The Meat Puppets come to the Catalyst on Tuesday.
Although they originally got their start as a hardcore band that played at breakneck speed back in the early 1980s, the Meat Puppets quickly branched out and added a variety of other influences to their sound and style, including country and psychedelic rock, all the while retaining the independent attitude and raw energy of early punk.
Based around the musical and vocal interplay between brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood, the Arizona-born band is perhaps best known for their classic second album, Meat Puppets II, which featured three tunes that Nirvana covered during their iconic “MTV Unplugged” concert.
That famous connection aside, the Meat Puppets—who play the Catalyst on November 12—have continued to write and release a slew of excellent records, the most recent being this year’s Rat Farm, which has a laid back feel to it, a quality that can probably be attributed to the way the band feels about the recording process.
“We don’t really have an approach, because none of us really knows how to use the machines. It all depends on who we’re working with. I can go into stuff thinking it’s going to go a certain way, but that’s never the case,” says singer and guitarist Curt Kirkwood over the phone from a tour stop in Delaware.
“It’s an artistic endeavor, you want to be collaborative with the engineers and the machines—we just kind of dive in.”
The band spent about 10 days in the studio, which to a lot of acts out there is no time at all, but as Kirkwood explains, it was longer than he would have liked to have taken—an attitude remaining from the early punk era.
“I’ve been trying to do stuff quickly since the old days. We used to do stuff with Spot when we were on SST [Records], and he was the guy where we could do stuff in two or three days. I don’t like to scrutinize myself, I’m not very self-critical,” he says.
On this tour, in addition to new drummer Shandon Sahm (whose father was Doug Sahm of the Sir Douglas Quintet and the Texas Tornados), Curt’s son Elmo has joined the band on guitar.
This has added to the familial nature of the group, which as Kirkwood says, could be a blessing or a curse, depending on who you ask.
“It’s cool if you like a roundtable of insults and no-holds-barred locker room horror. That’s what the Kirkwoods tend to bring to things. We’re outrageously sarcastic to one another—you know how family is,” he says. “Shandon is the one guy in the band that isn’t a Kirkwood, and I think sometimes we forget that he isn’t family, so we tease him horribly—we’re pathetic, what can I say? We have nothing better to do, we’ve got an hour and a half, two hours of music each night, and the rest of the time we just drive around and amuse ourselves.”
One thing that fans may have noticed while watching the Meat Puppets over the years is the fact that Curt Kirkwood doesn’t play guitar with a pick. He uses a quarter instead—a habit that got its start out of basic necessity, but became a habit because of the unique tone and sound that plucking a string with the coin produced.
“It started because I would often wind up at a gig or practice without a pick, it’s the one thing you can never have enough of, and somebody always has a quarter,” says Kirkwood. “They’re actually really fun to play with, they don’t bend, so your fingers start to do the bending instead, and it gives it a lot more twang, with the serrations and stuff.”
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the taping of Nirvana’s “MTV Unplugged” show, where the Kirkwoods sat in with the band and played their songs “Lake of Fire,” “Plateau” and “Oh, Me.”
Kirkwood looks back on the now legendary gig with fond memories.
“It was definitely the coolest television-studio-type thing that we ever did, better than any talk shows—it went completely beyond anything like that—and it was actually a really, really good show. I enjoyed the hell out of it, and I love those guys.”
The Meat Puppets play Tue, Nov 12 at 9pm at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz; $13-$17.