It was fourteen years ago when Cris Kirkwood was serving 21 months in prison for striking a security guard at a post office with his own baton; a reunion with Kirkwood's brother Curt and the Meat Puppets seemed a long, long way away. In fact, the guard shot Kirkwood in the back, so his time behind bars was spent recuperating from that injury as well as kicking his drug addiction.
But Cris got his act together, and admirably so. Released in the middle of 2005, the Puppet siblings were working together again in less than a year. Now, a decade has passed since that reunion, and Cris refers to the fact that he’s recording and touring with his brother again as “Fucking magical.”
“Considering how badly I threw myself onto the dustbin of history or whatever, it seemed exceedingly improbable,” he says. “Night after night of laying there in prison, I was a long, long ways away from any of this happening at all. When Curt got back in touch, I had managed to get to the point where I was no longer hurting myself, and I was capable of being able to do it again. We never really broke up — I just kind of extracted myself from the ability to do it. That I’m alive is fairly fucking miraculous.”
The lineup of the Meat Puppets has shifted over the years, with Curt Kirkwood the only mainstay thanks to Cris’s aforementioned problems. From 2011, the family connection was increased with the addition of Curt’s son Elmo on guitar.
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“It’s his kid, so it allows us to share with his son what me and his dad put together,” Cris says. “And then Elmo is such a good musician in his own right. We didn’t push him into music at all. He got into it on his own. He was always around it. He was born into the band with his twin sister Katherine. He’s a very competent musician.”
The current lineup of the Meat Puppets released the fifteenth album, Rat Farm, in 2013, and that was the last new material that they’ve given us. Cris says that there is some new stuff bubbling up, but nothing certain yet. The onus is on his songwriting sibling.
“The guy’s got such an extensive back catalog, that he’s created such a prodigious body of work,” Cris says. “What’s so interesting about him as a songwriter is he’s so good at editing himself. Maybe that’s one of the important parts of being an artist. He waits until there’s stuff that he really wants to do, as opposed to making himself do it at this point.”
The Meat Puppets originally formed in Phoenix, AZ, in 1980, punk kids that would soon realize that the last they wanted to do if longevity was any sort of ambition was to pigeon-hole themselves. Sure, the word “punk” can be used to loosely categorize pretty much everything that they’ve done, but they run the gammut of sub-genres, from hardcore to cow-punk.
“There was always this sense that we could do it forever,” Cris says. “There was a purposeful way that we went about things so that we never really painted ourselves into one particular corner. We were careful about the material from the very first, and had the idea of carrying for as long as we could maintain it. It’s still kind of the same thing now, but we’ve gotten older. You don’t have that youthful thing that you had when you were a kid, but you have all of this experience in exchange for that. By having not put any parameters around ourselves, it allowed us to continue to grow artistically. It’s as vital as it ever was, in a way. We don’t go out and try to recreate something that we did when we were younger. We still play songs that are real old, definitely, but we also do newer material, and there’s still this improvisational part where we go off on different tangents.”
From a personal point of view, Cris is delighted to be out doing something he loves with two of the people (specifically his brother and nephew) that he loves the most.
“It’s outrageous,” he says. “I’m the squishy member of the organization. The fucking old softie, obviously. People are aware that it’s Curt’s kid, but it’s not cute — Elmo puts a bug up people’s butts in an outrageously cool way. It’s fucking magical.”
The Meat Puppets are on tour with old friend Mike Watt (Minutemen/Firehose/Stooges) right now, and hit Denver on May 2. As Cris and Watt both play the bass, there’s a mutual respect, and Cris refers to Watt as his “bestie.”
“Going all the way back to our early days, we started going to Los Angeles pretty early on,” Cris says. “There were some of the Phoenix punk bands that had moved over there, like the Consumers. That got us out to LA and fairly early on, I became aware of the Minutemen. Those guys had elements to them that I found very appealing. Mike’s one of my best pals and one of the sickest fucking bass players.”
It should be a great show — road-weary and bedraggled punk vets that still have something relevant to get off of their chests, hitting the road together. Cris is looking forward to getting here, describing Colorado as a magical place.
“It’s one of those places that attracts a certain kind of people,” he says. “We’ve always had a riot in Boulder and Denver. Colorado’s always been a swell place. It’s special. Let alone the fact that you can have pot and not have to worry about the fucking cops.”
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Regarding the set, Cris says that we can expect the “same old shit from me and Curt.” There will be newer stuff and old favorites, and some oldies that haven’t been dragged out for a while. After that, Cris will wait on Curt to write a new record. In the meantime, the bassist will be occupying himself with other bands, old and new.
“I’ve been working with this label here in Phoenix called Slope Records,” he says. “The guy who started the label, Tom Lopez, asked me to work with him. There was a band here in 77-78 called The Exterminators. They never recorded any of their stuff. The bass player was Rob Graves and Rob passed away. Tom asked those guys if they wanted to record, and they asked me to play bass in it. It was a neat thing to do. From that, Tom asked if I’d help get some new young Phoenix bands a chance. Since the Exterminators, I’ve worked on five different projects, one of which was a new Feederz record (WWHD: What Would Hitler Do?), another old Phoenix punk-rock band. They’ll be seeing the light of day soon, so that’s fucking fun.”
Cris Kirkwood is busy then, with his own band, and with other projects. And at this point, thankfully, prison must seem a long way away.