MP's at Mercury Lounge, NYC, May 2019- Elmo Kirkwood, Cris, Derrick; photo by Jason Gross
Derrick Bostrom interview by Peter Crigler, Part 2
If you've wandered in from elsewhere, here's part 1 of the interview
PSF: Was it easy to hook back up with Leary to do the next record, No Joke?
DB: Of course, Paul adores us, and we him. Paul is a beautiful human being. Oh, especially Paul, even if you can't get into the thing, Paul is a doll. We were going to record in Phoenix, but Cris was strung out, and we weren't hanging out together, and we were learning the songs separately, and the transcendent vibe that I had talked about earlier was kind of gone.
Furthermore, the labels had begun the process of weeding out, to borrow an SST term. They knew what bands were hard to work with, and which bands were easy to work with, and the bands that were not so easy to work with were getting shunted off to the side.
Now, keep in mind that the label already vindicated their choice of us by succeeding with Too High to Die. Nobody's job was on the line. They could easily put us out to pasture, they had shot their wad with us, so they had succeeded, that was fine.
Well, around about the same time, Cris was writing more songs, and he wanted to get more songs on the record. He began badgering the record company more, he used to get on the phone in the morning and call them, he began pressuring to try to get more songs on the record. He would send them his own demos, and the only thing he really managed to do was let the cat out of the bag that he was strung out, and the next thing you know, our manager and our label are going, "Curt, you got to get rid of your brother."
Keep in mind, we've already had plenty of junk related casualties in these rock bands throughout 1994 and 1995, and they're like, "drop the junkie or we're dropping you," and Curt tried to go along with it, and he even went so far as to go to California and look into other bass players.
At the end of the day, he couldn't do it, he just couldn't do it. He told the label, "I'm not going to desert my brother, especially not now when he needs me," and tour support was pulled, radio support was pulled.
We got dropped by management, and... In the meantime, I was fed up anyway, it had been a bad two years, and I had moved out of town and hooked up with a woman I had met on tour, and I wound up marrying her. I lost their number. Now, there have been interviews out there where Cris says because of my drug problem, the band lost their opportunity to be popular. I submit that that is not true, I submit that the major labels suck, and they were trying to bleed the bands, and they were going to drop us.
Meanwhile, all these labels, just them getting bought by booze companies, ammunition's companies. The Meat Puppets didn't have a chance to succeed playing this major label game. We were too true to ourselves. If we were making big money, they wouldn't have cared if we were all hooked on heroin- the deciding factor was that we were not going to do what they want to do. Now, take a look at another band from Phoenix, who was also a popular '90s band, which is the Gin Blossoms.
The Gin Blossoms had a similar situation where the leader of their group, and of course I only know this secondhand, third-hand, I wasn't in the band. The leader of their group did not want to play the label's game. I'm pretty sure he didn't like the candy fairy dust that the producers were putting on his songs, and the label got those guys, the other guys to the side and said, "you need to get rid of him, he's on drugs."
Not the fact that he didn't want to play the game, but because he's on drugs, so they went along with it and they were very successful, they were multi-platinum, and that guy killed himself. We refused to play that game, we did not ditch our drug addicted band member, and you know what? He went through some hard times, really hard times, and he came out of it, God damn it. One of the things he never had to live with was the idea that his brother through him over. It's much easier for him to live with the idea that he fucked us over than it would be for him to live with the idea that his brother deserted him, and he did not.
He succeeded, and they're still together, and I saw these boys a couple weeks ago, and these guys are staying true to what they believe in.
The Meat Puppets are awesome because of that, and when everything is said and done, we're going to be remembered as a band that stuck to our guns, and I had a real, real epiphany playing with those again after 20 years, which is that we have a transcendent thing going, that transcends business, it transcends music, it transcends family, it's unique, and people who have that need to make the sacrifices that they need to make to keep that thing alive.
I mean, we used to make jokes about it, and when Curt wanted to go back to playing, and I didn't want to be involved, I have a job, I cannot be on-call for a guitarist for when he wants to get together, I have bills to pay, but we made jokes about how the Meat Puppets need to save the world.
Well, art does make the world worth living, and fucking corporatism does not, so I consider the Meat Puppets story to be a net-win, even with the dark shit that happened.
Fuck the majors. I'll tell you what, I got no problem with people downloading Meat Puppets music for free. I do have a problem with people making money off of it and me not getting my share though. Those are two different issues. I work with young people. They need more Meat Puppets in their lives, and if it has to be for free, then so be it, because they need more Meat Puppets in their lives to help them make the right choices for the future, God dammit.
PSF: Do you feel that No Joke would have done better if the circumstances had been more positive?
DB: It was a bad record. "Scum." It's a cool song, it's a good video, but the labels... Stuff doesn't become a hit unless the labels put their weight behind it, and they were waiting for the Spice Girls to come around. They weren't interested in what we were doing. I don't think it's our best record. I think every record is a progression or it's an attempt to try to do something better. That one has things in it that are really good, but the band wasn't together as a unit. I would definitely point to the fact that Cris was strung out, to a lack of vibe on that record, because though it was an easy to make, that tension, the in-fighting, the striving to try to do something that we didn't know what we were doing, which always caused us a lot of strife in the studio, but wound up with good results.
With No Joke, we went in, we did the basic tracks, we thought they were fine, we added the overdubs, we added the vocals, we mixed it, we put it out. You know what I'm saying? That the strife was not in the music, the strife was in the fact that Cris was in the bathroom all the time, or he was bringing around people that we didn't know. There was no artistic dynamic in that record.
There was some good songs, there's some interesting stuff in there, but in terms of where the band was it, it didn't have that special something, which is a shame.
PSF: Did you know that the New Year's Eve show with Primus in '95 was going to be the last?
DB: New Year's Eve show was not with Primus, it was a one-off. The Primus tour had ended up about a month earlier. This was a one-off gig at a rock and roll. What are those fucking restaurants called? I don't think they're around anymore.
PSF: Hard Rock Hotel?
DB: Yeah, Hard Rock Cafe, that's it. It was in the Chicago Hard Rock Cafe. I don't remember who else was on the bill, but we headlined. I didn't know it was the last show, no. We had a tour scheduled for the spring, it got canceled. I mean, Curt and I did a recording without Cris, the last thing we did in the studio for this Songs in the Key of X record,, Cris wasn't even invited, he wasn't even told.
I think at that point, and that would have probably been January-ish, we were still thinking about carrying on without him, but between that time and the time that the tour was going to start, Curt had let them know that that wasn't going to happen, and then... I believe Curt basically canceled the tour.
He was like, "Cris is in no position to play." Now, I did leave out one part, which is very important. At the end of 1994 and the beginning of 1995, or it was the beginning of 1995... during one of our trips to New York, we went and visited our accountant's office, and she's like, "oh, you guys, your ship has come in, you guys are getting a pay day" and the Unplugged pay day came through, and from 1995 'til the time when I finally ran out of money in 2002, I had a really nice job, and it was called 'going to the mailbox.'
We made enough money to basically consider other options than, like I said, living in each other's laps, so that had a lot to do with us taking our eye off the ball, and you can blame Cris's drug habit, but the fact of the matter is, for me personally, when I finally had enough money to make other choices, I made them, because my rock music career had gone into the shitter. I take a certain amount of responsibility for that as well. I had talked to Curt after the fact, and Cris had continued to spiral downward, so we actually were looking at... We were essentially taking a break, because we couldn't go on with Cris, and we didn't want to go on without him. Curt and I had had a couple of tentative conversations about what that might be like, but Curt began to hang out with the fellow who played the second guitar during the 1995 tour, and his name is... Kyle [Ellison]. Yeah, and Kyle had lost his brother, I believe his brother committed suicide, if I'm correct, and Kyle was really supportive of Curt during this time. Their mother had died as well, so Cris was like...
We had lost Cris, and they had lost their mom, so Kyle provided a lot of emotional support to Curt, and meanwhile, I was getting involved in my own relationship, so Curt, he moved to Austin and began to play with Kyle rather than dealing with me. I was saying shit like, "we got to get back to our first album, and we need to start playing more old time rock and roll, and less of this fucking grunge crap," or whatever, so it was easier for him to just start playing with Kyle, and we drifted apart.
Had a dot com job, which didn't last for very long, because the company went out of business, and I imagine he probably had money invested in the market and probably lost some during the dotcom bust as well, but we just went our own separate ways. It took Cris many, many years to get squared around. Then they got back together and they're trying to do it for the right reasons.
PSF: Was that pretty much what caused the breakup of that band, was just the tension and Cris?
DB: I would basically say we were burned out, we had worked really hard. The five years of working on a major label had really... There was something special about the way the three of us interacted, and they say that love goes out the window when money comes in the door. I always felt like I wasn't good enough, I had a lot of insecurities in my own playing. We were just not confident about being successful, we took our music into an area that provided us very little support, and we supported each other as best we could, and we kept going, but when it finally came time to play the major label game, it seemed like we began to start looking at what each one of us might get out of it. I personally never thought we were going to be as big as David Bowie or ZZ Top. I don't have any other bands to judge by, but I thought our business was a freaking mess. I had given up on drugs altogether, so seeing how fucked up Cris was, and even how stoned Curt was, and also how fucked up the label people were. Label people would come around and they would want to party with the band. It even got so bad at one point that Curt got down on me, like, "dude, I have to stay up all night with these assholes, and you go right into your room and go to bed. You need to come out and take on your share of the partying, and they don't want to talk to me, my friend, they want to talk to you." But the major label thing was just a fucking joke. It's like these local reps who made their money by selling promos to the used record stores and shit. It's like the band gets bled.
They would give us tour support so that we would break even, but we weren't making any money as a band. The only way I was making ends meet was… We would pay ourselves a per diem, and I would eat only off of the deli tray and whatever food that they would give us at the shows, grab food for our days off and stash all of that money, so that I could pay my bills. Then also getting the label to send me boxes and boxes of promos so I could sell them to the record store too. The major label model is a great one for bleeding the artists until they are used up, and as far as I'm concerned, and if you were to ask me, if I had to pick just one reason why the Meat Puppets ended up having to stop, it's because the major labels bled us dry. I'm sorry. I mean, we were just three people, and they were just kicking our ass.
Live in NYC, Mercury Lounge, May 2019, Cris, Curt; photo by Jason Gross
PSF: How tricky was it was it to retrieve the master recordings back from SST and reissue them in '99?
DB: It was impossible.
PSF: How's that?
DB: We were not able to do that. We remastered off of manufactured CD copies. Well, we had good people working on them, but we couldn't get the masters from SST.
PSF: What have you been up to since about 1996?
DB: I had a dotcom job working for a friend of mine who owned a couple of patents, and that company went bust, and I freelanced doing web design for a while, which is a terrible fucking job.
I would be a writer myself, but I'm not fast. I mean, you can make a living as a writer if you're fast, and I'm not, I'm really slow. I like what I get, but I'm really slow. I agonize over every comma.
I went to work for Whole Foods in 2002 when they opened a store five minutes from my house. My wife and I are vegans, and it was like, cool, I'll go work for them, it's a company I like. One of the things about Whole Foods is, when you go on tour, and you're in a college town, if you're me, you would look for the Whole Foods, or the Wild Oats, or whatever, so you could find some healthy food, because otherwise you're eating…
PSF: Burgers and pizza.
DB: Yeah, Wendy's and shit like that, so I always had a high regard for that, and we also used to go there and get vitamins, and one of the things I learned early, our sound man, Davo, he had an interest in sports medicine, that was what he was going to study in school, but he got waylaid by the rock and roll bug, so he was big on supplements.
He was real good at keeping my boys from catching colds on tour, because they were drinking and getting high and not getting enough sleep, and he would just pepper them various and sundry wellness supplements. There's one story when fucking what's his name, the dead one, the singer from Stone Temple Pilots.
DB: Weiland, he was always partying too hard, and they used to tell him to go and talk to Davo, and one time, me and Davo were in the bus, and Scott comes in and he goes, "Davo, the Kirkwoods tell me you have something that will make me feel better," so I got into that habit. I ended up with a pretty high opinion of companies like Whole Foods. I have been taking water soluble fiber since probably 1986, because another thing that happens when you go on tour and you fuck up your diet like that is you stop shitting if you're not careful, so any company that would sell psyllium is okay in my book.
I went to work for them, I started in the produce department for $8.50 an hour. I discovered that in retail is a chaotic, cut-throat, razor thin margin business that is really fucking hard. This was the big shock to me, but I stuck with it, because I did not want to be that guy who stayed at home, had no money while his wife went out and worked her ass off. so I stuck with it, because I wanted to do this.
I also discovered that there is such a thing as the department of weights and measures that comes in and will badly fine companies if they don't maintain price accuracy. I got involved in auditing prices at my store, and in Whole Foods at that time, that person was also involved in tech support, so I worked my way up into the tech team, the IT team at Whole Foods, and moved up out of the price area, the price checking area, and now I just provide tech support at Whole Foods. I'm the main guy for the five stores in Phoenix. I'm part of a central team, so I also am involved in various and sundry special projects that involve various infrastructure upgrades, or training projects and stuff like that, and as you may have heard, today is the last day of Whole Foods. Tomorrow, we are officially a member of the Amazon company.
They made the offer two months ago, our stockholders got together in a special meeting on Wednesday, and approved it. Within a couple hours, the FTC said they weren't going to pursue the matter, and now of course some of the Democrats in congress are all like, "that was quick," but we pushed forward and tomorrow you are going to see the first wave of price reductions at Whole Foods as Amazon begins to work its special sauce at a company that has got a very bad reputation for over charging its customers. That means that if you belong to Amazon Prime, once we get our systems integrated with their systems, you will be able to get special offers from Whole Foods as an Amazon Prime member, which is to say that starting this Monday, we need to wind down our projects in IT, and start moving towards integrating our system and our infrastructure with Amazon's.
Which is going to, for certain, blow the tops off of many of our heads. That's never an easy proposition. If you ever tried to fly on an airline that has just merged with another airline, you know what I'm talking about.
Anyway, my life, it's an interesting time for me, I just reconnected with the Kirkwoods. The show that we did was amazing.
PSF: Yeah, that was the next question. How was it?
DB: Oh, well, the reason we did that is because we were inducted into the Arizona Music Hall of Fame. Their manager reached out to me and is like, "we can't do this without you... we don't even want to do it at all, but we definitely don't want to do it without you," because we all felt like this is more like Chamber of Commerce boosterism crap. This was like "we're not interested in that."
It's like, "you know, we won't pay you to play, but we'll give you this plaque," so I was really tickled to learn that they had as low an opinion of it as I did, which isn't to say it's a low opinion, it was just like they had the same cynical attitude towards these kinds of award ceremonies as I do, and I was like, "good."
This is the perfect opportunity I have to get back together with them, and there are areas where we don't see eye-to-eyes, trust me, but one of the things that we all saw eye-to-eye on, was that when we all got back together, it was pretty magical.
Now, I'm not a great drummer, I never have been, and I haven't played in 20 years, but the transcendent energy that got us attracted to this thing in the first place was still there, which really made me realize about how much you can set aside and still keep what's important at the forefront, and it was interesting.
I'm sure I will see them again. We're all a lot older. The music was very interesting, the spark was still there. I've learned a lot about music since then, they have, we've all grown us people, and I can imagine how the music might evolve from here.
I felt that the show we did the other night was not us rekindling old flames, but I thought we actually brought something new to it, which is about all you can ask for.
PSF: What prompted your full return to the band and what has it been like?
DB:. At this show, we discovered how strong the magic was between us. I decided there was still music to be made with the band. Later, their drummer Shandon decided to move to Europe permanently so Curt asked if I would like to help out. So far, the music and the fellowship has been great. And it's a lot of fun to play live. However, the shit I hated about the rock and roll lifestyle is still there, so I am moving very carefully.
PSF: What are the Puppets' current and future plans?
DB: The band played four shows over the summer, and have two scheduled for the end of November. We completed a new album over the summer, and plan to release it in the spring. We will do some dates, but I have a full-time job and can only take so much time off without negatively impacting my full-time career. My hope is that the band can move out of the workhorse touring mode and start to focus on its legacy. Meanwhile, the bodies continue to age. In the meantime, I have taken over the band's online presence, managing its social media and working on promotional opportunities. The Meat Puppets has never been a "well-oiled machine," and I am looking for opportunities to fit in where I can.
PSF: What do you think is the impact of alternative rock in the '90's?
DB: Well, I probably don't think it was good. I think it's still a little bit too early for us to determine exactly when the music died, as they say. I suspect it's going to turn out to be a lot earlier than anybody thinks.
I listen to old rock and roll records, even Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and stuff like that. I feel a strong connection to that, I'm old enough to remember rock and roll's blues roots, and I'm old enough to remember why that mattered.
I think it's all about the fucking transcendence. I think there's two things that rock and roll is about, it's about transcendence, and it's about survival, and it's about blowing off the bullshit. To me, it's taken on a very zen thing. Obviously, the Meat Puppets were... Had a strong kindred feeling about the Grateful Dead, I still feel that way. I think at its best, and what makes it important is the transcendent, Dionysian nature of rock and roll.
Certainly not the fact that the baby-boomers came up in large numbers, they happened to like it, and therefore there was a lot of fucking to be made, I definitely don't think that makes any difference at all, but that seems to be the big thing about it, right? It sold a lot of units. I think at the end of the day, what we're going to discover is that rock and roll was a weird belly-of-the-beast, last gas of non-corporatism in an increasingly a world bent on destruction, and I think it may come back.
I also believe that alternative music and '80s music in general lost sight of what was important about it. I think it introduced a level of relativism to it, to where anybody gets to do it, even if they're a fucking Nazi, and I'm not good with that. I think that it's got to stand for something and it needs to be pro-life, and I don't mean anti-abortion when I say 'pro-life.' It needs to be pro-evolution, and it needs to be pro-enlightenment.
I think it helps show you... It helps teach you, it taught a whole fucking generation, it helped teach a whole fucking generation that you are not your body, that you are not you, that you are everything, that has to be rock and roll's legacy. I think that the '90s scene is far too much about the triumphalism of supposedly bringing punk rock to the mainstream, or whatever.
When I look at punk rock, it occurred to me, it's like the punks were like, "okay, we had this cool thing, you blew it. This is what it is now like for the cool thing to be marginalized. We tried to bring the cool thing to the mainstream, it got marginalized by whatever you want to say, and now those of us, if you want to live your life in a meaningful way, this is what it looks like. You are fucking disenfranchised from society.
Punk rock can never be about what Nirvana was about, it can never be about bringing it to the mainstream, and making another bunch of fat-cats rich. It always has to be a metaphor for living your life the right way, and the consequences be damned, so in that sense, I don't think the '90s were in that... Alternative rock was not a net gain for society.
PSF: What do you ultimately hope the band's musical legacy will be?
DB: I wasn't so sure for a while, but I'm starting to come around to the idea that it's going to become more and more important, as people stop saying, "the band is important because it influenced other bands," and I think, honestly, it's too soon to write definitively about the Meat Puppets. I don't think people have really gotten their heads around it.
We are still trying to get our heads around it, and it's like we were doing these interviews last week, and the guy's going, "so you've got an award, I guess now I care about you," or "I understand you've had a great influence on your peers," and Curt's just like, "that's what they tell me, I guess."
It's not about having some sort of linear influence on the next generation, it's about being a touchstone to the ultimate, and to inspire people across all walks of life. It's like this, think of it as a show of hands, we need to know who's out there, who gets it. It's not about volume, it's not about quantity, it's about quality. We want to be there as a touchstone for people of like minds, who can look back at us and go, "see, I wasn't wrong, this thing I'm thinking really exists for other people," and that's all I want the Meat Puppets to be about.
Live at Brooklyn Bowl, May 2017, Cris, Curt; photo by Jason Gross
Also see Peter Crigler's website
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