Meet Derrick Bostrom
MSL: When Meat Puppets started in 1980 was there anything you could call a “punk rock scene” in Phoenix?
DB: There were some private parties and private shows being done. No bars had opened up. Nowadays you will find people talking about the “first punk rock bands” in Phoenix. These are bands that I just did not care for. These were, like, not even really power pop bands. They were just bar bands that wore colorful clothes and had short hair. They probably considered themselves punk, but I considered it to be frat rock and I did not care for it. One of the things I didn’t like about them was that they were buds with the bars, and they used to hang out with the bar people. I was not into the bar scene. I didn’t want anything to do with it. I wanted it to be completely alternative. I wanted it to be completely our own thing. It took longer for our types of people to get out there and connect because we were not looking to join the mainstream.
The Consumers left in early-1978 to move to L.A. to become a part of the Hollywood scene. I was really into the L.A. punk rock bands like the Germs and X and stuff like that. It wasn’t until 1980 that these bands began to show up at a bar called Star System in Tempe, where I got to meet some of them. Not the Germs. They never came to Phoenix, but a lot of the L.A. bands did. I remember talking to the Plugz and the Alley Cats and X and bands like that. But before that bar opened up, we were doing private parties. The Meat Puppets hadn’t existed yet, but I began to meet this older group of guys. Got encouragement from them.
The Meat Puppets had actually gone down to Tucson to play cuz there was a scene down there, which I had actually been a part of when I had gone to college for a year in ’78 to’79. I had a band with another U of A student called the Atomic Bomb Club. We had also rubbed shoulders with some of the local musicians down there. We’d hang out with people, listen to music, share money and goods. Tucson had a bar that had bands play, so we went down there and did our first show. And slowly but surely, as we got to know these bands, we started to get on the opening bills. We actually were getting our first gigs in town opening for bands we met in L.A. We could get shows in Los Angeles before we could get shows in Phoenix. And then entrepreneurs came around, started opening clubs. Things got a little bit easier. Some of us opened clubs. But that was more or less over by ’84 or so. Then we started playing at the same bars that these original frat rock punk bands were playing in the late-seventies. Finally we were of enough status to play in these exalted locations. Then we played in clubs and we toured. By then we had records out. So the main Phoenix scene was probably ’80 to ’84.
MSL: What was the impetus for going to L.A.? When was the first time you went to L.A.? How did that come about?
DB: The Consumers. When they had moved to L.A., I had made friends with a couple of them. I sent them tapes once the Meat Puppets were starting to record, just practices, not albums. That stuff started circulating around our friends from the Consumers’ circles, and the ones that liked us invited us to L.A. to do shows. The first show we played in L.A. was with 45 Grave....Maybe that was the first show we played in Phoenix. No, it was with Vox Pop, which was basically the same group of guys, [drummer] Don Bolles. We also played with Human Hands, who was David Wiley, the singer of the Consumers, and his friends, Monitor, who took us under their wing and really liked our stuff. When Monitor came to Phoenix or when Human Hands came to Phoenix, we would open for them. And then, you know, a half-a-dozen bands in town got to know each other. We started to be able to do shows in rented halls. Some of the other bands, who were actually a little bit more successful playing a little more mainstream sounds, started having some of us open for them. Basically Monitor and the Human Hands and the Los Angeles Free Music Society adopted us and began to have us over to do shows. Eventually we met up with Black Flag, through our connections with a company that was just distributing Monitor’s records. We met Joe Carducci, who was going to put out a record with us. When he went to work for SST, he arranged for us to put out records with them.
MSL: So you become a touring band, a band that outgrows Phoenix, but as opposed to some of your friends in the Consumers and the Liars and 45 Grave and the Germs, you guys stay in Phoenix. Why don’t you go to L.A. or somewhere else?
DB: That is a good question. You could just as easily ask, “Why did the other guys move?”
MSL: Well, the answer to that is that the industry is in L.A.
DB: I suspect that, first of all, it’s not just the industry in L.A.; there’s a party scene in L.A. The three of us were never particularly social. We didn’t really like to party that much, at least not back then. I never really did, anyway. I didn’t have a great urge to go out and hang out. We didn’t have a lot of money. We didn’t want to work.
We didn’t work. The last job I had was parking cars, which I did for two weekends. Cris and I both were parking cars for a guy, and we quit in order to play a gig. That was the last time we worked.
So one of the main reasons Cris and Curt didn’t move out was because they were living in homes supplied by their mom, who was a real estate agent, and had a little bit of money through her father, their grandfather. So she was basically keeping those guys going. They were getting a lot of help from their mom, and so was I cuz ultimately I was living with them. So I’d say the main reason we didn’t move out of Phoenix was because Vera White, their mom, supported us the whole time. Ultimately you can’t disregard her input to our group, cuz we didn’t work. It’s not like she showered us with money, but those guys had some inheritance from the family, and we just did gigs, and we hung out. Plus Curt got twins fairly early on. We were just kind of homebodies.
MSL: In the long run, in the fifteen years you were in the band, how did staying in Phoenix influence your career?
DB: It probably kept us going. It was an insulated scene. Mostly we relied on each other, doing our own little thing. We didn’t see anything we liked better than what we saw, what we already had. There was no reason for us to leave because we weren’t discontented.
I think we’ve always been of the opinion that we controlled our career. So it was our choice to stay. Staying in Phoenix didn’t influence us; we influenced ourselves by deciding to stay in Phoenix. Obviously I don’t know what it’s like to not be in Phoenix, so I couldn’t really say. I would assume if we had left and lived in a city that had, like, hundreds of bands, we might have broken up if somebody had gotten in our ear and said, “You need something better, you need a better band.” But since we more or less hung out together, and we were bigger fish in a smaller pond, we probably got more attention, and more sycophantic attention, than if we had been in L.A. and had to compete for the same piece of pie with other bands. Anybody who didn’t like us sucked, and anybody who liked us could bow down. We just ran our own thing the way we wanted it. We didn’t have any pressure. We never got chased out of town by the police.
It wasn’t until later when we started being a much larger band, and things began to become unpleasant for us, Curt decided to move out to L.A. Then I decided to move out of Phoenix for a while. We stayed because it worked for us right out of the chute. We didn’t feel like we were struggling. I’m sure bands leave Phoenix because they feel like they deserve better, and they figure they can get it somewhere else. But we were content with what we were getting. We got good success. We were able to travel to other cities. We could leave. You go out to L.A. and people are living underneath desks, and they’re living off of handouts from the guitarist’s dad and bags of thrift store clothes. What, are we gonna go: “Oh, God, we gotta get in on this! This is what we want!” We had a better deal at home.
MSL: And forever more you’re “that band from Phoenix” whenever anything is written about you.
DB: That’s another thing that helped us, being in Phoenix. In the early-eighties, there was a push to regionalize punk rock, to Americanize it, by “Here’s a scene from this city. Here’s a scene from this city. This type of music is indigenous to here.” So that was kind of a media-hype play. It suited us very well. People were interested in that kind of thing. “Here’s the bands from Milwaukee, here are the bands from Seattle, here are the bands from Phoenix.” Unfortunately, I don’t think the Meat Puppets actually represented Phoenix the way Phoenix actually was. Phoenix is not cow punk. Phoenix is not psychedelic. Alice Cooper represents the Phoenix music style better than the Meat Puppets do. But if you really want to dice it, well, you gotta find the common ground between us and Alice Cooper, and you’ll get a better picture of it.
MSL: Did you listen to country music when you were in high school?
DB: Not at all. None of us listened to country music. We were all into progressive music. Curt liked more rock and roll than Cris or I. Cris was really into fusion jazz. I was really into the bands I mentioned earlier. But none of us listened to country music. That country music thing is obviously filtered through the Grateful Dead and Neil Young. We could pretend—wink, wink, nudge, nudge—that it’s country, but it’s actually Neil Young.
MSL: I wonder if there were more country music radio stations in Phoenix than, say, L.A. Just walking around you might have heard a little bit and saw cowboys once in a while.
DB: Of course. Certainly the cowboys were at school. If we saw them, we would walk the other way. These are the people that would pick on us. These were not people that we emulated or idealized at all. That was another concept of the punk rock regionalism—when we were starting to embrace these styles—this was a reproach model of people who used to beat up on us. It’s like: “We’re only pretending to be country because we’re saying, ‘We now own country and you can’t pick on us anymore.’” I think this is part of the whole impetus of the American punk rock scene in general. For us to take over, not for us to express any love of the people who tormented us as children. We were erasing country music and taking it on.
When we were putting out our first record with the guys from Monitor, they were actually going “We’re gonna get you guys on country music radio!”
We were like “No, we’re really actually not gonna get on country music radio.“
They were thinking that we could make “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” or “Walking Boss” a single and put it out on mainstream country back in, like, 1981, when they were playing disco country.
But country music had a couple of major stations out here. There was a major country station in Phoenix that was a nationwide hit breaker owned by Buck Owens. But it wasn’t like we had anything to do with it.
MSL: What about your more contemporary life, Derrick? You’ve been out of Meat Puppets now longer than you were actually in the Meat Puppets as an active musician. You work for Whole Foods. What’s your official title?
DB: I’m the Systems Integrator for the Arizona Metro, which basically means that I’m the top [Information Technology] guy for the seven stores in Arizona.