Promoting the upcoming release of their 14th studio album, Rat Farm, as well as last year’s tell-all biography, “Too High to Die,” the legendary Meat Puppets are set to storm the stage at JJ’s Bohemia on Friday, April 12.
Described by guitarist/singer/songwriter Curt Kirkwood as “real blown-up folk music,” Rat Farm furthers the unique niche of punk-meets-folk-meets-prog-rock sound first created by the band in the early 1980s.
“We wanted this album to be rustic, folk sounding, much like the material from our Out My Way/Huevos era,” Kirkwood said during a recent phone interview. “We wanted to become self-absorbed in the music without having to think about it too much. We didn’t want it to sound contrived.”
What’s delivered on Rat Farm is just that: delightfully intricate melodies and insightful lyrics set against their signature backdrop of pure desert punk. In fact, this release is an unadulterated reflection of what brothers Curt and Cris (bass/vocals) Kirkwood first created under the ’80s Phoenix sun.
The Meat Puppets first became widely known in 1984 when it seemed that every alternative CD collection in the country proudly included a copy their second album, Meat Puppets II. The band’s unique punk-folk sound had grown tremendously from the pure-punk roots of their first release, Meat Puppets. Their third release, 1985’s Up On The Sun, would see the band add clean, melodic prog-rock elements to their punk-folk foundation to create an unmistakable signature sound that continues to expand their ever-growing fan base.
“Just last year we were asked by Animal Collective to play a festival in England with them and perform Up On The Sun in its entirety—which is something we’d never done,” Kirkwood said. “It’s really cool when bands of all kinds tell you that your music influenced them in some way—whether it’s a jam band or Animal Collective or like, Nirvana.”
Commercial recognition came in 1993 when the band was tapped to help Nirvana cover not one, or two, but three Pup classics for their MTV Unplugged sessions. Kurt Cobain chose “Plateau,” “Oh, Me” and the haunting “Lake of Fire” (“where do bad folks go when they die …”), all from Meat Puppets II, to perform during Nirvana’s 14-song set and asked Curt and Cris to play guitar and bass behind his accurate homage to Curt’s sometimes intentionally off-key vocals.
The Kirkwood brothers’ televised appearance onstage alongside the grunge giants and three-track inclusion on the subsequent multi-million selling album delivered a new generation of fans who were buying anything Cobain was peddling.
That exposure, along with the hit single, “Backwater,” catapulted their next album, Too High To Die, to gold-record status in 1994. The band’s career seemed to be riding high in the mid-’90s, but unfortunately so were its members. Heavy drug use, in-fighting and the law split up the Kirkwoods in the early 2000s, with Cris’ conviction on assault charges and Curt’s determination to take the band in his own direction.
After a few Cris-less releases, the Kirkwoods reunited in 2009 and have generated a couple of killer albums and tours since, including Rat Farm. This particular collection of material is defined by its effortless, laid-back harmonies, distinctive guitar work and psychedelic, cosmic country sounds. With influences ranging from Marty Robbins to ZZ Top to Led Zeppelin, the Kirkwoods try to combine a diverse array of sounds and songwriting styles with every release—and Rat Farm is no different.
“I wanted this album to be just chords and melodies—played as straight as possible—and focus more on the lyrics and singing,” Kirkwood said. “I tried to write stuff that would stand on its own.” When asked his approach to songwriting he added, “I just write down stuff that sounds really cool.”
Other cool stuff that’s been written down lately are stories about the band told by friends, family and fans in the band’s biography “Too High to Die,” released late last year. Some truths, some memories, some happy, some scary, the book is a no-holds-barred recollection of the band’s 30-year history as told by the people who witnessed their fair share of it.
“Although it’s hard to read about yourself, it’s cool that it’s based on stories and not just facts,” Kirkwood said. “Besides, it evokes memories that I’d forgotten until now.”
Friday, April 12 • JJ’s Bohemia • 231 E. MLK Blvd. • (423) 266-1400 • jjsbohemia.com