For more than three decades, brothers Cris and Curt Kirkwood have been at the helm of the Meat Puppets. They got their start as a punk act in the Eighties, signing with Greg Ginn of Black Flag's SST Records and releasing a series of albums that quickly distinguished them from their punk and hardcore peers. While those and subsequent recordings – such as Meat Puppets II and Up On the Sun – delivered on the Puppets' knack for brash punk blasts, they also found the group cultivating a singular sound that embraced folk, country, psychedelia and blues-rock elements without skipping a beat. By the close of the Eighties, the Meat Puppets had found a cult following, thanks in part to popularity on college radio and the American underground scene.
After moving to major label London in the Nineties, the Meat Puppets were named as the opening act on Nirvana's In Utero tour beginning in 1993. That November, at the request of Kurt Cobain, Cris and Curt Kirkwood appeared on the taping of Nirvana's MTV Unplugged, performing three Meat Puppets' songs. By the summer of 1994, the Meat Puppets single "Backwater" (from Too High to Die) had become a hit, thanks in no small part to heavy rotation on MTV and radio. Sporadic recording and touring found the brothers often in separate directions through the late Aughts, when they regrouped to release albums Rise to Your Knees (2007), Sewn Together (2009) and Lollipop (2011).
In 2013, Meat Puppets released Rat Farm, the band's 14th album and one that harkens back to some of their earliest, more raw output. On Friday, October 4, 2013, Meat Puppets perform live at the Grog Shop in Cleveland, Ohio. The Rock Hall caught up with Cris and Curt in advance of the show to talk about influences, performing live, touring with Nirvana, looking back at MTV Unplugged and more.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: What was the first record/CD you ever bought and do you still listen to it?
Cris: The first record I can remember buying myself was a 7 inch single of 'We're an American Band' by Grand Funk Railroad on gold vinyl purchased at 7-11. It was lost in a house fire.
RRHOF: What artists did you listen to when you were growing up and what about them appealed to you? Were you influenced by any Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees?
Cris: I recall being held on one hand by Mom and the other by my Grandmother and them lifting me up over the curves as we walked along singing the Beatles "I Want to Hold Your Hand." Let alone Zeppelin, Creedence, the Ramones and practically everybody else in the H.O.F.
Curt: Yeah, I would say a large percentage of the inductees were influences.
RRHOF: What do you remember about playing your first gig – how old were you, where was it, when was it, how’d it go, the crowd?
Cris: The first time I played in front of folks was at 18, in a band Curt and I were in briefly before starting the 'Pups called 'Eye' at a house party. The singer wore a lab coat and pulled all the strings off his guitar. It was Phoenix in the Seventies, so everyone was fucked up enough to at least not to be able to voice their displeasure.
Curt: I was in a disco band. We played a luau on the West side of Phoenix in '77. We all wore three-piece, powder blue suits. People seemed to like it.
RRHOF: Talk a little about first connecting then signing with SST Records – and founder Greg Ginn of Black Flag fame – and what that meant to you at the time.
Cris: The first time I saw [Black Flag] they kicked up a comparable shitstorm to the kind of noise we liked to make at the time, so it seemed fitting that we would hook up. Those guys brought together a lot of neat stuff from these little pockets of stink around the country. Fun times.
Curt: We played a show with [Black] Flag in Phoenix in '81. Greg then asked us if we wanted to make a record for SST. We thought that sounded like a good idea.
RRHOF: How would you describe your music to somebody who'd never heard it before? What song would you tell them to listen to first and why?
Cris: I would have them listen to Donny and Marie's "I'm a Little Bit Country, I'm a Little Bit Rock and Roll" then, while they are thus distracted, I would slip out the back, Jack. The Pups' are the sound of one hand booing.
Curt: I would tell them to listen to the first album and then the most recent, and then they can imagine the metamorphosis that has occurred in the time between.
RRHOF: There's been a lot of renewed interest in In Utero given its 20th anniversary and special edition release. The Meat Puppets opened for Nirvana while they were touring for In Utero. Were there any shows that stick out in your mind during that time?
Cris: After the show in Toronto, we went to a party at some friends of ours with [Nirvana bassist] Krist [Novoselic], and he wound up appropriating an Army helmet and a bowling ball. He was so happy with his new toys on the somewhat tipsy stroll back to the hotel. Be-helmeted. Be-bowling-balled. More fun times.
Curt: The first one with them in Dayton, Ohio. I'd never seen them live before. I thought they were wonderful.
RRHOF: What do you recall of Nirvana's performances then?
Cris: A great memory is of the week of practices we got to participate in with Nirvana for the Unplugged session. Hanging out, watching and playing with some guys not unlike ourselves who had gone from their bedrooms and punk rock shitholes to being the biggest band in the world. Unique. Trippy. One night Bobcat Goldthwaite stopped by and we all discussed his upcoming appearance on the Tonight Show and how he could make it novel. As I recall, he wound up lighting Jay Leno's desk on fire. Punk rock.
Curt: They were incendiary and surreal.
RRHOF: When you look back, listen to and watch Unplugged now, performing "Plateau," "Oh, Me" and "Lake of Fire," what do you think about most?
Cris: Our appearance on the Unplugged was such a gas! What a cool use of your new-found popularity: take the fucking Meat Puppets on TV and shove them down everybody's throats! My kind of art making. Huzzah! Kurt [Cobain] was so sweet, so gracious. I miss him still. But he had us be a part of their Unplugged, and it will outlast us all. Rock ever onward.
Curt: Seeing the Unplugged show I remember how much I enjoyed hanging out with those guys and how cool it was to play in an intimate setting with my new friends.