Meat Puppets: interview

PUPPETEERS: Cris Kirkwood, Curt Kirkwood and drummer Shandon Sahm.

PUPPETEERS: Cris Kirkwood, Curt Kirkwood and drummer Shandon Sahm.

A lot of people discovered Meat Puppets when Kurt Cobain championed the grunge-folk group, eventually demanding that MTV allow Cris and Curt Kirkwood to join him for two songs on the now legendary MTV Unplugged performance.

I discovered Meat Puppets when their 2009 record Sewn Together landed on my desk at Reverb Magazine.

I had never listened to their music – I only knew the Nirvana association.

On the very first listen, I fell in love with Sewn Together – it’s a jubilant and golden tapestry of country, folk, indie-pop, rock and psychedelia.

I was amazed and immediately requested an interview with the band.

When I started researching the group’s history and listening to their earlier material, Sewn Together took on a whole different level of meaning.

It is now one of my favourite records of all time – to this day I listen to it almost every morning on the way to work.

I even immortalised them in my novel Enormity. The Spanish translation of “meat puppets” is “marionetas de carne” – a term of significance in the book.

While this statement may raise the ire of Meat Puppets purists – I believe Sewn Together is their creative peak, when the Kirkwoods completely gave over to melody.

The album is every bit as unconventional as their earlier material, but is instead arranged in more traditional structures. You can feel how much blood, sweat, tears and joy have been poured into the songs.

I interviewed bassist Cris Kirkwood (a Gordon Gano lookalike?) and I’ve just tracked down the resulting article.

When Meat Puppets’ achieved financial success after Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged, he became a heroin addict and moved to isolation with his wife Michelle Tardif, who was also dependent on the drug.

Michelle overdosed and died in August 1998.

On December 26 2003, Kirkwood became involved in an argument with a woman outside a Phoenix post office. The bassist then got into a fight with a security guard, snatching his baton and hitting him in the head. The guard fired a shot into Kirkwood and he was hospitalised. The former Meat Puppets’ bass player was sentenced to 21 months in prison.

In the Federal Correctional Institution in Phoenix, Kirkwood met former Steppenwolf drummer Jerry Posin and the two jammed together and performed live for other inmates. Kirkwood also kicked his drug habit cold turkey.

In April 2006 it was announced that the Kirkwood brothers were rejoining to write new Meat Puppets material.

Curt was quoted as saying:

“I haven’t seen my brother since like 1998, but I’m talking to him a lot. He’s [been] clean for more than two years and he’s all raring to go. Cris’ resurrection is no less than miraculous – it’s like a Lazarus-type thing. I was just like, ‘If Cris is back, I know his frame of mind.’ If he’s upright and walking, it’s hard to knock him down.”

Sewn Together was their second album post-comeback and has some wonderfully poetic lyrics – stuff you can really sink your teeth into.  Like this passage from the title track:

Suit yourself, you’re dressing for another time
Rotten bell is hanging from a dusty vine
Blue and silver shards of broken candle light
And it’s all sewn together this time…

Another gem is ‘Clone’, which is a rumination on the science of cloning:

There seemed to be a buzzing in the air
The barnyard creatures settled off to bed
All at once they heard the sound
Soft vibration filled the ground
Now it came as they were sleeping

(chorus)
Now the magic science knife
Is cutting up the molecules of gold
Now the magic scientists
Patching up the fabric of the soul
A slip of the coil

Printed them, stacked them on a shelf
And lined them up imprinted on a page
Printed there in paper news
The farm reports became untrue
Now it came as they were sleeping

chorus

The perfect sheep can fly a fancy plane
It’s counterpart prepares a perfect meal
The luxury of DNA
Has given them their hands and brains
And appetites for wine and chocolate.

I can ramble on or I can let you go and engage with Sewn Together for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

Here is my interview with Cris Kirkwood: Meat Puppets’ sewing pains

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