What basses are you using these days, Cris?
Cris: On Rat Farm, I used a slab-body Precision, a salmon-colored Mexican P bass, and Dave Percefull’s Hofner. I pulled that out and plugged it in while sitting in the control room, after I had already tracked bass, but I thought, “Well, let me take a whack at a handful of these things again with the Hofner.”
For some reason, the gods of the E-string G note and the F-sharp and the G-sharp … well, it had just never been that important to me. I marvel at some bass players who are so chill and tasteful. However, that Hofner had some real clear, solid low end. I suddenly took the bass in a new direction because it was so nice, smooth, and round-sounding. Curt says, when a bass player’s left hand gets close to his body that’s the “upper register,” when it gets down to the other end, that’s the “cash register.”
On the new record you’re using things like a Coral sitar and a baritone guitar. How important is it for you to replicate those sounds in live performances?
Curt: That’s optional. To me, the song is basically just the chords and the melody. You pick whatever tempo you want to play it at, or however you think it’s supposed to be at the time. My son has been playing with us for a while, so we have some more options now. Since the early ’90s I’ve taken another guitar player on the road for that reason. The three-piece is definitely limiting if you’ve done a bunch of stuff in the studio. We’re not going to take the Coral or the Jerry Jones baritone on tour though, and they aren’t mine anyway.
What’s your current live rig ?
Curt: I’ve mostly played the ’81 Les Paul through the years. For amps, I love my Music Man, but it’s broken right now. Sometimes I use a purple Soldano and the 100-watt Marshall. Both of those amps are big and heavy, so I’ll just go backline if it’s there. I don’t really care that much. If I can get a good clean tone out of it, I can use pedals. I like Sovtek Big Muffs if I can find them, which I can’t right now, so I’m using the Fulltone OCD and a Boss DS-1 distortion. I’ll run them together a lot of times. I have a Chandler Tube Driver, too. Those are great.
As shown, guitarist Curt Kirkwood sometimes uses a quarter dollar as a plectrum, and a
tone knob as a prop for his sticker fetish. Photos by Jaime Butler
Cris: An old Gallien-Krueger 800RB. I love them! That goes through a GK 4x10. I’ve got a Boss Bass Overdrive pedal on the floor, but that’s only to irritate Curt. It sounds like a horsefly stuck in a screen door.
Did you use it any in the studio or is it just your “nuclear button” when you’re playing live?
Cris: Yeah, it’s just that. The only real distorted bass I’ve recorded is on the song “Orange,” which is on Lollipop. When I was a kid I had some nice effects. I had a delay, a wah, a compressor, even an envelope filter. The coolest effect I ever had, though, was made by Dave Rat, of Rat Sound. He built these huge cabinets, and I thought “This is what I need.” On the front edge of the cabinets there was a strip of metal. At any point in the set I could crank things up, very loud, and then grind my guitar strings on that metal strip. It was exceedingly satisfying.
What’s on your pedalboard, Curt?
Curt: I’ve got a [Dunlop] Slash Cry Baby Wah. For delays I use Maxon, and a [Boss RE20] Space Echo. I like the old tape units, but I got this one a couple of years ago and use it often. I like the tap-tempo feature. I’ve used the Morley ECV [Echo Chorus Vibrato] for years now. They’re completely nuts. I’m also not much of a gearhead and some of my equipment kind of sucks. I’ve had it more together in the past. I got a Bob Bradshaw [CAE] rig, but it’s too much to lug around. It hooks up to three amps, and it’s just a little too space-age.
You’ve obviously influenced a lot of players over the years. Do you feel that any of them influenced you as well?
Curt: I’d say so. When we played with Soundgarden in the ’80s, Chris Cornell said he liked us, but I didn’t know just how much until we did some recent dates with them. Kim Thayil is such a great guitar player. People don’t talk about Kurt Cobain as a guitar player as often as they should. I love Dean DeLeo. I’ve done shows with Stone Temple Pilots, and he’s always amazing. He’s just got great tone, and it seems like there’s just nothing to it, it’s so easy for him. I love that casual sort of approach. He says if it doesn’t have a little bit of blues in it, it’s just not that good, which is cool.
I realized early on that I’m not really a shredder. I don’t really know scales or stuff like that. I think that’s more like playing air guitar on a real guitar. Coming from seeing amazing live stuff like Mahavishnu, and even like Lynyrd Skynyrd, when I was a kid, I never really tried to out-do anybody. I’ve been out there for a long time, and I’m just not very competitive. I’m more about tone and then what happens from there, playing along with the tune.
Cris: To have been around long enough to be picked by the guys in Nirvana as musical representatives of an entire era, and for our ideas to get to the point where they were commercially palatable was huge. It was definitely interesting to see that our ideas had become part of that makeup and, of course, the culture shift. You get to step back from yourself and realize that you played a part in art history. We started because it was something to do, and it’s about the only goddamn thing I’m interested in. Then here we are, all these decades later, and it’s like, “Wow, far out!”
On new songs like “Again” and the solo in “You Don’t Know,” your love of psychedelia comes through. How did you get those sounds, Curt?
Curt: “Again” is just a slide with the Space Echo right into the Marshall, straight up. On “You Don’t Know,” I’m just holding an EBow, sliding my finger around on the neck a little bit, and I probably have the tone pot turned all the way up on the rhythm pickup. That’s all.
You’re clearly not just players, but music fans as well. How do you listen to music these days?
Curt: I don’t have an iPod, but I spend a lot of time on YouTube. I can look up something, and it’ll suggest different music by the same, or different people. I just go from there and surf around like that. It’s a good time to discover things. It’s amazing how much stuff is out there.
Cris, do you still play banjo?
Cris: I do. The only banjo I ever recorded was when Mike Watt asked me to play a little banjo on one of his solo records. When Curt’s will is finally broken, there will be plenty of banjo on Meat Puppets records. Don’t lose hope!