The Melvins: Influencing music from the outside in
For almost 30 years now, the Melvins have operated on the fringes. Too heavy to be indie and too weird to really fit in with what passes for alternative, they influenced many of the Seattle bands that emerged in their wake but never quite reaped the dividends (though they did land a major-label record deal for a short time in the ’90s). They’re currently on the road to celebrate their 30th anniversary, and drummer Dale Crover phoned in to talk about the tour and their recently-released album of covers, Everybody Loves Sausages.
When you joined the band in 1984, did you think at the time that you would still be together some 30 years later?
Oh, no, no. We didn’t have any idea. I was 16. I thought people who were 30 were really old then. Then I hit 30 and thought it was cool. Actually, I’ve only been in the band for 29 years because I joined in 1984. The band started in 1983. I’m not the first drummer.
Why were you recruited to replace [original drummer] Mike Dillard?
I think part of it was that Buzz [Osborne] was writing some more complicated stuff and that wasn’t quite his thing. I think that’s the main thing—wanting to do a lot more than he wanted to do. We still really like Mike a lot. We just put out this Melvins 1983 EP. About four or five years ago, we started playing with him and playing the old original Melvins songs and we did a good time doing it. We wrote some new songs. We did two sessions with him. We have a full-length record coming out. I really like the stuff. It doesn’t sound like the band did back then. We wrote some new songs with his drumming in mind. It sounds really good. Not to toot my own horn, but it sounds different from what we’ve been doing but still sounds like the Melvins. It’s weird and experimental. It’s really good. I hope everyone else thinks so, too.
Was Black Flag a bigger influence on the Melvins than Black Sabbath?
Definitely. The Melvins started out as a punk band. We were influenced by the Ramones and The Stooges, hence the name the Melvins. I’m surprised that people don’t realize that we pretty much ripped off the Ramones with our name.
I thought the name came from a supervisor you didn’t like.
It does, but it comes from the same kind of thing as The Stooges and Ramones.
What made you guys want to play slower and heavier than any other band?
That was definitely Black Flag and Flipper was a big influence, too. More than Black Sabbath. We like Black Sabbath, but we get cheesiness out of it. We don’t like Black Sabbath and only Black Sabbath and have every song sound like “Children of the Grave.” When I see these stoner rock bands, they have nothing original to offer at all. It’s just not good. Saint Vitus was doing that stuff in 1983. They were worshipping Sabbath then. It was cool then, but I don’t get it. Why would I listen to a band that sounds like Sabbath but isn’t as good? The thing they don’t realize about Sabbath is that they had good songs.
Looking back on it, can you explain how the Melvins essentially started the whole grunge scene?
I don’t know. We actually moved from Seattle before any of those bands got signed. Seattle back then was definitely different. When we started playing, there were all-ages shows and good clubs. There was this teen nightclub that had some kind of problem with the cops—that was it for any kind of shows. You could maybe play at a bar but the punk shows were long gone. There was nothing holding us in Seattle. We liked California and recorded our first record in San Francisco. We thought that was really cool and we were still living in Aberdeen at the time. There was nothing there. We never played shows there. We wanted to go someplace different. If you think about it, we don’t sound like Pearl Jam or Alice in Chains. We influenced Nirvana; if you hear the early Nirvana, it sounds like Melvins. Soundgarden. We influenced those guys. We taught them to tune down to D; they got that from us. They have riffs that makes it sounds like they’re heard the Melvins.
What about Mudhoney?
They started right as we were moving to San Francisco. We kicked out our bass player. He joined Mudhoney. We got a new bass player. They put out records on Sub Pop and all of a sudden got really huge. We thought that worked out well for our first bass player, but it turns out he still holds a grudge toward us for kicking him out of the band almost 28 years ago. He doesn’t play in Mudhoney either. We knew that being in a band wasn’t going to be his career. He’s a carpenter now. We’re playing with Mudhoney in Minneapolis and Milwaukee. It’s great they’re still going. I think they’re better than ever.
Talk about that tour you did last year where you played every night for 51 days. It sounds grueling.
When you’re on tour, you don’t have a day off anyway. If you have a day off, you’re driving 500 miles. Our day off was eight hours in the van. It was awesome. That tour was really great. It wasn’t that hard. It might have been easier because some of the states are close together; we could stay in one hotel for a couple of nights. Some of the shows were early enough that we could be back at the hotel by midnight. It was something big and stupid that we could do to draw a lot of attention to ourselves. In that, we succeeded.
Didn’t George Thorogood try to do the same thing?
He had tried it in 1980 or 1981. Buzz back then liked George Thorogood. [We heard] they made this big announcement that he was in the middle of this tour but had to cancel shows because they were too tired. We figured they had a big production and it’s not the easiest thing to do. We did it with a stand-up bass player and we were all in one van and didn’t have that much gear. We had everything ready to go in 45 minutes. George Thorogood heard they were saying all this stuff in the press. They got mad about it. They said they did two tours, but we heard differently. And they’re not in the Guinness Book of World Records so it’s like, “Fuck you.” And who cares anyway? We were just doing it for attention. I couldn’t believe they were mad about it.
Did you play Hawaii?
That was the last show. That was a pretty good show. We didn’t think anyone would be there, but it wasn’t bad. A nice way to end the tour. We didn’t stay, though. At first we thought we would stay there and hang out. But then we just wanted to go home. That’s too bad. If I could brought my family over—I have a wife and two kids—they could have hung out. But one of the kids is in school and they had shit to do. We had already been there a bunch of times. They didn’t care. But I like it. It’s got the best beaches I’ve ever seen. It’s like going into a heated pool.
How do you top a 30th anniversary tour? What do you have lined up for next year?
Nothing. We’ll come up with something I’m sure. I think we’re supposed to go to Australia in December. We’ll probably just do more recording and come up with something else. Oh, I know, instead of 51 shows in 51 days, we’ll do 52 shows in 52 weeks. One show a week for a whole year.
Select 2013 Tour Dates
Cleveland, OH @ The Grog Shop
Detroit, MI @ Small’s
Syracuse, NY @ The Westcott Theater
Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club
Hartford, CT @ Arch Street Tavern
Brooklyn, NY @ TBA
Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts
Baltimore, MD @ Ottobar
Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle
Atlanta, GA @ The Loft at Center Stage Atlanta
New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jack’s
Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live
Austin, TX @ Mohawk
Dallas, TX @ Trees
Salt Lake City, UT @ Club Sound
Boise, ID @ Neurolux
Seattle, WA @ Neumo’s
Vancouver, BC @ Commodore Ballroom
Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom
San Francisco, CA @ Slim’s