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One of the last vestiges of the 1980s SST era, the Meat Puppets forged an independent punk-based sound that included elements of alternative country and psychedelic rock. Led by brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood and Derrick Bostrom, the group hit radio pay dirt in 1994 with "Backwater," from Too High to Die. The album sold over half a million copies but effectively destroyed the band, as Cris Kirkwood launched into heroin addiction and Bostrom quit. Last year, the Kirkwood brothers put together a reconstituted version of the band with Ted Marcus on drums. We asked Curt Kirkwood about the odds of musical success, its pitfalls and the surprising Meat Puppets resurrection.
Westword: Your parents raised racehorses in Arizona. Why didn't you become a horseman, too?
Curt Kirkwood: It's all show business. It's all gambling, horse racing and the music business. It's all a crapshoot. It's a modest living at best, and maybe once in a while you get a win. That attracts me. I like the idea of odds. I don't like knowing how much money I'm going to make.
Few musicians might say that...
I don't understand why someone would be attracted to [making music] if they didn't have the mindset of an odds maker, because that's all it is. What, are you planning on attracting a certain audience for your crap? If it were that easy, there would be a lot more rich musicians. It's a crummy way to make a living.
So you beat the odds, then, withToo High to Die?
Kind of, yeah. We always made a living at it, and we did make some money on that, definitely.
Did that success change the band's outlook?
Oh, sure -- it pretty much ruined it. Not our outlook, but the band. Derrick pretty much quit once we made some money. We'd been fairly successful on our own ride for years and years to the degree that pretty much satisfied us. We understood what we were doing from the ground up. We got on a major and thought we knew what we were doing, but all that money wears away your infrastructure and erodes the integrity of your intentions. It wrecked the whole thing. Derrick quit playing drums, and Cris partied a lot. I just couldn't keep it going.
And Cris is clean now?
It's great he turned his life around. He's a little wiser from the wear.
What made you decide to reform the band?
Common courtesy, really. I talked with Derrick previously, but he didn't seem very interested. Cris, I wouldn't have asked, but my friends in Phoenix said he was doing real well. I hadn't talked with him in a while, but he'd gotten himself together and was playing again. So I thought I would take a gamble on it. It was very fortunate he got his shit together when he did, because I don't know what I would have done, but I would have done something.