For nearly 25 years, the Melvins have played a singular form of sludge rock, serving as the initial inspiration for grunge acts like Nirvana and Soundgarden. After a short run with Atlantic Records in the mid-’90s, the band has returned to the indies and seems to have found a home with Ipecac, the label that has released its past couple of albums, including its most recent, this year’s hard-hitting Nude With Boots. Drummer Dale Crover recently spoke about the band’s storied history via phone from his Los Angeles home.
The band’s been around for almost 25 years, and your most recent bio says it’s because you guys are “too dumb to quit.” But what do you really think has contributed to the group’s longevity?
Besides the fact that we’re too dumb to quit, we’ve burned every other bridge. We either do this or we’re flipping burgers at Burger King. I’m old enough that maybe I’d even get a management position and get to boss some teenager around. That might be fun. But really, we like what we’re doing. We see no reason to quit. I think, for many people, it’s hip to be a band for a while and break up before you get really terrible or run out of ideas. That hasn’t happened. We work really hard. [Singer-bassist] Buzz [Osborne] always has new material, and it’s always exciting. We like it enough to keep going. I’ve done this since I was 16, and I can’t imagine what it would be like not being this band. We really enjoy it and have so for a long time. We feel fortunate to be doing it and making a living. It’s great.
I think many bands sign to a major label and then call it a day once the deal comes to an end. You’ve been particularly prolific in the aftermath of Atlantic Records. What kind of effect did leaving the label have on the group?
We thought it was really weird we got signed. We understood why, with all the hype around Seattle and the connection to Nirvana. We figured once it passes, we’ll go back to what we were doing before. By the early ’90s, we were surviving off the band. We quit our day jobs and put all our time and effort into the band. We knew it wasn’t going to last. We were surprised it lasted as long as it did. We outlasted the management and went through a couple of AR guys. It’s a business. They try to make a commercial-sounding record. Houdini did okay, but they market every band the same way. They didn’t do anything with us that they didn’t do with Hootie & the Blowfish. We did our job on our end. Stag was one of our favorite records. I thought we would sell a ton of records. It didn’t sell as much as I thought it would. Oh well.
You seem to be in a good groove with the Big Business guys who have played on the last two albums. Talk about what they bring to the table.
Well, having two drummers is pretty cool. That was part of the appeal of getting those guys. We lost yet another bass player. I played some shows with them and thought they were pretty good. They were thinking of moving to Los Angeles, and we asked them if they wanted to play with us. It’s been going great. We added another lead singer too. There’s a lot more focus on harmonies, which I’m into. I sang more on this record than any other. I really like it. It adds a new dimension to the band.
“Dies Iraea” is a real sinister-sounding song. I think of it as the sonic equivalent of a nightmare. Is there a good story behind its inception?
Well, actually, it’s a cover song. It’s from The Shining. It’s our cover of a Wendy Carlos song that was in the movie. You know, sometime after Clockwork Orange, “Walter” became “Wendy.” We thought it would be a good cover song. Buzz had wanted to do it on a Fantomas record. [Fantomas singer] Mike [Patton] passed it over for some reason. After recording it, I thought, “This is creepy.” I’m afraid to listen to it late at night.
The title track on Nude With Boots has such a good groove. Any thoughts of releasing it to commercial radio?
I don’t know if they’ll play it. There’s a station here called Indie [103.1 FM] that [the Sex Pistols’] Steve Jones and Henry Rollins have shows on. They’ll probably play it. I think, if anything would be played, it would be “Billy Fish.” Or maybe the first song, “Kicking Machine.” I think Joe Average could get into a couple of them. I’m not going to hold my breath. Our strong point is playing live.
There have been numerous collaborations between the Melvins and other artists over the years. Which one caught you the most by surprise? Leif Garrett?
Yeah. When we were doing that record, which was all collaborations, I was walking down the street with Greg Workman, who runs our label. We started talking about a ’70s star who was huge but isn’t anymore. He was like, “What about Leif Garrett?” We got a number and asked him if he was interested. We wanted to do “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with him. He was into it. It was pretty good. I think maybe some of the Nirvana guys thought we were making fun of the song. If they thought that, they were right. If they take offense, they can go cash a check for it. The one other one was Yoko Ono. Her son Sean is a big fan of the Melvins. We called and asked if he wanted to play. They had a song influenced by us. We went to the Roxy [in L.A.] and played with Yoko and had a good time. We thought she was pretty good, and we’ve always attracted the art crowd, so it worked out well.
Describe the first time you met Buzz.
It was in Aberdeen [Washington]. I was about 14 or 15 and was playing in this cover band that used to play high-school dances. We got a gig playing in the local Elk Hall for a radio benefit for the Sunshine Kids, who are mentally retarded adults. We walked into this place, and it was the Melvins playing. I watched them start playing, and I was like, “Wow.” I had seen Rock ’n’ Roll High School and read about punk in Cream, but I had never been exposed to anything like that. I liked heavy metal at the time. I thought it was really heavy, and I liked it. My other band members, who were square, thought it was weird. I thought Buzz was great. I had never seen a white guy with an Afro in Aberdeen before. There were only one or two blacks in town, and they didn’t have Afros. I saw them again, opening for [the Aberdeen metal band] Metal Church. The Melvins opened, and I met them through [Nirvana’s] Krist Novoselic, who I knew through my high school. He brought them to my house and had me try out to be their drummer. I wasn’t going anywhere in the cover band I was in, so I was happy about the change.
Who was your favorite drummer as a kid?
There’s many. Lately, I’ve been watching lots of Buddy Rich videos on YouTube. I can’t believe how amazing a drummer he was. I saw him when I was 13 or 14. He was miles ahead of everyone. He’s out there. I like mostly rock drummers: guys like Keith Moon and John Bonham. I could talk about it all day.
Because the band has two drummers, do you hear twice as many drummer jokes?
No, but someone has got to come up with some good two-drummer jokes.
The Melvins, Big Business, 9 p.m. Wednesday, August 6, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., 216.321.5588, Tickets: $15.