Interview: the Melvins
Well it’s what I do for a living. I don’t have much time to sit around and do nothing. Being a musician means you have to fucking hustle, at least for us. We never had that big hit song, so it’s always been a hustle to make it work.
On a rare night off for the band during a hectic touring schedule. I managed to grab a quick phone call with Melvins drummer Dale Crover about the band collaborations, his impressive roster of side projects and the bands plans for the future.
(((o))): Thanks for your time. You’ve just arrived in the U.K. ahead of a run of shows over here. How is the tour going so far?
Yeah, we’ve pretty much been sitting in the van all day driving. We just played in Belgium last night and then we crossed over in the tunnel and now we’re ready to go. We did mainland Europe with a Swedish band called Shitkid. I found these guys online, I can’t even remember where the fuck I saw it, and first of all I loved the name of the band when I saw it. Then I found out that Iggy Pop had played them on his show on BBC Radio, so I needed to check them out. I saw one of their videos and it was really cool. I think they made their record on GarageBand and everything they did seemed great; I was pleasantly surprised. We were looking for an opening band for the European shows and I showed Buzz and he dug it too, so we got ‘em onboard. They’ve been highly entertaining throughout the tour, which is good for us and they have no inhibitions at all so it’s been a blast. We generally get stuck playing with regular rock bands. If we don’t pick the bands, we get some stoner rock band or something. I like some of that but there’s very little that’s really new or interesting to me. I like that these guys are taking rock n roll, twisting it and doing something totally different with it.
For the U.K. shows we have Jon Spencer with us. He really wanted to do some shows with us so we thought let’s do it now. His band are fucking great. We were all really big fans of Pussy Galore, Blues Explosion and Boss Hog and pretty much everything he’s been involved in. He has Bob Bert (drummer from Pussy Galore) with him. In fact, they have two drummers with them, a guy who plays a regular drum set and Bob who’s playing the Pussy Galore drum set, basically a big gas tank on top of a bass drums and a bunch of pieces of metal and giant springs that he hits with a hammer. Yeah, they’re great and I think people over here will dig it.
(((o))): This is the first chance we have had in the U.K. to see this line up of the Melvins. What does this line up bring that’s different to other incarnations of the band?
We not only have Steve MacDonald, who is one of the best bass players in the world, and we also have Jeff Pinkus, who is also one of the best bass players in the world. Both of those guys have huge personalities and are great individuals. People say to me “I don’t even know who to fucking watch on stage anymore”. You’ve got four guys up there that are completely different to everything else. We had done a bunch of touring with Jeff in the past, and that started up because Jared (Big Business and one time Melvins bassist) was on paternity leave, so Jeff being a long time friend was a good choice as he’d always shown an interest in playing with us. He played a bunch of shows, but as he lived in Texas it was difficult to rehearse together. We wanted to do some recording with Jeff because he’s a great songwriter, so when we in the middle of recording A Walk With Love & Death we had Jeff come out and record an EP full of songs. As that went along, we thought “What would it be like if we got Jeff and Steve on an album?” And from the moment they both plugged in we were like “oh fuck yeah, let’s do this”. We’ve never done anything like this before and these guys are so good players, it’s going to be fucking great. We’ll probably try to do another record with this line up and write with that in mind. Pinkus Abortion Technician started out as three or four songs but slowly we all started coming forward with songs and it quickly turned into a full length album.
(((o))): That last few line ups have seemed much of a collaborative way of working?
This is probably the first record that Buzz didn’t write 90% of. His main contribution this time around was lyrically, we already had the tunes done. He finally got to have a hit of a break.
(((o))): How easy is it to adapt to all the line up changes you have had over the years?
We knew it would be no problem at all. We have toured with both of these guys and they’re our peers. I mean me, Jeff and Steve are the same age and we’ve known each other that long it’s just worked really well.
(((o))): As well as collaborations with other people coming into the Melvins, you have also worked with other bands, such as pulling doubly duty on the Melvins / Redd Kross tour last year. How do you keep up your intense tour schedule with that kind of work rate?
Performance enhancing drugs. Lots and lots of caffeine. All legal drugs, no speed or cocaine or anything like that, just lots and lots of caffeine. We are definitely going to do that again at some point. I’m still in Redd Kross, and we are working on a new record and we’ll be touring in the US in December with my solo band opening for them, so I get to do that all again. I know when that record comes out next year there will be another Melvins / Redd Kross tour. We have a somewhat limited time schedule so if we can kill two birds with one stone, then I’m all for that.
(((o))): As well as performing two sets in one night, you have done many sets as part of a two drummer line up. What sort of work goes into making that happen?
Just lots of practice to the point where you know exactly what the other person is doing and about to do. Music is cool that way, you can build up and ESP when working with someone that closely. There was a lot of that and when it clicked, I saw a lot of smiling faces, which was cool. We’ve known those guys for a long time and we all like the same kind of music. They were a punk rock band that weren’t like a Mohawk band just trying to play fast stuff. They were much more “we like Black Flag, but we also like KISS” and that was the way the Melvins were when I first met those guys. I think that’s why that particular group of people worked so well together.
(((o))): Outside of the Melvins you have a lot going on, with the likes of Redd Kross, Hew Time and your own solo project, you obviously like to keep busy?
Well it’s what I do for a living. I don’t have much time to sit around and do nothing. Being a musician means you have to fucking hustle, at least for us. We never had that big hit song, so it’s always been a hustle to make it work. Since the first time I came over to Europe, which I think was 1991, I went back home and didn’t have a job to go back to, so I made that jump right there and then and decided to make it my way of life, which is why so much stuff comes out. It’s what I do.
(((o))): So how did all of the projects come about. They seem either very collaborative or 90% you?
Yeah, there were a couple of other people involved in the solo album. Toshi Kasai was one of the main guys. He’s worked with the Melvins now since about 2001 I think. He’s engineered pretty much every record and we’re partners. We have a studio with him and he’s a really good engineer and a damn good musician too, and because we have a studio is how I was able to make that record. It’s like “I own the place, so let’s do this”.
Hooking up with Joyful Noise Recordings was cool for the Hew Time project. They’ve been long-time fans of stuff I’ve done so they put out this crazy ten-inch record. A clear record with six spindle holes in it and whichever spindle you use you get a different track. They were these little drum songs I’d been working on. All these records were made on a lathe from the 1950’s and really time consuming to make so they only made 100 of them and they sold out in about ten minutes. People seemed to really more of that so I came up with the idea of a solo record with hear songs and a bunch of new ones. Hopefully I’ll get time to do another, it’s definitely something I want to do.
(((o))): That was next on my list, working with Joyful Noise. They seem like a really cool label to work with, very experimental in the way they do things and the music they release?
Totally, they keep trying to top the previous release they have done. That was their approach when I did the cymbal record and the 12 sided record. When I did the solo record and I didn’t really have a band and I knew I wasn’t going to really tour it they suggested I do a video instead. They’ve worked with a bunch of artists that don’t tour but they still need to spread the word so we did that. Adam Hardy (Dumb Numbers, another project Dale has worked on) had directed videos for people like Lou Barlow so he got on board. I had the idea of because I played most of the instruments on the record, there’s this Paul McCartney video from the 1970’s where he did the same things and then he did a video playing all of the the different characters. He dressed like Ron Mark from Sparks and Buddy Holly, so I wanted to rip that idea off but make it where all of the characters were total creeps. My vocal character is supposed to be based on Bryan Ferry. Kind of a cross of Bryan Ferry and Frank from Blue Velvet. My buddy Dan Southwick played the bass player and I was like “you’ve got to be totally androgynous, like in a Bowie kind of way” and then he suggested being Tracey Pew from The Birthday Party and that was fucking perfect. Toshi was in there as the Japanese Jimmy Page character and then played the rest. I’m my younger self on the drums and then on guitar, that character was from a Captain Beefheart appearance from a German TV show. I love that because each member of the band looked like a total weirdo. That was a big influence on me for the video, and musically too
(((o))): Your work covers such a wide spectrum of styles. Who would you say are the biggest influences as a drummer and a writer?
Oh, God, there’s been a billion. I don’t know where to begin. I like all of the normal drummers you would hear people say. Obviously like John Bonham, Keith Moon and Ian Pace is a big one for me. I saw deep Purple in about 1985 and I was completely blown away with how good he was. He is a very underrated drummer; I rate him very highly. I also like drummer that aren’t too fancy but just work well with heir bands like Ringo Starr and Charlie Watts. I couldn’t imagine a different drummer playing with those two bands when I listen to them, what they added was great. When it comes to songwriting, I don’t even know my influences come from everywhere and different things affect different parts of songs. I just love music, I love listening to it, and I listen to a lot of it, I just love finding new things that inspire me to do something else.
(((o))): So did you say you had something else lined up for the end of the year after these shows?
Yeah, we got a few shows on the WestCoast with The Dale Crover Band opening for Redd Kross. They have some reissues coming out in December and they wanted to tour to promote them, and then we will start out with the Melvins again in January.
(((o))): What can we expect from both Dale Crover and the Melvins in 2019?
I know we are back to the UK at some point. I’m not sure when that will be exactly yet, but its definitely one of the things we will be doing. We’ve got more massive tours and some recording. More of the same, a lot more of just what we do.
(((o))): Finally, I was unsure about asking about this, but it seems to be huge news so would be wrong not to ask. There has been quite a lot of fuss made over here about the Nirvana reunion show Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear recently did. What was the reaction in the states like?
We’ve been over here during all of that so I don’t know. I always felt like even with Dave and the Foo Fighters, how come he doesn’t do any Nirvana songs. As much as he’s built up the Foo Fighters on their own thing and that’s cool, its like that’s where he came from and I think in a way you owe it to people to do a couple of those tunes, even if it was the Foo Fighters doing it. I think that’s its really cool that they are doing something now, and they should do a massive fucking tour, and not feel bad about it at all. They have a great legacy and should celebrate that.
(((o))): Having played in part in Nirvana, would you be interested if you were asked?
Oh absolutely. Kurt was a great friend of mine. Some of the first recordings he did were with me, so I had a very strong connection with him. We’ll see what happens I guess, and what those guys want to do with it, and whatever happens happens, but they should go for it and enjoy it. Honour that legacy, its about time they did.
The Melvins play Norwich Waterfront (Oct. 24), Cardiff Y Plas (Oct 25), Leeds Stylus (Oct 26), Manchester Academy 2 (Oct 28), Brighton Peoples Republic (Oct 29) and London KOKO (Oct 30). Support comes from Jon Spencer