Though stylistically different, the Melvins (pictured) and Napalm Death, two veteran acts formed in the '80s, have teamed up for a co-headlining tour that promises to make your ears bleed. Sludge metal rockers who contiue to actively tour and record, the Melvins had a huge influence on the grunge bands that emerged from the Pacific Northwest in the late '80s and early '90s. Formed in England in 1981, Napalm Death turned death metal on its head by mixing it with hardcore punk, creating a new genre dubbed grindcore. In separate interviews, Melvins' drummer Dale Crover and Napalm Death singer Mark "Barney" Greenway talk about the tour and their bands' remarkable legacies.
The two bands know each other from the past?
Yeah, yeah. We’ve known each other for many, many years. I wouldn’t say we’re besties, but we’ve known each other many years and the tour is something we had in the back of our minds for a long time. With Napalm, we try to give different experiences not just for the people who come to shows but for ourselves as well. It’s the perfect thing. They have a certain level of extremity themselves. On the other end of the spectrum, we have our thing.
Yep, we've played shows together before. [Melvins singer-guitarist] Buzz [Osborne] and [Napalm bassist] Shane [Embury] were in Venomous Concept together. We've talked about touring together for quite some time now. We're very excited, and it's gonna be fantastic.
Which band plays heavier music?
I can’t say that. It’s the ear of the beholder, I suppose you would say. What is heaviness and how do you gauge it? They’re just two different bands. Everyone will have a different angle on that one.
Hmmm, I guess we'll have to have a weigh in before the tour starts to determine that. Time to start eating lots of cheeseburgers to bulk up.
How did the two bands first meet?
We played together in 2005 or something. We did a series of shows. It was Napalm and Melvins and Neurosis and Final Conflict, a California hardcore band. It was only three or four shows, but it was a great lineup. If I could have, I would have taken that whole lineup everywhere but we could only do a few shows. I thik we played San Francisco and two or three other shows in that area. There is history and personally, I have been a Melvins fan for a long time. I bought [1987’s] Gluey Porch Treatments
the day it came out. I’m on board with the finer points of the Melvins.
I first heard of them through Chris Dodge who used to write for Maximum R&R
and ran Slap A Ham records, sometime in the late '80s.
Talk about the group’s legacy. The group’s formation dates back to the '80s. Was the underground music scene better than now?
For starters, I wasn’t there in the beginning. I was just a friend. I wasn’t there in the early '80s. I first saw [Napalm] in 85 or 86. It was a long time ago but not the very beginning. It was a different scene then. It was localized in many respects. It was a punk scene. There was this great old venue we used to go called the Mermaid. It was a collection of punks. There were maybe some ’77 punks but mainly anarchist punks. There were also a few Rastafarians. It was a very mixed scene, which is a great thing. It was good times. Then, of course, Napalm got bigger because it was notorious in some ways. It had such extremity. It just spread, and we started playing all over the world. With that comes a certain appeal and it went from there.
The area we're from, Grays Harbor, is pretty isolated. There really wasn't a music scene there besides a few high school cover bands. I was in one of those bands when I was a teen and we played with the Melvins at the local Elks Club. None of my bandmates liked them besides me. They played originals and sounded like the Ramones mixed with Motörhead. They were weirdo outsiders for sure. They didn't look, dress or sound like everybody else from that area. They confused the hell out of the locals. Nothing has changed in that department.
Grindcore/grunge didn’t even exist as a genre before the band started.
It didn’t exist but the more specific story is how the name came about. Mickey, the old drummer, coined it. He was looking for a word for something that was extremely slow and painful, which was like early Swans, and the fastest thing around which was Siege from Boston or Repulsion from Michigan or it could mean SOB from Japan or Asocial from Sweden. There were all these underground bands from back then. That’s where it comes from. The press picked up on it and ran with it. It was Mickey who came up with it. The scene was infinitely smaller then than it is now. Hardcore did exist before Napalm. Napalm was started in '81 and hardcore was used before that.
That's a bit bold to say but certainly we had a big part of something that wouldn't have existed without the Melvins. I think how it happened was by being outsiders and not being like everyone else. Doing our own thing and believing in it. And not giving a deuce about what anyone else thought.
Talk about your approach on your new albums.
To be honest, when we go and do an album we don’t produce a checklist. That’s not how we do things. It sounds obvious but we go in and we make the best thing we can at the time. We want it to be appropriate to maintain the harshness of the band sonically. Lyrically, we also want to ask questions that might make people uncomfortable. Anything that comes from beyond that is purely organic. Of course, I can only speak for myself because there are two other people who write music. However they feel about it is another thing. For me, from a lyrical point of view, I had the catalyst some time before [Apex Predator — Easy Meat] started, which is unusual. Usually, when we come to a conclusion that we want to start a new album, I’m usually going through all the things I can do. I poke a stick at what is happening in the world. I don’t want to make it in the past because that’s already gone. I want to make it about now.
The Mike and the Melvins Three Men And A Baby
record [is one] we started 17 years ago with Mike Kunka from Godheadsilo that was never finished until now. The idea was for everyone to play bass. Buzz plays low end bass, Kevin Rutmanis does noisy bass, and Kunka does bass that sounds like guitar. Each of us also take turns doing the lead vocals as well. In June we release Basses Loaded
. There are no less than six bass players on the record. We have Jared Warren, Jeff P!nkus, Trevor Dunn, Steven Shane McDonald, Krist Novoselic as well as myself. Krist came in with a tune he wrote on the accordion. Having and recording accordion is a first for us! It's a great song and different from anything else we've ever done before.
Given that the music industry is in shambles, what’s been the key to keeping the band together?
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Napalm is revolutionary and operates differently from every other band. You can go back to the most freethinking punk band and there are certain aspects there that any band has to deal with. In that sense, Napalm is no different. We try to be fair in the way we operate. If we didn’t think something was right, no matter how much we were leaned on to do it, we just wouldn’t do it. In the past certain companies wanted to get involved with the band. We didn’t need to do that. It was that simple. Of course, as band you should never be so arrogant that you can’t take advice. But if it isn’t appropriate or if it doesn’t feel right after much consideration, you shouldn’t do it. That’s the principle we’ve operated under. We haven’t achieved the 100 percent best results. Largely, we’ve done the right thing and what we felt was best in most situations. I know it’s difficult when bands first start off. Maybe you might have to brush shoulders with some aspects you don’t feel comfortable with but once you get into the swing of things, you can guide things pretty successfully.
We do a lot of our own releases with deluxe artwork. Most of the releases are limited edition. It's all very hands on. We also tour every year and we don't stop working. That's the key, don't stop. Work hard!
Napalm Death, the Melvins, Melt Banana, 7 p.m. Thursday, April 21, Agora Ballroom, 5000 Euclid Ave., 216-881-2221. Tickets: $20 ADV, $25 DOS, agoracleveland.com.