Q & A: Meat Puppets' Curt Kirkwood On Arizona Punk, SST Records, His Brother Cris Being Clean, And Not Making It Into Our Band Could Be Your Life

The Meat Puppets' thirty-year journey can be divided into a trio of disparate trajectories: the mind-melting Deadhead-cum-hardcore desert-rock genius of their SST Records years (1982-89); the glossy, muscular grunge-lite of the successful major-label stint they enjoyed in the 90's (thanks in part to Nirvana); and the current improbable comeback the brothers Kirkwood (guitarist/singer Curt and bassist Cris) embarked on after ex-junkie jailbird Cris cleaned up his act and was welcomed back into the fold.

Sound of the City checked in with Curt at home in Austin to chat about his brother fucking up Meat Puppets and himself, the Arizona punk rock scene, and his band's exclusion from Michael Azerrad's indie-worshipping Our Band Could Be Your Life.

There's supposedly been a Meat Puppets documentary in the works. What's going on with it? Were you [and your brother] Cris involved with it?

Oh, no, not really. It's an old friend of mine [working on that documentary]. It wasn't anything that was my... doing [laughs]. I don't think I would do something like that.

Why not? There's been a bunch of docs on bands, like We Jam Econo on the Minutemen.

Just doing the band takes enough of my time—making a documentary about it would be pretty strange... tilted.

Are you familiar with Our Band Could Be Your Life?

Oh, yeah. Sure.

Were you bummed that Meat Puppets didn't get a chapter in there?

Uh, no. It's just tilted, like the documentary, I would think. Stuff like that is subjective in the long run. I know a lot of the stuff that they were talking about in [the book] and I can relate to it. I don't know about people's points of view but it's interesting to see that. In terms of that, in a lotta ways we've had a singular route because of that—getting left out of stuff.

It seems like Meat Puppets don't get enough recognition compared to your '80s Amerindie contemporaries. Do you care?

Nah, there's been plenty. It seems like in the long run, it's more than you can ever expect and definitely more than I can read and relate to. I just feel that living in Phoenix and coming out of there allowed us to be ourselves, no matter what. We've always been on the edge there that we can kinda sustain and it's enough that we don't have to be overwhelmed by some sort of outside influence. It's been fairly rustic in that way, which is you always hope for the best, for sure. I don't know much outside of that, so it's kinda just left to my imagination.

Being a Phoenix band, how did you originally hook up with SST Records?

We did a show there with Black Flag in Tempe. We already put out our first single [the In a Car EP] on World Imitation. After we did that show that night, Greg Ginn asked us if we wanted to a record with them so it was pretty simple. We were fans [of Black Flag] for sure, and we were all about the L.A. punk rock scene at the time. Phoenix had a really good scene and there was a lot going on in L.A. and to us that seemed like—to us—the best of what was going on with Black Flag and FEAR [and just too many to mention], plus a lot of performance artists. We started getting shows in L.A. playing with Even Hands, who weren't punk but were a great band. We did shows with Monitor, who put out our first record on their World imitation thing. Monitor wasn't really punk rock; it's hard to say what they were, but [they were] still one of my favorite bands. We were huge with Black Flag, but we didn't have the categorization, really. We weren't from L.A., so we looked at it like, "Oh, my god. This is amazing. There's so many cool bands." Mostly we just did whatever they were into. Monitor said, "if you play a song for us on our record that we can't play that we love, then you can record some songs and we'll put our your little record." That's how we got [In a Car] done.

What was happening in Phoenix music-wise besides you guys back then?

To us, there was a lotta stuff going on: Feederz, Killer Pussy and The Deez. The Phoenix punk rock scene was really artistic and we tried to make an effort to get to know those people. We were in awe of them. They were people who had gone over to L.A. Don Boiles from the Germs was from Phoenix and a lot of these people were in bands with him. Through a connection, Paul Cutler—who was from Phoenix—did the Consumers and then started 45 Grave. We did our first show in L.A. opening for 45 Grave, which David Wiley from the Human Hands got us that show and he was from Phoenix but moved to L.A. Phoenix is like a distant suburb of L.A. in a lot of ways. There's not much going on there, especially back then, but the scene was limited to about a hundred people that were total freaks.

Do you and Cris still live there?

I live in Austin. Cris still lives in Phoenix.

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