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The "oldest and least successful" member, however, is also the man Novoselic and Gaugh called independently of each other when they wanted to expand their own perimeters.
"Yeah, but it's not really the Meat Puppets," Kirkwood says, when reminded of how openly many young bands -- Nirvana in particular -- acknowledged the Puppets' influence on their musical aesthetic. "It's more like all those bands were coming from a kindred source. And I'd say Sublime was, too, you know? You look at the band names that everybody chose: 'Nirvana,' 'Sublime' . . . even 'Meat Puppets' was meant to be a reference to essence. And so in that sense, it should be easy to work it out together, right? Well, actually, it's a lot easier than it sounds. Musically, it's worked out really well. People like it when they hear it. It's the furthest-sounding thing from contrived. It sounds like the stuff oughta sound."
Imagining that sound -- a Meat Puppets-Nirvana-Sublime amalgamation -- is a tantalizing prospect, which makes one wonder how Kirkwood himself hears it.
"You mean is it reggae?" he asks slyly. "Or is it grunge? Or is it that indefinably beautiful thing the Meat Puppets was?" He's quiet for a moment. "I don't know. It's a little of all of it. There's not really a lot of reggae in it, though there might be eventually. I'm mostly into the ska thing, all that early Bob Marley, the 'One Love' shit. I have stuff like that; if you listen to 'Buckethead' off of Up on the Sun, there's places where that stuff rhythmically meets right up.
"You can hear sort of a Meat Puppets thing, especially if I wrote the lyrics. I think that's a heavy strain there, lyrically; if you were into the Meat Puppets, you could hear it. It's got a really big bottom to it. Basically, [Novoselic and Gaugh] are masters of their craft. They're wistful, they're imaginative, they're powerful." He's silent again.
"The music is good," he says flatly. "We've been surprised ourselves. We all brought some material into it, but we don't tell each other how to do anything. It's folk music at its heart, which is something I think all three bands had in common. Everybody loves the pop format, verse-chorus-verse, so there's a heavy familiar strain in that sense. It's not like we're going to test anybody Ornette Coleman-style. We do have one 15-minute song, though, which was Krist's idea. There are elements of the jam thing that do come into it. The night he saw me in Seattle I was jamming with Jerry Joseph, who was opening for me, and Dave Schools, who plays with Widespread Panic, and we did like a 20-minute version of 'Up on the Sun.'
"The different aspects of all these directions are what coalesce; I've had fans from so many elements for so many years, it just spans genres. And having Krist see something like that jam in Seattle brings up the possibility of opening new communications that way. Not to mention that Dave Schools is an amazing bass player, and Jerry's a great guitar player as well, and that night's jam was really decent.
"So from having seen me, Krist knows I can do a lot of different stuff. So, bang, we don't have to talk about what we wanna do. A lot of it is wide open. Bud's a lot like me in that we'll play anything. Krist is more like an arbiter of what's good. Derek Bostrom is like that, too; he can tell you exactly what the fuck you like and don't like, and for exactly what reasons, that you didn't even know. And Krist can do the same thing. That's one good reason why Nirvana was so cool, they knew what was cool. Me, I'm a musician, so I'll go, 'Okay, here's this song.' And Krist is like, 'Ooh, that's not very good.' So it's a straight-up partnership. No matter what we bring, we're bringing equal shares in and taking equal shares out.
"It's kind of strange," Kirkwood continues after another silence, following that long, unbroken delivery. "I've been through a lot of weird shit in the music business. I was driving myself around for the last six months. And that was great, but I didn't know where it was going. And then something like this happens. It's wild. I couldn't make this shit up; how it all worked out, to me, is way cooler than anyone could think up. The music, in my view, is really good, and my standards are pretty high. The last version of the Meat Puppets was great, and my solo gig is beyond anybody's set of standards. I defy anybody to try and do what I do by myself.
"That's the way the world is wound up," he says, this time without a pause. "I don't have to be modest anymore. I know what I am, now. Some modesty might suit me, but you know what? It really doesn't, anymore, because I can't help what I am. I've not been that successful or anything, but I've wound up where I am because I'm really good at what I do, and there's no hype there. That's why this thing is going to be cool, because far beyond the hype of Sublime or Nirvana or whatever, these guys, like I said, are really great craftsmen, and they're surreal musicians.