Interview: Melvins

We went out with Redd Kross, so I've done tours with Melvins where I've done double duties. I've been on stage basically all night and that's meaningful and exciting.

With their latest album Bad Mood Rising, Melvins demonstrate without doubt that they are still releasing vital and eclectic music so far into their career, in the same way that they have always done and that is on their own terms. With this album, their first on frequent label Amphetamine Reptile for a number of years and a long portion on the road, 2022 has been a memorable one for the band. Gavin Brown caught up with Melvins bass player Steven McDonald who discussed Bad Mood Rising and the band’s live shows this year as well as delving into what his other band Redd Kross are up to, and the forthcoming documentary about the group and tales of OFF!, Sparks, Tenacious D and Black Flag in an entertaining chat with a musician who has done so much from beginnings in the Californian hardcore scene to joining the Melvins.

E&D: The Melvins new album, Bad Mood Rising came out recently. Have you been pleased with with how it’s been received so far?   

Steven: Yeah, we’ve just been on tour and we played half the record, which was only two songs, but they’re long! Side A, I guess, from a vinyl perspective and people were being really responsive.

E&D: How was the tour and what were some of the highlights of the whole run?

Steven: We played 108 shows this year! The last tour went well. We did three legs. The first leg was supporting Ministry, so that was the beginning of us back out on the road after the pandemic. That was fun. It was in big rooms, so that was memorable to be playing these big theatres and stuff. The second two legs were headlining, all in the US. So we did 108 shows, only in the United States. and rarely did we play the same town twice. That’s a very unique feat that the Melvins can do. The last show in LA was a real blast. It was a Halloween gig, and I love that my kid was there. We played with these kids from Sonora, Mexico called Margaritas Podridas. They were dressed like grunge kids, like Courtney Love and that was fun.

E&D: What’s next for the Melvins touring wise next year and will you be making it  over to the UK for live dates?

Steven: I don’t have the current dates but I know we’re going to Europe and the UK next year. I don’t want to say when but I think it’s sometime late spring or early summer. Next year, as far as touring goes, it’s the 40th anniversary of the first Melvins record. I’m not sure when they start counting but 1983 is basically what they’ve considered the beginning of their origin story so 2023 is the 40th anniversary. We’ll be doing lots of shows, going to Europe would be the first time since 2019.

E&D: Have you talked about any new music at all?

Steven: Oh, yeah, I don’t think that’s ever gonna end. We record at the space that we also rehearse at and we work with the producer engineer Toshi Kasai. We always have something brewing, but but if you were talking to Buzz, he’d probably be more tight lipped anyways, and I might reveal things not knowing I’m supposed to be tight lipped! I would say we’re gonna do more. I don’t know what it is. We probably have done some of it already, and I’m not even sure!


E&D: You’ve been in the Melvins since 2015, what have been some of the highlights have been in that time with the band?

Steven: I really liked this last tour. Before the pandemic, we toured the world and we went out with Redd Kross, so I’ve done tours with Melvins where I’ve done double duties. I’ve been on stage basically all night and that’s meaningful and exciting. It’s unique for me to do that so that’s been memorable. I would say that there’s as far as the pure Melvins experience. The last tour and touring this new album, and not to be cliche but I remember always reading Paul Stanley interviews saying this new album is our best album with Animalize or whatever! The newest one, Bad Mood Rising, Buzz and I went to his house,  it was just the two of us and we made demos for about four days. Then I recorded on my laptop and that’s how the record started. Predominately everything on the record came out of stuff Buzz had started the songs on his own, but I wasn’t playing as much catch up when it came time to record for real because we had demoed it. Maybe that had something to do with it, but for whatever reason, this record has been the one that I’ve connected with the most to and that extended into touring the record. This last tour, we sounded great. I mean, those guys always sound good but I really felt like I knew how to fill in that space between the two of us and be doing my own thing, be heard, be unique, but then also be a really uniform fit with their pre existing sound.

E&D: Talking about Redd Kross. There’s a documentary coming out, can you tell us a bit about that and when we can expect it?

Steven: I know he’s aiming to get it out next year. I’m like, can you wait till 2024 because next year is Melvin’s 24th anniversary! I’m always juggling. I’ve got too many things going but that’s a good problem to have! The filmmaker has been working on it for a long time. It’s called Born Innocent: The Redd Kross story. Born Innocent is a reference to one of our early albums. I saw a saw cut of it and it’s hard for me to have much perspective since I am the subject of this guy’s passion project, but I know I wasn’t embarrassed. It seemed like it was good storytelling and he did it in a way that I would guess even if you knew nothing about the band, it would still be engaging, you would be compelled to not turn it off quickly because we have a long story. We started when I was 11 years old, and our first show was opening for Black Flag at an eighth grade graduation party and I was graduating sixth grade myself. It wasn’t even my graduation, it was our drummers and we got Black Flag to play the gig because they weren’t really known. They were just a local band we had befriended, or would let us hang out and let these little pesky little kids hang out with them. Then that story continues all the way till we made a new record in 2019, so it’s a long story!

E&D: Have you got plans for a new Redd Kross album at all?

Steven: I’m writing now, I’m hoping to have it done for a 2024 release. That’s why I’m like, let’s wait on the documentary. Whatever he’s gonna do, whatever he’s gonna do if he can get distribution. I know he’s sending it out to film festivals now, so hopefully it gets accepted. We’ll see what happens.

E&D: What are some of your fondest memories with Redd Kross?

Steven: I mean, a notable moment in our story was in early 1992. We went to England for the first time and we supported a Scottish band. We supported Teenage Fanclub on their Bandwagonesque tour, which was their sort of big moment when they got their wider acceptance. That was a dream for me to go to the UK and play. I grew up listening to Beatles records and Stones records and British music from many eras. It was exciting to go there. Our first show was in Nottingham.  I remember that first show being like not knowing what the audience would be like. We had never played outside of the US and then we found out, Oh, it’s probably kind of the same. We played and I was nervous, but it was fun!

E&D: Do you have good memories of starting and playing with OFF!?

Steven: I have good memories of it. Keith Morris gave me a CD said there were demos and all it was was just Dimitri playing riffs that sounded a lot like early Black Flag and I was like, okay, I can do that. That was a fun time, I recorded those three albums, and I am proud of the work identity.

E&D: How was the experience of playing with Tenacious D and recording with them? 

Steven: Dave Grohl and I were the rhythm section. Redd Kross went on hiatus in 97/98. I’d been doing Redd Kross for twenty years at that point, so I thought maybe I should reconsider some of my big picture plans that I had developed when I was 11 years old. Anyways, I was a little down, and I started going to comedy clubs a lot, and I discovered Tenacious D.  I mean, I didn’t discover them but I mean that’s where I found them and they quickly became my favourite band around 1998/1999. They were my favourite band, it was this comedy duo and they turned my frown upside down. Then my next ambition was to be involved with them somehow. I wanted to produce them, but they already had bigger sites in their eyes. The Dust Brothers ended up doing that,  who’d had big success with the Beastie Boys, and  I couldn’t compete with that, but they were very nice. They threw me a bone and they let me play bass and it was the first time they were electrified. It was sort of like Dylan in Newport, except it wasn’t in front of an audience, it was in ArcAngel, Neil Diamond’s recording studio which is pretty cool. It was Dave Grohl on drums who I’d known just a tiny bit, Redd Kross supported on an early Foo Fighters tour in the UK, so I knew Dave a little bit from that. Dave’s a very funny outgoing guy, Kyle and Jack obviously were just joke, joke, joke and Dave too and then I would jump in once in a while when I had something funny to say and then it was just back and forth. It was was a lot of fun and we basically went through the whole set live in this studio, in a  kind of old school style,  we’re all in the room together and it was awesome.


E&D: You mentioned Black Flag before. What your main memories of hooking up with Black Flag in that early hardcore scene?

Steven: It was really fun. It was kind of pre hardcore scene. We were lucky we got there right before the other teenagers got there. Black Flag used to rent a space, an old nearly abandoned Baptist Church, in a little town called Hermosa Beach, which is now like a fancy, gentrified town, but it used to be a very kind of beat up coastal town, and it was just our own little world. It was our own weird little punk rock enclave in 1979. Punk rock in 79 is already post punk, and the initial explosion of punk is over in the UK but in our little world, we’re still freaks that no one knows about and they have this golden space. The only other bands that were very young were Descendents. They were the other kids of that world but we all kind of sounded different and we were all just really big fans of each other. It was just kind of a magical moment, before it became a big popular thing where Black Flag would play shows and the LA riot squad would come and bust everything up. There was a wonderful little year at the birth of our band, where we got to really experience something special.

E&D: How was the experience of playing bass with Sparks and touring with them?

Steven: I did Sparks for 5 years, from like 2005 to 2009. I did the 21 nights they did at the Islington Academy which ended at the Shepherds Bush Empire with Exotic Creatures Of The Deep, that was our newest album at the time. I did 13 of the albums, so I can’t claim to have performed all of them, which I think was over 21 records, but they did them each and each night. It was during that craze, that All Tomorrow’s Parties moment where bands are playing an entire classic album. They’re like, Well, you know what, all of our albums are classics and we have more than any of you fuckers! It’s really impressive but it was insane that Russell that remembered all those lyrics and he didn’t use a teleprompter. It was great. I lived in a flat in Islington with my bandmates and I got to pretend like I was English but I got to feel super worldly as I would make my way to the Academy each day from my flat up the street. I’m a working class kid from a town called Hawthorne in California, same town as the Beach Boys, so it felt exciting. I played with Beck for a year as well too, I toured on the Sea Change record and we played the Reading Festival.

Bad Mood Rising is available from this link.

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