Latest release: The Bride Screamed Murder (Ipecac)
Melvins drummer Dale Crover is gearing up for his latest challenge when he takes my call on a stinking hot Australia Day. Since the beginning of January, the quartet has been selecting an album from their vast discography and performing it in its entirety at a special show every Friday night at Spacelands in Los Angeles. For this week’s show, the group is playing one of their most acclaimed and expansive.
“We’re playing Stoner Witch, probably our most adventurous record… actually, I think we’ve been saving the hardest one til last because it’s been hard for us to figure out the songs,” Crover says. “There are some songs that have never been played live, or have been, but it’s been a long time. We’ve done a few of them, but there are definitely some that we have never done. Ever.”
Stoner Witch is a particular favourite of both fans and scenesters alike, so it’s obviously important they don’t mess it up.
“We just had a rehearsal today and everything’s sounding good. It’s gonna be fun. Should be a good time.”
Having a good time is one of the only things the Melvins has really cared about. Their quirky humour and laidback attitude seems to have helped them become one of those bands that appear to be universally adored. Even on troll-laden flame-pits like the YouTube comments board it’s hard to find anyone with a bad word to say about them.
“Maybe we’re just not that popular that we just don’t get that kind of comment,” Dale Crover says with a laugh.
Of course, Crover is probably only half joking. While they have never attained mainstream success, Melvins have enjoyed a cult status to rival that of anyone. Close friends with Tool, a major influence on Kurt Cobain (who at one stage auditioned as their bass player and went on to produce Houdini), and indeed the entire Seattle grunge movement, they have also inspired bands as diverse as Crowbar, Mastodon, High on Fire, Strapping Young Lad and the Dillinger Escape Plan, and colloborated with Lustmord and Jello Biafra among others. The Japanese band Boris took a Melvins song title as their name, early bassist Matt Lukin was a founding member of Mudhoney, and both Crover and wild-haired singer/guitarist Buzz Osbourne have played in bands like Nirvana and Fantômas. They may not be “popular” in a conventional sense of the word, but Melvins are certainly well-known. Being named as an influence by so many must lead them to frustration sometimes. Have they ever come across an artist they dislike who has named them as an inspiration?
“Well not necessarily that,” Crover says, “but sometimes we’ve come across a band who’s said, ‘Oh yeah, we’re really influenced by them’, and we’re like ‘What are you talking about?’ Because we don’t hear it, you know? Not that I would say that to any of them. I mean we get that from other bands all the time, and I’m like, Well, I’m not hearing it, but good luck with that, man!”
Attempting to pin down the band’s sound is no easy task. While characterised by slow, immense riffs and sludgy guitar, Melvins aren’t averse to tackling any style or delving into experimentation. Crover and Osbourne have a vast array of musical and cultural influences, and aren’t afraid to incorporate them into what the group does. This has made their twenty-strong album catalogue quite a diverse library.
“We’ve never wanted to do the same kind of thing twice, and we like all kinds of music. I don’t think there’s one kind of music that I can’t find something that I like out of it,” Crover says. “I listen to all kinds of shit, and I know that Buzz does too. We’re influenced by many many different things. And not just music too. There’s artwork, movies, all that kind of shit too. I think when we make a record, it sounds like us. It’s not like we’ve completely switched to where it doesn’t sound completely at all like us. I mean you can tell it’s us, it’s just a different style of song.”
Many bands talk about the disparate factors that influence their music, but unlike Melvins, the vast majority of them merely end up sounding like their idols, whether it be Nirvana, Iron Maiden, or even Melvins. Crover chuckles a little at the mention of Maiden, the headlining act on the Soundwave festival of which they are about to take part.
“A friend of ours was just talking to us today about Iron Maiden being on the tour, and he’s like, you know, ‘How much new stuff will they play? They’re not doing any of their old stuff at all!'” the drummer says, laughing. “And Buzz was like, ‘Well, what does that matter? They’ve always made the same record anyway! [sings “Powerslave” riff]’ And [our friend] was like, ‘Yeah, you’re right’. But you’ve got AC/DC too. They’ve made the same record for years! But that’s ok if you can get away with it. The problem is, I don’t think we could get away with it.”
From their brief period as a hardcore band through to their sludgy, bottom-feeding experimental rock moments, pushing the limits of their sound and fully exploiting their influences has ensured that unpredictability is the only thing to be sure of when it comes to a Melvins album. Colossus of Destiny, for example, is a departure even for them. They’ve simply never worried about how others want them to sound.
“People are always afraid of, you know, ‘What will people think if I do this?’ Or, ‘I won’t do that, it’s too weird’. We’ve never been afraid of that kind of thing. We were influenced by the Who and Kiss and the Stooges… bands that didn’t give a fuck, you know?”
It’s rare when bands get to share a stage with their heroes. It’s rarer still when a band’s hero chooses to share the stage with them. Yet in the Melvins’ case, it just seems natural that Gene Simmons would want to perform with them, and not just for a song or two. And while “we didn’t get paid”, Crover is still upbeat about the experience.
“[It] was pretty fucking unreal”, he says. “I mean, we were playing his songs. He wasn’t playing our songs. We stroked his ego [by covering “Goin’ Blind”] and I guess he didn’t mind stroking ours. So it was all good. We got to do a full set together, and it was great.”
He’s also stoked about returning to Australia, which has been a Melvins regular haunt after previous visits with Tool and the Big Day Out, among others. On their last local jaunt they played the Houdini album at Sydney’s Annandale Hotel. Crover doesn’t sound that keen on the prospect of February’s heat, however.
“We were down there for a Big Day Out, and it was so fucking hot it was crazy,” he says. But: “I’d rather heat than snow. I mean it’s winter here right now, and here in Los Angeles it’s hot. I’m outside, I’m gonna barbecue [later]. LA is a great place to be in the winter time. In the summer too! It’s probably my favourite place. It’s a great city here.”
He has fond memories of Australia, particularly of a visit several years ago when he and the band got to meet the backing band of the most famous singer ever.
“Melvins played at the Palace with Fantômas and Tomahawk in 2003, 2004? And I met Elvis’ band out there,” he says. “They were at our hotel. They were with this guy, an Australian Elvis impersonator guy… I can’t remember what his name was. We were at the hotel, and there was an older American guy there and I was talking to him on a day off. I asked him what he was doing there, and he said, ‘I play in a band’. So I said, ‘What band do you play in?’ And he was like, ‘The TCB Band’, and I went ‘Shit, you’re from Elvis’ band? What’s your name?’ And it was James Burton. Elvis’ 70s guitar player! So we ended up meeting the whole band. That was just so great, to see those guys down there.”
There are quite a number of bands on this year’s Soundwave bill that Melvins are friends with or have worked with over the years. Is there anyone Dale is keen to meet up with while he’s here?
“There’s definitely people we know on this tour, so we’ll catch up one way or another. But we’re really just looking forward to coming down there and hanging out.”