The Melvins' Dale Crover on Lazy Musicians, Knucklehead Slayer Fans, and the Band's Record-Breaking Tour
Over the course of closing on 30 years, Melvins guitarist Buzz Osborne and drummer Dale Crover have co-piloted their seminal underground outfit through a wildly varied exploration of heavy sounds. Inspired by the lumbering tempos and downtuned guitar of Black Sabbath and the dissonance of punk mavericks like Flipper and My War-era Black Flag, Melvins became legends in Washington state during their formative years in the early-to-mid 1980s in the small rural town of Aberdeen.
The Melvins, with Dale Crover second from left.
The influence the band has exerted on modern heavy rock since then is formidable. Besides inspiring Aberdeen natives and early fans Kurt Cobain (who at one point auditioned for the band) and Krist Novoselic to form Nirvana and laying the groundwork for Seattle groups like Alice In Chains and Soundgarden to put their own twist on the Sabbath template, Melvins are recognized as a touchstone for stoner-rock hessians, fringe metal experimentalists and drone terrorists alike.
Melvins could be excused if things slowed down a bit approaching their third decade, but recent years have seen a mind-boggling level of productivity. Since bringing bassist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis of equally heavy duo Big Business into the fold in 2006, the group has released a string of crushingly brilliant albums while cementing a reputation as one of the best live bands working today (thanks in no small part to the monolithic twin-drumming onslaught of Crover and Willis).
This year found Osborne and Crover shifting into overdrive with no less than three Melvins releases from three distinct band line-ups, a slew of singles, and tour dates including a upcoming record-breaking jaunt in the fall that will take the band to all 50 states and Washington, D.C., in 51 days. Dale Crover recently spoke with All Shook Down about the new Melvins Lite album Freak Puke (Ipecac Records) and their current tour featuring Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, Fantomas, Trio Convulsant) on acoustic bass that comes to Slim's this Friday, July 20.
This is turning into a pretty busy year even by Melvins standards, between the Scion EP, the Melvins Lite album, the Melvins 1983 EP with original drummer Matt Dillard, all the split singles and three tours just in the States. Was that your plan at the outset of 2012, or did things kind of snowball as the releases were readied?
Well, we always plan pretty far ahead. Like we're doing this tour in the fall that you may have heard about. We're doing all 50 states plus Washington, D.C. in 51 days. So 51 shows in 51 days. We had that planned last June when we started booking it. We always plan pretty far ahead on touring stuff. In December we'll do a bunch of recording because we don't like to tour at that time of the year 'cause of the white blanket of snow across most of the U.S. and other parts of the world. We usually stay away from the road at that time of the year -- hurricane season, tornado season, all that kind of stuff [laughs].
We've always been motivated to work really hard, and most bands are lazy fucks. That's the bottom line. They smoke way too much weed and don't do anything. We don't want to have day jobs working at McDonald's. We've been doing this for a long time, and we've just got to find a way to make it work. Especially with the lack of record sales for pretty much every band in the world now. Unless you're Beyonce or somebody like that, you're not going to sell enough records. You're going to have to do something else. We've always been big on touring. It's a great way for us to make our money.
Since you brought it up, I did have a question about the tour in the fall. Like you said, you guys have always spent a lot of time on the road, but were there any special contingencies that went into the planning of the 51-date tour other than how you were going to get from place to place?
That's pretty much it. Just looking at the map and trying to figure out what would work. We had to have certain cities on certain days, otherwise it wouldn't work. We can't really crisscross across the country. We're flying to two shows -- Alaska and Hawaii -- because obviously we have to for them. There are some pretty long drives in there. It sounds crazy, but when we tour normally, we plan accordingly as well.
Usually when we have a day off, it's because we have some 500-mile drive, you know? And we've done much longer tours -- we've done three-month tours and this is only a month and a half. So it's not really going to be that hard. But it sounds impressive [laughs]. That's the best part about it. And the fact that no other band has actually done it before and it's something that we can get in the Guinness Book of World Records with.
Usually we come up with really stupid ideas and then make them work, so that's what that one was. 'I know what we could do: we could do a big U.S. tour of all 50 states, and we'll just throw in Washington, D.C. too. I bet we could get in the Guinness Book of World Records for doing that!' Sure enough, Monica, our publicist, looked into it and there is only a record for doing 48 states. So we'll be world-record holders.
Will there be a way to follow your progress? Do you have any plans as far as a blog or tour diary or something online?
Oh, I'm sure there will be something like that. We've got some plans as far as that goes. There definitely will be some documentation of the whole thing.
You also did a few UK dates in May, including one All Tomorrow's Parties festival date in London that was a head-banger's wet dream with Slayer playing Reign in Blood, Sleep, Wolves in the Throne Room, YOB, and more. How was that experience?
That was great. It was a really good show. It was in this big giant place and there were probably about 10,000 people there. It was really cool. It wasn't your average Slayer show, I don't think. It was definitely more of an ATP crowd. There were Slayer fans there obviously, but it wasn't like opening for Slayer in San Francisco. If it was their own show, it would be different. They have very intense knucklehead fans, so opening one of their shows wouldn't be all that fun. But this one was okay. We did it for the money [laughs].
It was cool seeing Slayer play Reign in Blood and it was really funny seeing people freak out to Sleep who had never seen them before. It's funny how big those guys have gotten. The very last show that they ever played was opening for us at Slim's before they broke up [in 1994]. They've become legendary over the years, and now that they've gotten back together, they've gotten a lot more popular. I don't think anybody is more surprised than those guys themselves.
It seems the Scion EP touches on the really catchy, heavy songs from the first couple records with the two-drummer line-up, but some tunes have the more experimental vibe of The Bride Screamed Murder, at least on the opening to "Friends Before Larry" and choir vocals and strings of "A Really Long Wait." How did those tunes take shape in the studio?
Well, "Friends Before Larry" and "A Really Long Wait" were two things that came out of a big end of the show jam session between me and Coady and Jared. We would do that every night on the last tour that we did in Europe last fall. So it just evolved out of this jam that we came up with live and decided was really cool and that we should record it.
The strings that are on there are something that I showed Jared and a couple of those other guys how to do via this application called Thumbjam on your iPod. It's got all these great samples that you can play in all these different keys. So you can thank Steve Jobs for that one. We can't really afford to hire the local symphony, but for 15 bucks you can have your own. There's a bunch of really cool sounds on there, like this crazy theremin thing. So that's the secret right there; technology at its best.
I read that the idea of having Trevor only play acoustic bass came from Buzz seeing him play upright with Nils Cline. Did you guys go into the recording sessions with songs you and Buzz already had written or did you write some of the material with Trevor?
Well, some of it was done before he even got there. We only had Trevor for about a week. Even before we finished the EP for Scion, we started writing stuff for that record. So we wrote a bunch of songs; we did some in the rehearsal space and Buzz wrote some at home and came in with them.
One song that we recorded was actually an old song that has been kicking around for a long time. The very last song on the record called "Tommy Goes Berserk," we've had the makings of that song for probably the last 12 years or so. It's something we never finished up. We kind of got ahead of ourselves and were like "We better stop recording right now before Trevor gets here," because we obviously wanted to write some stuff with him in the same room. I'd say it was about half and half.
Did you find yourselves revamping any older material dramatically with the different instrumentation for this tour?
Yeah, but I don't know how much different it is than if we're playing with electric bass. It's a little bit different of course, but I don't think there are any old songs we couldn't do because of the double bass. Even on this tour we're doing now, nobody has really said they miss having it louder. It's plenty loud. I don't think it's really missing anything at all. Eventually, what we'd like to do is incorporate the other two guys in the band as well. Something like that maybe for a tour. We're not really sure yet, but I think it could be done.
Do you see yourselves recording as a five piece or just taking that band on the road?
Well, we've got no major plans right now, but we do have an anniversary coming up next year. So we may incorporate some kind of thing where we do all three different versions of the band. That's what I'd like to do. So we'll see what happens, but no solid plans as of yet.
So you aren't looking into touring with the Melvins 1983 line-up just yet?
We'd like to, but the drummer [Matt Dillard] for that band -- which is not me -- has a steady job and a kid and stuff like that. So the only time he can take off is vacation really. He's out as far as touring for any big giant tours, but the West Coast might be lucky, because he does live in Washington state. We're hoping to do something like that. It's really fun playing with him, even though he hasn't been in the band for 28 years or whatever. When we play with him, he feels like one of us. Even personality-wise, we're not really good friends with a lot of people from where we grew up, but there's a couple of people and he's certainly one of them. He's a great guy. And we've got that new stuff coming up with him and it's really great stuff...
I'd also read that you have done some new recording with your old bassist Kevin Rutmanis and Jello Biafra?
Yeah, we recorded a Roxy Music cover with Kevin and Jello. Actually we just found out that when we play in San Francisco, we're going to have Kevin's new band open for us. They're called Hepa/Titus. If you want to check out their stuff, if you go to our Facebook page, we posted a link to their new recording.
When we spoke four years ago, I asked if you were approached much for session work, and at the time you said that there were only a few things outside the Melvins. It seems that has picked up at least a little bit since then with the Shrinebuilder album and tour and playing on Lou Barlow's solo album. Do you have anything in the works outside the Melvins like a new Shrinebuilder album or more music with your other band Altamont?
Well, me and our engineer Toshi have been trying to produce bands under the name Deaf Nephews. We have all our recording stuff set up when we're doing the Melvins stuff, so we kind of built our own studio in a way. So we have a place where people can actually come and work with us, have us both play on stuff or whatever people want. I've been playing a lot of drums on other projects.
There's a guy from Australia who I did some recording for named Adam Harding. And also I did some recording recently with the guitarist from Triclops! Christian [Eric Beaulieu, who is about to release his debut collaborative album with Mars Volta singer Cedric Bixler-Zavela and bassist Mike Watt under the name Anywhere]. He had three or four songs he wanted drums on. I'm not sure what he's doing with that stuff. But we're pretty much open to working with anybody that's serious about it. A lot of people think they might not be able to afford it, but we're always willing to work with people's budgets. People don't have a lot of money to record anymore, so we have to try to do what we can. If I can do more of that stuff, I would.