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That Time the Melvins Played With Yoko Ono

Melvins: Freaks Puking
Melvins: Freaks Puking
Mackie Osborne

The Melvins--immortal avant-metal overlords of cataclysmic, stadium-sized riffage, double-drum devastation and deliciously diabolical yelping--are the freakishly genius punk crushers that the late Kurt Cobain wished to high hell his band Nirvana could be. While Melvins idolizer Cobain is long gone, the dementedly frizzled guitar prophet Buzz Osborne and his best bud, drum god Dale Crover, trudge on in ridiculously prolific fashion.

Since 2006, when the fearless twosome merged with bassist Jared Warren and Coady Willis of metallic mashers Big Business to form the murderously imposing two-drummer lineup of the Melvins, they have enjoyed a renaissance of utter grind 'n' pound magnitude, as evidenced by hammerhead gems like like (A) Senile Animal ('06), Nude With Boots ('08), The Bride Screamed Murder ('10) and live document, Sugar Daddy ('11).

See also: The Melvins, Globe Trotting Men of Metal

While Big Business was busy doing their own thing, the kingly metal punishers underwent yet another reinvention. With Brooklyn's own Trevor Dunn (Tomahawk; John Zorn) providing shrieking and throbbing stand-up bass, Buzzo and Crover added another notch to the Melvins pedigree: Melvins Lite. Freak Puke ('12) followed, as did a record-breaking 51 shows in 51 days tour.

This year, Melvins have once again reached another career pinnacle: their 30th anniversary. They've hit the tour circuit once again to celebrate the feat, a new covers record called Everybody Loves Sausages (Ipecac) recently hit, loaded with guest vocalists galore, such as Mark Arm, J.G. Thirlwell, Jello Biafra, Tweak Bird's Caleb Benjamin and Amphetamine Reptile chief Tom Hazelmyer, belting out a glorious bevy of tunes from Bowie, Scientists, Venom, The Fugs and The Kinks.

We caught up with Crover to talk dogs, Beatles, baseball, Maxwell's closing and the surviving Nirvana dudes not allowing a Melvins/Macca collaboration.

Melvins, Baroness and Honky play House of Vans on tonight, July 31st

Are you guys in the van right now? Dale Crover: We are. We are on the way to lovely Cleveland, Ohio.

Where did you play last night? We played in St. Louis.

Does Buzz usually do the driving? Yeah, he likes to drive. He insists on it. I drive sometimes. He's just crazy; he likes to drive. And always drives [laughs].

You guys tour a lot, huh. Are you ever home? We do. I would say we tour roughly three months total out of the year. So I'm home a lot.

And you just did the mammoth 51 shows in 51 days tour. How did that go? Yeah. We did that last fall. That was a great tour; that was one of my favorite tours we'd ever done.

Any bad shit go down during those 51 days? No, not really. The only thing bad that really happened that could have made the whole thing fall apart was we got two flat tires in one day. That was on our way from Albuquerque to Phoenix. Two flat tires. First one was fine because we had a spare and then when the second one blew, then we were kinda screwed. So we were touring with this band called Tweak Bird and those guys were already at the club and so we called those guys up and they came and got us and all our gear. We made the show.

Tweak Bird saved the day. Yeah, they did, which is great. Good thing we took them on tour with us. We took them on the tour but we didn't have them play at every show because then they would have played 51 shows in 51 days before us (laughing). We took them on about 47 (laughing).

The singer of Tweak Bird sings one of the covers on Everybody Loves Sausages, right? He does. He sings on the Queen song, "Best Friend." We had him in mind with that when we recorded that. We were like "We'll get Caleb to sing this. It would be perfect."

You play that song pretty straight. Sort of, besides the Casio keyboards, ya know. It's a little bit different.

How so? Well, they (Queen) don't have the weird middle section that we put in there. I think we might have cut a verse or two, as well.

Oh, did you? But you get the idea (laughing).

Melvins have seemed to always play close to the vest with the covers you've done like "Smells like Teen Spirit" or the "Youth of America" Wipers cover. Is that intentional, that you don't want to fuck with them too much? Sometimes. It depends. We've certainly, with some of those songs, taken liberties. Not all of them are straight ahead covers.

So, you are in the midst of the Melvins' 30th anniversary tour. Was there any thought in commemorating the feat with a full-blown spectacular, say bringing all the vocalists who sang on Sausages like Mark Arm, J.G. Thirlwell, Caleb from Tweak Bird and others, in tour with you and recreating the record? We would but we probably wouldn't make any money that way. Too many people on tour, ya know. Too many hotel rooms to pay for, so... We were trying play maybe something off of every record (for the tour) but then the show would be way too long, so...We decided to do as much as we could from throughout our career. There's almost off something off of every record but not quite.

It would be quite the undertaking to play a song off of every Melvins record. It would; it would be too long. I don't think anyone would want to sit there for three hours with our band.

Three hours isn't that bad. I wouldn't want to do it [laughing].

Too tiring? No, no. I wouldn't want to watch it. Even if I really, really love a band, I feel like three hours is a little too much.

But if the Melvins play a three-hour show, you can take a break and let Coady drum on certain songs. That's right but we do that anyway.

That's right. [Laughs] I'll just let him take over. Nobody's the wiser.

Melvins have played Maxwell's in Hoboken, right? Oh, yeah, we played there on that (51/51) tour, actually.

Right, with Melvins Lite. So Maxwell's is closing at the end of this month. That's crazy. That place had been open an awful long time.

Do you have any Maxwell's memories to share? We played there about five times or something like that. I remember we played with Tool, down at some place in Asbury Park. We played there with those guys then we went up there and played a show at Maxwell's. So we went from this big giant place to a tiny place--all in the same night. Pretty fun.

Any Melvins early day memories of Maxwell's? Oh, gosh, I don't really remember, ya know? It's always been good, though. They got good food. The last time I was there (in Hoboken), I finally realized that they had behind that intersection they got a baseball diamond and that was where the very first official, organized baseball game was played. I was impressed by that.

The Voice did a piece on Mudhoney recently and Mark Arm said he recorded two Scientists songs with you for Everybody Loves Sausages but only "Set It On Fire" made the record? We did. Actually, with pretty much everybody we recorded two songs. Originally, we hadn't planned on it being a full-length record; we were going to do singles. Kind of like tribute singles: tribute to Roxy Music, tribute to Scientists and whatever. So, we were gonna do an A and a B-side and once we started listening to all this stuff, we realized it would make a pretty good record.

 

That Time the Melvins Played With Yoko Ono

So it wasn't like those second songs you recorded weren't up to par and you picked the best ones for the record. Nah, we just picked out what we thought would make a good record overall. The B-sides aren't any better or worse than the other side. We kinda chose what song we felt would be good, really.

Is Buzz the one that comes up with all the killer record titles like Freak Puke and Electroretard or do you have a hand in that? I came up with Eggnog and Stoner Witch.

Cool. Those are good ones. Yeah [laughing].

Do you guys actually love sausages? Of course. Everybody loves sausages.

Pork-based products. Actually I think that was something that Buzz's wife said about their dogs because their dogs loved sausages. I think that's where it came from. Dogs like everything pretty much except sometimes they are not too keen on vegetables. Anytime I try to give my dog a piece of lettuce he's not going for it unless its soaked in peanut butter then he's okay with it.

What's your dog's name? Arthur. It's been a long time but when you expanded into the double drummer lineup with Coady. Did you have trepidation about it giving the so-called spotlight in to another drummer? Crover: No, not at all. We do it with no problem. Actually, I played with Buzz when he was in Fantômas --we did this thing that was all the bands kinda mixed together and we called it Fantômas Melvins Big Band. That was me playing along with Dave Lombardo. So if I'm doing that it wouldn't be like "Oh, it's not so weird playing with another drummer." It's not too much different than having another guitar player, I guess. It's super fun. I never felt like he was gonna out-drum me or anything like that (laughing). He tries.

Coady tries to out-drum you? Oh, I don't know.

Do you have a preference between Melvins Lite and the double drummer lineup? I like 'em both; they are just so different from each other. Then there's Melvins 1983 where I play bass. Three versions of the band going. It's like Superman when he dies; you got all these different Supermen (laughing).

On Freak Puke, Melvins Lite did a cover of Paul McCartney & Wings' "Let Me Roll It" then he played that same song at the Hurricane Sandy benefit concert. Yeah, he's been doing it. He does a pretty good version for writing the song, I think.

So you don't think Macca got his hands on Freak Puke, heard your "Let Me Roll It" cover and was inspired to play it again? Oh, gosh, I don't know. Well, he's been playing with the guys from Nirvana so maybe they told him about it. But I don't know [laughing].

The closest we ever got to any kind of meeting one of the Beatles was when we actually played with Yoko Ono one time. Her son was a fan of our band--Sean was a Melvins fan. He and his mom had toured together and they had this song they were playing that they said was inspired by the Melvins. They were also playing with Russell Simins of the Blues Explosion so they did this tour and then they came to town and they called us up and asked us if we wanted to come down and play it with her. So we did.

When did that happen? Oh, god, I don't know. That was back in the 90's.

Does it blow your mind that Dave Grohl and Krist Novocelic are playing with McCartney? Yeah, that's crazy.

You and Buzz are Beatles fanatics, right? Oh yeah, for sure.

The Voice interviewed Buzz last year when you were touring with Unsane and he said something like you have to be a fucking idiot to not like the Beatles and you listen for them a lot on tour in the van. Oh yeah. Always. It's one of those bands that you never get tired of. I could still hear their records and hear something weird on there that I didn't notice before. They are really well-made records. They still stand the time.

Do you think the Nirvana guys can hook you and Buzz up and Melvins can back McCartney one day? Yeah, I don't think they would do it [laughing]. They probably wanna keep us away from him. We would do it. Sure, why not. That would be great. I think his band that he has right now is actually really good. When they play the old Beatles stuff it sounds just like it. They've really done their homework on the stuff.

There's been so many books on bands of your era. There's a Mudhoney book coming out, Sonic Youth, Meat Puppets and grunge books. Will there be a Melvins oral history or bio one day? Unless we do it ourselves, probably not (laughing). There's a lot of those kinds of books. Actually, we did put out a book a few years ago--it was kind of an art coffee table book. I think they might be putting together something that documents that 51/51 tour--some sort of book. I don't know of we'll have many words in it. We'll see. SPIN let us do this weekly diary online so each one of us would write something each week. A lot of them were pretty funny. I thought Trevor's were really good.

Do you dig Trevor's jazz stuff? Yeah, he's given me a few CDs of stuff, like some stuff with Zorn. Trevor playing in that style is kind of what made us think of having him do that kind of thing in the Melvins. "Melvins with a stand up bass player" and what that would be like. We did a little test with that to see if it worked. We thought it was cool and that's when we decided to do the record and then the tour.

Will there be another Melvins Lite record? Probably. We really like doing it so I don't see why not. It's something different from the other thing. When he guys from Big Business are busy with their band we can do something else.

Jared couldn't swing the current tour because he's having a kid so he's on leave right now? He is. His girlfriend going to have a baby so we got Jeff Pincus for the first time with us.

How's that going? Great. Really good and his band Honky are opening for us and I'm playing drums as well in that band.

Double duty, right? Double duty. You said duty.

What's it like with Jeff playing bass for the Melvins? Different from Jared? Well, it's definitely different. Jeff has a different style. He's kind of the first bass player we've played with that plays with his fingers, too, so that makes it a little different. With anybody that we've ever played with before, we always kind of let them play bass in their style. We've never said like "You have to play these songs exactly the way they were recorded." Because even we don't know that (laughing). But it's been good. Buzz and I have jammed with Jeff, around last year at Christmas time, and I was actually playing with Honky doing a fill-in gig for'em. Jeff was in town for a few days so we just jammed for the heck of it and we were thinking then like "Well, If we ever needed anyone for any reason, we can use him." Weirdly enough, that's when Jared told us his girlfriend was pregnant and he probably wouldn't be able to do the tour. Since we played with Trevor a bunch, we probably would have asked him but he already had a bunch of other gigs he had to do so he couldn't do it. He's constantly touring and playing with all these different gigs. It's great though. A professional musician's life, I guess.

Since the Melvins had a record called Honky, did Jeff need permission from you guys to use it for his band name? Yeah. Actually we were arguing to see who used it first. I was like "It's really cool that you guys named your band after that record of ours" and they were like "Uh, we didn't know about that." (Laughs)

So it wasn't a problem? Oh, no. Not at all. We've always given each other shit about that kind of stuff.

How did that recent Amphetamine Reptile Bash 13 show go in Minneapolis with Mudhoney, Negative Approach and Die Kreuzen? Oh, that was really great and Negative Approach were really great that night, too. That might have been my favorite.

How crazy was it playing with those bands you played with 20, 25 years ago? It was pretty strange. Actually, I've never seen those guys before (Negative Approach). I don't know if they ever made it out to Washington. Die Kreuzen made it out there (to Washington) but that was the first time Negative Approach played Minneapolis and they're from Detroit so I thought that was kind of strange. But then Tom Hazelmyer, the guy who runs Grumpy's and AmRep was like "Yeah, a lot of bands never really made it here." A little bit out of the way, I guess. It was kinda like that in Seattle, too. A lot of bands just kind of avoided it. It's pretty far up there and there's not much in between.

How do you and Buzz get along after thirty years of doing the Melvins? We get along great. We do stuff outside of the band, too.

Like what? Golfing or movies or going to baseball games or whatever.

So you and Buzz are best friends? Yeah, we are.

Cool. Do you go to L.A. Dodgers games? Yeah, we're Dodgers fans.

They are doing pretty good right now. They are. Finally. They went from last place. Spending all that money and doing really shitty. Now they're actually doing pretty good. We'll see what happens.

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