By Noah Hubbell
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This is not a supergroup," Curt Kirkwood insists about Eyes Adrift, a new rock-based trio featuring himself, Nirvana's Krist Novoselic and Sublime's Bud Gaugh. "This is not any of your American fuckin' hogwash. This is real. We want to have a good go of our lives, because the past is dead, you know? There comes a time when people want to hold you to your past and go, 'See? You're like Muhammad Ali. You can't take a punch anymore. Let's make fun of you.'
"If you're getting old, you're getting old," Kirkwood, the 43-year-old former leader of the Meat Puppets, continues. "This is America. We shit on our old people here. We shit on our failures. And we shit on our heroes as soon as we can find a place to shit on. The rock-and-roll thing is like 'Go ahead and die.' And it's not 'Leave a good-looking corpse'; it's like 'Leave a corpse for everyone to shit on.'"
During an intensely vitriolic rant from his Austin home, Kirkwood unloads many personal frustrations on life, liberty and the pursuit of music. A forefather to the golden age of America's indie underground, he favors blunt, stream-of-consciousness-styled outbursts -- something familiar to fans of the Meat Puppet's brand of aggressive, country-flavored punk music. He exudes arrogance, self-indulgence and cynicism. But he's also funny as hell and indisputably sincere. Death seems to monopolize Kirkwood's thoughts. He's certainly experienced his share of it over the years, from his mother's loss from cancer in 1996 to the suicide of Kurt Cobain, his friend, two years earlier.
During the last two decades, Novoselic, Kirkwood and Gaugh have seen several friends and musical colleagues flatline well before their time: the Minutemen's D. Boon, Morphine's Mark Sandman, the Replacements' Bob Stinson, Sublime's Brad Nowell, Blind Melon's Shannon Hoon, Tripping Daisy's Wes Berggren, Skinny Puppy's R. Dwayne Goettel, Blues Traveler's Bobby Sheehan and Pariah's Sims Ellison. But according to the fiery guitar slinger, grief and calamity did not shape Eyes Adrift.
"We didn't get together because of our mutual tragedies," Kirkwood says. "This shit just keeps happening whether you like it or not. You can't be dragged down by it, either. There's no fucking way you can get around something like the genius of Cobain -- and then he shoots himself. It's not like a phenomenon that Kurt Cobain shot himself. It's all a bad read, you know. But this isn't Survivor, Part II. This is reality.
"I'm sure nobody could've handled it much better than Krist," he continues. "It's the same thing with Bud. Bud was really devastated by Brad Nowell's death. And that devastation gives you certain depth. But I don't think it's that much different than anybody else losing a loved one. If it happens in public, you're like, 'Here's your loved one's personal effects plastered all over the place at every turn.' It's a different kind of growth. I don't think any of us can see it. We don't sit around and talk about it."
Instead, the three have assembled an exceptional new trio that sounds as fresh and dynamic as it does comfortably familiar. Kirkwood writes the lion's share of songs, fusing them with poetic clarity and deadpan humor. But the soul chemistry of the ensemble is what makes it so compelling. And while it's easy to associate Kirkwood's voice with the Meat Puppets ("This makes me sound so different to myself," he says), Eyes Adrift distinguishes itself from each bandmember's past with a sum much greater than its parts: The sound is more fluid than the Puppets' crackpot-cowboy balladry with twangy hooks, Nirvana's fuzz-blown songs about hating life and wanting to die, or Sublime's dance-happy surf/skate renditions of the Jamaican two-step.
"People would be bummed if the majors pushed this with 'Look at the rock stars and their glorious past!'" Kirkwood says. "'Come see the new Nirvana! Subvana! It's grunge-reggae!' I think that people who are into any of the three bands can find something in here that they could appreciate. The first time we ever played at all was better than I imagined. It's still really stylized and still very folksy, but not progressive. We didn't practice this new material before we recorded it. We had to learn it after we recorded it, learn how to play it live."
Though Kirkwood and Novoselic are no strangers to one another's styles and improvise well together, neither one had ever jammed with Gaugh before summoning him to Kirkwood's studio in Austin. "It was a blind date that worked out really well," Kirkwood says. "Bud's one of those drummers that makes you want to move. You start tappin' your feet. He has that Ringo Starr quality that's like 'Oh, look, he's as cute as a fuckin' teddy bear!' Everybody loves Bud. You get these Sublime fans at shows -- it's like a big cult. And Nirvana's a religion. It's a whole amalgam of different nut people coming out."
Eyes Adrift, which toyed with laughable handles, including Phawn and the Diapers, before settling on its name, crafts a refined, accessible and panoramic beauty that lends diversity to its self-titled debut on SpinArt. The band blends roundelay piano-looped gems ("Sleight of Hand"), crunchy rockers ("Telescope") and glorious, guitar-sped hoedowns ("Dottie Dawn and Julie Jewel") with relative ease. "Blind Me," written for Willie Nelson and a staple of Kirkwood's solo gigs, exhibits the maturity of a gifted tunesmith at the top of his game. "Pasted," a meandering fifteen-minute opus, explores a psychedelic and jam-oriented netherworld. And "Solid" gives a glimpse into the Meat Masters resilience: "I could cut myself and nothing would come out/'Cause the blood is frozen solid in my veins/I should know by now that I could cut myself/'Cause I'm solid and I've always been that way."