THE INFLUENTIAL ALT-ROCK Americana of the Meat Puppets is hard to imagine without the aggressive, fluid bass playing of Cris Kirkwood. Yet the band—led by Cris’s brother Curt—was forced to split with Kirkwood in the mid ’90s on account of the bassist’s struggles with drug addiction. A 2003 scrap with a Phoenix security guard (in which Cris was shot) resulted in a nearly two-year prison sentence, but Kirkwood has emerged clean and determined. Now the brothers have reunited for one of the most creative musical periods in the Meat Puppets’ nearly 30-year history. In support of his band’s richly melodic new release, Sewn Together, Cris is back on the road, blissfully exploring his approach to the bass guitar.
Describe your current headspace regarding tone and technique.
On some of my earlier projects, you can really hear how I constructed little counterparts to Curt’s guitar intricacies with my pick work. I was really fascinated with the front edge of the note— the attack and articulation [check out Up on the Sun, SST, 1985]. Now I’m playing with my fingers. On Sewn Together, we created a sound where the bass is not in-your-face, yet it’s completely noticeable in big, fat way. It’s a low-end rumbling, something I really dig because it’s so supportive of the songs.
Who are some bass players you find inspirational?
My philosophy is that there are two sides of the psychedelic bass coin. On one is Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead, and on the other is Dusty Hill of ZZ Top. Lesh has a never-on-the-one playing style steeped in music theory, a clearly articulated attack, and a strong midrange. Dusty Hill is a dude playing with four fingers plucking as one, who always plays on the one, and riffs along with the guitar. I try to find a place between the two.
How does it feel to be creating music with the Meat Puppets again?
To get a sense of how great it is to play with my brother again, you have to understand how awful it was for me to have lost something as precious as the Meat Puppets. This album represents us being at a cool, fertile place again, and it’s a powerful testament to the strength of the human spirit and the healing properties of rock & roll.
HEAR HIM ON
The Meat Puppets, Sewn Together [Megaforce, 2009]
Basses Guitar Dog (James Knopp custom) with an EMG P-style split pickup and Badass bridge, Waterstone Indra; Ernie Ball medium gauge strings
Rig Gallien-Krueger RB800 head, Gallien- Krueger 1x15 and 2x10 cabinets