Sludge-metal pioneers, The Melvins, have been a band I’ve listened to for 3 decades. Hailing from Washington state, the band, with its dark, heavy and lumbering sound, influenced not only the local music scene, but the turn music would begin to take when sludge metal and grunge began to destroy the hair metal that we were all suffocated by in the eighties and early 90’s. If it weren’t for The Melvins, bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden might have never existed. A tsunami of sound that wiped the stages clean of lipsticked and spandex wearing men singing power ballads, this band does not get the credit it deserves. Make no mistake about it, The Melvins changed music as we knew it.
In an industry that is difficult to survive in for 3 years, let alone 3 decades, The Melvins have continued to play their way and make no apologies for being exactly who they choose to be. While lineups have changed over the years, the bands constants have been singer and guitarist Buzz Osborne and Drummer Dale Crover. Their latest album, “Basses Loaded” includes a whopping 6 bass players, including Steve McDonald from Redd Kross and Krist Noveselic from Nirvana. Despite the changing lineup, the band has been consistent in the fact that they never fail to put out great music or put on incredible live shows.
I was able to sit down with Buzz, Dale and Steve and discuss everything from women in music to the evils of Rob Zombie. I found them to be intelligent, thoughtful and straightforward. And after the interview, I got to watch one hell of a show.
J. You often hear The Melvins compared to bands like Black Sabbath and Black Flag. Who have your biggest influences been, or have you always been more interested in creating a sound that was uniquely your own?
Buzz. I don’t really care about comparisons. People hear what they want to hear when they listen to music. We play what we want to play and don’t really think about it.We did an album called “Everybody Loves Sausages” where we played songs from other bands that I think influenced us. You don’t really hear people talking about those bands in relation to us. But they were influences in a way.
J. The band has certainly had an influence on other bands. I think of bands like Alice In Chains, who really seem to model themselves after your sound. What do you think about the bands are so heavily influenced by you?
Buzz: I’m not really sure that how heavily they were influenced by us. They were more interested in Soundgarden. Their goal was to sell a ton of records. And sounding like Soundgardgen , who I consider a much more commercial version of us. I knew Alice in Chains as hair metal, Zoro hat wearing spandex guys. We didn’t really know them at all.
Dale: We didn’t really know them. I think they really came around after we stopped living there.
Buzz: They were a hair metal band. We were friendly with Soundgarden. They made no bones about the fact that we were a big influence on them. We like those guys and are still good friends with them.
J. There is a new documentary about the band. How do you feel about it? I know how much you disliked the Kurt Cobain documentary Montage Of Heck. Was there any concern about letting someone else tell your story?
Buzz: They will let us have final approval and they are big fans, so we are pretty confident it’ll be good.The guys that made this movie have never done anything like this before and it came out well. I think the people who supported it will be proud of it. We don’t operate like a lot of other bands do, so I think people might be surprised by it.You aren’t going to get a lot a personal details. I’m not that type of person. I’m good at avoiding anything that gets too personal. People can ask, but I’m really good at avoiding answering those questions. I’m good at answering the questions that I wish people would ask. That’s what I’m good at.
Montage of Heck is total bullshit. They got away with it because Kurt wasn’t here to defend it. Courtney wasn’t there. His daughter wasn’t there.They don’t know what really happened. And the people who were there are not saying anything.The things they say happened just didn’t. It’s total and complete bullshit.
J. In the new documentary, The Colossus Of Destiny: A Melvins Tale, Krist Noveselic has called you guys “The last band standing.” The last band around that has been completely true to yourselves and the sound you want to make. Do you feel that’s true? And do you think that staying out of the mainstream has given you more freedom?
Buzz: Being more mainstream is more limiting only if you allow it to be. Bands that are huge in the mainstream should actually have more freedom to do what they want.. We have as much freedom as we want to, as we ever have.I think the artists themselves are limiting. They are doing that to themselves if they try to sound like people want them to.
Look at a band like the Beatles and all the things they did. They weren’t afraid.Seeing their progression in very short amount of time was incredible. They used the studio to experiment and come up with so many different sounds. But then they imploded. Never played live. Even more meaningful, The Who, who did just as much stuff in the studio, maybe even more, but still played live. I mean, we love the Beatles.We love The Who.
Dale: Lots of people pretend they don’t. Never trust anybody who doesn’t like the Beatles.
J. Are there records that you are most proud of and ones you aren’t?
Buzz: I’m not someone who would dwell on something too long. We’ve always been happy when we put things out. And then move on and make a new record.
Dale: We will write stuff in the shit can, but not too often. We work on everything really hard and make sure it’s good before we release it.
Buzz: We aren’t too precious with it, though. We don’t go “This is it! It has to be like this!” and sometimes we didn’t particularly love something on an album and then come back and listen to it again in a few years and realize it was really good.
J. Do you think you’ve kept a lot of the same fan base over three decades? Do you think you have people in the audience who’s parents were fans?
Buzz: You can’t trust kids that like the same music as their parents. That’s just too weird.You aren’t supposed to like the same music as your parents! We see new fans every year and lose some because they just get to a point where they stop coming to shows. Our audience stays about the same age. People have kids, or other things in their lives that happen and they just don’t come to shows anymore. But people are putting off growing up now.
I never went to college, but if you’re in college, you basically stay an adolescent until you’re in your mid twenties. In this day, you have the government telling you to not even grow up until you’re 30. It used to be that people were getting married and starting families at 21. To me it’s really just odd. Some kind of Peter Pan complex. I don’t understand it. I knew things were getting weird when you could be on your parents insurance until you were 26. What? That’s insane! There was a time when people would be insulted if you suggested you couldn’t take care of yourself at that age. I just don’t get it.
J. Do you think you’ll continue having rotating lineup?
Buzz: I have no idea. About 10 years ago we had really big trouble with the bass player we had and decided we couldn’t deal with that kind of thing. It’s too hard to pin all your happenings on one thing, It’s too difficult. I’m not going to do it. I’d rather hassle with starting over.
Steve: They are polygamists now. They no longer believe in rock and roll monogamy.
J. Whats going on with Redd Kross?
Steve: My brother has been writing. We will do some recording,. We are doing 2 shows with The Melvins. One on New Year’s Eve at Joshua Tree. Then another in Santa Ana.
Dale: Steve is playing in all 3 bands that night.
Steve: One night in 3 different bands! I need to start doing cardio and I think maybe I need to quit smoking. New Years Eve might be a good time to do that! The Melvins have it designed so they’re playing first so they are going to get the best of me, unless I decide to pace myself….(laughing). I’ll have my Rocky moments, I’ll need to train a little. But I can’t complain. Somebody digging a ditch for 8 hours a day, that’s hard work. Playing the bass? Not so much.
Buzz : And the drummer is just sitting on his ass all day. pouring water on himself so he looks like he’s sweating.
Steve:Here is something for your “Midlife blog” The Melvins like to play as early as they can. We like to practice early and play early. Be done by noon so we can go pick up the kids at school.
J. We imagine this rock and roll lifestyle.
Buzz: We prefer to play as early as we can.The only drag about playing clubs is that they always want you to play as late as possible to keep the bar going.We always try to go on as early as we can. 10 is the absolute latest we go on.
J. Does touring get exhausting? What was the worst tour you’ve ever been on?
Buzz: I like playing but I’m not a big fan of touring itself. We’ve got it figured out pretty well so it’s not so evil.
Touring with Rob Zombie was the worst experience I’ve ever had. It was Counter productive and intentionally designed to make you very uncomfortable.
J. Rob Zombie lives around here. He spent a lot of time trying to close the skatepark near his house. Too close to his property, too many people and too loud.
Buzz: Seriously? Too close to the evil ones property!
J. How do you choose the bands opening for you? I’m excited to see Helms Alee tonight. I love to see women musicians in this genre.
Buzz: We have to like their music. I thought Helms Alee was adding something to the genre that isn’t very common. I like the fact that they are women doing it.But it has to be more to it than that. They have to be really good.
Steve: In general, support bands are very rarely the problem. When you’re opening it’s the crew that’s often the problem. Helms Alee is a really good band, and having women around takes the touring out of this prison vibe, chain gang mentality you can get when it’s all men.I’ve always responded to female musicians. I’m a groupie! My wife is a musician and you can see the vibe people have with female musicians sometimes. You walk into a guitar shop and bitter musicians are standing there with their arms folded, it doesn’t matter what their sex is. But it goes to an entirely new level of patronizing when it’s a female.
Buzz: The attitude of “What are you even doing in here, Missy”
Dale: I knew this female bass player in a band and she told me that when she wanted a new amp, this guy tried to tell her she didn’t know what she wanted.She’s a professional musician! Its condescending and ridiculous the way women sometimes get treated.
J. You guys are huge baseball fans. Does touring allow you to see a lot of games when you are traveling the country?
Buzz: Yeah, we are big baseball fans. We try to see a lot of games, but don’t really get the chance while touring. Our schedule is too tight.
Dale: I think I’ve been to about half of the ballparks in the country.I’d really like to get to more.
J. What do you think the future holds for the band?
Buzz: We are just going to keep on writing and playing music for as long as we can.
Thank you, Melvins. I plan on being here as a fan for as long as you continue to play and beyond.