Interview: Elmo Kirkwood Talks Meat Puppets, STP 1994 Tour & New Dance Project Supr3yes

For as long as he has been on planet earth, Elmo Kirkwood has been around the music of the Meat Puppets (the band’s singer/guitarist, Curt Kirkwood, is his father, while bassist Cris Kirkwood is his uncle). And a few years ago, Elmo (the chap who is second from the right in the pic above) joined his dad and uncle in the band as second guitarist for live work.

While he continues to play with the Puppets, he has also launched a major musical departure from the band best known for country-punk-grunge. Called Supr3yes (pronounced “surprise”), Elmo focuses more on electro dance grooves than country picking or distorted power chords. Recently, Elmo answered some questions via email for Alternative Nation…

How did you get involved in doing dance music?

I like to dance. I dance a lot. No music necessary. I think it’s cool that manipulating sound in a rhythmic manner makes humans wiggle their bodies all about. I grew up loving Michael Jackson, Chic, the Bee-Gees, ABBA…so I’ve always been Into it. Brian Boyer and I were in a band together for years and we always played shows with Dave Owens’ band, Neba. Both our bands had a lot of keys and synth type stuff and had dancey grooves, but we’re rock bands. Years later, Boyer and I decided to fuck with more synth type music and we decided we should hit up Dave to come collab, because he’s a great writer. The sound we came upon was organic when we started to make noise. The intention wasn’t dance music. There was no intention. But we ended up with this stuff that just makes us want to move! So we went with it. Totally natural progression.

Who would you say were your musical influences for Supr3yes?

My personal influences for this project are really the same influences I’ve always had – Chic, Dr. Dre, Giorgio Moroder, Prince, Wendy Carlos, Fela Kuti. But I’ve also been listening to some different electronic shit lately, like Ceephax Acid Crew, whom Boyer turned me on to.

How would you compare doing Supr3yes to the Meat Puppets?

The only similarity is that I play some guitar in Supr3yes. Aside from that, it’s a totally different experience. In the Meat Puppets, I play guitar largely in a live format and it’s rock and roll. Even when it’s chill, it’s rock. I’ve played enough shows with them now to know right where I fit in and what is going to be most effective. What can I do, no matter how subtle, to make this as good as it can be. The stuff that makes the crowd happy. Serving the song. It’s also showed me a lot about what gets an audience pumped.

Supr3yes is essentially a studio project. We get together in a tiny room with some cool analog synths and we jam. When something is cool, we start catching loops on Ableton and continue to layer. After that, we set about pulling it all apart and turning into something with structure and defined parts. Once we’ve got some semblance of structure we get down to the fun stuff, the nuances. Stacking drums, making breakdowns, a lot of emphasis on transitions. We toss on fun effects and filters and with the technology available these days it’s not too hard to clean it all up into something that really works.

Are you doing Supr3yes music at the upcoming show at the Time Out Lounge (in Tempe, AZ, on Thursday, January 22, 2015), or different music?

Time Out Lounge will be a far more intimate affair. Supr3yes is party music. So for this gig I’m going to play some chill covers. Keep it light. I hardly ever do solo stuff. Should be fun.

What’s the meaning behind the name “Supr3yes”?

Dave Owens came up with it, or at least the cute spelling. When we were working on our first track together, which ended up being “Destiny,” I thought the intro had a real mysterious vibe. So I kept saying “Surprise” in a sexy Barry White style voice as joke, while we were working on it. I don’t know what it means. I guess it’s a surprise 🙂

What’s on the horizon for the Meat Puppets? More shows? New album?

Always more shows. As for an album I bet that’ll happen as well eventually. Later this month we are playing the Sundance Film Festival for the premiere of the Cobain documentary, which should be pretty cool. Looking forward to all things to come.

Were you a popular gentleman in school because your pop appeared on Nirvana’s Unplugged?

I’d say people knew about it but I definitely wouldn’t say it made me popular. I also had zero ambitions for popularity in high school. I never really brought it up either, what my father does for a living, never seemed relevant. Ha.

How was it observing the Meat Puppets circa 1994, when they were experiencing a lot of commercial success (Nirvana Unplugged, Stone Temple Pilots tour, Too High to Die, “Backwater,” etc.)?

It was cool. I was 10 turning 11 that year so I was glued to MTV as it was. Then all of the sudden, Curt and Cris are on it every fucking day that summer, haha. Curt took my twin sister and I out on the road for like a week on the STP tour. Pretty amazing experience for a kid. But I guess it just seemed natural. Definitely cool getting to meet people from your favorite bands at that age. But you just learn that people are people. Some are just famous, haha.

How did you learn to play guitar? Did your dad give you any tips/pointers…or was it on your own?

Curt left me to my own devices. He bought me a guitar, showed me a couple chords that same night for about 2 minutes, and that was it.

I remember when I interviewed Curt for the Too High to Die book, he mentioned a never released country-sounding album he recorded a while back with Lisa Newmyer, and that he thought you may be one of the only people that has a copy of it. Do you still have it?

I’m not the person in possession, but I know who is – Jason Bianco. One of my best buds. He’s the man with the fabled disc 😉

Curt also talked about in the book that you and your sister grew up in a house shared by all 3 original Meat Puppets’ members back in the day. Any memories of watching jams and/or songwriting sessions? Any memories of watching/hearing specific songs being written?

That initial house I don’t remember. Too young. But when I was 3, Curt and Cris got houses right next door to one another in Tempe. Cris’ pad had a big detached garage in the back that they turned into their rehearsal space. Those are my real earliest memories. They had carpeted the walls and spray painted crazy shit all over the place. I’d sit on top of shelves or large gear cases and watch them practice. Cris had recording gear in there, as well. He would record us as kids, haha. My first recorded piece of music was done by Cris. Me singing “Ben” by Michael Jackson, a capella, as an 8 year old.

What is your fav Puppets album and why?

Up On the Sun. The reason why just takes one listen through, in my opinion.

Who is funkier, Prince or Vanilla Ice?

Prince is a genius. Vanilla Ice is a honky.

  • MJ Esmala

    Thanks for the article.

    I appreciate that you didn’t mention that I never took music lessons, am a third-rate guitarist, failed at all my previous musical projects, use bootlegged software, and steal my musical ideas from other artists.

    You’re smart not to criticize me or profile me more closely because it would suck for you if you did. You’d never have access to my dad Curt Kirkwood or the Meat Puppets.

    Who cares if Dad is too cheap to hire a real touring guitarist and I get the job by default? It’s nobody’s business that he writes off my wages as “gifts” on his income tax returns, right? Right.

    Also, thanks for not discussing my illegal drug activity or how I abuse women. (My ex-girlfriend Mallory Somers knows to keep her mouth shut and won’t tell you anything.)

    Keep up the excellent work.

    Sincerely,
    Elmo Kirkwood

    • dackmont

      Classy!

      • elmokirkwood

        I have to admit that it’s all true.

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