the time since Lollipop, or do some of them date back further than others?
Some of the songs are older. That’s always the way it is, that I’ll have songs sitting around, waiting to find a place for them. There are two or three of them that go back as far as about fifteen years.
Were they songs that lay uncompleted, or finished songs that you’d discarded and then rediscovered?
Those were the finished ones. The rest of the album I didn’t really have finished, so I went into the studio quite unprepared and did most of it there.
Did you produce Rat Farm?
Yeah, I did.
Do you ever think about easing the burden on yourself by passing the production buck onto someone else?
We’ve done that before; yeah, I like that, but then I like it both ways. I love producing and I like the results a lot of the time when other people produce, because they make me do things I wouldn’t make myself do. I’m a little lazy so it’s nice to have other input, but generally I think I prefer doing it myself; not to make a deal out of it, but I’ve always liked the results. We did all the early ’80s stuff ourselves, and it’s kind of a different animal when someone else does it.
Did your son Elmo [now the band’s touring rhythm guitarist] contribute creatively at all to Rat Farm?
No, he didn’t play on the record.
Has it been easy getting him up to scratch?
Oh yeah, he’s got his own thing. He’s a better guitar player than I am! We didn’t have to do a lot of practising with him. I think it’s a DNA thing sometimes.
I’m looking forward to seeing you play twice in the next few months: at Primavera Festival and in London. How heavy on new songs is the live set at the moment?
We’re working a lot of it in. We’ve been doing six each show.
It’s probably way too soon to be asking this but, as a seemingly prolific songwriter, have you given any thought yet to your next project?
Not a whole lot. I’m getting to the stage where, coming out of that album, I go, “Wow, why or how would I want to do that again?” You know, kind of feel a little doubt; but once we go out to do live shows, start to get some jams going and get up on our game, I’d expect to see stuff coming out of the nascent little ideas that’ll probably turn into songs.
How did it feel to have so many great musicians contribute to Too High to Die, Greg Prato’s book about Meat Puppets?
Yeah, I appreciate that. I love music, and a lot of the people who say they like me, well, I like them too, you know?
Do any of them stand out as being kindred spirits to you? Or is there anyone you admire in particular?
Maybe not on the level of being a sort of kindred spirit, but the obvious one would be Kurt Cobain. I really loved his singing, thought it was a really appropriate match-up. It’s not hard for me to say “I like your stuff”, though, because generally I like other people’s music more than my own.
There’s definitely a wide variety of people who’ve said they like Meat Puppets: jam band guys, metal guys, we’ve just done stuff with Soundgarden, we’ve done a lot of shows with SCB… They’re not so similar to us but it all seems to work out. Kindred spirits isn’t so much about the genre as it is about the medium, the message and the spirit of the whole thing.
The range of artists influenced by Meat Puppets is probably a reflection of how much your sound has changed over the years, even from album to album. As an example, Animal Collective asked you to perform the Up in the Sun album in its entirety at the All Tomorrow’s Parties they curated the other year. Have you heard much of them, and if so can you hear the influence of that LP in it all?
I hadn’t really listened to them when they asked us to do it, so I thought, “I better check them out”; and I get it, yeah.
Have you heard the new Mudhoney album?
I haven’t, but people tell me it’s out so I’ll check that out when I get some free time.
Is the Meat Puppets documentary still in limbo?
Yeah, I believe so!
Finally, what music have you been listening to of late?
Most recently, The Clancy Brothers; somebody sent me an animation that was backed up by their song “Whiskey You’re the Devil” and that got me going back to listen to a bunch of their stuff that I hadn’t heard in a long time. I don’t really have the time to listen to a whole lot of music but that’s the one that I went through the most recently. It’s a little phase, I’d done it before.
Curt Kirkwood, thank you.
Rat Farm is out now on Megaforce Records. For more information, please click here to visit the official Meat Puppets website.