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Interview: The Melvins


Having spent the last three decades consistently reaffirming and reinventing themselves as one of the boldest and most thoroughly influential bands of all time, the Melvins have recently released the excellently-titled – genuinely impressive – Everybody Loves Sausage, a covers album featuring renditions of songs by acts as tastefully disparate as Throbbing Gristle and David Bowie. With their 30th Anniversary Tour just around the corner, we speak to the band’s legendary drummer Dale Crover about the release, the band’s quarter of century reigning as the unequivocal Godfathers of Grunge and much more besides.

Eighteen genre-spanning full-length albums and several bassists into their career, one wonders: why did the legendary Montensanto, Washington band decide to release a covers album now? “Well, we did a shit ton of recording at the beginning of last year,” reveals Crover. “Three different releases by three different line-ups of the band, and a bunch of cover songs with different guest stars. We’ve always done cover songs. These covers were originally going to be separate releases – singles most likely. We realised we had enough for an album. So,  it was a case of “why not?”” What will people learn from the record? That we have good taste maybe?

Whilst potentially a little surprising to some, several of the acts that the band cover on the Everybody Loves Sausages are of much more poppier sound (take Queen’s ‘You’re My Best Friend’) than the vast majority of their own original material. Are they of opinion that there such thing as “cool” and, equally, “non-cool” music? Does “coolness” even remotely matter to them? “Most pop music is horrible,” says Crover. “Every once in a while there’s something good. We’ve always like bands like Blondie or Bowie (whose ‘Station to Station’ is covered on the album) who make interesting music that happens to be popular. In my opinion, there’s good music, then there’s the rest.”

Although it should go without saying, the Melvins – fronted by the inimitable Buzz ‘King Buzzo’ Osborne – are ever-increasingly lauded for having spearheaded a sound and totally fearless songwriting approach that has irrevocably altered the state of alternative music for at least two generations now.  But which artists do the band think have left the biggest imprint on their own sound over the last three decades? “We’re big fans of all kinds of different music, from Judy Garland to PIL. That’s no bullshit! Overall, punk rock is what got us into this mess.” And are they, in their own eyes, worthy of the critical praise and respect heaped on them over the years? “If we can influence a band, that’s great,” says Crover. “There’s lots you can learn from how the Melvins operate as a band. We’re a bunch of hard working sonofabitches! We’ll take praise and respect any day.”

Amongst other things, a recent development in the Melvins’ camp is Melvins Lite, a line-up featuring Mr Bungle’s bassist Trevor Dunn, Crover and King Buzzo which yielded the band’s 2012 album Freak PukeHow did that come about? “Melvins Lite came to me in a dream. It was just Buzz and myself as a two piece. We like bass though, and Buzz saw Trevor playing standup bass doing crazy things with it. We thought it would be something different.” As for the experimentation on the release – what inspired it directly? “Playing with a double bass was the inspiration! We knew we could do something different with it. Trevor also brought some songs to the table. No amps on the bass at all. I also played with brushes on a few things.”

Having dabbled in (and indeed occasionally mastered) everything from drone, electronic, country, post-metal and everything in between, The Melvins’ incessant desire to test themselves as musicians and performers – never mind their already established audience – has become a matter as worthy of praise and attention as their original, mostly widely heeded sludge-metal sound. As is now effectively factual, do the band feel that they justify the title the ‘Godfathers of Grunge’? And, more importantly, do they care? “If the Melvins never existed things would be a lot different,” says Crover. “You can blame us, but yeah, it was long ago. Kids find our band because they’re interested in music history – that’s great! But we’re not a nostalgia act. We’re current and relevant. We are the makers of the music, the dreamers of dreams!”

A childhood friend of Kurt Cobain’s, Crover played bass in legendary pre-Nirvana demo Fecal Matter, one year before he left an Iron Maiden cover band to join the Melvins. Whilst his band paved the way for the whole whirlwind that would become grunge, they always seemed to remain on the outskirts of hype and hyperbole, growing in acclaim and recognition by the year. “You have to remember, we moved away from the Northwest before any of that happened,” says Crover. “It was strange seeing it all go down. It all ended on a big bummer of a note! I really wish things would have worked out differently. All I can say is that we’re still kicking. That’s all that matters to me now.” Did he expect the Melvins to be going strong in 2013? “No, when we first started the band we didn’t think 30 years down the line.  But, believe it or not, I still like working and playing and recording. It’s fun and I get paid! There’s no good ol’ days for us.”

Having recently completed a 51 States in 51 Days tour – “we did it for the freak show aspect of it. See the bearded monkey play the piano!” – what’s the plans for new material from the band? Does it follow on from Freak Puke in terms of sound/angle? “There’s more coming with all three lineups (The Melvins, Melvins Lite and Melvins with extra drummer Coady Willis). We recently recorded some new Melvins 1983 songs and we’re about to do shows where we play five of our old records,” reveals Crover. “What we’re not going to do is play the records verbatim. The set list is arranged in a way that works in a live setting. After this tour of Europe we’ll be doing a big 30 year anniversary tour in the US. Probably make something new and do it all over again.”Buzz is very driven at being a songwriter, artist – whatever,” adds Crover. “I doubt he would consider it a chore being creative. I’ve never seen him have writers’ block and I’m sure, as the rest of us are, that he’s very happy not to have to answer to some bozo boss telling him to mop the floor and take out the trash.”

Showing little to no signs of letting up, The Melvins can feel rest assured of their almost mythological status. Whilst some hardened early-days fans might begrudge their seemingly necessary desire to expand and experiment, there can be no question that Crover, Osborne and Co. left their print on alternative music as a whole like very few others. Which makes one wonder, which of their records are they most proud of and why? Likewise, what would they change – recording-wise – if they could? “There’s some records I like more for whatever reason,” says Crover. “When we first started making records we didn’t have a ton of money to spend on recording. Our first five records we’re recorded and mixed in no more than four days. Having more time would’ve helped for sure, but the songs are still the songs. Now we have recording down. It’s easier and we can be more creative in the studio. I think we’re making our best records right now.” Long may they reign. Brian Coney

Everybody Loves Sausages is out now on Ipecac

is the editor of The Thin Air. Talk to him about Philip Glass and/or follow him on Twitter @brianconey.