Story Behind the Story: Meat Puppets (2009)

What was supposed to be a quick interview with the Meat Puppets at the 2009 SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas turned into a full day of hanging out with the Kirkwood brothers. The plan was to do the interview following their Daytrotter recording at a site a few miles from the action in Austin. As I waited at a picnic table in the parking lot, the guys emerged and said they needed a few minutes. The few minutes turned into 30 minutes at which point Curt Kirkwood (singer/guitarist) departed to run some errands in his hometown. We agreed to meet up backstage at Stubb’s, the legendary venue that the Meat Puppets would be playing later that night.

Arriving at the pre-determined time, I was led to an area where the band was hanging out. I grabbed a seat and waited for somebody to say, “Okay, let’s do this.” Nobody said that. The seconds turned into minutes turned into an hour. I was a fly on the wall and got to be part of the inner circle. To be honest, it wasn’t that glamorous, in fact, it was rather mundane.

Eventually, Cris Kirkwood (bass) signaled that he was ready and we went outside to a picnic table located in the backstage area where we chatted for about 10 minutes.

This is the 500-word feature I wrote for issue #65 of Big Takeover Magazine.

The Meat Puppets have a storied history – one surely worthy of a documentary, a tell-all book, or at least a reality series on VH-1. Thirty years ago, a trio of pot-smoking Arizona teenagers merged their love of country, punk and psychedelic rock and created a unique style of music that has influenced decades worth of followers. But, for every Kurt Cobain who grew up listening to the Meat Puppets seminal early cow-punk albums and used that influence in their own music, there are kids who just don’t get the Meat Puppets sarcastic brand of humor.

Case in point: the early-twenty-something young lady standing in front of me at the infamous Stubb’s BBQ in Austin, Texas during the 2009 SXSW Music Festival. As the trio tries out a number of new tracks from their most current release, Sewn Together (Megaforce Records), for the first time in front of a large audience, this young lady is texting a friend. “You’re better off where you are. We’re watching a band called the Meat Puppets … the name says it all.”

Earlier that afternoon, while sitting at a picnic bench behind the Meat Puppets dressing room at Stubb’s, bassist Cris Kirkwood comments, only half-jokingly, that, “We’re only doing this to make other people feel bad. So, it makes sense that they would try to make us hurt [by throwing things at us] for making them feel bad.”

Interestingly enough, as Cris, his singer/guitarist brother Curt and new(er) drummer Ted Marcus (he joined the band in 2006) have aged, their sound has matured as well and Sewn Together is easily the most accessible of the band’s twelve albums. Following 2007’s reunion album Rise to Your Knees, Sewn Together is a collection of mostly mid-tempo songs with smart lyrics that highlight the brothers’ surprisingly rich and melodic vocals.

“They’re all Curt’s songs,” Cris says. “One of them is a really old song that goes back to the ’80s. It’s like two songs sewn together called ‘The Love Mountain.’ ”

Three decades later, Cris still finds excitement in recording and performing music. “It becomes reflective of your life, who you are, where you are at a particular point. It’s also something that’s real self-indulgent,” Cris admits. “This project came together real easy and we were still able to figure out ways to make it unique and fun for ourselves.”

Part of the whole process, especially for a band that has been around along as the Meat Puppets, is touring but don’t expect to find these guys criss-crossing the U.S. in a gas-guzzling, full-sized tour bus. “We hop in a minivan, a soccer mom mobile,” laughs Cris.

“We want to do this. It’s purposeful; it’s the life of a musician. It’s all whatever it is, but there’s also doing the art that you want to do, being a particular kind of craftsman. We happen to be musical craftsman and we apply our crafts however we can.”

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