Melvins drummer, Dale Crover sits behind the kit as eagerly in 2013 as I imagine he did with the Iron Maiden cover band of his youth or when he played for Nirvana shortly thereafter. In a culture seemingly hellbent on a hashtagged sense of worth, Crover and longstanding partner in crime, King Buzzo, have churned along creating songs and records that have compelled countless musicians to get off their asses, grab an instrument, and get weird. Their nineteenth (!) full length, Tres Cabrones, finds a twist in the lineup as Crover takes on bass duties while original drummer, Mike Dillard, handles drums. It’s an oddity, yes, but one that comes as no surprise from the weirdest (and arguably most prolific) heavy band of all time. I talked with Dale about the new record and just how the hell the Melvins approach songwriting after all these years.
With the extensive history of the Melvins, and how prolific you guys are, what was the thought process with Tres Cabrones as opposed to other records, especially given the lineup change?
How this all started was about five or six years ago, we got asked to play Jello Biafra’s birthday party. He did this big fiftieth birthday party. He ended up putting up the vinyl version of what was the original Melvins demo that had Mike Dillard, Matt Lukin, and Buzz on it. I remember even before this came up I had mentioned to Buzz that those guys should play shows – the original band should play shows. He was like “That’s a good idea, but there’s no way we’re gonna ask Matt Lukin to do it.” And he probably wouldn’t do it anyway. It’s been years since Matt’s been in the band, but he still is mad that we kicked him out. Even though he went on to join a band that was more popular than us and were very successful, he’s still upset about something that happened a long time ago. He wasn’t gonna be back in the band, so Buzz is like “Guess what? You get to play bass.” [Laughs]
We got together for Jello’s fiftieth birthday party and learned pretty much the set that the band was playing when they started – at least most of the old songs. It sounded great. We recorded probably like our first practice, listened to it, and went: “That’s pretty much what you guys sounded like.” I’d seen the band a couple of times before I joined, so that was pretty damn close. So, once we got to playing we were like, “You know, we could just write new songs.” [Laughs] And then it would be no problem. Right away when we first started playing we were like “This is fun!” We just decided that that would be something we could do eventually.
With Mike Dillard, the drummer, he has a pretty good job. He’s got this union job he’s had for a long time. He still lives in Washington. He’s married to his high school sweetheart, has three kids, so being in a band, he decided a long time ago, wasn’t the career that he wanted to take. So we can pretty much only play with him when he has vacation time. [Laughs] Luckily for us his family has been very understanding and has let him get away at certain times and come down and fuck around with us. Which is great. In the last year or so he’s come down here a few times, and we’ve just kind of gotten together and written songs and recorded them.
I think we did it over a couple of different weekends, really. It was all very quick and very easy, and Buzz, being the main songwriter, kind of wrote songs that weren’t terribly complicated that we could learn easily, so we could learn and record right away. Most of the stuff is more or less straightforward, I guess, and was geared toward what Mike could play, and what I could play on the bass. I think it’s a little more straightforward, and it is, but oddly I think that if you didn’t know what the lineup of the band was, you probably wouldn’t notice too much.
(credit: Tracy Marander)
Was the shift to bass difficult for you, or was it pretty much like picking up an old habit?
As you may know by our history of bassists, any jackass can play the bass. [Laughs] I’m just one in a long line of jackasses that have been in the band playing bass. No, seriously, I’ve played guitar for a long time, and I’ve played bass for a long time. For me it was like “Yeah, this is fun. It’s great.” It’s easier than drums, believe it or not. You don’t have to exert as much as energy to play the bass as you do drums so, for me, it’s a vacation.
So you’re pretty much halfassing it while the rest of the band is doing all the work.
[Laughs] Exactly. You know why there’s only four strings on a bass, right? Because three of them are spares. I can tell you all the great bass player jokes I have. It was for fun, though. When we got together to do this originally we thought it was cool, and we decided we could just write new songs. Instead of making it nostalgic like “Hey, this is what the band was like thirty years ago when nobody was there!” [Laughs] “This is what we used to play when we played to five people!” A lot of times bands will get back together after breaking up or whatever and do a reunion, and then do a reunion record that’s maybe not as good as their glory days, and then what do you do after that? The reunion thing, I think, has somewhat of a limited shelf life, you know? People get into it at first, and it’s always really great and lucrative for bands, but then after a while it’s like what are you gonna do? If you can’t make new records as good as your old ones you’re kind of screwed.
Obviously that’s not the mindset you guys have, though. Speaking to the longevity of bands and the Melvins, I’m curious as to what your journey has been as a musician, Dale. From the Iron Maiden cover band all the way to where you are now, what’s the story been like for you, and how have you seen yourself change as a musician?
I guess getting better. I don’t know. I think you can hear all the records and see how we’ve grown. We never really had any big plan for this. [Laughs] We never thought “Oh, we’re gonna be around forever!” It was just kind of what we did. Early on, we were able to do this, and tour, and make records, and make money. This was before any of the…it was when the Seattle bands were starting to get popular before it really hit the mainstream. As early as 1990. Possibly even ’89. That’s pre-Cobain. [Laughs]. B.C. – Before Cobain. So, we were able to make a living off of this. Not tons of money, but we were able to go on tour, come home, and pay our rent. That, to us, was reason enough to keep this going and try to make this whole thing work.
I think that we’ve managed to do it more or less on our own terms, you know? We don’t really have a manager or anything like that. We manage ourselves which is perfect, so we don’t have to pay somebody a percentage. We’ve got our own booking agent which we’ve been working with a long time – same company, same person. That’s always been really great. I think we’ve always sought out long term relationships with people we like to work with. Be it record labels or booking agents or whatever. We’ve somehow managed to make this work all these years and have been realistic about the way things in our world work.
Our original goals were just to play a show. [Laughs] To have it last this long, and to make it work and make a living and make records whenever we want to and tour whenever we want to – it’s great. There’s other bands that have certainly been around as long as us that have kind of had the same level of success as us, I guess, but it’s definitely different. We’ve done things different than anybody else. Absolutely.
When you think about how the music spectrum has changed since even that time with regards to recording, writing, promotion, even how it’s created to some degree. How have you seen that shift change since then just with regards to what people’s perceptions and exposure to good art and good music?
As far as changing, I guess with the music business we’ve always just rolled with the punches. Making records now is certainly, with the digital age, I think easier. For one, it’s less expensive. At the same time, a lot of studios have closed because of it. Because people aren’t spending the money in a studio but recording at home or whatever. We’ve just never worried about what was going with anybody else and just worried about what we wanted to do. [Laughs] And that’s always been the case with everything.
Like songs that we write, and even the way we operate our band, we felt never quite the same as anybody else. Most people and most musicians seem to be worried about what people are gonna think. I guess that’s the biggest thing right there. We never cared about what other people thought. We cared about what we thought. I think that’s the biggest thing. If we like it, and we think it’s good, then we think everybody should think the same way – even though we know that’s not always gonna happen. We’ve always known that our stuff’s been uncompromising. Not necessarily on purpose.
We’ve always thrown out the normal pop formula for writing a song and decided to think of things musically different. Which Buzz does a really good job of, and I’m not sure if it’s because he’s not really musically trained. He’s kind of self taught besides learning from some other people and learning chords and riffs, stuff like that. I think that has something to do with the way he thinks about song structure and writing and things like that.
I think the social media culture now is at least a little more conducive for bands like the Melvins who are doing it their own way if only for the fact that the exposure that didn’t exist before is now somewhat readily available.
Yeah, I mean even trying to find somebody that would want to put out records for us – that was a big challenge. We went for a long time having all these songs and wanting to make records, but without a means to do it. This was probably before…this was like late 80s that I’m talking about. We’d already put out one record, and we moved to San Francisco, and when we were there we started over basically with a new bass player and had all these songs and no way to do anything with them. No label.
Finally we got Boner to put them out. They were interested. We really wanted to be on SST Records at the time. [Laughs] Because we thought what they were doing was great. They had all these great bands and this was kinda before SST got jumbled up with whatever was going on with them – bands not being paid or whatever. I guess in a way it was good we didn’t sign with SST, but we wanted to be with them, it didn’t happen, so we got on Boner. Did a bunch of records with him, and it worked out great. With how it is now, though, it’s so easy to get your name out there, or even anything that’s going on with us? All we gotta do is post it on Facebook, and we’ve got almost 200,000 people looking at it. It’s pretty cool.
When you think about the footwork and effort that went into getting an album made and getting it in the hands of so many people, does the lack of tension in having to do that now make for a potentially watered down creative process? Is the personal investment still there?
I don’t think so. I think that we’re in such a different position than everybody else. When it comes to recording, it’s way easier now. We’ve been working with the same engineer for a long time. We started working with him when we were still doing stuff on a tape machine. [Laughs] He used to work in a studio in the valley in Los Angeles, and I think we found him through the Tool guys. They knew him, or at least the guitar player knew him. Now we’ve worked with him for so long that he’s opened up his own studio, and we’ve kind of been helping him with that. We record there a lot. If we wanna record, all we gotta do is just go over there and the stuff’s already set up.
Usually what we’ll do is we’ll just sit there for about a half hour and then record it. Then the basic part of it’s done. Compared to when we first started to make records, I don’t know. I guess we’ve done so many of them now that we know what we’re doing. Finally. [Laughs] Our first couple of records it was kind of a foreign thing, recording. It wasn’t the same as playing live. And then also when you’re on the clock and paying for it and have only so much time – then there’s a lot more pressure. Now that pressure is completely gone. It’s been gone for a while just after making so many records and knowing what to expect. For me, I’m always the first one done with my parts. I can sit back and kind of be on the other side of the glass and help out with whatever else people are doing, be it vocals or guitar parts or whatever. I really like doing that stuff.
We’ve mentioned Tool and Nirvana already here. Two hugely popular bands who’ve directly cited you guys as influences. From your perspective, having done this since the mid 80s all the way to now, how do you respond to the constant shout outs or references from these artists?
I think it’s great that we’ve influence somebody, for sure. Certainly doesn’t bother us that any of us that those bands have had more success than us. Even still, with a band like Nirvana, their song structure was definitely in pop form. They knew that. They went from sounding pretty much just like the Melvins to making it as more of an influence, and then inserting other things. Like The Beatles. If you cross The Beatles and the Melvins that’s kind of what Nirvana is. We’ve always knew they were more commercially accessible than us. We’ve always known that our stuff was weird stuff. But we were never trying to write stuff that would sell millions of records, though we think that everybody should buy it. [Laughs] We understand that it’s not for everybody.
(credit: Jackie Canchola)
You guys seem unstoppable. I feel like when everything else is blown away, you guys will still be making records. What’s the future for the Melvins?
It’s Buzz. He’s the one who works on it the most. He’s the main songwriter, so he’s always writing. He’s always planning ahead. Not every band has someone like him in the band to motivate people, which I think is why some bands take so long in between records. We’ve always said that musicians are some of the laziest people on the planet, and that’s totally true. Like, what happened with Nirvana? Kurt Cobain was the laziest guy I knew. Still. To this day would be the laziest guy I’ve ever known. Not to say that he didn’t write good songs and all that, but what happened with those guys – that’s a total Cinderella story right there. From rags to riches. Having nothing, being a janitor, and then all of a sudden getting signed to a major label and selling millions of records. It’s like – what the fuck? [Laughs]
Not to say that they’re not a good band, but his favorite past time? Was sleeping. I swear he could sleep any place. In a chair. In a car. Anywhere. Buzz is the complete opposite. He’s very driven, and he seems to have to do this stuff. His mind is constantly spinning a million miles an hour, so he has to do something to control it. That’s keeping busy and writing songs, and thank god we’ve got somebody who’s planning our future. Part of it is the fear of being broke and not having any money. And since we’re pretty much our own boss, we pretty much dictate what we’re gonna do, and how we’re gonna do it. But at the same time we like to always have a plan.
We usually like to have a year planned in advance. Which is great, but when you add the whole thing up I’ll bet you we work less than somebody that has a nine to five job. I figure about three months out of the year is touring, and then we’ll do some recording here and there and some other things. Total work out of the year of what we do? I don’t know – probably four months? Five months at the most? It’s not that much, and certainly we do more than most of the other bands, for sure. Lots of other bands, but it’s just not that much. It’s basically that musicians are lazy and we try not to be. [Laughs]
Thanks to Dale for his time.
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