You may have heard about this little band from up around Seattle. They make a loud noise and have become cult music gods over their thirty-four year career. They’re called the Melvins. “We’re definitely an acquired taste,” singer Buzz Osborne told Kerrang! Magazine back in 1992, after they had been hailed as the punk messiahs that infatuated their Aberdeen, Washington, fellow native Kurt Cobain.
The Melvins were not for the faint-of-heart and they were not for passersby. Their music was hypnotically, sonically and pulsatingly addictive. You could either stand there and be sucked in or you flung out your arms and injected yourself into the music itself. Either way, if you loved them, you loved them; if you didn’t, they didn’t care.
They left the rain of the Pacific Northwest and headed down to San Francisco. They made more records and played more shows. They got caught up in the whirlwind of Seattle mania with Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney. They ignored it and they didn’t change.
But lo and behold after all they have done, in 2017 they still had a first left up their sleeve – a double album. A Walk With Love & Death, which came out last month, is a first for the Melvins. According to drummer Dale Crover, it’s “One giant, dark, moody, psychotic head trip!”
Crover is having a double home run game this season. Not only does he add drums and “assorted noise” to this new Melvins record but his solo album, The Fickle Finger Of Fate, came out this past Friday. He recently told Rolling Stone that there was, “No shortage of wild effects,” although it showcased “A melodic sensibility weaned on Sixties pop and Seventies arena rock.” That being said, of the twenty tracks, only six have vocals. The rest range from a few seconds of musical surreality to longer psychedelic mood-swingers.
We caught up with Crover a few weeks ago for a quick chat about all the music happening in his life.
You have a brand new record with the Melvins and you have your own record, The Fickle Finger Of Fate. What can you tell us about how your record came about?
Yeah, I’ve been working with this label, Joyful Noise, for the last couple of years, doing a few different projects. I’ve done a few different things that were drum-oriented, I guess more arty than rock records, that were like weird little drum bits. They approached me with this idea to make this record that had six spindle holes in it and for each spindle hole, wherever you put it down on your turntable, there would be a groove that would go with that spindle hole. If you had your record off-center you would look at it and go, how is that going to play? (laughs) It looks really strange when you have it on your turntable. But it was a very cool idea and it was very time-consuming for them to make. They only made like a hundred or so of these things and they sold out really quick. And with the format too, there were time constraints with it, so some of the songs are very short, like thirty seconds long.
Anyway, since there were only a hundred made, a lot of people missed out on the opportunity to buy the thing, and we heard some complaints, which people always complain about stuff no matter what you do (laughs). But I came up with the idea of making a full-length record and adding more regular songs along with it, cause I’ve also done things in the past with one of the bands on the label called Qui. We did a split seven-inch together and that was more of a song. I’ve had some other songs that have come out on seven-inch the last couple of years too. So this all led up to me making a full-length record.
How long have the songs with lyrics been around?
Some of them are new, some of them were old. One of the songs called “Little Brother” is probably the oldest one. I can’t remember when I wrote it, but two or three years ago probably. It’s a song I wrote and I didn’t exactly know what I was going to do with it. I didn’t know where it would fit, what it would fit on. I also have another band that I play guitar and sing for a long time called Altamont, and to me it didn’t seem like it really fit there. So it just sat for whatever reason. It was for my own amusement or whatever. Then when I came up with the idea of doing the solo record, Oh, that would be perfect for this! And I had a few other songs that were kind of written in somewhat of the same vein and somewhat the same key and I knew those would fit together.
Are lyrics a natural part of your creativity or do they take more time to happen?
Depends. I mean, yeah, I have to sit down and think about them and write about them. Usually for me, that’s what comes last. It usually always starts with a guitar idea first and then I will come up with a song structure from there and then I can always tell where I want the vocals to be. I could always come up with the melody for the vocals before the actual lyrics themselves. And usually if I come up with a couple of good lines, you know, I‘ll think of a few good lines that fit and then with that in mind I can write around that and come up with stuff.
Your daughter plays on the record. How did you get her to come record with you?
I just brought her over to the studio and pretty much forced her to do it (laughs). No, I asked her if she wanted to and she did want to. She was a little timid at first but after messing around for a little bit then she wasn’t at all. She can be a real big ham. You just have to get her in the right mood.
Now tell us about the Melvins album. It’s a big album for you guys, literally.
Yeah, it’s a double album. The first record, I don’t know if it’s necessarily a straight-forward Melvins record cause I think they’re all different, but I guess it’s more song-oriented. The other one is more of a soundtrack; not necessarily a soundtrack that’s a soundtrack record with songs – it’s like a soundtrack that goes to a movie. The soundtrack actually came first in this case. The movie is being made around the soundtrack. It’s almost like the soundtrack was the script for the movie.
You’ve made a lot of music in your career. Does that surprise you, that you had that much in you?
Well, it’s been a long time (laughs). I don’t know if I ever thought about it but yeah, we have a ton of records. We stopped counting after a while. In fact, we were talking about the fact that we don’t really need to make another record ever. If we didn’t want to we probably would be able to continue to exist as a band, tour, and do all those things and it would still be fun. But we like making records.
When did you start playing drums and what kind of kit did you learn on?
I was probably about ten or eleven when I started playing drums. I bought my own kit through money I earned from my paper route. It was second hand and I bought it probably through the paper or something like that, the want ads. I think it was $300 bucks maybe. Maybe it was cheaper than that, maybe a little bit cheaper than that, but it only had a bass drum and two toms. It was an old sixties Pearl. It was red sparkle. Slowly I had to get pieces for it. I got a snare drum next and a cymbal and hi-hat cymbals and from there broke everything and had to rebuy everything over and over and over again (laughs).
Well, I learned by playing to KISS Alive. KISS was the band I really liked and learned from. From there I got into heavy metal stuff like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. I thought those bands were really great. Those bands had really great drummers. Heavy metal drumming in general, you know, cause heavy metal drummers are really good and that was the drumming that I wanted to do and imitate. Guys like Clive Burr, I always thought he was really great. And then the usual suspects like John Bonham and Neil Peart, all the hotshot drummers.
When did you realize that you’re not a stereotypical drummer?
Definitely that style developed in the Melvins and having Buzz as a songwriter. He comes up with a lot of drums. As a songwriter, he should. He thinks about that stuff all the time and thinks about it for my style and all that.
Being that you do take drums to a new experimental level, how much further can you take this instrument?
We’ll see (laughs). Into space!
Is anybody out there blowing your mind cause they are advancing it?
Yeah, there are guys that are super technical and super good that I really like, like Jojo Mayer, who I think is a really good drummer. I think his ideas on drumming are right on and cool. Though it’s something I would never be able to do, I think he’s really good at it. I see drummers that are influenced by older drummers that I’m kind of surprised about. There is this band called the Lemon Twigs and they’re these two brothers that play in this band and they both switch off playing drums and guitar, and they are both really good drummers. One of them plays like a cross between Keith Moon and Roger Taylor from Queen. One is maybe a little bit more flashy but they are both really, really good. It’s nice to see guys playing rock drums like that. You don’t see that too often.
In regards to the Melvins, why did a band like the Melvins work?
I keep asking myself that very same question. Actually, we keep saying, when is it going to work? (laughs) I think by our own persistence. We just never stopped and never quit. We never gave up.
What is the most complicated song in your catalog to transfer to the live stage?
There are songs that are physically hard and then there are songs that are like sonically. Like, when we record songs, we don’t necessarily think, Oh, how are we going to do this live? We know it doesn’t have to be like the record. Actually, there is a song [“Sober-delic”] we’re playing now that’s from the new record that we decided to switch keys completely. And we did that only because we didn’t want to keep switching tunings in the set. When we work out a set for live we try not to have any lulls in it. We keep everything moving and flowing. And we’re already doing three different tunings so we decided, let’s just change keys. I haven’t heard the record in a while so now I can’t even remember what the other key sounds like (laughs). I remember at first thinking, Oh it’s odd but it works. And now I don’t even notice. Nobody has said anything about it yet. Now they will since I’m giving it away (laughs).
Is it safe to say you guys are going to be on the road for the rest of the year?
It is safe to say. We’re going to be touring until November, a world tour – just like bands used to do in the good old days.
Where are you tonight?
We are in Seattle, Washington
That’s kind of like your old stomping grounds
It is. It’s one of our hometowns.
Would you mind making a comment on Chris Cornell?
That was a real surprise to everybody. We’re good friends with the Soundgarden guys and they were just as surprised and shocked as anybody else because nobody saw this coming. It wasn’t like some of the other famous rock stars from here that had unfortunate deaths; only with them you just kind of knew something bad was going to happen. With Chris, there were no signs of anything like that going on. The whole thing is a big mystery. He was in the Melvins documentary recently and he always had good things to say about us and Soundgarden were one of the first bands that I saw from here that I really liked a lot. It’s a bummer, a real bummer and tragic.
What has been one of your first big I can’t believe I’m here moments?
Gosh, I don’t know. There’s been a lot, you know, whether it’s bands I’ve gotten to play with or being able to make records in the studio or anything like that. There have been hundreds of those moments. And it still happens all the time.
Do you think you’ll still be playing fifty years from now?
I kind of doubt it. I’d be ninety-nine. I kind of hope not (laughs). I’m hoping that I won’t have to by that time. Somebody will be fanning me and feeding me grapes, if I’m lucky – and maybe changing my diaper or something.
Well don’t forget to come to New Orleans before then
New Orleans is always crazy and they are bat shit crazy for the Melvins. It’s one of the first towns outside of Seattle that went bat shit crazy for the Melvins. So we love New Orleans. It’s one of our favorite places to play.
Photograph by Shervin Lainez; Melvins photo by Chris Casella