The Melvins are my absolute favorite band on earth. I haven’t heard music from other planets, which is the only reason that I can’t say, as of yet, that they’re my favorite band in the universe.
I first got turned onto the Melvins at a Camelot Music store in the mall, of all places. I was 12 or 13 years old and perusing the pile of grunge music that Hollywood was then shoveling upon us, when a clerk came up to me and asked what I was looking for. Of course, being a youngster confused about the world and what the cable box at home was feeding me, I was unsure about what musical delights I was looking for. The clerk asked if I liked Nirvana, and I said, “Yes,” although I felt as if I was just being set up to buy another copy of Nevermind. He then pulled out a Melvins album — I believe it was their major label debut, Houdini (1993) — and told me, “There wouldn’t be a Nirvana without these guys.” I was instantly sold; those words still resonate with me today. When I got home from my most excellent adventure at the mall, I played the new CD that I had just purchased and… I was scared. I didn’t know what to think. It was so heavy compared to Nirvana, Mudhoney, or even Tad. I had never heard notes that low. There was no verse/chorus/verse structure. Not only could I not understand the words, but there were no lyric notes in the case. I was both hooked and frightened at the same time. What the fuck was this? What was I to do with this?
Fast forward 20-some-odd-years, and I have now seen the band some 30-some-odd-times — It’s hard to keep track, as I have not gotten a ticket stub for every one of their shows that I’ve attended. I’m now sitting on what would be considered an impressive Melvins vinyl catalog, although I feel like I’m still missing so much from the vast array of sounds and colors they press on wax. This band has touched and affected my life for so long and with such musical depths that I feel like I owe them a bit of my own sanity. I will forever be grateful for their contribution to not only my life, but to the music world as a whole. To The Melvins: Thank you for being a band.
For those of you that have not experienced the auditory blessing that is The Melvins, here is a little backstory on the band. They got their start in the dreary little town of Montesano, Wa in 1982. Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne (vocals/guitar) and Dale Crover (drums) met when they were both in high school and remain the only 2 consistent members of the band, since the latter was recruited from an Iron Maiden cover band to replace founding drummer, Mike Dillard, in 1984. With a lot of hard work and tenacity, they eventually got out of cloudy SW Washington and slowly moved their way south to sunny California, making home in San Francisco, and finally, Los Angeles. They pioneered a slower kind of metal than most were used to, but it caught on. Some would refer to their sound a “stoner rock.” Some call it “sludge metal.” Whatever you want to call it, it’s magical and there is nothing else quite like it. For the uninitiated, I’ll warn that it can be downright scary and hard to listen to, at first, so don’t give up. I don’t recommend starting out with something like their back-to-back 2001 releases, Electroretardland and Colossus of Destiny , however; that’s just going to make your brain explode (or implode).
Over the last 30+ years, The Melvins have released some 24 studio albums and over a dozen EPs. While Buzzo and Dale have been the original driving force behind the band, a plethora of musicians have joined the ranks over the years. Most notably, the duo has had their ups and downs with bass players, with a number of them having rotated through the roster — sometimes things just don’t work out. Dead Kennedys frontman, Jello Biafra, has teamed up with the band to release two studio albums, lovingly referred to as The Jelvins, on his Alternative Tentacles label. They’ve also done occasional tours as the trio “Melvins Lite,” featuring bassist, Trevor Dunn (Mr Bungle, Fantomas, Tomahawk); and under the “Melvins 83” moniker, a lineup with Dillard on drums and Crover filling the spot of founding bassist, Matt Lukin (later, of Mudhoney).
There are currently two incarnations that the band uses as “The Melvins.” The powerhouse version includes bassist, Jared Warren (Karp, The Whip, Tight Bros From Way Back When) and second drummer, Coady Willis (Murder City Devils). Personally, this is my favorite lineup out of all of them that I’ve seen over the years. When the powerhouse version can’t all get together — Warren and Willis are still active as the founding two-thirds of the band, Big Business — The Melvins have recently picked up bassist Jeff “JD” Pinkus (Butthole Surfers, Daddy Longhead, and Honky). Jeff has helped fill in on bass on a couple of tours and, along with fellow Butthole Surfer, Paul Leary (guitar), has joined the band to record their latest studio release, Hold It In. Welcomed openly into the fold, the contributions of Pinkus and Leary are clearly present, as the new album finds the group continuing to experiment with their sound over 3 decades into their existence. I highly suggest checking it out.
Last fall, I had the opportunity to sit down with the group, during a tour stop promoting the new release at the Roseland Theater in Portland. Monster Fresh found/editor, Chris, drove down from Seattle to help record the interview and, as we stood outside of the venue before the show, I got to hear some of the sound-check with an ear pressed up against an exit door. The Melvins sound noticeably different with each new bassist they use, which is one of the things that I love about the band; they are adaptable to new musicians rather than wagging fingers at them for not playing things note-for-note. Leary isn’t part of the touring lineup, but I really like the addition to Pinkus in the band; his bass is heavy. We were eventually escorted through the loading gate and down to a large basement area, where we sat on a sofa outside of the green room to wait. It was initially arranged as a solo interview with Buzzo, but as Jeff Pinkus walked by, I invited him to join us and, with Dale Crover entering the green room later, we were fortunate enough to capture a conversation with all 3 members together.
A quick word about this interview: although I’m a published author, this is the first interview that I’ve ever conducted. I’m not a “journalist,” but as you can probably guess, The Melvins would be the be-all, end-all of interviews for me. I typically write about rocks of the geological sort, not rock musicians. This was both a dream and a nightmare; I was terrified during the whole conversation. Being a good friend of mine, Chris set this interview up for me. We have a long history and even though we don’t see each other much, I love him and can’t express my gratitude to him for making this opportunity possible. That being said, after we did this interview, I totally slacked on getting it typed out and available to both him and you, the reading public. But here we are; I can’t go back in time and, what better time to post it now, than on Buzzo’s 51st birthday (March 25th)? I can only hope that this piece gets my favorite band on Earth a little bit more attention on the world wide web, a few more record sales, and, most importantly, some brand new fans.
First question; why do I like your band so damn much?
Buzzo: You tell me.
Is it some kind of magic you do?
Buzzo: Yeah, it’s magic; smoke and mirrors. You’ll come to, at some point, and realize we’re shit.
What gave you your first musical boner?
Buzzo: Oh, David Bowie and those tight pants. Let’s say that.
Pinkus: Not Lemmy and his short shorts?
Buzzo: Yeah, Lemmy and his pink butt-floss.
What was your first guitar?
Buzzo: My first guitar was some junker, you know. I didn’t start playing guitar until I was almost out of high school; way later than most people. I got a good guitar, not too long after that. I worked to save my money. I still have that guitar; a Les Paul.
You’ve switched to aluminum guitars recently.
Buzzo: Last three or four years, something like that. Aluminum and plexi-glass. I have a couple of those.
Do you use the plexi-glass in the studio versus on stage, due to the heft of it?
Buzzo: No, I use them live a bunch. I just didn’t bring ‘em on this tour. That doesn’t mean I’m against them.
A friend of mine, Matt Friedly, wanted to know what kinds of guitar picks and strings you use.
Buzzo: I use– I don’t care about the kinds of strings, I just use 52-10. Picks, I use Tortex types of picks that are three-corner. Pretty thin, like 50mm; I don’t know. That’s it. I can’t use regular normal-shaped picks; I have to use big ones, but not too pointy. That’s what she said — speaking of musical boners.
What’s your favorite town/venue to play at?
Buzzo: Oh man, I don’t know. There’s a lot of places. Great American [Music Hall] in San Francisco, that’s a great place to play. We’re gonna play there, actually, the day after tomorrow — If we make it, if we don’t break up before then. We’ve been threatening to.
Pinkus: You shouldn’t have given me that heroin pull…
I like the 40-Watt Club in Athens Georgia. That place is cool. Um…
I’ve seen that you guys have a good relationship with the Double Door [in Chicago].
Buzzo: Yeah, that’s a cool place. I mean, we mostly like the people at the Double Door.
I saw you guys play there a couple years ago.
Buzzo: Yeah, the venue is really hot.
Yeah, it was a really hot venue. (It was the end of May in the Midwest.)
Buzzo: Yeah, I don’t know where else. Those two are pretty good. We play at this place in Albuquerque called The Launch Pad that I think is a really good club, that would be a really good club for anywhere, but in Albuquerque, it’s crazy that that place has been there that long.
So, Pinkus is over there. How did you guys first get involved with him and Paul and get this new album going together. When did you guys first meet?
Buzzo: We met Jeff through playing with Honky. You know, not from playing with the Butthole Surfers, believe it or not. I’m not good at meeting people, at all.
Buzzo: I’m terrible at it.
Pinkus: Honky toured with [Crover’s band,] Altamont and stuff, so I was hanging with Dale. Then, when [The Melvins] came through, we played some shows with them.
Buzzo: That was how. Then, we ended up playing some shows with the Butthole Surfers, when they reformed. I’m not good at networking. I certainly didn’t go to the same parties that [Surfers frontman] Gibby [Haynes] went to in Hollywood. I would have avoided a party, actually. Usually, parties like that, the only way I would go is if I was going with a sheriff to help throw everybody in jail. That, I would do. So, you know, I got introduced to these guys relatively late in the game. Then, we asked Jeff to fill in on bass for a tour, when Jared was — his girlfriend, was — having a baby. So, it kinda just went from there. I always, honestly, thought of doing something with Paul, but it’s not the kind of thing I would have ever asked. So then, (pointing at Pinkus) I asked him to ask. *laughter* He agreed. He might have been a little– I don’t know, but you (Pinkus) tell me. He might have been a little hesitant at first…
Pinkus: No, not at all. Nah, he just didn’t know what it would all entail, and he’s got a different way of looking at projects, because he works in production so much. He didn’t realize how kicked back and laid-back the whole process was gonna be. He wouldn’t have to learn any weird rhythms, or songs, or anything.
Buzzo: Not yet.
Pinkus: Not yet. Yeah, he will soon.
How long did you (Pinkus) get to take to pick up a lot of the songs? Did you know a lot before?
Pinkus: I don’t know any of ‘em. They just told me to stand up there and look good and try my hardest, man.
Buzzo: Bullshit your way through it. He’s good at that.
Pinkus: Mike Watt told me I wasn’t a bass player, I was a bass wrestler.
Buzzo: He should know.
Pinkus: Yeah, he said, like himself.
Mike Watt told me I was silly once.
Buzzo: He told YOU, you were silly? Coming from him?
Yeah. It was at the first public Foo Fighters show [in Seattle]. A buddy and I, somehow, got in.
Buzzo: Lucky you. You were at the beginning. You could have stopped the whole thing right there.
I was trying to talk some sense into Pat Smear after the show.
Buzzo: Actually, he’s the only one that has sense, because the only thing he had to face, other than the Foo Fighters, was working at a Home Depot, so I think he made the right choice.
I think he was working at a record store, or something like that.
Buzzo: Oh god. Selling them, as opposed to making them? Well, he’s in the industry, I guess.
Pinkus: That’s depressing.
Buzzo: Yeah. I don’t know. It’s sorta like when they could have stopped Hitler in Munich. You could have stopped them at one of the first Foo Fighters shows. You didn’t do it.
Chris (behind the camera): To be fair, it was a Mike Watt show.
Pinkus: Have you seen Grohl-ing Stone Magazine? I check my music news and he’s on there everyday. Now, I check it twice a day just to see how many times they list him on there. He’s got a hell of a publicist. The publicist of all publicists.
*Dale Crover enters the room*
Buzzo: Here’s Dale.
Mr Grohl, yeah. “Enough about me, let hear you talk about me.” Is that what he says?
Pinkus: Yeah, right. Now that I have all this money, I’ll pay someone else to talk about me. Grohl-ing Stone Magazine.
Buzzo: Let’s copyright it, quick!
Random question. Country Cracker, grits or home fries?
Dale: Home fries.
Pinkus: Depends on what state you’re in.
Buzzo: I’ll take the salad.
Pinkus: I go grits, usually.
Dale: He’s a southern boy, though.
Buzzo: If he doesn’t eat grits, he gets the shits.
Pinkus: It’s like hominy soup, once you get past the Mason Dixon line.
Buzzo: Hominy, hominy, hominy, hominy, SOUP! Hey batter, hey batter, hominy, hominy, hominy…
Have you guys ever considered a hometown show?
Buzzo: In Monty? No.
Pinkus: Someone asked us that last night.
Buzzo: No, we would do it for the right amount of money. It would be a large amount of money.
Pinkus: And they’d have to make a statue of both of these guys, as well. Like the Stevie Ray one in Austin, down by the lake.
Buzzo: Yeah. When they put up a fifty-foot-high statue in the middle of town, I’ll go play a show.
Pinkus: I tried to get my dog to pee on the Stevie Ray one, but he wouldn’t do it.
Dale: There’s no place to play there, or in any of those places. That’s the problem. There was a venue they had in Aberdeen, for a while: the DNR. Somebody sunk a bunch of money into it and they had mostly, like, casino acts. Like Whitesnake played there and, you know, all the 80’s bands.
Dale: But, you know, it’s where it is. It’s probably not gonna make any money. It went bankrupt recently.
Buzzo: What a surprise.
You guys ever visit home? Do you still have any family there?
Buzzo: Not there.
Dale: Not there, yeah.
Buzzo: My family left there. They waited until I left, and then they left. They moved into a house that didn’t have enough bedrooms for me to have one. Done and done.
Do you guys have any musical influences that people would be surprised by? You’ve mentioned Captain Beefheart before. [Dale has] mentioned being a Neil Young fan before. Any closet Grateful Dead fans? Neil Diamond?
Pinkus: What does the Grateful Dead fan say when he runs out of acid?
This music sucks.
Buzzo: We did a record, over a year ago, that was called Everybody Loves Sausages. It’s all bands that had influences on us that nobody would have ever thought of.
You got it all on there?
Buzzo: That’s the point of that record. So, a bunch of bands like Queen, The Fuggs, Tales of Terror, Pop-O-Pies.
David Bowie — your first musical boner.
Buzzo: David Bowie, yeah.
I asked Buzzo earlier about his first musical boner. What made you (Dale) say, “This is what I want to do”?
Dale: Hmmm. I don’t know. Probably, KISS. That’s when I decided I wanted to do it.
Buzzo: When you saw the jingle-boot dace? Demonstrate the jingle-boot dance.
Dale: When I saw Paul‘s jingle boot dance. You know the… *Dale is now standing, doing the jingle-boot dance* That was it. He had a really good move when we played with Kiss.
Buzzo: The backwards one?
Dale: Well, no, it was this one…with the chest hairs. *pulling at his shirt, like he’s removing chest hairs* Into the audience. But, Kiss, that’s when I decided what I wanted to do. That was about fifth-grade.
When did you start playing drums?
Dale: Uh, right about fifth-grade.
When did you (Pinkus) first pick up a bass?
Pinkus: Well, I started playing guitar first. I guess I picked one up first when I was nine. Well, maybe I got the guitar at nine and a bass at eleven. My sister took my guitar and traded it in for something, so my dad took me to the music store and I started to play the bass. It made me want to shit, so I was like, “Yeah, this is for me.”
Buzzo: You were eleven, and you joined the Butthole Surfers, when you were twelve?
Pinkus: Pretty much. I think it was about six years after that.
Buzzo: And look at him now. From the Butthole Surfers to this. Boom.
Any hobbies or collections you guys have? I hear you (Buzzo) collect old toys.
Buzzo: Yeah, I do. They are few and far between, because toys that are fifty plus years old; most of them got given to kids who destroyed them. The ones I like are hard to find, or new hyper-collectable vinyl toys. Nothing you buy at Toys-R-Us.
Dale: I collect children, and they collect toys.
Pinkus: I had a kid, he’s nineteen now. I collected my belly-button lint for eighteen years, because I gave him an IOU that I’d make him a teddy bear out of belly-button lint for his eighteenth birthday.
Buzzo: Did it work?
Pinkus: Yeah. It was a lot smaller than I thought it would be. I get a lot of belly-button lint, too. Harvest season is coming up, right now, as soon as you get the sweaters on and stuff.
We were talking about records a little bit ago. Have you ever considered, instead of a pressing of 100, maybe doing a pressing of 115 records and selling the 15 extras on Ebay?
Buzzo: I’m not really an Ebay guy.
I see your records go for a lot of money on Ebay.
Buzzo: We sell ‘em cheaper than anybody else.
Pinkus: I think you should just sell ONE.
Buzzo: For a million dollars? A pressing of one for a million bucks.
Pinkus: They can do whatever the fuck they want with it afterwards.
Buzzo: We don’t care.
My girlfriend wanted to know about your stage attire. She thinks it looks very hot.
Also, what Buzzo has on underneath it.
Dale: Not hot, as in sexy.
Buzzo: Butt floss.
Pinkus: I was confused, too.
Buzzo: Butt floss, that’s it.
Pinkus: He’s got an H-string.
Buzzo: An H-string, yes.
Pinkus: A little bigger than a g-string, slightly.
Buzzo: It’s butt floss!
You guys ever get into musical conspiracies? Like Paul McCartney died in 1968?
Buzzo: Unfortunately, that one’s not true.
Pinkus: Yeah, I know. I was disappointed to find out he’s still alive.
You guys ever try to start your own musical conspiracies?
Dale: I don’t know. You should look on some of our records and see what’s there.
Play them backwards?
Dale: You might find something. Maybe.
Buzzo: There might be something there. You never know. Remember, don’t look for meaning where there is none.
How’s your golf game coming?
Buzzo: Twelve five. How’s yours?
Terrible; I don’t even play golf. My cousin sees you out on the course, every once in a while.
Buzzo: Really? Where?
I don’t know. Somewhere in L.A.
Buzzo: Wow, he’s from L.A., huh?
Pinkus: He gets recognized, obviously, everywhere, but we went to Philippe’s, home of the first French dip, and this guy who is really nicely dressed is like, “HEY! HEY!” We were like, “No, even here man?” He was like, “I saw you on Wednesday on the golf course!” He had no idea he even played music at all.
Just saw you golfing.
Buzzo: Exactly. Boom!
Dale: There’s a lot of people that don’t really know anything about the band that go, “I saw you on FOX News.” ‘Cuz he was on Red Eye a bunch.
What do you guys like to do on your off time?
Buzzo: I like golf.
Pinkus: Long walks in the park.
Buzzo: Mmmm, dog park. Naw, I mean, around my house.
Pinkus: You gotta dodge some shit.
Buzzo: Mostly work stuff. Read. I love to read.
What do you like to read?
Buzzo: What do you got? Um, all kinds of stuff. I’m a voracious reader.
Fiction? Non Fiction?
Read the dictionary for fun?
Buzzo: I haven’t tried that. I should. I’ll have to look. I heard gullible is not in the dictionary.
Dale: I like reading the slang dictionary. Old ones are really good.
What do you (Dale) do with your family when you get out?
Dale: Go to Disneyland a lot. Various different activities, I guess. [My kids are] both playing soccer now, so I’m a soccer dad.
Pinkus: He coached a game.
Dale: I did coach a game, the other day.
Pinkus: And they won.
Buzzo: Did you scream, “Try and kick it into the goal!”? Is that all you do?
Pinkus: “How many damn times do I gotta tell you?”
Buzzo: “Run, run, run!”
Dale: It’s usually me yelling at my kid. “The ball’s over there! Go that way! That way! That way!”
Pinkus: “Trip him! Trip him!”
Dale: And then… yeah.
Buzzo: You tell him, if he doesn’t make a score, you’re not gonna feed him that night?
Buzzo: “You’re playing for your food!”
Dale: Probably wouldn’t care.
Buzzo: He wouldn’t care? “Mom will feed me.” That’s what he’d say?
Dale: A lot of baseball. I follow baseball.
Buzzo: Yeah, we love baseball.
You coaching any baseball?
Just yelling from the stands?
Buzzo: “Listen, you idiot.”
Dale: “Dammit. Why did you make him do that?”
Dale: “Stupid move, coach.”
So, [former bassist] Joe Preston did an interview where he was complaining about…
I forget which movie this was from — it was somewhat recently — but, he said that he joined the Melvins and ended up just playing a bunch of Alice Cooper covers. Did they do that you, Pinkus?
Buzzo: He played one Alice Cooper cover. That was it. He’s exaggerating.
Pinkus: I haven’t played any and I’m not exaggerating.
Dale: We only make [Pinkus] play Butthole Surfers songs.
Buzzo: So, he doesn’t like Alice Cooper?
Buzzo: And that’s why we kicked him out.
Do you guys have that bass player from the morgue that you kind of reminisce about and wish would have worked out a little bit more?
Buzzo: I wish they all would have worked out. We didn’t kick them out for kicks. You know? It wasn’t an easy decision. Once you’re done with it, you go, “That was the right decision.” It’s interesting that [Preston] would say that.
I wish I had a better reference for the film.
Dale: Do you think he was really serious?
He was probably joking. This was a snippet at the end of a documentary. It just sounded like he had to play a lot of Alice Cooper covers.
Buzzo: One. And that was it.
Pinkus: I’m glad that’s clarified.
Buzzo: You (Pinkus) have to do a solo album now of the Ace Freely one.
Do your families travel with you?
Dale: Not usually. They have in the past.
Buzzo: My wife has more sense. It’s not really a vacation.
Pinkus: My girlfriend’s married.
Buzzo: She can’t be bothered. Her husband doesn’t’ like her going on tour.
Pinkus: Yeah, that’s a tough one to explain.
Random question. Is Batman a superhero?
Pinkus: What did the Indian say after he beat up the nun? You’re not so tough Batman.
Dale: What’s that?
Buzzo: Superheroes have to have extra power. He doesn’t have extra power. Neither does Robin.
I skipped over a question. What is your least favorite city to play in?
Dale: That’s a tough one.
Pinkus: Why can’t there be lots of ‘em? Does there have to be just one?
Buzzo: How about Greece?
Pinkus: As soon as the toll roads start on the east coast is when it starts sucking worse and worse.
Buzzo: Once you’re on stage in most of those places, its fine. The cities themselves, sometimes, are kind of shitty. Driving through Baltimore is never fun. The show was good.
Pinkus: When you’re in a van with equipment in Trenton, New Jersey…
Buzzo: And it looks like a race riot is about to break out all around you.
Dale: For us, playing New York is just a drag because it’s hard to get into the city. You can’t park any place. You can’t stay there, because you can’t park any place and it’s really expensive.
Buzzo: The shows are good, though.
Dale: The shows are always great, but it would be something like that; not the shows.
Buzzo: Chicago. Getting into Chicago can be a nightmare.
Dale: Yeah, like those places, it’s just difficult to deal with. Traffic and parking, basically. I recently played in Pittsburg, though, and I think that’s a pretty cool looking place. But I’ve never been there when there’s like ten feet of snow, so… but it looks cool.
Buzzo: That’s because we plan it that way.
I read, recently, that your ultimate gig would be opening for Jimi Hendrix and Judy Garland?
Buzzo: No, my ultimate collaboration would be with Jimi Hendrix and Judy Garland.
Buzzo: Imagine the drugs at that party?
Pinkus: Not Miles Davis?
Dale: Jimi, Judy, and George Harrison.
Buzzo: Yeah. Jimi, Judy and George Harrison. Yeah, that’s good. Talk about stacks of drugs. Well, Miles Davis had stacks of drugs too.
Pinkus: Exactly. He’d fit right in.
Buzzo: Let’s put him in there, too. Miles Davis, Judy Garland, and Jimi Hendrix. Now that’s an album!
The Melvins return to the road in June. CLICK HERE for tour dates.
There is also 2 weeks left of the kickstarter campaign to help support the upcoming Melvins documentary The Collossus Of Destiny. Please consider donating.