Punk Planet Melvins Interview
PUNK PLANET ISSUE 33 September/October 1999
Interview by Charlie Bertsch
The crowd at The Melvins June 17th show in San Francisco was a little different to the ones I remember from the bands bay area hey day in the early 1990's- it was better looking. The flanneled longhairs who filled the crowd during the days when the band was being name checked in Nirvana interviews had given way to a mix everything from retro chainlink punks to Dockers wearing 9-5ers- who looked like extras from The Pirates of Silicon Valley. It was also a more racially diverse crowd than one is accustomed to seeing at rock shows in San Francisco. Everyone there, no matter how different, was there to revel in the experience.
Even after 15 years in the music business, The Melvins are hard to explain to people who haven't experienced them live. They don't bounce around the stage and they don't swing their hair like metalheads. If anything, the sheer height of King Buzzo's gray-streaked coif can fool you into thinking that you've stumbled onto the black mass version a Cure concert, in which the goth experience has been turned inside out to reveal the barbed wire beneath the black velvet. The important thing is that The Melvins still rock like they always have. The years of moving from indie label to indie label, their experience recording for Atlantic after a Nirvana-fueled signing frenzy, and their present as a once again indie band on the brand new Ipecac label have done nothing to blunt the force of the band's sound.
Punk planet caught up with Buzz, Dale Crover, and new bassist Kevin Rutmanis (of the Cows) at Tim Green's Louder Studios in San Francisco. They were supposed to be putting the finishing touches on a record due out in the fall, but a power outage had left the band with nothing to except sit around on Tim's couches eating mediocre Thai food and talk.
Punk Planet: I've been reading through a lot of the reviews of your music that have appeared over the years and was struck by the number of times critics spend half the review trying to classify you. But in the interviews I've read, you don't really seem too concerned about that. You're content to say, "We are what we are." How you see yourselves fitting into the current music scene? There's been a lot to talk about how rock doesn't exist anymore.
Kevin: The only people who talk about that are critics. And critics always say stuff like that about bands because critics are lazy, bad writers who don't know anything about music. So why would we care about that?
PP: It is funny how with every new record you have these reviews saying that "The Melvins are doing something entirely different," or that "The Melvins are experimenting in ways that are not going to help them commercially," But it seems to me, just having to listen to the albums over the years, that there is a lot of consistency. There doesn't seem to be a great deal of difference in terms of the underlying music. I put in Bullhead today back to back with your new one, The Maggot and was thinking that the songs on The Maggot would fit on Bullhead pretty well. I mean, it sounds different, but there isn't a huge difference in the songs themselves.
Buzz: I think it's more evident on The Maggot than it will be on the next album, The Bootlicker.
Dale: But still, there are songs on The Bootlicker that would fit on Stag, or Honky, or Stoner witch.
Buzz: I would like to think we've progressed to a certain degree, in one form or another.
PP: How? If you could write the story of how you've progressed, what would you say?
Buzz: Well, take The Ramones for example. They had absolutely no progression whatsoever for their entire career. That's fascinating, especially considering the number of records they did. They'd go in time and time again and make almost the exact same record. I don't feel like we've done that. I feel like we've at least taken some chances here and there.
PP: It's almost like it's all been taking chances, in a way. The interesting thing for me is your fan base. I started going to Melvins shows nearly a decade ago and some of the friends who went with me, they weren't into punk, they weren't into heavy metal, they weren't into any of the bands that are usually cited as your influences, they just liked the idea of The Melvins. It was just this thing to do, to go see The Melvins.
Buzz: It's like going to see some circus freak!
PP: Maybe. But they were really into the concept, I think. I've read interviews where you talk about the experience of opening for other bands, how most of the people in the audience don't understand what you are or what you do and how you kind of like the fact that they don't understand.
Buzz: Right. We, more than anybody else, understand that fact. Believe me.
PP: But on the other hand you have people who may not understand any of your influences but like The Melvins. So I wonder what category that is. Who are those people?
Buzz: Well, there are always smart people wherever you go.
Kevin: If you're influenced by things, hopefully you figure out your own thing. We're influenced by bands, but we don't sound like those bands.
PP: You don't sound much like anything other than The Melvins. I mean, back in the Lysol days, where you'd play one cord and then a drumbeat every four minutes, I loved it and so did my friends, but if I had to describe the experience to anybody outside my little world, they would have said, "How can you possibly like that?"
Buzz: But then if you'd ask those people what they like, you could have sat there and said, "How can you possibly like that crap?" I think there are intelligent people that key into the idea that we're not just doing something that's just like the bands on Epitaph, "We want to be a band that's like the bands that were on SST," or "We want to be a band that sounds like this band or that band." I mean, I like a lot of different kinds of music. A lot of those different kinds of music I want to do as well-I wouldn't be happy just doing one form or another. I think that people can understand that we put a lot of thought into what we're doing. I think its obvious to anyone with half a brain that we're something special, as opposed to being part of some scene.
Kevin: I think it's obvious that we like music. We're trying to make music that we like.
Buzz: We're really passionate about what we do, no doubt about it.
PP: It's not getting old after all these years?
Buzz: Not at all, it's funnier than it's ever been. I can't think of anything I'd rather do. I wouldn't be happy playing the Berkeley Square or Gilman Street my whole life. We've done everything. We've played every kind of gig imaginable. It's really amazing, the vast array of things that we've done. And we're happy about all of it!
PP: You mentioned Gilman Street. That's sort of surprising to me. What do you think of the punk scene these days?
Buzz: I'm really surprised that Punk Planet is interested in us. We felt abandoned by the whole Maximum Rock and Roll scene a long time ago. That's always struck me as funny because, between us we have more punk rock history than almost anyone who writes for that magazine does. We've seen all those bands for years and years and years. We know for more about it. That's basically what we base our band on. Yet we were completely abandoned by that audience. I always thought that was highly ironic, if not moronic.
Dale: It's like Flipside. All those people really used to like us. And there are people we kind of know there. But they won't give us the time of day now.
Buzz: What I always thought was funny about Maximum Rock and Roll is that to them, bands like us aren't 'punk rock.' Like we're Winger, you know? Oh, I see, we're like Madonna! Oh, oh yeah. OK, if we're not punk then what are we? Jesus Christ!
PP: To me, 'punk' is more of an attitude.
Buzz: I always thought it was an attitude!
PP: Well, right. But it sort of became, you know, a genre, and that's not healthy.
Buzz: Yeah. But if bands on Epitaph are 'punk' then what are Black Flag for Christs' sake? Those bands sound like the Village People compared to Black Flag.
PP: I would take The Village People over an Epitaph band any day!
Buzz: Right, you know what I mean. All those bands that are considered punk rock because they're on Epitaph use the same kind of formula that they've been using since Chuck Berry was writing songs like 'Johnny B Goode.' There's nothing new, original or exciting there at all.
PP: But, at least geographically, you're closer to that world than ever now. You live in LA now, don't you Buzz?
Buzz: Hollywood. I like it a lot.
PP: You prefer L.A. to San Francisco?
Buzz: I do. But I liked San Francisco a lot when I lived here. I didn't move away because I didn't like it.
PP: Why did you move away?
Buzz: Because that's where my wife lives. I moved down there to be with her. That's it. Now I like it better.
PP: What does she do?
Buzz: Graphic art. That's what she does for a living.
PP: So does she make more money or you?
Buzz: She makes way more money than I do. Isn't that nice. It's nice to see the tables turned.
PP: Same here. No my wife and I don't actually. She's paying for more than half, but we still have separate accounts.
Buzz: Why is that?
PP: I don't know. Our relationship just developed that way. And it seems to work pretty well. I used to have two jobs, but know I have to stay home with the baby.
Buzz: So you're like Mr Mom.
PP: I am like Mr Mom.
Buzz: That's great.
PP: The baby has had many bottle feedings to The Melvins music.
Buzz: You'd better keep an eye on that kid.
Dale: How old is she?
Seven and a half months.
Buzz: The devil is starting to seep into her soul.
PP: I sure hope so. She was playing keyboards to The Maggot today.
Buzz: I don't think you should hide things from kids. I think you should tell them everything. Why not?
PP: It's an interesting question though, because I feel that way in theory but in practice there's some stuff....
Buzz: Like what?
Kevin: Like when you're screwing your wife and look over your shoulder and see your kid standing there
PP: I'm not sure that would be a good thing for her to see.
Buzz: I'm not sure I'd want to show that to anybody.
PP: But you don't think children should be sheltered from the real world?
Buzz: My sister has kids and if they ask me anything, I'll just tell them. Anything: What's this? What's that? Why do you do this? What do you think about school? I tell them I hate school. You guys are in grade school you should quit as soon as you can. It's horrible.
PP: But It's different when you're an uncle. When you're an uncle, it's your job to say things like that.
Buzz: Quit school as soon as you possibly can. Don’t stay there.
Tim Green: My grandfather always told me to quit school. Even when I was a little kid. And to do as little as possible.
Kevin: Really? Good for him. Was he an alcoholic?
Tim Green: Yes he was.
Buzz: There you go! Has anybody here, when going to apply for a job ever had to show their high school diploma? Never!
PP: As long as you put down I have a degree.
Buzz: They're not going to check.
Kevin: Did you finish high school? Yes...twice.
Tim Green: Does anybody actually have their high school diploma?
Kevin: God no. I don't have my birth certificate. I don't have my social security card, I lost all that shit.
PP: You can fake a college degree pretty easily too. As long as you know enough about the college you are supposed to have gone to, you could probably get away with it.
Kevin: I'm sure you could.
PP: If you said you went to Berkeley and at an interview someone says I went to Berkeley, and you say, go bears! That's basically all you have to do. You can do that in all aspects of life.
Buzz: Let me put it this way: I have a friend who teaches high school and whenever he's teaching his kids about subjects he doesn't know but I know a lot about, he'll call me up and ask about it. "We're going over this WW2 thing, blah blah blah..." He'll ask me all these questions that the kids have asked him and I'll tell him what's going on.
PP: Are you a WW2 buff?
Buzz: God, don't get me started.
PP: I was a real buff too, so I'm just curious. Are you an air theater person, or a naval person, or a tank person?
Buzz: I like it all. Every aspect of it. I just went to Japan and I went to ground zero at Hiroshima. That was amazing. And I found all these blasted chunks of roof tile there and toted them all home. It was a total thrill.
PP: When you tell that story it sounds good because we're all good at being ironic. But when you were there, were you just appreciating it ironically?
Buzz: What do you mean?
PP: When you say, "I got these cool roof tiles from Hiroshima and carted them home" people will laugh. But when you were there, did you get a feeling of tragedy too?
Kevin: He gave me one of those tiles and I was thrilled to have it with no sense of irony.
Buzz: It's history. It's amazing. I have nothing to do with it. I don't feel guilty about it. That's what happens when you piss off Uncle Sam. I'm sorry. They started it. What can I say? And nobody is ever going to convince me that if the Japanese had the bomb, they wouldn't have dropped it on us.
PP: I don't feel guilty either. But there's a lot of stuff like that.
Kevin: Do you mean other people might get upset?
PP: No. For example, I was in this store and they had this limited edition John Wayne Gacy art book. It was too expensive, but if I'd bought it, I would've taken it and shown all my friends and said "Isn't this cool?" And we would have appreciated it ironically. But then you wonder, isnt it sort of creepy on another level?
Kevin: Things shouldn't be taboo just because they were unpleasant for someone.
PP: I didn't mean that. I just meant that whether you felt an aura of strangeness being in Hiroshima
Buzz: Absolutely. But see, I like that. It's where they dropped the first atomic bomb. It means a lot. And what also means a lot is that I'm only there as a result of playing guitar. Every place I've visited outside of America, as far as WW2 history goes, is a result of playing guitar.
Kevin: Me and Buzz were standing on a bridge in New Zealand when we were there in February. It was really nice. It was the middle of summer in February in Auckland and Buzz looks up and says, "My dad was right, I'm never going to get anywhere playing music."
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