It’s pretty normal to follow in your parents’ footsteps. Some kids pick up their parents’ trades or continue the family business. Others are inspired by the way their parents lived, and it molds their careers. But what happens when you want to play music; and your dad played with Kurt Cobain?
Elmo Kirkwood, 28, is a character to say the least. The Phoenix resident has played in bands since he was a teenager and plans on recording an album with his new band, Flamingo, later this year.
Elmo’s father, Curt, who resides in Austin, is the singer and guitarist of the Meat Puppets, in which Elmo’s uncle, Cris, plays bass. The band formed in the early ‘80s and to this day has released 14 studio albums. Curt and his brother Cris were also guest musicians for Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged show in 1993. In fact, Kurt Cobain was a big Meat Puppets fan.
“I don’t mention it to most people,” said Elmo in regards to his father’s career. “People know and people find out. [His] music is remarkably different, and what I do is entirely different.”
Like any musician, Elmo said he wishes to be evaluated by his own skill level and style and not that of his dad’s.
“He’s just my dad,” he said. “We’re really good friends, he and I. We get along real well.”
Curt and Elmo have toured together, but Elmo said he’s self-taught.
“As a teenager it was the only thing he was interested in,” he said. “I always liked music a lot, and I started playing guitar when I was like 11 or 12. I started bands when I was 14, but I didn’t actually think I’d pursue it for real until I got out of high school.”
Curt said he wasn’t surprised to see his son indulge in playing music because “it’s a lot of fun to do.”
“I never taught him how to do that,” said Curt about Elmo’s guitar skills. “[Elmo and his twin sister, Cat] were just around it a lot, so I think they picked up some of the better parts of [music] which is the enjoyment of it and the scene itself – not to so much be a part of that but figure out what’s good about it.”
Elmo said he’s not sure what he’d be like if his father hadn’t been a musician.
“I was exposed to a lot of high art and trippy shit early on – a lot of stuff that people would consider more adult – but I think my sister and I had the right sort of upbringing to comprehend and deal with it,” Elmo said. “To me it’s totally normal, but I suppose it wasn’t as vanilla as other people’s upbringing but it was cool.”
As Elmo began to come into his own as a musician, his father’s career followed him.
“For a while I felt like it was kind of a burden because there’s a sort of inherent comparison that people want to throw at me,” Elmo said. “They want to gauge what you’re doing artistically based on someone else’s stuff, and it just so happens to be your father who happens to be viewed as prolific.”
In 2006 Elmo accompanied his dad on tour when Curt released his first solo album, Snow. Curt said they play naturally together on stage, and last year he invited Elmo to play with the Meat Puppets. As concerned as Elmo was, it all came together quite well.
“I expressed to him that if I didn’t feel like what I was doing contributed anything that was substantial, I wouldn’t pursue it beyond the first round of shows, but I feel like it’s worked out,” Elmo said.
Just like any son, gearing up to go to work with dad felt a bit awkward.
“I try not to get embarrassed by playing with my dad,” Elmo said. “I shouldn’t, but it’s like doing anything with your parents. It’s kind of odd at times, but it’s cool enough that I can get past that and enjoy myself.“
Although their music and styles are different, Elmo was the one who influenced his father’s career rather than vice versa.
“Right around the time I was making my second record it was imminent,” said Curt.
His kids were changing the way he worked.
“I figured I should write some better songs and that was an inspiration, more like I had to think about something besides myself,” Curt said.
“[Elmo and Cat] use to bounce around when they heard [my music] and were inspired by the drums,” Curt said. “We thought that was cool because we always tried to make stuff that was initially for children and whoever else. We figured if they liked it that was pretty cool.”
This year will be the first time in in quite some time that Elmo and Curt are together for Father’s Day. They both share a laid back demeanor and a sharp sense of humor. There is also plenty of mutual respect.
When it comes to his father’s music, Elmo said he likes it “more than he’d admit to most people.” As for Curt, he said he’s always been a fan of his son’s work.
“I like what he does, and I’m a little biased probably but at the same time he’s always held my interest,” Curt said. “He doesn’t limit himself and he’s always trying to find out what ‘it’ is, whatever ‘it’ is.”
Elmo jokingly agreed.
“He should be proud of me. I’m an amazing child,” he said with a laugh.
A Father's Day Concert w/Curt and Elmo Kirkwood, MIM Music Theater, June 17, 8 p.m., $28