Good news for Meat Puppets fans: the post-hardcore band who hit on a strange interstice of country, psychedelia, and punk a quarter-century ago are alive and kicking. Frontman Curt Kirkwood’s solo venture last year notwithstanding, the Puppets are a month and a half into work on a new album. And this edition includes the original bassist, Curt’s younger brother Cris, who just a few years ago was struggling with drug addiction and seemed headed for Sid Viciousland. According to Curt, who plays solo at T.T. the Bear’s Place this Tuesday, Cris is “all finished with that stuff.” Original Puppets drummer Derrick Bostrom, meanwhile, has been replaced by Jim Alexander, formerly of Primus.
NIRVANALAND: “It was a fluke that this big band would do our stuff,” Curt Kirkwood recalls of the MTV Unplugged session.
Formed in 1980, the Puppets were trippy oddballs on SST’s hardcore punk roster. Their breakthrough came a decade later, when, with Kurt Cobain’s vocal support, they scored an alterna-hit with the 1994 disc Too High To Die (London). They toured with Nirvana, whom they also joined on stage for MTV Unplugged in New York, a disc that features Curt and Cris guesting on covers of three classic Meat Puppets tunes.
“It was a fluke that this big band would do our stuff,” Curt recalls over the phone from Arizona. (He’s on the road supporting Snow, the sparse, eloquent album he recorded with Pete Anderson last year, this time supported by a 22-year-old guitarist named Elmo who happens to be his son.) But the band didn’t handle all the sudden attention particularly well. “Every cloud has a silver lining and all that glitters isn’t gold, and both of those apply to our situation. Being that it was our first dose of real heavy success, even with a long time to get used to any attention, it was still kind of rough on us. Derrick made enough money to be able to safely get out. And my brother got all fucked up from doing dope.”
After trying to rescue his brother from drugs, Curt moved on, taking the band name with him. “I bailed on the whole situation because it was toxic. I lived in LA and then in Texas for a long time . . . and I rolled with it. I kept Meat Puppets going because I could. But I’m a free agent right now. I have enough of a career to keep me enthusiastic. I never wanted anything else.”
He feels that Snow could as easily have been a Meat Puppets album. But it lacks the wild and nimble guitar leads and the trips to the psychedelic supermarket that have always been key to the band’s sound. Its sparse, melancholy feel reflects the tastes of Anderson — best known for his work with Michelle Shocked and Dwight Yoakam — as much as those of Kirkwood.
“It’s a Pete Anderson version of what I do,” Curt admits. “I had some ideas, but I let him have his way with it because I wanted it to be a departure.” One influence that stands out is Nick Drake. Curt agrees . . . sort of. “Yeah, I can hear that. I haven’t listened to much Nick Drake, but I hear the melancholy, the sweetness and stuff. That’s what I like about the Louvin Brothers, Hank Williams, and George Jones — the music’s pretty but it’s sad, wistful, not overly saccharine. If you’d heard this stuff electrically, with a band, it would have been more bombastic.”