Meat Puppet Cris Kirkwood talks pre-Germs Phoenix cult band Exterminators’ 1st-ever LP (interview + song premiere)
One of Phoenix’s first punk bands ever, along with The Consumers, was the Exterminators, who were only around very briefly in ’77-’78, broke up before releasing anything, and whose members went on to play in The Germs, The Gun Club, The Feederz, Mighty Sphincter, 45 Grave, and more. The Consumers started getting their due when In The Red finally released their 1978-recorded material in 1995, but the Exterminators remained in obscurity. Some of their songs lived on in members’ future bands or were covered by other Phoenix bands, but the only way you could actually hear the Exterminators is if you managed to get your hands on the band’s live cassette that does exist (but was never widely circulated). That all finally changes on Election Day (11/8), when a reunited version of the Exterminators release their first-ever album, Product of America, on Slope Records.
The album is comprised entirely of music the band wrote in the ’70s, but it was all recorded recently by the reunited lineup. For these recordings, the Exterminators have original members Dan “Johnny Macho” Clark on vocals (The Feederz), Doug “Buzzy Murder” Clark (Mighty Sphincter), and Jimmy “Don Bolles” Giorsetti (The Germs, 45 Grave). Bassist Rob Graves (The Gun Club, 45 Grave) passed away in 1990, but in his place is another Phoenix punk legend, Cris Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets, who also produced the new album. Cris goes back with the Exterminators for years. He played with the Clark brothers in Victory Acres, he briefly played in The Feederz, the Meat Puppets had played some Exterminators songs, and their first LA show was opening for 45 Grave. He couldn’t be happier to finally introduce the world to the Exterminators, nor could Slope Records founder Tom Lopez, who basically started the label to shine a light on Phoenix’s rich punk history.
“It came about because Tom Lopez, the owner of Slope Records — well he started Slope Records about a year ago, and he’s a guy who came up in the Phoenix punk rock scene and he got himself in the position to where he wanted to start a record label and one of the things he wanted to do initially was document some of the old Phoenix punk rock stuff. I think he was working with Doug making a Mighty Sphincter record, which is a band that Doug’s kept going all of these years. And through that, and Tom just being interested in documenting all these old Phoenix bands, Doug brought up, “Well there’s my old band the Exterminators that I had with my brother,” and when it came down to actually making it, since Rob’s not around any longer, they asked me if I’d play bass on it so I was happy to do it,” Cris tells us in a lengthy new interview (full interview below).
You hear about “forgotten” records getting rediscovered all the time now, but it’s truly a treat that we’re getting this one. If you dig The Germs, The Feederz, Meat Puppets, other Phoenix punk bands like The Consumers or JFA or Sun City Girls, or just the original wave of ’70s punk in general, you’re probably gonna love this Exterminators album. Every song is as loud, fast, angry, as classic as punk gets. Since these are re-recordings, it’s possible that the guys spiced them up a bit (Cris did mention some lyrics were re-written), but mostly it’s pretty clear how ahead of their time this band was. It predicts hardcore just about as much as The Germs or early Black Flag did. If you don’t believe me, just ask the Minutemen’s Mike Watt what he thinks of the record:
From the times where Watt got both fueled and catapulted by the movement is time-warp re-ignition from arizonaland of material that moves Watt much due to original drummerman Don teaming up w/old-time thudstaff wrasler Watt inspirer Cris delivering the vital feels way up into this now here moment. it put’s me way out as I do my tether-ball dance due to finding myself most resonating w/it cuz of it. Watt bows low w/much respect towards these exterminators’ direction. my recommend: get.
The band’s material has clearly had a lasting influence too. One of the songs that The Feederz went on to play, “Destruction Unit,” is not coincidentally the name of Phoenix’s best current punk band. In fact, D Unit even got Don Bolles to play on their last record after they met and realized he wrote their namesake song. “I said, ‘I think you guys named your band after one of my songs,’ and they were like, ‘Whoa, really, you were in the Feederz?’ I said no, I wasn’t in the Feederz, but some of my songs were,” Don told Phoenix New Times last year.
Ahead of the album’s release, we’re premiering its song “Just Like Your Mom,” which is a seriously heavy dose of proto-hardcore. Listen:
The Exterminators will play their first live show since the ’70s at the Meat Puppets’ annual hometown show on November 25. Mike Watt’s on the bill too, so if you’re in the Phoenix area (or can get there), this sounds pretty unmissable. Tickets are on sale.
The show “was already set up with Mike Watt, who’s like an old dear friend so already it was special show for me,” Cris says. “But now I got everybody to go along with having the Exterminators open the show. It’ll be the first time those guys have played together since, almost 40 fucking years ago. So that’ll be a fucking hoot.”
Meanwhile, the Meat Puppets just began a tour last night (10/18) with Dean Ween. All of their dates are listed below.
As mentioned above, I recently spoke to Cris Kirkwood about this new album, Slope Records, the Phoenix punk scene then and now, Nirvana, the Grateful Dead, tons of Meat Puppets stories, a Feederz story where Frank Discussion killed a rat on stage at a show at a gay bar and threw it into the audience and almost got the show shut down (which was recorded and may appear on an upcoming Slope Records release), and way more. Cris had a ton of interesting stuff to say, and you can read all of it below…
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I knew The Germs, The Gun Club and of course the Meat Puppets, but I wasn’t familiar with the Exterminators until this reissue was announced. So I’m kind of still learning about the band. At what point did they become a thing for you? I know you’ve worked with some of the members in Victory Acres, and the Meat Puppets covered the Feederz… did you see the Exterminators when they were first around or did you find out about them when they were broken up?
Cris Kirkwood: Yeah, I pretty much found out about them probably around when they broke up. I mean I’d known about them for a while and I’ve been friends with some of the members for a long time, but I never saw them live and they disbanded pretty much by the time I started going to shows around town here, even though the guitar player Doug is actually like a year and a half younger than me. He got started at a really young age. I became more aware of The Brainz — that was the first thing the come to my sphere of reference at all — which was Doug’s first band after the Exterminators. And shortly after that we started the Meat Puppets around late ’79. We started playing together and Derek, our drummer in the Meat Puppets, turned me on to all sorts of different stuff, including some of the stuff that happened in town here already that he was hip to that I wasn’t.
But I went and saw The Brainz play — that was like the first punk show I ever saw. They put on this thing called Trout-O-Rama and The Brainz were playing at that and I was intrigued by the idea of somebody my age already having a band that was doing gigs and whatnot and I was starting to get into some different kinds of music at that point, but that was the first time I saw a local punk show. Shortly after that I became aware of The Feederz and became friends with those guys and actually played in The Feederz for a minute. Danny, who was also the original singer and bass player in the Exterminators had moved back to Los Angeles, and asked me to play at one point… that was like 1980.
But no I’d never seen the Exterminators before that, but I knew that they existed and whatnot. It’s seminal stuff here in town, and the guys who were in it when on to do different things that folks had been aware of, but they never recorded so it’s not that surprising you hadn’t heard of them before.
From what I understand, the only known recording is that live cassette?
Cris: Pretty much. Unless those guys have more laying around. They definitely never recorded anything to release, never got in the studio. It was very early on, like ’77, when those guys started playing. Punk rock had just started to happen in ’76 and then kind of it made it out here to the desert. Unless they have other live recordings, and I haven’t heard that they do… they’re definitely not a very well-documented band.
How did you get involved with this project to finally make this record?
Cris: They asked me to be in it, the guys in the band. I’ve known the Clark brothers for a long, long time, I love them so much, they’re the best pals. And Jimmy as well, having come from Phoenix — his nom-de-punk-rock or whatever is Don Bolles, which was actually the name of a journalist who was murdered here in Phoenix. And the first time the Meat Puppets ever played in Los Angeles was opening for 45 Grave, who had Rob Graves, the bass player from the Exterminators. You know unfortunately Rob passed away quite a few years ago… so when these guys got the opportunity to do this record they asked me to get involved and fill in for Rob, which I was very happy to do.
All of the songs on the new record were recorded now but written in the ’70s?
Cris: Yeah, it’s all stuff from back then. The live tape is kinda what you expect from a tape from back then in a way. It’s kinda tough to figure out what’s happening musically but they got me a copy of the tape to listen to and I realized, well, we’re gonna have to figure out what’s actually happening here [laughs]. But now that I know the songs, I can listen to it and hear what’s going on, but the sound quality and everything was a little iffy, so it was up to Doug to actually figure out what the hell was going on and how the songs actually went. And then, as it worked out, some of the lyrics had gotten lost or forgotten along the way, so we ended up coming with some new lyrics for the songs, but all of them have their original titles at least, and a line or two of the lyrics to give us a direction to head in. But yeah all the material was written back then except for some of the lyrics.
The record’s called ‘Product of America,’ you’ve got that song “Patriotic American,” the album’s coming out on Election Day… was this year’s election part of the inspiration to bring this band back?
Cris: Yeah sure, I mean, I like the idea of documenting this stuff at all. It’s a cool opportunity, especially considering all the surviving members had gone on to do all these other projects and whatnot. It’s coincidental I think, that it came out right now. It’s a gimmick I guess that it’s coming out Election Day. It’s serendipitous I think that that the election was happening right around when we wanted to put the record out, so we figured let’s go ahead and put it out on Election Day… and ‘Product of America’ just seemed like… you gotta call the record something and the band certainly is a product of America most certainly, in particular of the ’70s punk rock explosion. There’s not a hell of a lot there… but I think that there are timeless messages on the record, like “I Hate You” [laughs]. That holds up pretty well.
You were talking before about Slope Records and the Phoenix punk scene. Do you pay any attention to the current Phoenix punk scene?
Cris: Yeah somewhat, I’m somewhat aware of what’s going on. Definitely stuff slips by me, but I’m somewhat aware of what’s going on, and now that I’m getting involved in Slope Records and helping Tom out on some upcoming projects, I’ve become more aware of what’s going on locally. Because he’s interested in growing the label, not just being a reissue kind of thing. He wants to get some younger stuff on the label as well, and we’ve started to look at some different bands and actually decided on a few young bands that are playing here in town that we’re gonna go ahead and move forward on making records with. I’m gonna go into the studio and produce some of the new records, and in doing that I’ve definitely gotten more aware of what’s happening in town here. There’s a healthy burgeoning young scene, and they’re a lot younger than me. We were talking to one band and the drummer’s 16; I’ll be 56 in a couple of weeks so, it’s cool. Tom’s really offering a fun opportunity, a really good opportunity for these young bands. Just keeping the punk rock spirit alive and giving back to the scene that he was so moved by and a part of as a kid, and he’s in a position to be able to further that scene. And part of that is giving these younger bands a chance to get a record out, and give them a little support and some structure. I’m happy to be a part of it.
Have you heard of the band Destruction Unit that are named after the Exterminators song? Well it’s named after The Feederz version of the song but…
Cris: Yeah Don Bolles wrote that song and then The Feederz played and Meat Puppets played that song. There’s a few of these things: that one, and “Bionic Girl”… they sort of became Phoenix staples in a way. A handful of these bands played it or covered it along the way. But yeah those guys got it off of The Feederz but it goes back to the Exterminators. And that was definitely on purpose. I became aware of that — those guys had been around long enough, I noticed there was a band called Destruction Unit and I put it together as well. I figured that’s probably not coincidental, all things considered, and as it turns out it’s not. I think Don’s actually in touch with those guys.
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It was a cool time. Some cool bands came out of Phoenix, some interesting stuff. And a lot of the earlier guys ended up going out to Los Angeles and getting involved with stuff out there. But Phoenix definitely had its own crop of stuff way back when. It’s just unique and it’s kind of representative of the punk rock movement, the way it initially happened in general, with such a variety of stuff. And also representative of what Phoenix was like back then and where we are in the country, you know? It had its own unique batch of bands coming out. The Consumers and the Exterminators sorta started it all, and then we came along and stuff like The Feederz — they were really early on — and then us, and then Sun City Girls and JFA and all sorts of stuff came out of here at one point. So it’s cool that some of these bands today are aware of what happened back then.
It must have been interesting being so close to LA, but also sort of so isolated.
Cris: It definitely played a part, Phoenix’s isolation. It’s pretty isolated, especially going back that long ago, pre-internet. The Internet has changed everything so much as far as how quickly and easily you have access to so much, practically the whole planet in a way. It definitely wasn’t like that back then. When punk rock happened, I only really became aware of that through our drummer Derek, who was pretty tuned in to the punk rock scene, definitely more than I was. Between what was going on and realizing what that meant. You know, that you could have your own band and do whatever you felt like doing. You know, coming out of the ’70s, rock n’ roll was kind of a bigger thing in a way, and that seemed pretty inaccessible — didn’t seem like anything I could pull off. And then disco, stuff like that, just different kinds of music. It didn’t seem like where I was coming from in any way, and then punk rock seemed like something where I thought, oh wow I can be a band, I can do this for my own amusement and because I find it interesting to do, or for whatever reason. And it afforded me that opportunity. And then being in Phoenix, you get a lot of influence from… well you know Derek had a bunch of 7 inches, a lot of rare 7 inches, a lot of stuff out of New York, you know the Ramones, who ultimately kinda kicked the whole thing off, on that level. A lot of East Coast stuff was happening. We were made aware of that, but then actually gestating as a band — the fact that we’re from Phoenix played a big part in it. One of the cool parts about the punk rock thing that happened back then, and then SST in particular — you know, [Black] Flag started touring, and that’s how we met. Black Flag was playing a show here. And I think that’s probably how they became aware of [the bands they signed] back then, you know, Husker Du and stuff. The Minutemen were out in San Pedro which is near where Black Flag were from, but the Sonics being in New York — Sonic Youth — I think Flag got around and met these folks and invited them to the label. Each of us — you can kind of see it — was a little band that was definitely influenced by where we were, in the way that we were. Like the Husker guys being from Minneapolis, these little nests of uniqueness, unique just by virtue of the fact that it’s a different time, right? You could kind of make yourself into the band you wanna be. But the fact that Los Angeles was right over there was kind of fun and early on we started going over there, but a big part of what brought us over there was that there were a lot of people from Phoenix out there. The singer from the Consumers was this guy David Wiley, who’s also gone — David passed away quite awhile ago. He had become friends with Derek after a local guy Bart, this local journalist — I think he might have managed the Consumers — he was writing stuff about the Consumers early on and Derek was writing to him and then Bart passed along some of Derek’s letters to David, the singer from the Consumers, and they became friends. They struck up a correspondence and David moved to Los Angeles by then, and once we started playing, Derek was sharing cassettes of us playing together, and that led to us getting to go to LA — our first time playing out there with 45 Grave. And through David and the folks out there, we met some other bands out there including Monitor, who put out our first 7″. They had a label of their own called World Imitations and that 7″ of ours originally came out on their label. So the fact that LA was close was definitely a big part of it. Not in our development and not in our sound — we let our weird little desert vibe out — but as far as getting stuff done or playing shows, all of our records came out of Los Angeles until we got signed to a major label in the very early ’90s. Then all the records since then have come out in New York. The major label stuff, and the last few years we’ve been putting out records with Megaforce which is back in New York as well. So it definitely played a part in that, that LA was right over there — I mean it’s not right over there. It’s like 360 miles away, a good six hour drive if you’re driving straight through which we’d done a lot. So it definitely played a part. And that fact that those guys, early Phoenix bands, could get out there and kind of break the ice for us, gave us connections.
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Speaking of that major label period you mentioned, when you were on a major in the ’90s, were you getting any weird pressure to make a hit, or did the relationship with a major kind of work out for you guys?
Cris: It wasn’t that weird because at that point we’d been around for quite awhile, and we already kind of made it pretty clear we had a broad palette in a way. We weren’t that specifically focused on anything other than what we wanted to do — to make records that had slightly different feels, which is all a question of having a pretty broad palette. So by the time we got signed to the major label, one of the things they wanted was for us to work with a producer. That worked out for us was because we winded up working for Pete Anderson who was Dwight Yoakam’s guitar player and had done Dwight’s records and stuff. We actually met him one time. Dwight opened for us before he blew up and got so popular — he opened for us at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, so we knew of Pete and had met him and stuff. Before that we’d never purposely not worked with a producer. The way we had done records prior to that was to just do them with an engineer and produce them ourselves. Didn’t bother with putting production credits on, just had the engineer mentioned on the record.
I think the label struggled a bit to market us in a way. And I think definitely when Nirvana invited us on MTV, that was helpful for the label — because they wanna sell records, and depending on your relationship with the label, they wanna let the band go about their own ways, if they can, if that seems to be financially feasible. But their bottom line is the bottom line. So [the Nirvana thing] was like “Oh boy!” for them, like “Well that helps,” to get us across. And we had that one hit song with “Backwater” from the Too High to Die record. That record sold way more than any of our other records ever had, and it was really easy for us to have that record sell as well as it did because that was the second record we made with London Records and we had our friend Paul Leary work on it. And you know Paul’s from the Butthole Surfers, so it couldn’t have been more of our scene. The Buttholes are all pals of ours. And that was entirely the record we were going to make at that point, regardless of whether it was on a major label or SST or whoever, that was just the record we were going to make at that point and it happened to go over really well. It was a question of the audience coming to us more, and the label realized that, within certain constraints, you know like getting us a producer, that they weren’t going to get us to change that much,. There wasn’t much that they could really ask of us. It’s not like we’re gonna learn dance moves or anything [laughs]. It was a little odd but the trajectory of it was really interesting to see the way that it went. They spent a lot of money on that first record that Pete produced and it did OK but it definitely didn’t garner any hits like they were hoping for. And then we kinda had to work to get that second record even out and made, kind of had to massage the situation, and wound up talking them into letting us do it with Paul… and oddly enough, right around then, the Nirvana guys blew up as big as they did — they were like the biggest fucking band in the world at that point — and took us on TV and said that they dug us and our contemporaries and whatnot, and that definitely timed out well in terms of that record. And then people just dug that record, they really like that song “Backwater.” It was just interesting to see it all go down the way it did.
At what point did you first meet the Nirvana guys?
Cris: They asked us to go out on tour with them. I started hearing about some of the other Seattle bands before them, like Soundgarden opened for us one time and then Mother Love Bone opened for us one time, and I kind of remember watching the Seattle scene develop. We got up there our first time in probably ’82 or ’83, ’84 — we’d been going up there years in a row and kind of started seeing the Seattle scene gel and develop their own style, and this look and the feel of the place up there. But that was happening all around in different little pockets of the country. Punk rock had done that and it was just the next class of folks getting into that type of music. We never played with Nirvana before they blew up like that, but we started hearing about them. You know, they were one of the bands that was coming up out there. And then we started hearing that they were citing us and people I came up with as people that they had grown up on, like SST bands and stuff like that. Specifically them saying that they dug us, or that Cobain did. I started hearing that and I was like ‘That’s nice, that’s cool.” And then they blew up so fucking big it was like, “Holy shit,” you know? For a band that would cite us as influential or something that they liked, to all of a sudden by so fucking popular, was a huge change. I was definitely like, “Wow, neat!” So when I actually met those guys, they had asked us to go out on tour with them.
This was before Unplugged?
Cris: Yeah but after Nevermind had come out and had blown up so big, so the shows we did with them were like, arena shows. Those guys went from being out on the road opening for bands, I mean you know the story. They were an opening band and then they started to blow up on the commercial level, so the places that they played subsequently were a lot bigger and whatnot. So by the time they asked us to play some shows with them, they were like arena shows. So that’s when I actually met those guys. It was on one of those shows that Cobain brought up that they were getting ready to do the Unplugged thing, and he was talking about doing some of our songs on there, which was cool with us definitely. We were like “Sure go ahead man.” We’ve always done covers, and he wanted to do some covers, talking about that and some other stuff. You now he wound up doing the Bowie thing, The Vaselines thing, and stuff, so we said, “We’ll show you how those songs go. Not that hard, kinda rednecky, pretty easy really.” And then he just decided that he’d just forgo that side of it and just take us on there and have us play with them, which we were happy to do as well. Because it just fit in with where we came from, the whole punk rock vibe. And a musician vibe, you know? It’s not unheard of for musicians to sit in with other musicians. And then initially it was just going to be Unplugged — they weren’t planning on releasing it. But unfortunately Kurt decided he had to check out like he did, and after that is when they decided they were going to release it. So it really lived on to a further extent than I think it might have, because it wasn’t going to be a record, it was just gonna be the taping itself.
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I always took that performance, with your songs and The Vaselines and everything, as Kurt being like, “If I’m this famous, I may as well show the world the music I actually like.”
Cris: Yeah totally, I thought that way too. And you know, people always say because of that that we influenced Nirvana or whatever. We’ve been cited as influential to them and other bands, but musically i’m like “I guess,” you know? They say that we were, but I don’t really hear it in the actual music style. But I can see us having been an influence, at least because we we’re very fucking open minded with what we do. And yeah like if you’re suddenly that fucking popular, it’s very punk rock to say, here are some other bands. It’s a pretty punk rock move. That always made a little more sense to me than like, musically influential — attitude wise. I thought that was a bitchin’ thing to do. Actually, MTV wasn’t that into it, them taking us on there. He let them know that he had some special guests and whatnot and I think that maybe they were hoping for one of the other Seattle bands or something like Eddie Veder, something that they were already pushing, as opposed to us. This is kind of a known thing, that they would have rather not had us go on there. But Cobain put his foot down, and at that point his foot was big enough [laughs]. It’s fucking cool, it says a lot about the guy.
I had read somewhere that Cobain was a Feederz fan too, and had put like, a Feederz sticker on his guitar or something. Do you know about that?
Cris: Yeah I found out about about that. I didn’t know about it like before, but apparently… yeah somebody brought that to my attention, I guess there’s like photos of him with a Feederz sticker on his thing. And I know that he had to have been aware of all that stuff. You know, like he got Pat [Smear] to play with him, and he was coming from The Germs. So considering that Don had been in The Germs with Pat, it seemed like they would have been aware of that stuff. But I didn’t know before all this stuff started coming up that, I guess there’s like a picture of him with a certain guitar and there’s a Feederz sticker on it apparently. It’s pretty fucking cool because The Feederz were far out [laughs]. Like seriously, as far as like, punk rock goes, very very Phoenix feel, just fucking great, fucking American punk rock. Like as fucking far out as you can get, you know, in my book. They were definitely one of the greats. Yeah it doesn’t surprise me that Cobain was aware of some pretty fucking cool shit.
You said you’re working closely with Slope — do you think you’d do a project with The Feederz too?
Cris: That’s in the works with Tom at Slope actually. I don’t know if those guys wanna do something new, but there’s um… well Danny, who’s Johnny Macho in the Exterminators, was Clear Bob in The Feederz, the original bass player in the band. Johnny Precious, the drummer, he’s passed away as well. Just kind of a fucking hallmark of all of those early bands, pretty fucking self-destructive in a way. So John’s gone and has been for quite awhile. So I don’t know abut a new Feederz project but Tom and Slope are already in talks with Danny and with Frank Discussion, the guitar player, looking to release some of the live stuff that exists. And Dan’s got some stuff on tape, some fucking good stuff. There’s a tape of a show that these guys did at this bar that happened to be a gay bar here in town and the owner of the place was letting punk rockers do shows in there for a while and that night Frank had a rat he was carrying around all night, he and his wife. Frank was Frank Discussion and his wife was No Discussion. So Frank and No had this rat that they were carrying around and at the beginning of the show Frank actually beats this rat to death with a hammer and throws it into the audience. And it’s all on tape, it’s pretty fucking nuts. When he threw a rat into the audience it hits this person, this middle aged woman who’d been working at the bar a long time — it’s kind of a well established bar. And the owner comes up and says “If anybody else throws anymore dead animals I’m shutting this show down right now!” It’s pretty fucking amazing. I was at that show, it was a long time ago, and it was just a pretty memorable moment, you know, and Danny actually has a tape of that. I’m hoping that that’s the one we’re gonna get out as a record, a Feederz live album. It’s a good one. They’re a good fucking band. It’s just going back to that time in punk rock, American music in general, definitely very Phoenix. Look at what else came out of here, Alice Cooper, you know? I know that like, Detroit claims Alice as a hometown boy, and you know, he was when he was younger, but he was out here at a point and started his musical career out here. You kind of look at what Alice was like and look at some of the bands that came out of here like the Feederz and the Meat Puppets and the Sun City Girls, and you just kind of see this thread running through it in a certain way. I don’t wanna put my finger on specifically what that thread is but there’s a certain feel to me, that stuff all resonates with Phoenix and especially Phoenix back then because this place has changed a lot — the world has, definitely with the advent of the internet things are a whole lot different. But we’re hoping to get that out, we’re working on that and I think that will see the light of day as well. It’d be a good one.
Do you have any unreleased Meat Puppets stuff that might appear on the label?
Cris: Eh, nah. The next Meat Puppets record, we’ll see, that’s with my brother and whatever he wants to do, whatever direction he wants to go in. I actually have some old recordings of my own that were just me farting around. We used to have our own 8-track studio, and oddly enough this stuff resurfaced, tapes of mine that I managed to not hang onto when I went into my magical period. Unbeknownst to me, Derek actually had a lot of this stuff, our old drummer. He’s kind of been the curator of the band in a way, from back then, and a lot of these old recordings of mine resurfaced recently, surprisingly enough to me. I would like to get those out. But I don’t know if I’ll beg Tom to get them out on Slope, but I met this kid that played at a show here just last weekend, and he works at a label called Lollipop out in Los Angeles, and they do maybe cassettes only, and I think I might try to get that stuff out on that label. He’s already expressed interest in doing it. It’s fun enough stuff for me that I’d like to just get it out on some level, but I gotta figure out how to go about that. We’ll see what happens.
You were saying Derek from the Meat Puppets was kind of the one who turned you on to all those punk records at first. I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but how did the Meat Puppets end up deciding to move away from punk, into country and bluegrass, etc?
Cris: It was just a question of not pinning ourselves into a corner, using the band as an outlet for whatever we wanted to do, which is punk rock to us. If you listen to the early stuff, there’s hints of the direction that we were gonna go, in a way. You know, on Meat Puppets I, we covered “Walking Boss,” we got that off of Doc Watson. And then there’s “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” did we get that off the New Riders? …No we got that off our mom, really, she taught us that song. If you listen to the stuff, it’s distorted in a way, but there’s some stuff my brother’s playing, some arpeggiated stuff, that kind of presaged the direction we were heading in. Even on the 7″ we were kind of setting ourselves up for it. It was just us developing as a band, and finding the next direction we were going in. And there was a little bit of purposeful, you know “go fuck yourself” as well. The punk rock scene started to get a little stodgy, and a little bit demanding in terms of like laying down the parameters of what was ok to do. And that was not punk rock to us. I got off on doing whatever the fuck I wanna do, period. So there was a little bit of that in making Meat Puppets II, just us laying claims to ourselves, not being made to do anything that anybody else thought that we were. And Meat Puppets I is hardly a straightforward punk rock record. We were finding our voice on that thing and that was the record we wanted to make and we just got to a different place on the next album. And the next one after that, and after that. it’s cool, it’s cool how long we’ve been around and that we’re still fucking making records. And part of that’s because we purposely didn’t just limit ourselves to one particular sound.
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That’s funny you mention the New Riders. My dad’s a Deadhead and turned me on to them when I was younger and I was like “Holy shit this sounds like the Meat Puppets.”
Cris: Yeah I actually misspoke. It wasn’t them it was the Sons of the Pioneers, but definitely the fucking Dead and the New Riders and all that stuff. The Dead in particular were a huge influence on us, huge. It started for me with The Beatles as a little kid, but then when I started getting new music on my own I started out personally with the movie Deliverance and went out and got a banjo and got into bluegrass. I was like 13, that was a long fucking time ago. I started finding out what I dug about music and getting into other things. There was a period I was really into jazz, really far out jazz, stuff I thought was far out at least. Going back and discovering stuff like Sun Ra and all the bebop guys and Coltrane and stuff like that. And then I got cool enough to start checking out rock and roll a little bit, and the Dead were one of those bands, along with like Frank Zappa and initially The Beatles — I just found enough artistry in it or something, you know? It wasn’t just about teenager kind of stuff exclusively or whatever, just something kind of artier about it. And I think I was kind of a snob at that point, musically, as a kid, because I discovered shit that was just so far out. I mean I think people would agree Coltrane’s pretty facing far out, you know? Like holy fucking shit, Jesus Christ, these guys can play their fucking asses off and their ideas were pretty far out. Then I started discovering classical music and realizing what people had done with music hundreds of years before, and started to think that one of the elements that I dug about music was just the technical side of it, the actual time that people would put into it. And then I started getting to rock and roll and realized I didn’t have to be so fucking snooty about it. And then i realized I was lazy and I’m not gonna work that fucking hard, and I started taking drugs too. I realized that like, bringing a little psychedelic reality to your musical taste and the Dead are just sitting right there, and I’m like “Oh, hello!” And then punk rock happened and it was like, oh I get it. There’s that whole line of expression where it isn’t about anything other than expression. And it ultimately all came back to my appreciation and interest in art.
For a while there it was tough to be in the punk scene and tell people you liked the Grateful Dead.
Cris: Yeah definitely, and I didn’t give a fuck, you know? Not giving a fuck was what punk rock was about. I experienced this firsthand. Punk was starting to develop, initially it was a humorous sort of thing, and then as a reaction there was like, the fucking cool guy police or something, you know? You’re fucking spitting on me because I don’t look like you? I got that out of high school. I just didn’t give a shit, that’s not why I got into this. If I’d wanted to have people tell me how I had to behave, I would have gone into fucking medicine or something. You’re not allowed to like, improvise or something, on like, heart surgery. Certainly I didn’t get into the arts to be fucking told where to get off or who to like or whatnot. It was kind of like the way that we played, it was like being a little bit of a bridge for people that weren’t afraid to admit that they dug some of this other stuff, and to make that connection with these other bands that, just by its very nature, punk had to kind of disown. Plenty of people that were involved, especially around my age, going back that far, were very much into the Dead and stuff. If you look at like Lee Renaldo, that guy’s a fucking Deadhead flat out. And then going on to be in Sonic Youth and everything, you can see it — that level of experimentation. You’re probably younger than I am, and I’m not surprised to hear that even still, it wasn’t cool for you growing up to admit that you liked the Dead. Same thing when I was a kid. But I just didn’t give a fuck.
Did you see that tribute album that came out this year that Lee plays on?
Cris: I heard about it, I didn’t actually hear it, but I heard about it.
It’s pretty wild. It’s five and a half hours long.
Cris: Oh my god [laughs]. Yeah, the Dead are fucking good, man. They’re fucking far out. It’s cool fucking music, trippy attitude, whatever the fuck — you can think about it in terms of being a hippie or whatever, I just don’t care. If i like something, I fucking like it.
Yeah I was the same way. Punk kinda started it all for me, but if you asked what my favorite band is, I’d probably say The Beach Boys. I always drew a connection between the hippies and the punks — you guys mixing both always made a lot of sense to me.
Cris: When Meat Puppets I was recorded, we dosed three days in a row. It was made over three days and every morning we woke up and re-dropped. So that’s a fucking psychedelic record right there. Getting back to the Beach Boys, you get somebody like Brian Wilson who’s just so fucking far out, you know? You see that, the struggle that he went through, of being like a pop band in a way but also being so musical. And having the Beatles happen and those guys figuring out how to go from being kind of a teenybopper band or whatever into being able to make music that was still really popular that grew as they grew as people. I’d seen Brian struggle with that and succumb to his personal problems, whatever the fuck, but still being such a fucking badass. There’s that interesting story of his where like Paul McCartney stopped by his house at one point when the Beatles were working on “A Day In The Life” and Paul sat down and was like “Hey I got this new song that John and I do” and played it for Brian and Brian was like “Oh my fuck’,” realizing they were figuring that out, how to grow, let their music grow along with themselves and make it just as engaging and popular.
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Meat Puppets — 2016 Tour Dates
Oct 19 First Avenue Minneapolis, MN*
Oct 20 Turner Hall Milwaukee, WI*
Oct 21 Royal Oak Music Theatre Royal Oak, MI*
Oct 22 Beachland Ballroom Cleveland, OH*
Oct 24 Headliners Music Hall Louisville, KY*
Oct 25 Delmar Hall Saint Louis, MO*
Oct 26 The Record Bar Kansas City, MO*
Oct 28 Belly Up Aspen Aspen, CO*
Oct 29 Pink Garter Theatre Jackson Hole, WY*
Oct 31 The Wilma Missoula, MT*
Nov 25 Crescent Ballroom Phoenix, AZ w/ Exterminators^
Nov 26 Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown, CA^
* – w/ Dean Ween
^ – w/ Mike Watt