Last week, Phoenix-born band the Meat Puppets dropped a news bomb on social media: The band’s original drummer Derrick Bostrom was back in the group. This time, for good.
We told you about last year’s show where the band reunited to be inducted into the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame (AMEHOF), where they played together for the first time in a couple of decades. At that point, there were no plans for that to turn into anything more.
The Meat Puppets have been playing their signature style of music since 1980 — a blend of rock 'n' roll that folds in elements of punk, psych, and country, and though the band’s been active, save for a few hiatuses, the original lineup of Curt Kirkwood (guitar/vocals), Cris Kirkwood (bass/vocals), and Derrick Bostrom on drums ceased to be in 1996.
The chemistry at that reunion show was infectious — the trio grinned their way through a number of tunes. When the band’s most recent drummer decided to pack it up and move to Europe, it makes sense that Bostrom got the call. He jumped on the offer to fill that slot and now the original crew, along with Curt’s son Elmo Kirkwood (guitar) and Rob Stabinsky (keyboards), are ramping things up, and jazzed about the future.
We caught up with Bostrom while the band was in the Chicago area at the end of June, to chat about these recent developments, as well as what was happening in his life as a non-Puppet, and how things are going so far.
The band is on the road as we speak?
Yes, we are on the outskirts of Chicago. We just played a big festival in Milwaukee called Summerfest and we’ll have one more venue show. We were scheduled to do this before I joined. The band's drummer decided to move to Europe pretty quickly, so right now we're just taking care of commitments and regrouping.
The AMEHOF show last year was just electric. The recent Facebook post about you rejoining the band has spawned a lot of excitement. How did this all unfold?
Basically, I stopped playing with these guys around '95/’96. I got married, got a job, and for a while the band didn't exist. Then, of course, Cris and Curt reunited in the mid-2000s and started doing it again and I wasn't in a position to join them. I was still getting my current career together and didn't really have any interest. After we did the HOF show, it became real obvious to me that we picked up right where we left off, and there was more music to be made.
You were all completely beaming at that show.
As I'd gotten older, I realized I didn't want to play with anyone else. Once this opportunity arose, it was like, all smiles. I just kept thinking, “Wow, how could this be so magical with so much water under the bridge?” When we quit years back, we'd been doing the major label thing for a long time and just to be honest — cautionary tale for the younger readers — we didn't really enjoy giving our control to the man, and that took a lot of fun out of it. Since then, it's been scaled down to where it's more manageable, more of a family operation. The focus is much more on having fun, and making music, and also taking care of our ample legacy.
The timing was right.
Yes. We were all on the same page. It was funny, what really let me know that we were on the same page is that they were as sheepish about being inducted into the AMEHOF as I was. It was cool. We wanted to get on stage, thank the AMEHOF, and then just move on and make the show our own. We have the power to do that, to make the space our own. It made me really realize how important this band is, not just to me, but in the scheme of things. It's a good band and it deserves to be cared for. I was kind of keeping in touch with those guys after that night, so, when the drummer decided to move to Europe, Curt called me right away and I was absolutely on board.
When you weren't in the band, you did some other music projects, right?
I did some studio things, kept the drums in storage — our cats hate 'em. I was just focusing on computers, which is what I got into after the band. I fooled around with some music a bit, but like a lot of people in those late '90s, early 2000s, I was unemployed after the dotcom crash, and just found myself going to work like a regular person, I didn't really have time to do that stuff so much. I was focused on learning to be a grown up, which surprisingly enough, there's a lot to that. There's a lot to working with other people, and learning how to not be the focus of everybody's attention. I want to bring some of that to the band. Rock bands need protecting, and we need to make sure they have everything they need, and I feel well positioned to help this band out.
You’re bringing adult sensibility to the band after all these years (laughs)?
I'll give you an example. We're staying at a friend's house, waiting until sound check. First thing we need to do is get everybody fed, and traveling with a caravan of people has its challenges. Within five minutes, I’m realizing that our host has asked several times if we want to get food so finally, I grab the menus, have everyone line up and make a decision, that kind of thing.
Bringing some gentle order to the mix?
Yeah, seeing what's needed and applying it. The bottom line, though, is the music. There's always something really nice, like with the AMEHOF show, and seeing how a lot of people from back in the day are so excited that it's still going. We now have Curt's son playing, and we've added a keyboard player. It's kind of an ensemble group, and much less the punk rock power trio that it used to be. That’s really exciting for us because it gives us an opportunity to explore new music with our new skills. More than anything else, we're excited about taking it to the next level. That's what occurred to me when I started doing it. I thought, “Wow, there's music here to be made and we have the opportunity to do it."
Are you now working on new songs together or is that coming?
We are working on a project and there will be more to come on that soon. We've got some plans for new material and new releases in the future but that's still down the road. It's in the early stages and we are really excited about it.
Have you been surprised by the excitement about your return, both at the AMEHOF event and now as a permanent member?
Yes, but it can't ever be about Bostrom, I'm just the drummer (laughs). It truly did tickle me. We were jazzed to be able to take it to another level and just do it for our fans. The AMEHOF is part of the community. I love Phoenix, I was born here in 1960, we all love the state. That was one of the things — I wanted to be a part of Phoenix history. I love the things that John Dixon is doing with reissues, and I love Phoenix music, and I'm really happy to be a part of it. That said, the Meat Puppets has always been their own thing that belongs to the universe, too. What you saw on stage was three people who are absolutely amazed at what we were doing. It was cosmic. Not all bands are like that. We are happy to still be able to keep that going, as old-farty as that sounds. That's what we got into it for, that's what matters to us and we're really happy to bring our unique musical energy together to keep it going and to be part of Phoenix history.
Bands cite the Meat Puppets as an influence all of the time. Do you ever reflect on just how influential the band has been for other musicians?
Honestly, I think that you could speak for all of us in saying that we don't understand that. Obviously there's people who throw around terms like ‘country punk’ and ‘psychedelic punk,’ and such, but it's more like if I want to influence people, I don't want to just influence them musically, I want to influence them to know that you can do what you want in this world and I think about that a lot. Be uncompromising, follow your passion and don't knuckle under. There are great opportunities out there for people that want to do that. Speaking of not knuckling under and doing it your way, one of my early heroes as a teenager died yesterday — the sci-fi writer and curmudgeon Harlan Ellison, who made a career out of being a thorn in the sides of those who wanted to mess with his art, and that was one of the things that attracted me to the band. Curt's keeping this going, he refuses to let this go. Like, when I left, I was all “Burn it down, corporate rock sucks” and all that, and it was really heartening to see how he kept it going, how he brought his brother back and brought his son into it. Curt is really amazing. None of us are as young as we used to be, obviously, and it's real inspirational to see him. You won't get him on the phone to blab like I or Cris will, but he's a real treasure.
It's an undeniable chemistry. Beyond the music, when other musicians discuss you guys, it is often the energy and spirit of the band they hope to exemplify in their own work.
This is a very fragmented culture ... We're a part of the history of American music, we participated in what was going on in the '80s, and then with the whole grunge and Nirvana thing in the '90s, and then the post-hiatus period, and we're still hanging in there and trying to stay very true to our goofy roots. I shouldn't bring up Jerry Garcia in public, to a journalist (laughs), but he has said a lot of things that resonated with me over the years, and one was “The Grateful Dead are both a comedy band but they're also a very dark band,” and I've always felt like the Meat Puppets were kind of like that. We're very real. We are focused heavily on reality and despite our goofiness, we have a strong work ethic, and we're very serious about what we do, and we take good care of it. I think, if anything, that's the kind of message that should be spread across to everybody. Somebody said on Facebook last night "This has been the year of a lot of bad news and this the only good news I've heard this year,” — regarding the band’s new development — and I thought, “This is why I'm doing this. This has to be about good news.”
Did the current state of the world influence your decision to jump back into the band? Maybe to soothe your own soul as well as others?
Yes. I am one of those old farts — you know how they say youth is wasted on the young — we've been around the block a while, we understand the importance of fun, and that's a big influential factor right there. We’re not on the make, not trying to manipulate you, we're trying to have fun because fun is important. There’s a lot of division out there, and everyone has their own side, but we can all have fun ,and that matters a lot more than a lot of other things. If you can find the fun in a situation, you probably also found a situation where people aren't getting fucked with.
Fun not even just for fun’s sake, but to relieve some of the stress and pressure?
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People are always trying to find their way. People are very resourceful and a lot of times they have more resources than they know what to do with, and not quite sure where to put their energy, and that's why I say to keep it fun. If people learn how to relax and have a good time, they'll find a good use of their time as opposed to stewing in their juice over awful stuff. That said, yesterday I walked out of the hotel room where I was resting up for the show, and the president drove right past me, and I thought “Damn, that's a summit right here — it helped me focus on the work I had cut out for me. (laughs).
Any songs in particular you are, or were, thrilled to play?
Curt lives in Austin and the rest of us live in Phoenix, so one of the things I am working on is getting a way to bring more material into the band. We've got so much of it. We played 14 songs last night. What was really good was the song “We're Here” from our second album. It really lends itself well to the five-piece ensemble with trippy keyboards and two guitars. We are jamming a little more on stage than we used to. We always have jammed, but we really did it up last night, as we're exploring our new ensemble and that song, in particular, came off really well. I'm real interested in the new songs that Curt is working on and we're gonna sit down and figure out what songs we want to do. There are so many and I'll tell you something else, Curt's son Elmo is an absolute whiz on the guitar, and such a blast to play with. It's such a blast to play with everyone; it's unbelievable. It's so much fun.
Visit the band's website to catch all the latest news.