Photo by Nina Corcoran
Thirty years ago, three high schoolers in Montesano, WA started a band, playing Hendrix and Cream covers before moving onto writing their own punk songs. Guitarist Buzz Osborne, bassist Matt Lukin, and drummer Mike Dillard were the first Melvins. A lot has changed in that camp in those 30 years; Dillard left less than a year in, and Lukin would move on to a job with Mudhoney (to be replaced by a series of bassists). Osborne, though, later that year would team up with Dale Crover, and the two would go on to a career spanning three decades, handfuls of lineup reconfigurations, 19 studio LPs, and a place in music history that many consider to be the root of grunge and the inspiration for countless sludge metal, stoner rock, and generally adventurous bands.
The latest record to add to their massive catalog is Tres Cabrones, in which Osborne and Crover bring Dillard back into the fold, the founding drummer taking over the sticks, Crover handling the bass. Described as “the closest we’ll get to the original Melvins lineup,” the record manages to be a reunion of sorts without the stale air that comes with that territory. That would seem to be largely due to the fact that Osborne and Crover work too damn hard to spend much time waxing nostalgic, a nature evidenced by the phone conversations CoS had with the two permanent Melvins, dipping in and out of their long career, Tres Cabrones, golf, collaborations, and KISS. And, it wouldn’t be the Melvins without a few candid statements about the rest of the musical landscape, including choice words for music critics, the Smashing Pumpkins, Kurt Cobain, and Courtney Love, as well as compliments for Tom Petty.
Did you have a plan B? A backup plan if the Melvins didn’t take off?
Dale Crover (DC): [Laughs.] Nope. Never had a backup plan, burned all the bridges. Dropped out of school, that was it. That was that. And I haven’t looked back. Hey, it’s worked out so far. But if it all falls through, insurance salesman I will be. If there’s still a market for that kind of thing. I guess there’ll always be a market for that.
Buzz Osborne (BO): Weirdly enough, by the late ‘80s we were making enough money, barely, to not have to have another job besides playing in the Melvins. We were very creative financially to make that happen. But this was long before the grunge explosion or any of that happened. We knew very well that we were probably going to do okay, but it was never going to be in the millions of people liking us. Nobody understood that better than me. So, I never had any false ideas that we were going to be million-selling pop stars.
Cobain had that wounded junkie look that people at MTV thought was so amazing. But, honestly, if him or Chris Cornell looked like Fat Albert, they’d never have sold anywhere near as many records. Nobody would’ve cared. The whole package was there. Whether people believe that or not, it does make a difference. I don’t look like Chris Cornell, and I’m never going to. I’ve never had those false delusions. So, oh well, that’s how it looks.
Once in a while it happens, where looks don’t matter. But I’m very at home with where all that stuff is. If somebody wanted to dismiss our band because of what we look like, then I can’t spend any time worrying about it.
Besides the start of the Melvins, ‘83 is often considered the start of the Internet as we know it, the movement of ARPANET to TCP/IP. That’s been a pretty drastic game-changer for the music business.
DC: Well, it certainly makes it easier to get the word out there. Of course, it’s probably the greatest invention in our time, I would say. [Laughs.] It’s amazing the way you can spread information. At the same time, it’s also ruining the music business, but you have to think in different ways.
I know I’ve heard Buzz talk about being pro-MP3, as a way to spread your music to people that otherwise would never have heard it. But, the format definitely has the potential to hurt quite a bit, obviously, in terms of piracy.
DC: Well, I mean, unfortunately, that’s going to happen. We probably saw that coming a while ago. That’s pretty much been the reason why we’ve been trying to do all of the handmade stuff that we’ve been doing. The vinyl stuff, as long as there’s somewhat of a vinyl resurgence. I think it’s more just that people want to collect stuff, to collect cool stuff. People who are our age really like it because they liked vinyl when they were younger. There’s some interest with younger people, and there will be for a little bit, but even that will eventually fade away. But the art part of it will keep going in some respects.
I guess when the vinyl boom fails, then everybody will be hip to CDs, and we’ll revisit all those again. Kids will probably start saying CDs are the best. MP3s are kind of like the cassette of this age. I pretty much bought my whole record collection again when CDs came out, thinking that they sounded the best. And the thing that convinced me about that was hearing our first record on vinyl, and then hearing it remastered for CD, and just going, “Holy fuck, man. There are things I can’t hear on the vinyl.” And that could be the mastering job, but if you know anything about mastering, what those guys do, what gets done when you make a record, and just the limitations that vinyl has compared to digital, it’s amazing, you know? I always thought that CDs sounded the best.
But, at the same time, I don’t care. I’ll listen to records, I listen to MP3s. I don’t really have any cassettes any more. Kind of got rid of those. Eight-tracks, though. The next stuff will be on wax cylinder.
Another thing that happened in ‘83 was Kiss appearing in public without makeup for the first time.
DC: Oh wow. [Laughs.]
And I know you guys have a long history with KISS. I love the solo albums you did modeled after their solo albums. Do you have any memory of that moment? Did you have any special connection with Kiss that early on?
DC: A special connection, for sure. By that time I wasn’t… I think they lost me after, definitely after Dynasty, and even that record is pretty questionable. I was listening to that record, I drove from San Fransisco to Los Angeles the other day, and a friend of mine had some CDs, and that was one of the only ones. I wound up listening to that twice in a row. And, uh… Yeah, it’s a pretty bad record. [Laughs.] There’s a couple of OK songs on there, but I really like their early stuff the best.
DC: So, I wasn’t into KISS at that point anymore. Once I joined the Melvins in ‘84, those guys reminded me of how good the older KISS stuff was, ’cause they still listened to it. And, actually, even though Buzz was a few years older than me, the first concert he went to was KISS, the same one I went to in Seattle. But we didn’t know each other in ‘79. But, eventually they put their makeup back on, and we toured with them. [Laughs.]
BO: No, you know, I mean, I liked KISS probably in the ‘70s, but by the time they put out Dynasty, I was done. Maybe before that. The Love Gun record, I was done. I can listen to, like, Hotter Than Hell, and think it’s good. And it is good. The thing about them is, as ridiculous and stupid as it is, they really had good songs. I mean, “Detroit Rock City” is as good a rock song as I’ve ever heard. There’s nothing wrong with that. If they were just image, no one would care. Same with Alice Cooper. If he didn’t have good songs, I would never listen. I’m not taken in by that crap. All show, no go, you know? It has to be good. That stuff has to be good. That’s what they have over image acts.
You can take KISS, and strip them down to nothing, and have them in a club with no makeup, little tiny amps, and if they played “Detroit Rock City”, they’d still be good. Same with Alice Cooper, if he played “Billion Dollar Babies” at the Troubadour with nothing, he’d fucking kill it, because it was good to begin with. That’s important. That’s the most important thing. In a world where we are surrounded by media on all sides, and at the click of the button you can see what Blue Cheer looked like in 1968, I think we have to make things more human, at least for us. I have to go out there and make this happen in people’s faces, and that can’t be done in a place that was designed for a sporting event. I would rather just go to the movies. I don’t enjoy those shows. I don’t like that. And that’s what drew me to punk rock to begin with, I liked the intimacy of it.
I’d assume you have the same feelings about festivals.
BO: We’re not in a position to turn down festivals. We don’t get offered a lot of festivals to begin with. I’m not in a place monetarily to turn them down. But if I had massive amounts of “fuck you money” in the bank, I would never play someplace like that. I would also never play a venue I wouldn’t want to go to. If were multimillion-selling band, I would never play a venue that was bigger than like, 1,500 people. Why should I? If it was designed for hockey, why would I want to put my band there? Especially if I had millions of dollars. The reason bands do is that is because they’re lazy. That’s why they do it. They want to make as much money with as little work as possible. Would you rather see a band like Roger Waters do The Wall at the Staples Center or the Henry Fonda Theater? Uh, duh. I’d rather see him do it at the Henry Fonda Theater with no staging, just play the whole album. I’d be much more excited about seeing him do that than I would be seeing him [at the Staples Center]. I might as well go to the movies.
If I’m going to go to the Staples Center, I’ll go to a hockey game, and I don’t go to many of those. Or baseball. This place designed for baseball is going to be used for a concert? Not me. Festivals are just by and large a good way for bands to make a lot of money. And we would do them because I need the money. But that doesn’t really come up, so it’s not an option for me. But if I was super-rich, there would be all kinds of shit I would not be doing. A huge list of “I will not do.” I think bands should work harder. If they’re going to go out and do that, they really should go out and deliver something you couldn’t get from any other band, whatever that may be.
An arena…It’s a head-scratcher for me why a band would do that. Put it in a smaller place. Like Tom Petty, I’m not a huge Tom Petty fan by any means, but he was doing like 15 shows at the Henry Fonda theater here in LA. He could play one huge show, but why didn’t he do that? Because he knows this would be better. And he doesn’t have to do anything. You know what? Everybody that went to those shows had a really great time, and a much better time than had they gone to see him at an arena. Good on Tom. I have to hand it to him for that.
THE PASSAGE OF TIME AND MIKE DILLARD
Buzz Osborne (BO): What’s funny to me is that people will go, “It’s like they never quit. They sound like they did in ‘83.” Are you fucking joking? We don’t sound anything like we did in 1983. We sound like we do now. We never would’ve written music like this in 1983. There’s no way. People have this idea that its that lineup, or most of that lineup, that it’s going to sound like that. I wrote new songs. But, I’ve read reviews where people go, “Picking up exactly where they left off in 1983.” No. Picking up where we left off six months ago. [Laughs.]
It’s just the fluidity of you three playing together, so in sync. That more than the music, to me, is what sounds like picking up from so long ago. You guys sound like a tight unit for a band that had only recently started playing together in this configuration.
BO: Right, well, what we did was, we picked out the songs before Dillard got here, and had some ideas about what we were going to do. Dillard came down in two weekend sessions, so we had about six days total with him in the studio, so we knew we had to get his parts done, so we had the stuff basically mapped out. So, what we would do before we’d go to the studio, in my living room I would play acoustic and Dillard would work it out with his hands on his knees. When things were fresh in his memory, we’d go down to the studio, run through it a few times, and record his part, until he got it. And then we’d move onto the next song.
BO: Dillard is a family man. He’s married to the same woman he was going out with when we were in high school, believe it or not. It never happens, but in his case it does. And they have three kids, and he’s a union machinist. So, we didn’t have a lot of time with him, so we really needed to make the time we had work. So, there wasn’t a lot of time for jamming or those kind of things. I knew I needed to have my end wired. And I wrote songs with that in mind, and ones that would work with him and Dale. Dale is not John Entwistle, and Dillard’s not Keith Moon. So, we wrote songs that were realistic. I honestly believe that I can work with anyone and make something good. There’s good in everybody, and you can find that, and the challenge is finding it and utilizing it to the best of your abilities.
Had Dillard been playing drums since ‘83? He sounds really great on the album, and I can’t imagine he just picked it right back up.
BO: He’s played in blues bands and he had a couple bands here and there, but it’s more of a hobby thing. He’s more of a full-time, 40-a-week union guy. Three kids too, man. Good luck. [Laughs.] So, this is a side thing for him, and we had a lot of fun. Me and Dillard have been friends since high school. His destiny did not lie where I ended up. He lives in a house that’s about a mile from the house he grew up in, in the town we went to high school in. That was just how it was going to work. And me and him have remained friends since then. And this has been really fun. I really put my thinking cap on to make that happen, and I’m really glad.
This album seems like a really authentic way to do what other bands have done with reunion tours and stuff like that. But you guys work too hard to ever have quit in the first place.
BO: No, we never had a reunion tour. Just reinvention tours. Most reunion tours don’t revolve around a new album, and if they do, it’s not a very good album, generall. I like to think this is just as good as anything we’ve ever done. For me, I can listen to and enjoy the records right up until the time when they come out, and then at that time, I’m done. You let the general public have it and let it have a life of its own.
Is it ever a challenge to work someone new into the fold, or incorporate some new theme? Or is it par for the course?
BO: Well, nothing’s par for the course. Par for the course for musicians is not really doing anything different. Normal, you know what I mean?
Right, but you guys have been doing it for so long, have changed and adapted so many different ways, does changing just come naturally, or is it something you still have to make an effort at?
BO: Well, you know, we have certainly in the last six years reinvented the band a number of times. If you count the Rutmanis era [bassist Kevin Rutmanis, from 1998-2005], which ended dramatically and wasn’t anything I was looking forward to doing, I was kind of forced into that due to extracurricular activities that have nothing to do with me, those decisions were never made lightly. So, when that happened, Dale and I were very discouraged fellows at that point. I made a decision then that I was never going to put myself in that position again. It was like, I was going to do what I wanted to do, and whatever I did, including Dale, was going to be the Melvins. No matter what it was.
So, then, I’m not going to be in a position where I have that much at stake in one person or more. So, with that in mind, it kind of felt like it was freeing. Now we could do whatever we want. Not that we didn’t do whatever we wanted, but now band-wise anything goes. Now, I have no idea of any other situation like that. I don’t know of any band that will utilize new members in a way that’s creative. I’m a firm believer in letting people do their thing, let the musicians play, if I already like what they do I should feel confident enough in letting them do it. So, when we got the Big Business guys in the band, we basically reinvented the band completely, from the ground up, with two drummers in the band and a bass player who sang lead. And then, that was a big milestone for us. It was a huge deal, and we approached everything like we were a brand new band. We didn’t try to make those guys shoehorn our old ideas into what was going on.
My philosophy to them was “I’ll let you drummers work this out. I have a bunch of ideas, but I don’t really particularly care as long as what you do is good.” The bass player, I told him, “You are a great bass player and a great singer, we want to utilize that as much as possible.” And then, after that, we reinvented the band again with Trevor Dunne playing standup bass [for Melvins Lite]. That was a total revision of what we were doing, a total renewal of how it would all work. It was equally impressive, and we once again approached it as if we were starting a new band. And then with this, we did a couple of live shows with Dillard where we played stuff from 1983, and Dillard, I think it was him, mentioned we should do some recordings, write some new songs… I wrote songs with that idea in mind just like I’d done the previous two times, or three times with Rutmanis, cause we did the same thing with him. Basically, my philosophy to bass players to this point was “Play these songs like this, or make them better. I want you to own it, one way or another.”
I think David Bowie did that kind of thing really well. If you listen to a lot of the musicians he played with in the late ‘70s, especially live stuff, there was a lot of liberty taken, but that doesn’t mean it was worse. I think a lot of times what they did was better. If you take Adrian Bellew playing with David Bowie, and songs where Bellew wasn’t there to record, if you hear any of that live stuff, he really was able to, Bowie allowed him to put his thumb-print all over that stuff. I think that’s a great idea, personally. Miles Davis did the same kind of thing, and I like to think we’re carrying on in the same grand tradition. But those are the exceptions, there’s not a whole lot of that. You look at a band like the Smashing Pumpkins, and they restart. Is it really a coincidence that they got a female bass player and an Asian guitar player? What are the odds? Know what I mean?
Photo by Katie Scheuring
I know Mike had played a few shows with you in the past couple of years, but how exactly did the idea of doing a record come about? Was it just a matter of those shows going well and wanting to keep playing together?
DC: Yeah, pretty much. I mean, when we initially did it, it was for Jello Biafra’s birthday. He had a big birthday party with a bunch of bands playing. I think he wanted the Melvins, and then we decided to do it with Mike because Jello had actually put out the vinyl for Mangled Demos, which was the original Melvins demos actually, with the original Melvins band, and then a bunch of other stuff, practice tape stuff, live stuff, as much stuff as those guys could dig up. So, I had mentioned to Buzz a long time ago, “Oh, you guys should do a show when you put the record out.” And he was like, “…Yeah…but I don’t know if we could do it with Matt Lukin. So, if we do, you could play bass.” So, that’s how I got elected to play bass.
Nice of him to throw you that bone, there.
DC: Right. [Laughs.] Well, and that was a long time ago. It was if and when. So, this thing that did come up was I was playing at Jello’s birthday party. So, we’re in pretty much an old set from when Dillard was in the band, what the band was doing right before I joined them, pretty much. Picked some of the songs that we thought would be good, and learned a set, and recorded it, and listened back, and thought, “That pretty much sounded the way you guys did in 1983, ‘84.”
And, I don’t know, [we] just had a good time doing it and decided let’s just write new songs. Don’t bother making this some nostalgic, like, “Hey, this is what the band was when…” I mean, we kind of did at first, “This is what the band was like in 1983,” but we realized pretty quickly that we could just do new songs and that would be this completely weird, different band, you know? No bands do that, really. At least they try, but not too many are successful.
Had you guys been keeping in contact with Mike that whole time? Had he been following the Melvins?
DC: Yeah, we’d always been friends with him. And we’d hang out with him, certainly, whenever we’d come to Seattle he’d come to shows, and all that. Yeah, we’ve always remained friends with him. It’d always felt like… There’s not too many people that I know from where we grew up, where we started, that we still feel like we have a connection with. He’s definitely one of those guys. I mean, just playing with him, it’s like, “Yeah, you’re totally one of us.” I still feel comfortable with him. I don’t know, same sense of humor. We still laugh about the same stupid shit.
Definitely sounds that way on the record.
DC: Yeah. Yeah… [Laughs.] There are a couple of songs I really like his drumming a lot on, too, where it’s like, “Wow, that’s so cool, I never would have thought to play it like that.” And that’s really great, you know, to hear that kind of stuff. Now I really want to play it live, and I want to learn it. He won’t really be able to play with us. He won’t be able to tour that much with us. He’s got a regular job, a wife, three kids. A union job. So, he won’t be able to tour too much, but there are a few songs I’d really like to learn to play on drums.
Did he get the bug? Is he going to be involved in more music in the future?
DC: Oh yeah, I’m sure. I think we all had a good time doing this. And I’m sure he’s always happy when we hand him a little scratch, you know? [Laughs.] “Cool, I get to take a vacation and I get paid for it. Great!” So, hopefully we do more. We took him to England with us and did this whole big thing with ATP where we played with that version of the Melvins, we did the Big Business version of the Melvins, and we’ve also got the Melvins Lite version of the Melvins.
TRES CABRONES AND METHODS
BO: I’m really super happy with this record. My wife thinks it’s her favorite record we’ve ever done. [Laughs.] Isn’t that funny?
I’m always impressed by how you two manage to change things up every time up, add in new wrinkles, and still manage to come up with something that is so clearly from your unique brains.
BO: Hey, nice, thank you! You know, it happens. Not often, though. I don’t know what I can attribute it to.
With “99 Bottles of Beer” and “In The Army Now”, as always with the Melvins, it seems like there’s this really great intersection between this real sense of humor and deep, heavy musicianship. Do you guys consciously blend the two when you sit down to write stuff, or is that just your natural demeanor?
DC: It kind of evens out. We’ve obviously been influenced by things like The Fuggs, and I always felt like The Who had that sense of humor. Serious musicians who are still able to poke fun at things. The Who, certainly. I would say The Who Sell Out record, that one’s got really strange humor on it. It almost has, for me, the same vibe, I guess.
Is that just a matter of not taking yourself too seriously?
BO: That’s true, but also you have to remember, on this record, the three weird songs, “Tie My Pecker To A Tree”, “You’re in the Army Now”, and “99 Bottles of Beer”, you’ve gotta listen to those songs. Those are meticulously recorded. [Laughs.] We worked as hard on those songs as anything we did on the record. They’re goofy, but one of my main influences is a band called The Fuggs. They would’ve thought that was funny. I think it’s funny.
Or Captain Beefheart
BO: Exactly. That’s it. I actually saw some reviews of the record saying “I’m going to take off points for those three songs,” or “those don’t really belong on the record.” I wanna go, “You know what, I really want to talk to you. I want to write down what belongs on an album. I wanna find from you what exactly belongs on an album. I wanna know what your favorite album is of all time.” You ask people stuff like that. You can ask people, “Tell me what your favorite album is of all time. Tell me what your five favorite albums are of all time.” You’ll get a strange list, or you’ll get strange looks, cause they don’t have that perspective.
A good example of that is, we did some records with Jello Biafra, and he’s into politics. Publicly. So, he’s complaining and complaining about presidents, and I go, “Jello, I know what presidents you don’t like, but what president do you think actually did the best job of any president ever.” And he goes, “Huh. I don’t know. No one’s ever asked me that.” Are you fucking joking? You only think about what you don’t like, not what you do like. He thought that was pretty funny. He goes, “That’s pretty good.
[Laughs.] I didn’t get an answer from him. I think he’s still thinking about that.
But, by and large, 90% of the reviews we get are good, but that cuts both ways as well. Because, if you look at a bad review, and you look through and see what else this guy has reviewed, it all becomes clear to you why he doesn’t like the band. Or if you look at a band because he mostly likes crap. Or then you find one amazing review of a band you don’t like, then that brings you back to square one. It’s the great equalizer. I think that stuff is really good. I don’t see anything wrong with it.
I think those songs are as good as anything that’s on the record, as important as anything that’s on the record. They’re not throw-away. Nothing we do is throw-away. If anything irritates me, it’s that kind of thinking, that we do throw-away material, or that I put filler on records. I’ve never done filler, ever.
DC: Yeah. You have to be able to poke fun at yourself. Most musicians, most people are really serious about everything. [Laughs.] I’ve played with plenty of musicians that are like that, and those are the kind of people…If you ever wonder why people would break a band up, it’s the people who just have huge egos and take themselves too seriously.
I don’t know. I guess I’ve always been realistic about this whole thing, about everything, not trying to be too extravagant, as far as all that goes. Like, living beyond your means on tour and not coming home with any money. Anything else that has to do with our band. Except, somehow, we’re pretty fucking weird. Weird in some respects, and totally normal and conservative in other respects. In other ways we’re out there kooky, crazy, wacky, out of our minds.
I think a lot of people take the sense of humor and think it’s something you’re not taking seriously.
BO: Do they imagine Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” wasn’t taken seriously? That’s a hilarious record. It’s funny all the way through it, you’re laughing your ass off, up until where he graduates from high school and walks off into the dust, a broken man. It’s all good. As the hero rides off into the sunset. We’re not supposed to take that seriously? It’s fucking genius is what it is. I’m not supposed to take “Kill for Peace” by the Fuggs seriously? I’m not supposed to? They take it seriously. I’m not supposed to take anything Frank Zappa ever did seriously? Okay. Or Primus? Or the Residents? Or any number of a million bands out there? We’re not original in that sense, by any means.
It’s almost like an enforced binary where you’re either incredibly serious or find things funny, and there’s no room to mix the two.
BO: The funny thing is the serious bands you can laugh at more than any of the other ones.
Speaking of the Pumpkins…
BO: I don’t know much about them. I’ve never owned any of their records. I’ve never really met them. I’m sure that Billy has his good qualities, and probably if I listened to their entire catalog, I could find 10 minutes of music that I thought was okay, but I’ll probably never do that. Even the worst bands I can find something I like. I really honestly can’t say. I just thought it was funny that when they replaced the band members, gender and race seemed to be issues. It would really have to be explained to me with charts and diagrams exactly how that makes a difference. [Laughs.] Oh well. “We’re going to get the best female bass player we can get.” Oh, really? Why not just get the best bass player? [Laughs.] Maybe you guys could be better. “Guitarist wanted. Nothing but Asian need apply.” Can you imagine? That’s like saying “Guitarist wanted. No Asians.”
It’s as much Hollywood casting call as it is a band.
BO: Which I find to be amazing. An all-female band from the ‘90s that will remain nameless, that were having trouble with their drummer, my suggestion to them was, “When you get back to Hollywood, get one of those hair metal drummers. Those guys are usually good. Like a Tommy Lee style drummer, it would improve your band amazingly. That would up the ante. If you had your band with Tommy Lee playing drums, it would be fucking great, because he could play that kind of stuff. There are a million of those kind of kids, get a young guy who’s a real powerhouse kind of drummer.” And they just stared at me like I was nuts, and they go, “If we replace the drummer it’d have to be a girl.” And I was just like, “What the fuck are you talking about? So, gender doesn’t matter until it’s all that matters.” [Laughs.] So much for being good. Don’t you think that kind of stuff is hilarious?
Photo by Katie Scheuring
And it happens so frequently in pop music and it’s sneered at by people in indie movements, but then people want to have their image too.
BO: The indie people, the “no rules” people, the problem with them is there’s too many rules. [Laughs.] Or heavy metal bands. I love heavy metal, and I love the fact that it’s rebel music and all that, and at least they’re pissed off, but you could never convince them to shave their heads and wear pink tutus. As good as that sounds. That would really up the ante in my book. I love that kind of stuff. Why would you want to look like everybody else? Like my parents said to me when I was in grade school, and everybody was wearing some kind of pants or something, “Well, why do you want to look just like everybody else? Why do you want to do things just like everybody else?” And then I would think to myself, you guys have only ever done and worn exactly what you’re peers are wearing, and now you’re telling me that too. Show me how it’s done. But that’s never going to happen. I always thought that was really funny. “If you’re friends jumped off a bridge would you do it too?” It’s like, “you pretty much do whatever everyone around you is doing all the time.” That’s the way music is too.
Early on I realized that stuff. Amongst the rock ‘n roll crowds, the “anarchy, anarchy now.” There’s more rules there than anywhere else. Jesus Christ. You have to keep a fucking slide rule to keep up with that shit. “What else can’t I do?” That’s what I loved about early punk rock anyway, especially late ‘70s, all the bands were so different. Talking Heads, The Ramones, Gang of Four, Blondie, the Sex Pistols, The Clash, they all offered you something different, you know? The Damned were different from the Jam, The Germs were different. It was great. Unbelievable shit. Now it’s a lot more compartmentalized. But, having said that, if you look at all the records that were released each year, I like about the same percentage of those records as I ever did. It’s just that my record collection has only expanded because years have gone by. There’s a few bands that slip through the cracks, and you go, “Wow, I really like this.” And then you buy it. But, by and large, it’s very few.
It seems like some of the serious half of the split in your demeanor comes from having an incredible work ethic. Taking the work seriously, but not the people behind it.
DC: Yeah. You know, and also, we’re in a situation where we have to do this all the time. I know bands that are probably as big as us, or could be as big as us, but they don’t do much with their band. I’m not going to name names at all, but we’re a career-minded band, I guess, the equivalent of your average working joe, you know.
I would think that’s how you’ve been able to go on for 30 years now.
DC: At the same time, it’s fun. It could be worse. I could be shoveling shit someplace. Beats that. Certainly beats that.
I’ve read that you guys recorded in huge sessions, with multiple albums being recorded at once. Does that get tricky when you’re working with multiple people?
DC: A lot of this record, about half of it I think, we recorded about the same time we did the Melvins Lite thing, the EP we did with the Big Business guys, and Everybody Loves Sausages, the covers record, so this is kind of all… part of it all started when we were doing the bulk recording for all those different things.
BO: Well, I write songs all the time. I was working on music this morning before you called. I was up with the sun, and I was working on music for probably an hour and a half, right up to the moment you called. Then I’ll put it away, and then I’ll go and record some more at the studio at noon. I’m pretty much always recording.
BO: Well, you know, I mean, if you actually work at your craft, and work on music… We’re really only talking about music. We’re not talking about brain surgery or sending somebody to the moon. If weirdos like Andy Warhol can work his entire life up until he died, I certainly should be able to. I don’t think it’s that difficult. If you don’t like this song, do another one. I don’t know what people are doing. They say, “I don’t want to make a record that sucks.” Well, you kind of already have. [Laughs.] What are you talking about? What the fuck are you worried about? Especially multi-platinum musicians that don’t work 60 days a year. I don’t get it.
Are those huge recording sessions something you’d done in the past, or was this something new?
DC: Bulk recordings like that? Yeah, I mean, that was just something we kind of set up and did. What we did was make our own studio. We weren’t really on the clock, or anything like that, and could sit their and record for as little or as long as we wanted to. We did that the winter before last, in Los Angeles here. Since we didn’t have any real plan of going to a studio and doing “a record”, we just kept recording and thought of other things we could record, one of them being this stuff with Mike Dillard. We invited him to come down and hang out. I think we recorded half of the record, and then we went to Vegas. That was our big, busy recording schedule.
Buzz writes almost all the stuff, let’s say almost 100% of at least the original song ideas. Sometimes it’ll get farmed out to other people to do vocals or whatever, but we pretty much write everything, write it, run it right there, run it ’til you’ve got it, and then start recording it. Don’t think about it too much, really, you know? It’s not like at this point in our career we have to sit and rehearse a song over and over and over again til we get it the way we want it. Definitely for us it’s different from the way most people do things. The main reason why is we’ve done so many records. A shit ton of records. Absolutely.
You’ve worked with, collaborated with so many different great musicians, and had a lot of different musicians in the band. Do you have anyone you’d like to record a Melvins album with?
DC: Yeah, I mean, we always think about stuff like that, and I guess that’s kind of why we’re doing all these projects, like the covers record with all the guest stars [Everybody Loves Sausages], people we could think of to do that kind of stuff. We’ve actually got something cooking that’s along those lines, but I won’t say too much about it. But we plan on doing more of that stuff. But is there one person? Does it have to be someone living?
I guess not. Let’s give it a no.
DC: Miles Davis, when he was doing his ‘70s era stuff.
I can see that happening. If he were still around, I could see that happening.
DC: We’re big fans of his stuff, and I’ve been listening to that a lot lately for some reason. It’s funny because not everybody can hear that stuff, and both Buzz and I like it, but if both wives of ours heard it they would fucking hate it. It’s something about the sound of the trumpet.
Something about Bitches Brew that just wouldn’t sit well?
DC: [Laughs.] No, it’s not a ladies record. At least none of the ladies I know. You might want to watch out for that lady if you do find her anyway, though. [Laughs.] Stay away.
BO: I would like to collaborate with [Miles Davis], Jimi Hendrix, or Judy Garland. I think they would’ve been wonderful. Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix were going to do an album together, but that was right when Jimi Hendrix died. I think that would be incredible. I got into Miles’ stuff really heavily in the ‘90s. I toured with Terry Bozzio playing drums on Fantomas, he’s a huge Miles Davis fan, and when you’re around somebody like that, and they’re such a big fans of something, and they talk about it passionately, it’s hard not to see it through their eyes, and that really pushed me over the brink of being a huge electric era Miles Davis fan.
I would say that that’s a huge influence on us that no one ever talks about. Albums like On the Corner and stuff like that are huge influences on us. His stuff would be considered weird now. I play that stuff for people, and it either clicks with them or they don’t hear anything. It’s all or nothing. You’re either a huge Miles Davis fan or you think it’s garbage. I’ve never found anybody who’s moderately into Miles Davis. I just don’t try to convince them. It’s not for everybody. But it should be. It’s sort of like the other day I was talking with this friend of mine and we were talking movies, and we were like, “Every Academy Awards, they should have to screen the movie Holy Mountain, just to purge the shit that everybody’s been voting on.” Every Academy member, and the audience at the Awards should have to watch that movie from beginning to end, or they can’t vote.
Maybe the filmmakers too, see what that does.
BO: All of it. Well, mostly the voting people. Because the Academy Awards are such horseshit. Why don’t you guys watch something that’s actually interesting? Just watch it, and see what you think. You should be forced to whether you like it or not. A lot of music should be like that, but I don’t know. I just thought that was funny.
LINEUP CHANGES AND DISCOGRAPHY
DC: Well, I certainly would’ve written bass parts had I ever played bass in the band.
But I know you’ve played bass in other bands in the past.
DC: Well, you know. Yeah. On Houdini I might’ve played a few songs on bass, but I can’t say I wrote those parts necessarily, cause we already had the songs going, our bass player just didn’t play on that one and I wound up playing it. There are a couple of songs where I kind of tried to write bass lines to it. A lot of the early Melvins stuff didn’t really have bass lines to begin with, they just follow the guitar. I tried to make them a little different, do little tricks and stuff. I kind of play bass like I play the drums. I try to do these little fills. It’s also a rhythm instrument, I guess, so it doesn’t seem too weird to me. Hell, any jackass can play the bass. [Laughs.] We’ve had plenty of them. [Laughs.] I’ll just get kicked out and play drums again. Anyway.
You’ve done plenty of stuff with multiple drummers, but was it at all strange to see somebody else recording drums on a Melvins record instead of you?
DC: It wasn’t really strange seeing me playing bass with Mike playing drums, but it was weird seeing me playing bass with Buzz playing guitar. I was just like, “Huh. This seems really out of place.” But I can play. I like playing guitar. Bass is kind of the same thing for me. It’s easier. There’s less gear to move. I don’t have to change my underpants after I play the bass. That’s one plus about, I guess. Might just have to change a shirt. My socks and underwear are still somewhat dry, to the point that I won’t need to seal them in a hermetically sealed plastic bag after I play a show.
Do you have a particular favorite album?
BO: I can’t pick out one album. We’ve done such a wide variety of things. I could do a “What five records would you say if somebody had never heard your band?” To cover it, let’s see, Tres Cabrones, Freak Puke, Nude With Boots, Stag, and Bullhead.
That does cover a pretty wide swath.
BO: And then I would add in the next five, the Lustmord album, Pigs of the Roman Empire, Hostile Ambient Takeover, Colossus of Destiny, the Lysol album, and maybe Stoner Witch. And then you have a good cross-section of everything we’ve ever done. We’re not the Ramones. As much as I love the Ramones, we’re not the Ramones. You could put the needle anywhere on a Ramones album and go “What album is this on?” I don’t know. That was kind of their deal. We’re certainly not like that. But then we stole our idea for our name from the Ramones, so there you go. [Laughs.] I always loved that about those guys, you didn’t know what it was. I don’t mean to shit on them.
Are you able to look back through those records and have any real nostalgia? Do you spend much time thinking back about different eras or albums? Do you ever go back and listen, revisit? Or is it a keep on moving forward, shark-like movement?
DC: Yeah, no, once we make a record we don’t really… I mean, you listen to it a little right after making it. Maybe occasionally you’ll hear it someplace. But I don’t really know anyone who sits around and goes, “You know what, I haven’t heard this record of mine in a while.” Not really. You’d never think of going back and listening to something, unless you’re going to learn something. Then you hear it sometimes and go, “Oh, weird.” Or sometimes I’ll be someplace where there’ll be a Melvins record playing, and I’ll recognize it and go “What the fuck is that?” and it’ll take a second because it’s familiar, but I won’t remember that it’s me. Buzz always says, “You wouldn’t read your own books.” Which is certainly true. Hey, I’m egotistical, but I’m not that egotistical.
BO: We’re working on a new one right now that I don’t really want to talk about at the moment, but it’ll be a head-scratcher for a lot of people [laughs], and it’ll be fucking amazing. A spring release. So, that’ll be three full-length albums in about a year.
DC: We’re going to Australia in December, and we’ll be there for about three weeks doing a tour. Big Business are doing that one, they’re back playing with us right now. Their bass player just had a baby, so he took some time off and we did the tour with Jeff Pinkus from Butthole Surfers playing bass. And after that, I don’t know, we’ve probably got another record coming out someplace. Somewhere in the deck we’ll play that card, then tour again, and keep the whole thing going. Next year’s tour will be our 30-year anniversary tour with me being in the band. It’s my 30-year anniversary tour.
Do you just wind up playing every instrument on that record?
DC: [Laughs.] Yeah. In fact, it’s just me, even on tour. Doing Melvins songs I had nothing to do with, or something like that. Yeah, I don’t know. Definitely will be some plans next year. I think everybody will be interested in the stuff we’re doing. It’ll be weird and different. Imagine that. Completely different from what we just did. So, there you go.
Do you two have any sort of plan of when to call it quits? Do you have a thing that is the bottom of the well, the thing that once you’ve done that, you’re done?
DC: Nah. Run it til’ the wheels fall off. Run it into the ground, however that may be. Whether it’s graceful old age or a fiery wreck someplace. We’ll see. We’ll see how it all goes down. Hopefully it’ll be good.
I’m glad to hear that, and I’ll put a vote down for graceful old age.
DC: Yeah, that’d be nice. We’ll do it until we can’t physically do it anymore. I don’t see why not. I mean, I still like it and hopefully everybody else does. Well, some people like it. Somebody someplace might like what we’re doing.
BO: I don’t know. I’ve never been in a position where I could quit working. Some people…like Salinger wrote one huge book and didn’t do shit the rest of his life. He may have been writing, but he didn’t produce anything. I don’t know that that wouldn’t be the case if I’d made a million dollars a long time ago. I have no idea. But it didn’t work out that way for Andy Warhol or Francis Bacon. Those are the people I get my inspiration from. I don’t want to be somebody who takes it for granted and quits. I also don’t want to be John Kennedy Toole and blow my brains out before the cows come home. I don’t want to have that happen either. But I also don’t want to pretend that this is just no big deal, and I could just walk away from it. I don’t want to do that.
You can always do something interesting. If you don’t like doing what you’re doing, then just do something different. I play a lot of golf over the last six years, and somebody says, “We play the short courses a lot for practice.” It’s like, “Oh, that’s too easy.” Then make it harder. Hit the first ball into the woods. Now it’s not easy. [Laughs.] “Well, I don’t want to do a tour like that.” Then don’t do a tour like that, do something you think is fun. Figure out something else. That’s like with this. Why can’t we do a record with the lineup from 1983? Why not? Why don’t bands do that kind of stuff? What’s the problem? It’s not hard to do. Especially bands that have nothing but money and time on their hands and don’t do shit. Nothing. [Laughs.] Nothing. If I was in a position to do those kinds of things, I’d work all the time. What else are you supposed to do? None of that made sense to me.
I always wonder about professional athletes, their career is over in their late 30s. Then what? A lot of that does not end well. I don’t want to have that kind of thing happen either. Money is not an end-all to happiness. People have said to me, which I think is crazy, “Do you ever get jealous that Kurt Cobain got fame and money?” And I go, “Kurt Cobain is fucking dead. Are you kidding? What are you talking about? You think I would trade places with a dead guy?” Yeah, I wish I had been more famous, and had more money, and was dead. No, no, no. I win. I win. He doesn’t win. He loses. He’s a major loser. His fucking loss. He left a baby at the mercy of that woman. And, it couldn’t be worse. There’s nothing good about any of that.
I’m very happy with who I am and exactly what I’m doing, and it’s way more than I ever expected. When we started this band with Dillard over 30 years ago, my major goal, what I really wanted to do was just to be able to play a real show. And I surpassed that within six months of being in a band. The rest is just gravy, all the better. People should take lessons from us. This is how you do it. And it’s almost like big bands look at what we’re doing and they don’t take us seriously. Like, “That’s not really what you do, that’s not really how it works. We can’t do that.” No. You can do that. You can do more than that. You can do anything you want to. Don’t do it, that’s the tragedy. Oh well.