"Neither of us really ever broke up, I just I took a self-induced hiatus."
As one of Kurt Cobain's favourite bands, Meat Puppets' influence has left an indelible imprint on modern music. Overcoming their tumultuous past and continuing a legacy that now spans almost 30 years, this legendary group has returned to a creative peak. Nick Milligan spoke with bassist Cris Kirkwood about Meat Puppets' wonderous new record, Sewn Together.
“At the moment I’m under an underpass in St. Louis, it’s three in the morning and we’re lost. It’s the typical American punk rock story. Punk rock really is the refuge of the genetically deficient,” says Cris Kirkwood, with self-deprecating candor. “Things are starting to disintegrate and the edges are getting frayed.”
It seems that after 29 years, Meat Puppets have come full circle.
In a career that contains 12 diverse studio albums, drug addictions, prison sentences and multiple reunions, Meat Puppets have proven themselves as muscular as their name suggests.
Cris founded the band with his brother, guitarist and vocalist Curt Kirkwood in 1980 in Phoenix, Arizona. Initially focusing on abrasive hardcore punk, the trio (which also included drummer Derrick Bostrom) moved towards a softer concoction of psychedelic rock and alt-country.
So how does being in Meat Puppets in 2009 compare to being a member of the band in the early 80s?
“'Some things will never change’,” chuckles Cris, quoting the band’s 1994 single ‘Backwater’, which was also their highest charting song on the Billboard 100. “’They stand there looking backwards, half unconscious from the pain’. What changes? Not too much. Some of the old songs start to apply even more. Curt and I have been playing together for so long, and it’s great to be able to still do what we do. It feels like it always has been. Life is short, man. The amount of time it takes for a human monkey to be hatched, grow wings and fade away, is a mere twinkling.”
By the release of their seventh studio album Forbidden Places, in 1991, Meat Puppets had developed an unshakable cult following.
Their swelling fan base even included popular acts like Dinosaur Jr, Pavement, Soundgarden and, famously, Nirvana.
Kurt Cobain was such an adamant supporter that he demanded MTV allow him to include Cris and Curt Kirkwood in Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged live broadcast.
Their appearance was made all the more legendary when Cobain took his own life less than five months after it was recorded.
This officially brought Meat Puppets to a mainstream audience.
Their next record, 1994’s Too High Too Die, would prove to be the trio’s greatest commercial success.
“[The MTV Unplugged] show was always going to mean a lot of exposure, because Nirvana was fuckin’ huge at that point,” enthuses Cris.
“But we obviously didn’t know that it was going to go on to be what it was. Who knew that Kurt was going to fuckin’ do that himself? Whenever someone does that, every piece of their work is going to take on so much more significance.”
At one point it looked as though Cris Kirkwood might share Cobain’s similarly tragic fate.
Around the time of Meat Puppets’ largest commercial high in 1994, Cris’ addiction to heroin and cocaine was spiraling out of control.
His wife died of an overdose and many feared that Cris would be next.
Curt tentatively continued writing music under the Meat Puppets name, but Cris’ problem forced the bassist out of the band.
The spiral came to a horrific climax, when in 2003, Cris attacked a post office security guard with his own baton.
In self defense, the guard shot Cris in the stomach. Kirkwood was arrested upon discharge from hospital and served a two year prison sentence.
It’s Cris Kirkwood’s troubled history that makes his reunion with brother Curt, and their subsequent two records, 2007's Rise To Your Knees and Sewn Together, so triumphant.
But was initially rejoining Meat Puppets a difficult decision?
“No, not for me,” replies Cris. “The decision was made by Curt. Neither of us really ever broke up, I just I took a self-induced hiatus. Then I got back to a point where I was someone that Curt would be willing to play with again. Curt called me and it was a no brainer. We re-established our musical relationship by making Rise To Your Knees.”
Meat Puppets’ new release, Sewn Together, demonstrates the Kirkwood brothers’ return to the height of their songwriting powers.
From beginning to end, it’s a melodic masterpiece and psychedelic journey that warrants repeated listens.
“Curt has always been the creative engine behind the Meat Puppets,” conveys Cris. “The band wouldn’t have happened if Curt wasn’t such a motivated and prolific songwriter. Me and Derrick (Bostrom) were important too, but Curt gave us a vessel to fill up with the Meat Puppets' noise.”
Let's hope there's more Meat Puppets noise around the corner.
Sewn Together is available now through Stomp/Sub Pop.