Chaton Sessions, Part One: "Out My Way"

by Derrick Bostrom in

In early 1986, the Meat Puppets convened in a Phoenix suburb to record the follow-up to 1985's "Up On The Sun." We had informed our label, S.S.T. Records, that we would no longer record in California. Henceforth, we would hire the studio of our choice, produce our own sessions, and deliver master tapes when they were completed.

Chaton Studio was a converted guest house behind the home of a wealthy Paradise Valley couple who'd started the studio to record the Phoenix Symphony. The studio impressed us as much for its relaxed isolated desert setting as for the pedigree of its house engineer. Steve Escallier's diverse client list included Fleetwood Mac, The Babys, Glen Campbell and Lawrence Welk.

The band was already behind schedule. Caught somewhat by surprise with a hit album on our hands, we'd spent most of the previous year either promoting "Up On The Sun" or recuperating from our heavy touring schedule. Curt's two-year-old twins occupied the lion's share of his attention. By the time we entered the studio, we'd only managed to bring a half dozen new songs to a point of completion. But touring was our only source of income and we needed new product to promote. Our plan was to release a quick EP, tour in the spring and get to work on a proper album in the summer.

I had problems with the project from the beginning. I hadn't warmed to songs like "She's Hot," "Mountain Line" or "Other Kinds Of Love" in rehearsal or on stage, but I hoped they'd reveal themselves to me in the studio. They never did. With their long instrumental passages and opaque incomplete lyrics, the tunes Curt brought to the table struck me as more appropriate for the Dixie Dregs than the Meat Puppets. Furthermore, they required a musical fluency beyond my reach. Curt seemed to be staking a claim as the indie Mahavishnu John McLaughlin of his day, but I was no Billy Cobham.

All the same, the few outtakes that survive reveal an undeniable craft. Laid bare here in various stages of completion, these tracks offer a rare inside view of our surprisingly disciplined work ethic. Song structures were fully realized by the time we got into the studio. Little is left to chance. Even the solos seem to have been composed beforehand. Cris appears to be having the most fun, whereas Curt and I are all business.

We had to work quickly. Since I never learned their lyrics or melodies, I didn't discover what the songs were actually "about" until after they were finished. We relied on working titles throughout the sessions. "Other Kinds Of Love" apparently enjoyed some input from Sandig at one point. "Not Swimming Ground" was so obscure that we were never able to come up with a proper title for it. Our decision to include "Good Golly Miss Molly" as the final track was a tacit admission to the paucity of our offerings.

Cris and Curt were proud of the finished product. Their playing was never better. Curt had put punk rock solidly behind him and was really starting to feel his oats as a songwriter. But I was left to scratch my head at the direction he was taking us. Even today, "Out My Way" feels like a wrong turn. I eventually came to appreciate the record, but I always thought of it as a lost opportunity. Lacking the tight immediacy and quirky charm of our best records, "Out My Way" struck me as self-indulgent and sterile, a brooding exercise in fretboard dexterity. It would be the first -- but alas, not the last -- of our misfires.