Interview: Chris Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets


This isn’t your normal transcribed Q&A piece. A paper filled with Q&As is like reading the daily output of a court reporter. I spoke to Chris Kirkwood, bass player for Meat Puppets the day of their show in August. It was set up as a phone interview even though Kirkwood was only a few blocks away. Unable to contain myself and living up to my status as a lame SLUG hack, I opened our conversation by asking him if he was tired of doing interviews yet. “We’ve been around 15 fucking years, and I’m fucking used to it by now,” says Kirkwood.

The last time the Meat Puppets were in town, they played DV8. Now that they are big-time rock stars, they shared a bill in August with Stone Temple Pilots and Jawbox. Kirkwood continued the conversation by describing a Meat Puppets tattoo a local kid showed him the last time through. He was impressed with the tattoo and I think more than a little flattered that someone would wear the logo for the rest of their lives. 

The Meat Puppets are a band with seven albums on SST. They were in the vanguard of early punk bands that helped create the fashion heard every day on the radio. Now they have two albums out on London. I’ve heard the words “Meat Puppets” and “sell out” in the same sentence more than once lately. In fact, I recall sell-out name-calling surrounding the Meat Puppets ever since they released Huevos in 1987. I wanted to find out what Kirkwood thought about selling out. “We sold out with Huevos? We fucking sold out in ‘82. We’ve always been a fucking sell-out band. Tell those people that think we sold out with Huevos that they can suck my fucking balls. Ever since we signed to a major label and became famous rock stars my dick has grown. It was big before, but now it’s fucking huge,” says Kirkwood.

Now that the readers are acquainted with Kirkwood’s tremendous wit and talent with expletives, let’s continue. The next topic of discussion focused on the strong country bent the Meat Puppets have always demonstrated in their recordings The most recent things I’ve heard are a 10” vinyl record and the CD5 of the hit “Backwater.” Both have a cover of Marty Robbins’ “White Sport Coat.” The 10” also includes Robbins’ “El Paso City” and Leadbelly’s “Good Night Irene.” 

I asked Kirkwood if they plan to do any country songs at their live show. The answer was “Yes.” Their latest album was produced by Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers. Kirkwood said they’ve been doing a cover of Butthole’s “The Tale Of Pee-Pee the Sailor” in the live show. Readers might also know the song from the Bad Liver’s version. The Puppets have played entire shows of country covers. Kirkwood claims the Meat Puppets know nearly every song George Jones ever wrote, as well as a good selection of Robbins. He says that their version of “Pee-Pee The Sailor” includes a break taken straight from Doc Watson’s stylistic catalog. “We grew up around horse racetracks surrounded by country music,” Kirkwood says, “Derrick [Meat Puppets drummer] is a half-wit. That country beat comes to him naturally.”

I wondered if Meat Puppets would ever record a country album. “We already have—we’ve done seven of them. Actually, I’d like to get to the point where we can do a series of live tapes and send them out to anyone who is interested,” Kirkwood says. He went on to describe recent Meat Puppets all-acoustic performances, which featured a strong mix of country songs. He then said that he’d always wanted to do an album of all country covers.

At this point, Kirkwood said, “I like this interview. It’s better than doing one for some little fanzine with a hairy-legged chick wearing an earring in her eyebrow. Those interviews go like this: Hairy Legged Chick asks, “So the Meat Puppets are blah blah blah blah,” The Meat Puppets reply, “Yeah the Meat Puppets blah blah blah blah.”

Kirkwood did almost all the talking in the conversation. He enlightened me with his opinions on fucking left-wingers, right-wingers, Nazis, save-the-planet and animal-rights activists, skate punks and virtually anyone who labels anything. Kirkwood hates labels of any kind. He told me about Puppets’ early days when the “stupid baldies” got on the stage and their first tour with Black Flag when the roadies appeared onstage with long, blonde wigs and played a set of songs guaranteed to offend the skin-head punkers of the day.

He told how Meat Puppets got themselves kicked off that tour because Derrick wrote a sarcastic piece on Black Flag for a fanzine, and the humor flew over the Flag’s head. He told of a Black Flag appearance on Rodney on the ROQ where the Flag boys told Biggenheimer how much they hated Meat Puppets music and then proceeded to play their entire output. 

Another story he relayed was about Henry Rollins, simply Henry to Kirkwood. They’d made up with Black Flag and were doing a show in San Diego. Kirkwood, Joe Carduchi and Rollins were standing around outside after the show. As Kirkwood tells it the conversation was of the intellectual variety: “Henry was on his “I’m-smart-too behavior.’” A kid came by and shouted at Henry, “You sell out!” Henry calmly held up a finger to interrupt the conversation and said, “Excuse me.” He then completely lost it and flew across the parking lot. He did a full body block on the kid, planting him firmly in the concrete and told him, “You got something to say to me, say it to my face.” Then he returned to calmly continue the conversation. 

Here are a few selected quotes from Kirkwood. “Two years ago all these fuckers who are into so-called “alternative music” were listening to Janet Jackson.” “We are oppressing the weak and innocent.” “Phoenix is filled with cheesy pop-punk bands.”

With a ton more expletives directed to everyone and anyone involved in the myriad punk rock factions nowadays, Kirkwood has these final words. He directs them to Salt Lake City skater/straight-edge/post-punk rockers and anyone else who feels the need to categorize and criticize everything and everyone outside their own particular frame of reference: “Tell them Meat Puppets are just one big fucking boner ready for licking.”

That evening, the drunks moshed to “Pee-Pee The Sailor.” Kirkwood played hair-flinging bass in accompaniment to his brother’s Doc Watson acoustic runs. I learned that the Salt Lake audience demonstrates their musical appreciation by throwing shoes, shirts and empty water bottles at the band onstage.

Sell out? I don’t think so. In 2024 when STP, Candlebox, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Collective Soul are sharing a Livestock stage, Meat Puppets will probably headline at Helen Wolf’s Mountain.

Read more from our September 1994 issue here.