"This is not a supergroup," Curt Kirkwood insists. He's talking about Eyes Adrift, a new rock-based trio featuring himself, Nirvana's Krist Novoselic, and Sublime's Bud Gaugh. "This is not any of your American fuckin' hogwash. This is real. We want to have a good go of our lives, because the past is dead, you know? There comes a time when people want to hold you to your past and go, 'See? You're like Muhammad Ali. You can't take a punch anymore. Let's make fun of you.'"
On the phone from his Austin, Texas home, the 43-year-old former singer for the Meat Puppets is letting loose with a stream of rants on life, liberty, and the pursuit of music. He exudes arrogance, self-indulgence, and cynicism. But he's also funny as hell and indisputably sincere. A forefather to the golden age of America's indie underground, he speaks bluntly in a stream-of-consciousness style -- one that's probably familiar to fans of the Meat Puppets' aggressive, country-flavored punk.
And often, he's speaking about death. It's a subject that seems to monopolize his thoughts -- and understandably so, since he's experienced his share of it, from losing friend Kurt Cobain to losing his mother to cancer only a few years later.
During the last two decades, the entire group has seen a number of friends and musical colleagues flatline well before their time: the Minutemen's D. Boon, Morphine's Mark Sandman, the Replacements' Bob Stinson, Sublime's Brad Nowell -- the list goes on. But according to the fiery guitarslinger, grief and calamity did not shape Eyes Adrift.
"We didn't get together because of our mutual tragedies," Kirkwood says. "This shit just keeps happening, whether you like it or not. You can't be dragged down by it either. There's no fucking way you can get around something like the genius of Cobain -- and then he shoots himself. It's not like a phenomenon that Kurt Cobain shot himself . . . But this isn't Survivor, Part II. This is reality. We don't sit around and talk about it."
Instead, the three have assembled an exceptional new trio that sounds familiar, but also fresh and dynamic. Kirkwood writes the lion's share of songs, fusing them with poetic clarity and deadpan humor. But the soul chemistry of the ensemble is what makes it so compelling. And while it's easy to associate Kirkwood's voice with the Meat Puppets, Eyes Adrift is much greater than the sum of its parts: The sound is more fluid than the Puppets' crackpot-cowboy balladry with twangy hooks, Nirvana's fuzz-blown songs about hating life and wanting to die, or Sublime's dance-happy surf/skate renditions of the Jamaican two-step.
"People would be bummed if the majors pushed this with 'Look at the rock stars and their glorious past!'" Kirkwood says. "'Come see the new Nirvana! Subvana! It's grunge-reggae!'"
Instead, Eyes Adrift -- which toyed with several laughable handles, including Phawn and the Diapers, before settling on its name -- crafts a refined, accessible, and panoramic beauty that lends diversity to its self-titled debut on SpinArt. The band combines roundelay piano-looped gems ("Sleight of Hand"), crunchy rockers ("Telescope"), and glorious, guitar-sped hoedowns ("Dottie Dawn and Julie Jewel") with ease.
"It's like fine art meets cartooning," Kirkwood says of the new album. "We like that lowbrow gutbucket thing for now. Like what Beefheart meant when he said, 'Turn yourself inside out.' Fuck everyone else's vomit. Yours is gross enough."
Sure, Kirkwood's descriptions are brazen and overblown, to say the least. But his willingness to speak his mind with little regard to consequence (or coherence) is indicative of the same heedless spirit that Eyes Adrift mines -- bringing some much-needed mischief and mystery to the fold.
"I watch a lot of music videos to see what people are doing," Novoselic says, "but nobody is really provocative. It's all demonstrations of wealth or macho attitudes. Women are accessories -- like a fast car. Punk rock anymore is about aesthetic. It's a haircut." Eyes Adrift, he says, "is trying to evoke the old spirit of punk rock."
Of course, this doesn't always get the bills paid, which is where the band's pedigree comes in handy.
"I'm really glad that there's super-famous guys in our band, 'cause we can get our foot in the door," Kirkwood says. "We pitched this shit to majors, and their response wasn't like anything I'd have figured. It was like 'Just go sign somebody else that's imitating one of the bands we were in before!' We didn't want somebody to put their pathetic spin on it, you know."
"Most bands are financed by large companies, and we're pretty much self-financed on a small label," Novoselic adds. "We could put a lot of bread into this and be a candidate like Steve Forbes. But we're more grass-roots. We believe we have a message, and that message is that we play great rock and roll. And people are really responding to that."
It's hard not to. Especially when you've got a frontman who speaks in tongues and walks through life as if it's one prolonged acid flashback.
"I tend to be tangent-oriented these days," Kirkwood says. "I'm very comfortable with Jesus when he comes across my lawn. I've seen him in the forest at a cabin one time in North Carolina. And I'm an atheist. But I have seen Jesus."
What's he look like?
"Like something that I made up out of reading when I was a kid," Kirkwood continues with a laugh. "Kinda like the mummy. It's one of those things like with ghosts, you know?"
Not really. But we kind of like it that way.