One of the more heartening bits of music news in 2006 was that Curt Kirkwood would be working with his long-estranged bassist-younger brother Cris on a new Meat Puppets CD for the first time since 1995’s “No Joke!”
The rough `n’ rowdy “Rise to Your Knees” arrived in mid-July, its 14 songs culled from material Curt Kirkwood had stockpiled over the years. If not quite in the league of such influential alt-rock albums as “Meat Puppets II,” “Up On the Sun” and “Too High to Die,” “Rise to Your Knees” still has its share of memorably Meat-y moments.
The Meat Puppets are now on the road, nightly showcasing three or four songs from the new album as well as older material during what Curt Kirkwood calls “a dive down the rabbit hole of the past.”
And though 48-year-old Kirwood seems happy to be playing again with his 46-year-old sibling, he is brutally frank when he says during a phone interview that he would have made “Rise to Your Knees” even if Cris had not gained control of the heroin and crack addiction that split the band apart 12 years ago.
“I wasn’t waiting for it,” he says while checking into a motel in Boonville, N.Y., the day before the Meat Puppets are to perform at the eighth annual moe.down jam-band festival in nearby Turin.
“I didn’t realize ahead of time that the band would become a viable thing. I’m wasn’t even sure it would be a three-piece. All I knew was that I wanted to make a Stratocaster record. A while back I was playing a Strat (guitar) at a friend’s house in North Carolina and I thought, `I could make a rock record with one of these.’ ... I was going to do it one way or another.”
His claim is credible. After all, in 2000, five years after parting company with his brother and original drummer Derrick Bostrom, he cut a Meat Puppets album, the underappreciated “Golden Lies,” with three other musicians - guitarist Kyle Ellison, drummer Shandon Sahm and former Bob Mould bassist Andrew Deplantis.
“I never really broke up the band,” maintains Kirwood, in-between side conversations with check-in clerks and photographer Joseph Cultice, a regular contributor to Vogue and Entertainment Weekly who is shooting a documentary about the Pups. “I just told (Cris) that I wasn’t going to play with him until he cleaned up. It took him a long time.
“And,” he adds, “over the years I was the one who retained the intellectual validity of the band.”
Kirkwood’s comments are brief and cursory while recollecting the mid-2006 reconciliation with his brother during a meeting at a mutual friend’s house in Tempe, Ariz.
His musician son, Elmo, informed him that Cris, who recently had spent 18 months in jail for assaulting a security guard at a Phoenix post office, had straightened out his life.
“So I called him and we got together and started doing a little rehearsing in Phoenix,” says Kirkwood. “Then we quickly set it up so we could get together (with drummer Ted Marcus) in a studio in Austin to record. ... That much hasn’t changed. Cris is still a quick learner, good at laying down tracks.”
(Reportedly Cris was set to start work at a Salvation Army warehouse when Curt proposed re-forming the band.)
For the most part, “Rise to Your Knees” skips the sunlit country and Southern boogie facets of the Meat Puppets’ sound, favoring instead the punkier, trippier inclinations.
As for lyrics, Kirkwood chuckles, “I go out of my way to make sure people can’t understand (them). ... My songs are like Impressionist paintings to a certain degree.”
However, he is forthcoming about the reggae-rhythmed “Enemy Love Song,” which Kirwood characterizes as “Blondie ska,” no doubt referring to the new wave band’s 1980 hit “The Tide Is High.” “It started out about a friend of mine. His wife left him and he was living in his car and I thought it was kinda funny. He wore a lot cologne. He wasn’t obnoxious, just a tool. ... I haven’t seen him in years.”
And while some “Rise” songs are edged with an uncharacteristic cynicism, “Spit” is both confident and hopeful. “That’s more a look at the present,” Kirwood says. “You’re always told, `Don’t spit in the wind.’ But most memories are made by spitting in the wind. Creating memories causes everything goes forward.”