Posted January 13, 2021 by Jeff in Tunes

Dale Crover Marches to Beat of His Own Heavy Drumming

Dale Crover
Dale Crover

Longtime Melvins’ drummer Dale Crover, a guy that Rolling Stone recently selected as one of rock’s all-time greatest drummers, will release his sophomore solo effort, Rat-A-Tat-Tat!, on Jan. 15 via Joyful Noise Recordings. The album features poppy tunes such as “Shark Like Overbite” in addition to heavy stuff like “Stumbler,” a song that commences with pounding drums and distorted guitars, and the static-y “Supine Is How I Found Him.”

Fellow Melvin Steven McDonald plays on the record along with Toshi Kasai (ex-Big Business, Plan D) and Mindee Jorgensen (Dangerously Sleazy). The first single, “I Can’t Help You There,” features a music video that draws from three unlikely sources: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; the Cramps’ 1978 performance at Napa State Mental Hospital; and the face mask used by L.A. Dodger Kiké Hernández.

In a recent phone call from his L.A. home, Crover spoke about the album.

You wrote these songs on the road. What it’s like to write on the road?Some of them were written on the road. There are a few songs that were more experimental in terms of the songwriting because I wrote them on GarageBand. That’s something I’ve never done before. Sitting in the car, it was easy enough to do. I didn’t need a guitar or drum set. One of the them is “The Bowie Mix,” which is my named after my favorite mix of the Stooges’ Raw Power record. In GarageBand, they have these different drummers. They have different personalities. There’s the coffeehouse drummer and the alternative rock drummer and the heavy rock drummer. I picked one of those, and it was a giant drum beat and xylophone or something like that. I took it and went into the studio and replaced all the drums and added vibraphone. I kept the original guitar tracks and the vocal. I was going to redo the vocals and guitar stuff, and Toshisaid, “Why? It sounds good.” There are a few songs like that. There’s one where I made the drummer who plays in my live band play saxophone. I had a sample from GarageBand, but I thought we could make it better. With that one, too, I did scratch vocals and was going to replace it, but Toshi said it’s really good. He said, “You sound like you’re drunk or something.” It’s good having him for his opinions on things like that.

What do you like about working with Toshi?
He’s good. We’ve worked with tons of recording engineers. We worked with Joe Barresi, who I like a lot. We let him take the reins and we’re not afraid of doing something weird or different. He’s really good at what he does. I couldn’t eat that good. He makes my job so much easier. He just knows everything. 

What was it like to record at Sound of Sirens studio?
It’s ours, basically. Toshi has done every Melvins’ record since Hostile Ambient Takeover. He used to work at this studio that’s out in the San Fernando Valley here. It was a really nice studio with a really nice board. It was analog when we started there, and then we moved into the digital world. The only thing different is that it’s made things way easier. It opened up way more possibilities about what we could do. I couldn’t do what I was doing if I wanted to do it analog. It would be way harder and more expensive to do all this on tape. People will argue with you about that, but they don’t know what they’re talking about. After we worked at that studio, it ended up closing down. We were recording remotely at our rehearsal room and just not telling anybody because they would go, “Oh, it sounds like you recorded at your rehearsal room.” Now, Toshi has a warehouse, and we also rehearsal there and help pay for things. We turned it into a little studio. It’s totally comfortable. It is like recording in our rehearsal space, but it’s a little nicer. It’s not A&M Studios, but it does the job.

You assembled a band for this album?
I had the band after the first record, but I didn’t have a band when I recorded the first record. After I recorded the album, I said, “I should have a band.” It came out better than I thought. I wanted to be able to play the stuff live. When I lived in San Francisco, I had a band called Altamont. We still exist but haven’t played in a long time. Steve McDonald, who plays bass in Redd Kross and Melvins, had an idea of doing a West Coast tour and asked me to put together a band, so I could open. He also offered to play bass. I thought I could do that. Toshi is a no-brainer. He also played in Altamont at the end and played second guitar and keyboards on the first record, so that was easy enough. He’s a multi-instrumentalist who can do back-ups and all that stuff. He was already in it. Steve [McDonald] played on the first record a bit. He makes things really great. I hand it over to him and say, “Do your magic, magic bass man.” On almost every song, he played his Hefner Club bass. It’s not the McCartney one, but it’s a hollow body, and it sounds great. It has that old sound from those Beatles records. Mindi plays drums live. She didn’t play on a lot of the songs because I’m a drummer and since I’m known as a drummer, I think people would expect me to play drums. I try to involve her as much as possible. She can also play bass and guitar and saxophone. I always envisioned that we could switch off instruments live. 

What inspired “I Can’t Help You There,” which has a grunge feel to it? I love the guitar riff on it.
I think it sounds like Neil Young or something. Plus, I’m playing a Les Paul through a Fender amp, so it has that tone for sure. I thought it came out really good. The video is on my Instagram page. You can check it out. It’s pretty good. We did it ourselves. I had this concept of what I wanted to do and Toshi helped a lot with it. We thought we could film it at the studio. Toshi’s girlfriend partner did the filming and editing. The song is lyrically about two things: seeing ghosts and mental illness. I combined the two things. The video is about how we’re all like mental patients playing in the mental hospital like the cramps. It has a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest vibe. There’s also a Howard Hughes reference in there because I’m wearing Kleenex boxes for my shoes. I heard that he did that. We came up with funny ideas. Toshi did a storyboard and planned the whole thing. It came out pretty good. It was fun to do. 

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that “Shark Like Overbite” is such a delight. Talk about it.
It’s a pleasant pop song about a sick dog. The title reference is that we used to have this dog who was a Pitbull and Labrador mix. We found him because the Dog Whisperer had him. His name was Arthur. He had this crazy overbite, and when he was laying on his back, he looked like a shark. It was like the poster from Jaws, which shows the shark opening its mouth to bite a swimmer. I was listening to Graham Parker and the riff reminded me of the Replacements a little bit too for whatever reason. 

“I’ll Never Say” has an ominous, early Alice in Chains feel as well. What is it about?
The riff I had for a long time. I don’t know how long exactly. It’s just the four notes. I had that for a while and it was one of those things I just decided to turn into a song for this record. I was using an acoustic guitar too. I was going for the vibe of the song “Andy Warhol” by David Bowie. That’s where it came from. When I write lyrics, I come up with a few good lines and write about that, often without any subject matter in mind. The lyrics have to fit the song. I usually hear a melody first and write around that. I often know how I want the song to go, and I’ll do a scratch track and then write around that, making up the words off the top of my head and try to turn gibberish into something that sounds like it might mean something. Even that one is kind of weird. I don’t know if it’s the way I recorded it, but the second verse is only a half verse. It’s kind of a weird arrangement. You have four lines and then two lines. It’s not your normal songwriting structure. It’s got two and a half verses and then an outro and bridge. It’s not your normal verse chorus bridge and verse chorus verse. 

I feel like your songs are more accessible than the Melvins and not as consistently heavy.
Fair enough. The Melvins are an intense band. I’m not trying to match that. I want to go in a different direction. There aren’t any rules for what is or isn’t a Melvins’ song. Any of these I could taken and made them into the Melvins’ songs. Abortion Technician has a song that I wrote that is totally acoustic. I get what you mean. Melvins’ stuff can be a challenge to listen to, but we realize that. We’re not doing that just to be perverse. We like it and know there’s an audience for it.

I know some Melvins’ fans might not like this stuff at all. I fully expect that. I have enough confidence with the live band to play in front of an audience. If people saw it live, they might have a different opinion about it.

You’ve eked out a living as a professional musician for decades now. I would think that’s become more difficult, especially in the past several months with the suspension of touring. What keeps you going?
It’s still fun. I play some kind of music and listen to some kind of music every day. I feel fortune to do this and make a living. It’s going to be very painful coming up. It’s not over by any means. I know we can get through this and survive and still continue to be a band. It’s going to be hard for every band, and I wonder what venues will be open. I’m crossing my fingers that we can get through this and get back to something of a normal thing. 


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].