Sunday Old School: Melvins
Thriftway is a small grocery store chain here in Washington, one I stop at a couple of times a week for laundry soap or soda. Whenever I'm in the store I can't help but remember that this is where the Melvins got its start. Back in the early eighties, three teens from Montesano High School worked at a Thriftway store over in Greys Harbor County, WA. They despised their shift supervisor, whose name was Melvin. They even named their garage band after him, cranking out the slowest and most wretched riffs to ever hit the alternative rock/early indie metal scene.
Thus began the legend of the Melvins, who continue to drench us with ambient, blues-infused noise to this day - thirty years later. In these three decades, the Melvins truly have captured the spirit of what an indie band should be all about. You never have to wait too long to hear a new release from them, see them on tour or get subjected to a cancelled show due to rock star histrionics. These guys are the real deal. In the beginning, 'King Buzzo' Buzz Osborne became the ceremonial leader of the trio on guitar/vocals, joined by Matt Lukin on bass and Mike Dillard on drums.
Mike left the band early on, ushering in Buzz' long time sidekick Dale Crover on drums. In the beginning, the Melvins were pioneers of that sludge sound that didn't even have a name yet - making them hard to categorize, much like Killdozer in its own respective way. They liked punk, metal, retro rock and any decent jam that they could skew. And they never really changed, except to get stranger, more experimental, fluid and interesting along the way. Their music was one of the catalysts of the grunge movement, making them the most famous and influential Washington band to only garner moderate success.
The "10 Songs" release marked the inception of the Melvins, put out on that 'other' Seattle indie label C/Z records in 1985, featuring such classics as "#2 Pencil" and "Now a Limo." This release, like many other Melvins albums, got expanded with more songs and re-released years later. The following year brought the debut, "Gluey Porch Treatments," a slowed-down droning affair that made St. Vitus' music seem like shredding. Recorded in Sausalito, CA at Studio D before the band relocated to San Francisco and new label Alchemy records, its songs "Steve Instant Newman," "Leech" and "Clipping Roses" brought a dirty and minimalist sound unheard of in the underground scene at the time. Metalheads didn't know what to make of them and the alternative rockers were embracing poppy fare such as Salem 66, so the Melvins were an oddity. Buzz, a Kiss/Alice Cooper fan, once famously said that he was influenced more by Black Flag than by Black Sabbath.
In 1987 the second album "Ozma" dropped on Boner records, produced by Mark Deutrom - who would later join the band on bass. This release had a slow and droning cover of "Candy-O," along with the originals "Kool Legged" and "Ever Since my Accident." Lorax was the bass player on this and a couple of other releases, after Matt Lukin left to form Mudhoney. Hailing from the band Clown Alley, Lori 'Lorax' Black was the daughter of former child star/Ghana-Czech ambassador Shirley Temple Black. Her stint with the band didn't survive more than a few albums since, in the words of Buzz, she had some issues with laziness. She was the King's girlfriend at the time, dropping in and out of the band. He moved on and so did she, getting into photography and eventually dropping out of the scene alltogether. The revolving door of bass players would plague the band for the next twenty years.
Before this album, Dale Crover played drums on the first Nirvana "Bleach" demo and introduced the rest of the band to Dave Grohl. Interestingly, after Kurt's suicide Dave nearly joined the Melvins as second drummer to Dale. An idea they had been toying with, the Melvins would wait until the next decade to implement a second drummer. With the nineties came the "Bullhead" release, and unlike previous efforts the spastic bursts of energy were more controlled into fare like the eight minute "Boris" and the more structured material of "Anaconda" and "If I had an Exorcism." Lorax's departure brought in new bassist Joe Preston, and the new Melvins' EP "Eggnog" - before "Nevermind's" success catapulted the Melvins from the grunge movement onto a major label. "Lysol" came out before that, though.
The "Lysol" release was eventually renamed as a self-titled one when the cleansing company objected to the trademark product name being used. On the cover, a native American is on a horse with his arms thrust high into the sky. This was a slight departure from the usual Melvins quizzical album cover art. Their oddball sense of humor would usually translate into flowers, bowls of fruit, kids in wheelchairs and children petting a two-headed dog. The Alice Cooper insanity paean "The Ballad of Dwight Fry" was covered on this one, along with the killer tunes "Hung Bunny" and "Roman Bird Dog," beginning that golden period for the Melvins.
In 1993, their Atlantic release "Houdini" wowed even the most jaded listener and exposed these miscreants to a wider audience. King and Dale had no misconceptions about being on a major label. Buzz Osborne had stated that most people don't listen to the Melvins because they play weird music and only a select discriminating few out of the vast majority of music listeners want weird music. Parts of "Houdini" were produced by Kurt Cobain and it went as far as #29 on Billboard - but more importantly it became an instant classic. "Goin' Blind" from Kiss was covered, and Gene even joined them on bass at Lollapalooza. Buzz remembers a show the band did with Kiss around the time the Smashing Pumpkins' keyboardist died. Gene walked into the dressing room in full gear and said to Buzz - "Did you hear the guy from Smashing Pumpkins died of heroin O.D.? How chic!" and then proceeded to go on stage and rumble his bass. "Houdini" also featured the indie hits "Joan of Arc," "Night Goat" and the ode to the plastic portable roadside toilet, "Honey Bucket."
1994 brought with it the killer "Stoner Witch" release, from which "Queen' was made into an official video. Sludge met sublimely structured blues rock in the ditty "Sweet Willy Rollbar" and others. That year also saw the experimental release "Prick" on Amphetamine/Reptile records, which the band put out to finance its more serious releases. It consisted of jams, rallies, audio snippets and feedback and would definitely be forgiven by the fringe group that makes up the core of the Melvins fan base. "Chief Ten Beers," with its chanting, was a real laugh fest. The Melvins' name was mirrored and backwards, since it was the only legal way to release it on a label other than Atlantic. Two years later, the band's final installment on Atlantic, "Stag," became one of its more brazenly pioneering efforts, featuring a sitar on "The Bit," a scratch-mix on "Bar X the Rocking M" and that whispering, breathless-yet-powerful style of vocals that Buzz often delves into, on "Lacrimosa."
Now properly on Amphetamine/Reptile, that Minneapolis label known for cutting edge noise/difficult listening, the Melvins put out its next full length "Honky" in 1997. Longtime friends of Tool, the trio opened for them on tour one of many times to come and played second stage at Ozzfest the following year. "They Must be Slaughtered" from the album had guest vocals from Kat Bjelland of alternative girl rockers Babes In Toyland and other tracks such as "Pitfalls of Serving Warrants." By the closing of the century in 1999, Buzz, Dale and Joe teamed up with Mike Patton's Ipecac Recordings, which was a natural permutation considering Buzz' history in Fantomas with Mike. The Mr. Bungle/Faith No More mainman ended up reissuing most of the Melvins' discography on his Ipecac label and immediately put out that trilogy of albums "The Maggot," "The Crybaby" and "The Bootlicker" during 1999-2000.
It wasn't so much three solo EP's like the four solo ones Kiss put out, but more like three styles issued forth from a trio of musicians. Buzzo did a two-part cover of "The Green Manalishi" while the alternative rock feel of "The Crybaby" contained that capable "Teen Spirit" cover with Leif Garrett on vocals. Leif really nailed the singing on that one and totally redeemed himself from the days he had disco hits in the eighties. Being a junkie brought a good edge to him. The trilogy also consisted of great guest appearances by the Pain Teens, Skeleton Key and Brutal Truth and had the Merle Haggard cover "Okie from Muskogee." You have to love the Melvins. What other band can shift so erratically between bands such as Flipper and Venom, making it actually believable?
"Colossus of a Destiny" dropped in 2001, which was characterized as being an experimental release of covers and revisionism. On the album was the Pink Floyd opus "Interstellar Overdrive" and the hysterical backwards Melvins song "Shit Storm." The synth and sampler experiments continued on 2002's "Hostile Ambient Takeover," in which the band did a 59 minute song and a five second song. The "Live at the Fucker Club" album was also released during this period. That venue does not exist, not surprisingly, the audio actually being taken from a gig at the Corner Hotel in Melbourne with the Cosmic Psychos on the bill. The following year Atlantic released the unsanctioned "Melvinmania" release.
In 2004 the Melvins were celebrating twenty years as a band and put out an art book. This tome contained illustrations from all their cover artists and friends and came with a CD anthology. That year also gave rise to a collaboration with ambient artist Brian 'Lustmord' Williams on "Pigs of the Roman Empire." The sheer energy of "III," "Safety Third" and "The Bloated Pope" were infectious. And in the flippant manner of the Melvins, they knew they could blame Lustmord if the fans didn't take to a song. The trio also teamed up with Jello Biafra that year and the next for "Never Breathe what you Cannot See" and "Sieg Howdy," embarking on a mini-tour in 2005 with Jello and Tool. The tour had to be cancelled later due to current bass player Rutmanis' drug use. He disappeared and reappeared later, which resulted in David Scott Stone filling in on bass. The Melvins supported the work of Cameron Jamie and later released "A Live History of Gluttony and Lust" - a great homage to the "Houdini" record in audio form.
This latest bass debacle was the culmination of years of frustration in that department for the Melvins. Years earlier, the band had thought about adding another drummer - so they had an ingenious idea. Why not merge two bands? The duo of Buzz/Dale would combine with the noise duo Big Business, composed of bassist Jared Warren and left-handed drummer Coady Willis. Now the two drummers could be side by side in a mirror image. 2006's "(A) Senile Animal" debuted the new line-up with that big sound of "The Talking Horse" and other tracks, and a tour of the UK followed. That 2007 tour revealed two new songs that would be on the next release, "Nude with Boots." It was now dawning on 2008, a year in which the Melvins played at Jello's 50th birthday bash. The two sets, played with original drummer Mike Dillard, contained material from the Alternative Tentacles' "Mangled" demos - that 2005 retrospective of the band's early work.
After the "Nude with Boots" release, the Melvins took its stoner rock vibe to its favorite festival All Tomorrow's Parties. They got to play and choose half of the line-up at the event. In 2009 Ipecac recordings put out the "Chicken Switch" remix CD. A friend from Atlanta handled all of the remixes, all remixers given a full album to create each track. The Merzbow track is a band favorite, since it sounds like an air raid siren. A tour with NOLA supergroup Down and Weedeater followed. The third album with this great merged lineup was unleashed in 2000, "The Bride Screamed Murder." The Melvins covered the Who and crafted the crowd pleasers "Evil New War God" and "The Water Glass," which had Dale's daughter on backing vocals. They supported Slayer at the ATP festival and had the dubious distinction of being in the same place as the Japanese tsunami and the Christchurch earthquake in 2011. That year the "Sugar Daddy Live" release was unveiled, via the fictional Busta Guts Club.
These days, besides Toshi Kasai producing a few of their albums, the band prefers to autonomously produce their material at the North Hollywood Entourage Studios to save money. They've been around so long that they understand their truckload of idiosyncracies better that anyone else. And the stories that they can tell you...just a sampling of them is enough to leave one in stitches. Listening to the vignettes delivered in that deadpan, one-liner sarcasm is mint. They tell of Glenn Danzig being pissed at them for ripping off their t-shirt design, one he ripped off from someone else. He didn't even design it, he stole it too. Or the one about how Beck sampled their song for his track "Beercan," the band ending up receiving nothing and actually having to pay. How does that work? One time Dave Mustaine told the band that his manager recommended their material, so he asked them if they had any albums out (they were on their fourteenth album). Just listening to Buzz and Dale is a hoot. They dislike it when many musicians talk politics, since they are usually high or out of touch with reality. Buzz says he likes to raise the bar a little more than that.
In 2011 the Melvins Lite line-up also premiered. Dale, Buzz and Trevor Dunn from the Fantomas/Mr. Bungle side gig compose this subgroup. A year later, "Freak Puke" came out, featuring the Macca cover "Let Me Roll It," the violin-infused "Inner Ear Rupture" and "Baby Won't You Weird Me Out." The main Melvins fused lineup cranked out "The Bulls and the Bees" the same year. Scion A/V released the "War on Wisdom" video, which sees the band members portrayed as kids rescuing 'Major Osborne' from detention. Dale, interestingly, is 'Private Crover.' The band then made history by outgunning George Thorogood's 50 Dates in 50 States tour from 1980. Starting out in Anchorage, the Melvins hit all 50 states and the District of Columbia in 51 days. We all knew they did it when they uploaded a picture of the club in Honolulu on the 51st day.
2013 has rolled around, making it mind boggling when you consider that the Melvins now have more than two dozen albums. This year, they celebrate 30 years as a band with Honky, Die Kreuzen, Negative Approach and Mudhoney co-gigs lined up. And with it, the innovation is far from stopping. "Everyone Loves Sausages," their new cover album, is loaded with guests and their fun takes on tracks such as "Warhead" and "Black Betty." You look at Buzz and Dale and you just want to say 'this is the spirit' - or perhaps as they would say - 'I am an appreciative weirdo.'
Melvins - "Hooch"
Melvins - "At a Crawl"
Melvins - "Queen"
Melvins - "The War on Wisdom"
Melvins - "Bar X the Rocking M"
Melvins - "The Talking Horse"
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