Interview: Meat Puppets

Interview: Meat Puppets
May 17, 2007 03:14 PM
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
LiveDaily Contributor

Before becoming the band's latest drummer in a most unlikely fashion, longtime Meat Puppets fan Ted Marcus was expecting to hear of the early demise of group member Cris Kirkwood.

Newspapers and magazines recounted Kirkwood's heinous drug addiction problem, his numerous disappearances, the overdose death of his wife, and the day he was shot in the back by a post-office guard in Phoenix following an argument between Kirkwood and a local woman over a parking space. What came next, Marcus and Kirkwood's brother/Meat Puppets frontman Curt Kirkwood said, was nothing short of miraculous.

Sent to prison after the shooting, Cris Kirkwood cleaned up his act, literally and figuratively.

"Cris is still down in Arizona," Marcus told LiveDaily. "He's doing really well. We talk fairly regularly.

"It's always these funny conversations. My relationship with those guys is different. Curt does a lot of the business end. Cris' whole agenda is getting his life back, getting his band back and getting his body back. He's doing six miles a day on the treadmill. We joke because he can't keep a pair of pants that fit him. He keeps dropping sizes. And I'm joking that he's going to be borrowing mine soon. I'm a small guy. He's like, ‘Yep, I'm doing six miles a day. I'm down to 180.' He's just turning back into a streamlined bad-ass bass player that he is. There's no stopping him now. He's feeling the health. He's feeling the connection between body and mind. And it's really a cool thing to see. I don't think people expected it."

Most people didn't expect what happened in 2006, either, when Meat Puppets reunited with Cris Kirkwood on bass, Curt Kirkwood on vocals and guitar, and New York music veteran Marcus on drums.

The fruit of their labor, "Rise to Your Knees," will be released on Anodyne Records July 17. It marks the Kirkwoods' first album together since 1995's "No Joke."

Curt Kirkwood and Marcus talked to LiveDaily about the reunion, Marcus' introduction to Meat Puppets, and Cris Kirkwood's recovery.

LiveDaily: What was it like to go back in the studio with your brother? Did it feel natural?

Curt Kirkwood: Yeah. We always sing good together. It's just easy. We have the same kind of ethic, more or less. He's a little more scrupulous in terms of what he wants to achieve. A lot of times, I'm a little more open. We're used to the ethic. It's easy to find the cut-off point with editing and all that stuff. There's a lot of stuff that goes on. We started so young. We were so spoiled getting to do what we wanted at [indie label] SST.

Is it the same way now?

This is the first time since then that we got to kind of do that. There's nobody else around saying anything at all. Or, if there is, it's just kind of constructive criticism and we can blow them off if we want to. We've considered other people's feelings and needs since probably we did the first London [Records] record. Especially when you work with people like Pete Henderson or Paul Leary. You want to be cooperative and be as generous as you can be.

What was it like to work with Paul Leary?

He's a real old friend from way before the Meat Puppets ever worked with him. We've known Paul since the early '80s. He's one of the first people I ever met on the road. I probably met him in '82 or something. I was in the phone book back then. He called me up. The Butthole Surfers came through Phoenix and he called me. I never heard of the Butthole Surfers, even, so it was kind of cool getting a call from someone who had a band called Butthole Surfers. It was weird and fun. That kind of stuff used to happen. The drummer from the dB's, Will Rigby, called me up in the same sort of way. He got me on the phone because I was in the phone book. That kind of stuff, I never anticipated. I was just kind of in bands, in bar bands. Then, when you start to get any kind of reputation, things just kind of get surreal.

For your latest album, did you write the material with your brother, or before he re-entered the fold?

I had them all done. I had them for years, a lot of them, but just kind of never got them done. I had other projects. Some of them, I wrote just for the studio. But they were done. That's how we always did stuff. We always pretty much had stuff done enough to go in the studio and get it done real cheap.

Pretty quick, too, I would imagine.

Cris is a fast learner. This stuff isn't rocket science. With my stuff, it's kind of cool if it's not very well produced. Not to say that this isn't. But that's subjective.

You're doing a mini-tour. Is there a larger tour on the horizon?

That's the plan, I think. We're hitting the road in three weeks ... going up the West Coast and back down through Salt Lake City and Boulder. So, like, seven shows. Then, after [the new album] comes out, we've got more stuff going on. Then there's some other stuff like the Republic of Texas Biker Rally here in Austin, which is like a big biker rally [laughs]. It's like a downtown Austin thing. They close off the streets and it's a free show. So I figure it's a chance for the underage crowd to get in. ... I'm just taking it as it comes. It was so fortuitous to be able to do it in the first place.

How is Cris doing?

He's doing great. I wouldn't do it otherwise. He's just as good as he ever was in a lot of ways--he's probably a lot better. He got a lot of stuff straightened out. He figured out how bad it is to be in the penal system, to be a drug addict. These are things that a lot of celebrities need to figure out, apparently. I don't know.

What was the turning point in his career?

He got shot. He still has a .357 [bullet] lodged next to his spine. He's really lucky to be walking. He got shot in the back. He hit this cop but he never deserved to be shot in the back. That was a f---ed up thing that happened. Really, really nasty. He popped the guy in the head for sure. But he turned around and he was walking away and this guy shot him in the back. All the [printed] stuff was accurate. I'm sure the guy was frightened or whatever. Still, it was a fairly horrid thing to have happen, in any case. I don't take any sides in it. That's how I've always dealt with this craziness, outside of the fact that it's not good to have your relatives shot. That sucks. I think, probably, that would be the turning point. You get to that point. You're nearly crippled. You go to prison for a year and a half in spite of the fact of you being nearly crippled. That's not just retribution. We have no compassion in this system. The guy was completely f---ed over. He's a heinous drug addict to begin with, whose wife and one of his best friends died of drug overdoses at his house. I think he got to the point where all that stuff completely overwhelmed him. He made up his mind to be a better person, which, to me, isn't that big a deal. I'm like, "Good. Thank God." He always had a lot of advantages.

How do you feel that "Rise to Your Knees" fits in with your catalog?

I think it's a really logical step from stuff that I did with Cris and [original Meat Puppets drummer] Derrick [Bostrom] earlier on. It feels like a really direct step, almost, from [1994's] "Too High to Die." "No Joke" was kind of squeezed out because Cris was starting to become an addict and the band was under a lot of pressure and the different elements of it--the record's cool, but it was the most expensive record. Even "Too High To Die" was expensive compared to "Rise to Your Knees." I start to gauge things by money sometimes. I'm really stupid like that, But, I mean, everybody does, outside of the bohemian and dreaming element. "Money's not everything." Well, bulls---. Spend $220,000 on a record like we did on "No Joke," it seems like a farce. "Too High to Die" had really cool, organic elements. Back then, there was no ProTools. You had to get to some of these organic things through tape manipulation. It was a good medium, between the whole SST ethic of just getting whatever you got on the initial takes and kind of getting into it and tweezing it. This one here, there's tweezing here to do on ProTools, but it's pretty minimal.

Do you see another Meat Puppets album in the future?

Well, it would be cool. We haven't even thought about it because we have so much going on. In a way, compared to the way things have been even for me--I did things for other bands, and solo stuff--this has been pretty hectic. It seems like there's more going on than there has been in awhile, in terms of the immediately right now. We don't have this huge bank account like I had in Eyes Adrift with [former Nirvana bassist] Krist [Novoselic] and Bud Gaugh. What we have to do is pretty much like we have to make it stick when we do it. Like we did with the record. We have to do it cheap. Everything seems real immediate. It's why I like this business: When it becomes uncanny and unmanageable and it gets out of your hands ... It's the last recourse you have a lot of times, is music.

LiveDaily: [To Ted Marcus] How do you like being in the Meat Puppets so far?

Ted Marcus: So far, it's been great. It's been a real change of life for me. These guys, I've sort of followed for a long time. Not only going to working with them for a little bit and then getting in the band--it's pretty surreal.

So you were a Meat Puppets fan before?

TM: Oh, yeah, I've been since college, since the 1980s. I've always known who they were and I always made an effort to try to check them out whenever they came through Manhattan. Fortunately, through my connections in working with MTV for so many years, I had the opportunity to meet Curt once or twice socially. I never really expected to be in the band. It's pretty funny, actually.

That's really a cool story.

It's a really kind of like a miniature version of the movie "Rock Star." I wasn't in some kind of Meat Puppets band or something like that. I've been in a lot of bands in New York City. I've been playing around the city for 15 years. I've made my life as a recording engineer. I've been happy doing that. I've been successful doing that. Have you heard the story of how this came to be?

No, I haven't.

Well, I got hired by their photographer, Joseph Cultice, a really well-known, accomplished rock photographer. I got to know him through his wife, who works at MTV. I worked with her for years. I had a staff engineering position with MTV for six or seven years. Those two decided to do a documentary film on the reunion of Cris and Curt and the Meat Puppets. They knew I had just sort of gone freelance and was branching out on my own, starting my own company. I had gone to see shows with them. I had gone to see Curt solo, acoustic shows and stuff like that. So they knew I was a huge fan. They figured, "We'll ask Ted to come down with us and do the audio, do the boom mike and make sure everything's sounding right." I was like, "That's great, that's perfect." I was a little bit like, "Oh I don't know. I gotta give up a lot of work in town. But it's Meat Puppets. There's no way I'm not going to hang out with my favorite band." We went to Arizona and met Cris, interviewed him, talked to a lot of people down there about Meat Puppets, and sort of took it from there. I started getting the sense that Derek, the drummer, really wasn't interested in coming back. He's just not playing anymore. They had done some demos with Tim Alexander from Primus. And then Primus sort of started kicking back in gear with the original line-up. So it was like, "It doesn't sound like he's going to be too available." I started being around them a lot as that was unfolding. So I had my back pocket open, thinking that would never happen--I'm a virtually unknown local guy. But I'm thinking, "I know all their stuff."

It just sort of happened in the studio. I was there the first day of the recording of the new record and I'm helping to document it. Curt was starting to do some of the tracks himself. He seemed OK with it, but maybe a little frustrated. It's lengthy, and he was sort of trying to handle a lot. I was trying to figure out a way to interject gracefully that I could do this and maybe take some of the burden off of him. He's writing the songs, he's producing the record, that's a lot. My agenda was, "I could help." Not like, "I want to be in your band." I never though about it from that point of view. I never really considered it. Who would? It's too unbelievable. But I was, like, "We're in a studio, we have a week to make a record. I could play these parts. These are not crazy ridiculous complicated songs."

So I conspired and Joseph is a longtime friend. He's like, "You ought to just go up and play the drums and let them hear you." And that's what I did. I went upstairs and conspired with the engineer. I said, "Hey, I want to check out this old vintage kit you got. You mind if I do the soundcheck?" He's like, "Yeah, that's cool." I just went up there and played really straight beats, no flash. No solos. Just nice solid backbeat stuff for like five minutes. I came downstairs and there's Curt, all six-and-a-half-feet tall, kind of standing there, towering over me. He just goes, "You sick little sadistic motherf---er. You could play like that the whole time and you didn't say anything?" I'm like, "It's not my place to say anything. I'm the sound guy on this. I'm a musician my whole life but I was hired to do a different job." He said, "Well, this is how this one goes." That was pretty much it. I opened my bag. I had wire clippers and everything you needed to have to be on a shoot. I had a pair of drum sticks in there. Those guys saw that and they just opened up on me. "You had this planned the whole time." No, I had the dream.

What a fantastic story.

It's really funny. Those guys are so nice, and they're true artists. It's hard to explain. It's really like a comfort-level thing. They know the art is being treated with the respect that it deserves. My whole agenda is to realize this reunion and help it. I want to see it more than anybody. For myself, for other fans, for my friends who are fans. If I can facilitate this happening just by helping out on a documentary, then by helping out on a recording--then it kept growing. Now I'm going out on tour. It's really a great little story in that respect. It's changed my life quite a bit. It's been a lot of fun.

As a fan, it must have been horrifying to read about Cris Kirkwood's troubles.

It was awful to read about. My buddies and I were like, "It's over. When are we going to read the end of the story?" It's kind of bizarre that his life got saved by somebody trying to kill him. It's just unbelievable that you can get shot pointblank in the back--and I've seen the bullet wound. It's not like they write [he was shot] in the back and it's really in the side. It's in the middle of the back and it's like, "What? How do you shoot somebody in the back?" He thought he got hit by a car.

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