Pulling Their Own Strings

Meat Puppets back out on the road


Cris Kirkwood talks like a man who's had his mind seriously altered. In 1980, he and his brother Curt Kirkwood founded the indie/punk/rock band Meat Puppets. They recorded independently through most of the '80s, and in the '90s their influence on up-and-coming bands turned in their favor with a major label signing and the success of their single "Backwater."

But heroin called to Cris Kirkwood far louder than any audience and in 2002 the band disbanded. In 2006, a sober Kirkwood rejoined his brother and a new drummer. They went back out on the road and have since been playing on a success that began in their home state of Arizona almost three decades ago.

Kirkwood has lost a lot over the years, but he seems to have gained contriteness for his past actions, a droll sense of humor and a satisfaction in being back on stage. Talking with him, it takes a while to get into the cadence of his speech and to understand the meaning behind his non sequiturs. But once you fall into his groove, he's endlessly entertaining. So much so, we thought it best to let him do all the talking.

How many shows have you guys done since getting back out on the road?

Man, I don't know. Fifty, 60, 100 shows.

Are you playing festivals or clubs?

We've done our own shows, and it's the Meat Puppets, you know, so we play the same ratholes we've been playing for 30 years. We've gone out with some of our friends. We did a few shows with the Stone Temple Pilots who are old buddies. We've done festivals; we went to England a couple of times, upstate New York. We did a couple of tours with Boise's own Built to Spill.

How was it touring with Built to Spill?

It was fun except Brett Netson gave me crotch crickets. I'm having Brett Netson's love child. Please print that. (Note: Kirkman offered no further explanation.)

I hear Brett Netson Family is on the bill with you guys here.

I hope so. Built to Spill dudes are such sweet dudes. They're just as sweet as can be. That's such a great hookup for us. It was a really comfortable fit. And they let us use their gear which makes it easier on us trying to get this stuff back together at this point. We're pretty beat up. It's enough to make sure we're well stocked with Metamucil, let alone worry about amps and noise-making things.

What kind of fans are you seeing? People you know have been listening to you for the last 30 years or younger faces?

It's a cool mix of both. We see a lot of old friends. That's one thing about Meat Puppets. People that liked us really liked us. We made friends with people we'd see come to shows year after year. Also, there's been a real cool smattering of younger folks. I'd rather not think of myself as an oldies act, but the dentures and the gray hair make that task a little daunting. Music's still really genre-specific in a lot of ways, but there's all sort of wacky shit out there ... There's a lot of far-out stuff that's gotten really popular. You know, teens are up for pizza. (Note: Again, no explanation.) There's some kids that are definitely really into us and know the material. Material as f***ing seriously reprehensible as the Meat Puppets.

What are people who've been fans for years telling you at shows?

We mostly compare notes about the most effective hemorrhoid treatment. Jesus Christ.

How different is it on the road now than it was 30 years ago? Is there a different feeling out there when you're traveling?

Actually, there is a slight one. It used to be a little easier ... we've always been pretty freewheeling, to put it mildly. It seems there's been a bit of a clampdown. These have been some hard years that have gone down. We were attacked. (Note: He's talking about 9/11.) It just seems like we could use a good dose of the kind of, you know, f***ing stuff we spew. You've got to do for yourself, you've got to do for each other. It's a wonderfully unique country in the history of the world. We're under attack figuratively, literally. So where do you turn? And what is the basis of what it is to be alive on the planet today in this particular point? Particularly in America and how we relate to each other and how we get along with each other. So, you know, I'm a fairly optimistic person considering how blackhearted and really dour I am. You know, I never really notice that much. I'm pretty f***ing spaced.

Do you guys tour in a van?

Yeah. We have teeny weeny amplifiers. Unfortunately, this drummer [Ted Marcus] attached himself to us. (Note: It was hard to tell if Kirkman was being serious here.) Curt and I were thinking about doing an ensemble piece with just the two of us. And not even music. Just two hours of weeping and whining and kvetching session. And this drummer decided he was going to take our world over. He just sits back there and pounds on these things. I'm like, "God, dude. What is your problem?"

Have there been discussions to send him home?

I don't know if we're allowed to. I think he's been put in place by covert operatives to maintain a commensurate level of disgruntlement for me and the ever-so-deserving Curt. We've toured so much over the years. There were the van years, then we had an RV. Now we're like screw it. We're just driving around, cruising, having fun.

You have an album coming out in the spring. Is it still quintessentially Meat Puppets or have you guys reinvented yourselves?

One thing about the project now is it goes back to: we're going to do what we want to do. Little touch points of where we're at on our magical mystical journey. Whereas Meat Puppets II was John Deere and the dustbowl, this album is like flowing manes and unicorns and hair extensions.

When you guys started out, did you have a plan to say something musically? Do you have a plan now, and are those messages the same or completely different?

I don't know if it's saying something specifically. We were trying to do something specifically. The art was the message in itself. We were just saying things to ourselves. The realm we're in, you completely control your destiny. [Laughs] That was the message in itself: We do what we want to do. It's still one of my favorite things. I love the sound, I like the colored lights, I like the electricity, I like the wood the guitar's made out of. Everything.

With the Netson Family and Shaky Hands, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 8 p.m., $15 advance, $18 door, Grizzly Rose, 1124 Front St., 208-342-3375.