Olympian 2004 Dale Interview
PAUL PEARSON FOR THE OLYMPIAN
In a development guaranteed to make Northwest music fans feel much older than they'd like, the Melvins are celebrating their 20th anniversary.
One of the two bands that put Aberdeen on the music map, the Melvins will celebrate that anniversary with a Tuesday night concert in downtown Olympia.
The arguable cornerstone of the grunge movement, the Melvins began operation in 1984 with drummer Dale Crover and guitarist Buzz Osborne, along with first bassist Lori Black.
"It doesn't seem 20 years," Crover said during a phone interview from Los Angeles. "I joined when I was 16. Glad I made it. I really like playing in this band, always have. Buzz is our main songwriter and I always enjoy the stuff that he comes up with -- it's always a challenge.
"Why we never broke up, I don't know. I thought if we broke up the band, we'd have to start all over again. We worked so hard for so long. We didn't want to quit."
The Melvins' contributions to the post-punk landscape might not be detectable to a casual fan, but what they've accomplished is impressive even to the most stubborn objectivist.
They might have been the first band to introduce heavy metal as a valid ingredient in punk rock, getting equal input from both Black Sabbath and Black Flag. And one of the Melvins' earliest fans, first roadies and most willing students was Kurt Cobain.
As a result, the Melvins are often cited as a major influence by indie musicians, a fact that Crover both appreciates and downplays. "A lot of people say we're influential, but we haven't heard it all that much ... we never thought that would happen. It's nice that people say that, I guess. I don't really think about it."
The Melvins, all of whom live in Los Angeles, are returning to Olympia for the anniversary show because it's the site of the band's first performance, at the now-defunct Tropicana Club.
"There was a much smaller scene a long time ago. The Tropicana wasn't that big, but rarely was it ever packed unless there was a bigger, out-of-town band," Crover said.
After releasing six albums between 1986 and 1992 -- in addition to the famous "solo" EPs whose cover art paid homage to the KISS solo records of 1979 -- the Melvins were signed by Atlantic Records, no doubt as a result of Nirvana's huge success and Cobain's expressed admiration of the band.
Cobain co-produced the Melvins' major label debut, 1993's "Houdini," and the rest of the band's output on Atlantic showed a bracing maturity and experimental streak that took them beyond the thudding metal of their first phase.
"We never wanted to keep putting out the same record," Crover said when asked about 1996's "Stag." "With that album, we just were really into trying different stuff. We had enough money to sit in a recording studio and experiment a little bit. I was really happy after we made 'Stag.' That's one of my favorites."
Atlantic dropped the Melvins after three albums, and in 1999, the band happily signed to indie label Ipecac, partly owned by Mike Patton of Mr. Bungle and Faith No More fame.
The band's first releases on Ipecac constituted a trilogy -- "The Maggot," "The Bootlicker" and "The Crybaby" -- all three of which took wild chances with the Melvins' stock in trade. "The Crybaby" contains an eyebrow-raising cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," sung by '70s pop idol Leif Garrett.
"Ipecac is great," Crover said. "It's a great label for us to be on. We all come from the same kind of background -- (Patton) was also involved with major labels and got sick of them, and the music business in general ... . Other labels were just really confused by the concept of a trilogy."
The Melvins are in the process of recording a new album with Jello Biafra, the ex-Dead Kennedys singer, spoken-word artist and former San Francisco mayoral candidate. The Melvins finding time to record their own music as well.
"Jello doesn't really get out of bed until 2 or 3 in the afternoon," Crover laughed, "so instead of waiting for him to wake up, we just do our own stuff in the morning."
Also pending is the release of a Melvins book, "Neither Here Nor There," which, in Crover's words, defies early categorization. "It's more of an art book. We got lots of people to contribute ... . There's some writing in there, and it comes along with a greatest hits CD. It's new territory for us.
"I don't know of any other bands who've taken on a project like this at all. Another one of those hare-brained schemes for us to do."
"Neither Here Nor There" is slated for release Tuesday, the same day as the Melvins' anniversary show, where they'll be joined by Mudhoney and Fitz of Depression.
"I'm glad they're going to do this," Crover said. "We go pretty far back with those guys. They're old men as well."
Paul Pearson is a freelance writer, musician and host of "Shrug Festival" on KAOS Olympia (Tuesdays, 11 p.m.). He can be reached at email@example.com.
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