Rocknet Mark Deutrom Interview

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  • interview from with Mark Deutrom
  • Sheila Rene conducted this interview for RockNet. Rene resides in Austin, Texas.

The Melvins Line-up: Mark Deutrom, bass; Buzz Osborne, vocals/guitar; Dale Crover, drums - Album: "Stag" - Label: Atlantic Records - Producer: The Melvins, Alex Newport, Chris Kezlewski, Joe Baressi

Q&A with Mark D.

Sheila Rene': Hello, Mark.

Mark D: Hang on a minute. I'm back now, you're down in Austin?

SR: Yep, I just moved here after spending 30 years in San Francisco.

MD: I know S.F. well. Where did you live?

SR: All over the Haight/Ashbury, upper and lower Castro and Diamond Heights. You grew up in Texas didn't you?

MD: I was born in London and I grew up in El Paso. I get back to El Paso every once in a while, usually on tour.

SR: This tour is so exciting to read about. Back in the early to mid-'60s it was commonplace for a band like Led Zeppelin to hit town and play three or four nights at the Fillmore. You're going to be playing with no warm up, but three sets a night. I like it!

MD: That's right. We wanted to make our shows interesting. We wanted to try something a little bit different. We've often collectively talked about playing more than one night in a town. Most bands want to play 20,000 for one night instead of playing four or five concerts. We're much more into doing a residency in one town, when we get to that point. We like the idea of doing something special. It's just got to be more fun to hang out in a city for a while.

SR: It must be less stress to tour that way.

MD: It would be great. I can't think of anything better than hanging out in Austin for four or five days or Dallas or San Antonio for that matter. We could even get in a little golfing. Bands can do whatever they want, but they choose to perpetrate the big venue type thing.

SR: I want to picture this correctly. You're sitting there with your favorite beverage regaled in cowboy boots and hat waiting to light up a big cigar.

MD: I'm not wearing my hat, but I am wearing my boots.

SR: Light up a big cigar, here we go. Are you still an aficionado of the great cigars? It's the latest big fad.

MD: (laughing) I've been smoking cigars for 20 years so it's too late to stop now. It's even to the point where I'm really a little embarrassed to actually have a cigar in a photo shoot. I don't really care to be lumped with the rest of the trend mongers. It certainly doesn't keep me from enjoying it when I'm home in England. Life is how it should be.

SR: I put this new CD on and I kept having to look at the cover to make sure I was listening to the Melvins. One great album.

MD: Thanks.

SR: You do additional guitar, moog and then the baritone guitar. What's a baritone guitar?

MD: That's a guitar that has had the pitch tuned down from a normal guitar. It's actually a guitar that has what's called 'Nashville tuning.' They use it a lot of times to double guitar lines to make an acoustic guitar sound really thick. Elvis Presley used that tuning a lot for doubling bass lines. It's a weird thing to play, but it's easy for me to play because I'm mainly a guitar player.

SR: You started out on guitar.

MD: Yeah, the bass is something I came to recently.

SR: Would you say that this album was recorded under the most interesting of times because you're all living in different places, different continents?

MD: It's a popular misconception that we recorded separately using eight track tapes. Actually, almost the opposite is true. When we're apart from each other we don't talk that much. We work on material by ourselves and then when we come back together we bring it all back. We just throw it all into a big pile and then start sifting through it. The sending of tapes back and forth is a little more romantic, but it's more diverse. We spend so much time together that when we're apart we tend to isolate from each other. The three of us are open to completely different experiences. I think if we were all living in the same city we might all have more or less the same experiences.

SR: Diversity is an understatement on this album. We always know to expect the unexpected from you guys.

MD: (laughing) Cool. That's a pretty natural thing for us to do. I guess we do a lot of stuff on intuition and gut feelings. We don't have a master plan. We just work on it until it feels right to us.

SR: You joined the band in '93 so you played on "Houdini?"

MD: I didn't play on "Houdini." They didn't have a bass player on that album. It was a Buzz and Dale playing bass then.

SR: Rolling Stone Magazine called "Houdini" the best heavy metal release in a decade.

MD: (laughter) Yeah, but they called it that in '93 so go figure. Last time I checked there were a few more years left in this decade. I don't know. One person's heavy metal is another person's power pop. We take all that with a grain of salt.

SR: "Stoner Witch" was called a masterpiece. What is the time frame from "Stoner Witch" to now?

MD: We finished recording "Stoner Witch" in July of '94 and it came out in October of '94. We've had time off intermittently here and there, but primarily we've just been touring and working. We put out a record entitled "Prick."

SR: They say "Prick" was pure noise.

MD. That's right. Pure annoying noise is what it was. That came out of the demo sessions for "Stoner Witch." We started on "Stag" so it's been pretty much non-stop touring and recording although we had a four month break after we finished Stag this year. Record labels don't like you to work too hard which is unfortunate for a band like us. We could be more like a band in the late '60s and the '70s who put out a new record every year. We'd like to be that kind of band, but, unfortunately the labels have so much product coming out they want to run it into the ground over a period of two to three years.

SR: Do you keep up with your reviews? Everything I've read is great.

MD: We've actually seen maybe three or four. I've seen a couple of bad ones.

SR: Are you tired of being called the spiritual fathers of grunge? The band that used the dropped D tuning first?

MD: I don't know. That stuff doesn't really effect us. They'll can call us whatever they want. The dropped D tuning is an old thing that John Lee Hooker used way back. It's just that the D blues tuning is for lazy rock musicians who don't want to bother throwing F sharp or the A in there. All they do is drop the D and there you are.

SR: It's still being extensively used in music today. You guys just brought it into focus.

MD: Yeah, that's it.

SR: Engineering has always been one of your big accomplishments. The whole band is credited with the production on this one.

MD: I've done a fair amount of it, sure. That's the way it works now unless I specifically do something by myself. I can't help sticking my hand in the fire and messing around. I'm always very questioning of why people do things a certain way and why they're not throwing the rule book out. I tend to have more of a hands-off attitude when we're paying someone else to do that job. The reason to hire someone else is to get an objective opinion. So it's truly a big collaboration with us. I am interested in doing some more engineering and production in the future, but I don't know when I'm going to have time for that.

SR: How was touring with the mighty KISS? I know Buzz has always been a big fan of theirs.

MD: Buzz and Dale love that band. It was great. We did five dates with them. We didn't actually travel with the band, but we saw them at the gigs and they were all very nice to us. We've known Gene (Simmons) and Paul (Stanley) for a while now. We're not great buddies, but we're a little more than acquaintances. They're real gentlemen and a perfect example of how you should be when you attain success. There's a whole hellava lot of bands out there who could learn a lot from their attitudes and the way they conduct themselves. It was a great experience. I'd say it was one of the best touring experiences I've ever had. It's a completely different type of thing than touring with younger bands who've sold some CDs and have some kind of an attitude going. KISS has seen everything, been everywhere, done everything and they've got enough money to sink a ship, and they're still completely mellow.

SR: Except for the Grateful Dead, KISS has to be the most involved with their fans. I've always felt their sincerity where their fans are concerned.

MD: Absolutely. I personally was never a huge fan of their music, but I love the concept and the whole P.T. Barnum aspect of their show. It's a great take on rock and I think it still is. A lot of folks take rock music too seriously and they're the ones who don't like people like us poking fun at it all the time. We have our tongues firmly planted in our cheeks where rock music is concerned. We really are serious about what we do but at the same's only rock and roll. KISS has never forgotten that fact. There's nothing better than being able to poke fun at yourself.

SR: You came into this project with cuts 4, 12 and 16 all finished: "Yacob's Lab," "Lacrimosa" and "Cottonmouth."

MD: Yeah, we had them down on four track and complete Buzz did "Hide" at his house, Dale did "Cottonmouth" at his house and I did "Yacob's Lab" at my house. Those three tracks are quite literally four track recordings we just put on the album. All we did was throw them up on the half-inch and that was it.

SR: I had to run for the dictionary on "Lacrimosa." It has to do with tears.

MD: Yep, that's right. It's actually in the requiem mass and there's a particular procedure to it. It's a certain type of ritual. The lyrics are a translation of that. That song has an interesting genesis because it came out of the Stoner Witch sessions. Originally, it was just a bass track with Buzz, Dale and Buzz's wife Mackie playing drums. I had that on ADAT and I took it home and put all this ambient guitar over it. Then I put a vocal over it and played it for Buzz. He liked it so much we put it on Stag. The original version of that song is nine and a half minutes long.

SR: I love the "Cottonmouth" track a lot.

MD: That'll make Dale happy. We all like the blues a lot. We're all fans of ZZ Top. I`ve seen them all through the years about 12 times. By the time I met Buzz and Dale I'd already seen them a lot. Buzz seems to have gotten into them the last couple of years. I just saw them in London and they were really good. They played real sounds, no triggering, no sequencing, no sampling. They performed material off their first four albums. It was great.

SR: I'm expecting a copy any day now. They're back to their blues roots I hear.

MD: I'm really glad about that. I was getting a little tired of that sequencing stuff.

SR: I love sequencing.

MD: At least ZZ Top has taken it some place new which is good. They're always growing as a band and that's something I can admire.

SR: That's what you're famous for. We know not to expect the same old pap from you.

MD: We might be growing too fast for our britches. I don't know.

SR: I don't think so. Are the days numbered for Lollapalooza? Your reviews on that tour were all the same...that you were the best.

MD: Not really. As long as they make money they'll keep doing it.

SR: I saw the Dallas show. I thought the fans were really taken advantage of by not letting anyone bring in bottled water. They sold the small bottle for $2. The beer drinkers had to spend $3 for a wristband that allowed them to buy a small cup for $4.50.

MD: It's all down to management. From what I understand this year there was a change. Regardless of whether you can take water in or not, I don't believe it has ever been a major alternative to a regular rock and roll gigs. As far as I'm concerned if you're paying $50 bucks for your ticket how alternative is that? It's like the Rolling Stones tour. I don't call that an alternative gig. There's a lot of phoniness and paradoxes in the whole thing along with a lot of false posturing. I can have way more respect for a band like KISS who just says 'yeah, we're making a lot of money. That's what it's about.' At least it's honest. While we were on Lollapalooza we saw exactly the way things went down. They're just copying the European festivals and they just don't have the organization over here to do it right. It's just a business and if it's viable and if successful, it'll continue.

SR: The word was that Perry Farrell bailed out because it had not gone the way he originally planned.

MD: Well, I don't know. There are a lot of theories. From what I've heard, read and know, I don't think he's in any position to be an Andrew Carnegie-type. It's like the music business in general. When people in the music business start imposing their own personal tastes upon their business decisions, that's when everyone suffers.

SR: Your show was the best attended of any band on a side stage.

MD: It was hard to tell how many people were there watching. We got a lot of questions like 'don't you feel special to be involved, blah, blah, blah.'

It was just another gig for us and to be honest, and it wasn't that good of a gig. You're stuck in a tent without air-conditioning. It's about 105 degrees outside and you've got people stealing your water out of your cooler. It was pretty much a bummer. It was okay to expand our audience and I'm glad we did it, because we were exposed to a different fan...we just did it for the exposure.

SR: There's no better reason.

MD: Exactly. It was a hard tour. To be honest I wouldn't do it again.

SR: How old were you when you started your own label, Alchemy? It was that label that released the first two Melvins albums.

MD: Gosh, I'm amazed you even know about that label. You've done your homework.

SR: Don't forget I was living in S.F. then.

MD: Right, right. Did you ever know Victor Haden?

SR: No, I don't think so.

DW: I think it was in '94 which would have made me 26. I lived in Los Angeles before I went to S.F.

SR: My question is could you ever be excited about running a record company again and signing your own bands?

MD: I would love to be able to play gigs as a guitar player again on a side project, but I don't think I'd want to get to the point where I'd do the kind of touring that the Melvins do. I'm past that now. I don't have the drive in me to do that want to put together a project and shop it and get it on the road as a band project. I think more along the lines of doing studio stuff of my own and maybe play special shows here and there. But, as far as running a record company, I'd like to start one and be in charge of all the creative aspects. At Alchemy I was going to do all the production and someone else was going to do the accounting and run the business side of things like promotion. It was a good theory but it didn't work out.

SR: It's a lot of hard work and long hours.

MD: If you depend on someone doing a good job and they don't do it then it puts you in a bad position. It was a fun project and I learned a lot. I would do it again if I had the time.

SR: Is there a particular band out there that you think will come on strong?

MD: I don't know. Things are so artificially inflated all the time. A band will get some buzzclip going on MTV and it gets played ten times a day. The band sells five million records and they're huge while it's the first record they've made in their life. Two years later they only sell a million but they haven't acquired an audience. It's almost like they've been forced upon the population by the media. The record company sees a single moving and then they go to Infinity Broadcasting or whoever and purchase $300,000 in advertising time and they sit there and play it ten times a day or whatever on stations so the kids think it's really hot. They don't go out and tour and acquire a natural audience. Bands still do that but most are seduced into the fact they can make a lot of money without doing it that way.

SR: Do you have any side projects going at this time?

MD: I don't personally. I have a lot of songs that I've written and sifted through for a solo project but not as a band project. It's probably several years in the making.

SR: Is the Buzz Hustler edition out yet?

MD: I don't know if it is or not. They're so weird down there. They're probably printing their January 1997 issue now.

SR: How did Allan Mac Donell the managing editor from Hustler happen to write your biography? It's so funny I was crying.

MD: Yeah, that's good. That's what we wanted.

SR: Buzz says in an interview that 'The Smashing Pumpkins probably spent more on their catering than we did for our whole album.' I thought that was a funny statement.

MD: (laughter) That's probably true. Everything is immensely inflationary. Bands tend to delegate responsibility because they don't want to deal with it. If it's from asking your manager to get you an 8:30 wake up call because you can't be bothered with setting the alarm to find me a laundromat and book my tour to go get me a hamburger. What happens is all that costs money and ultimately you have to pay it back. Smashing Pumpkins, to be fair, if I had as much money as they have, everything becomes relative. If you spend more money than is allocated for any particular project, it's going to catch up with you. The public doesn't know if you spent 150 grand or if you spend $10 on ADAT. It ends up with engineers and producers making records for each other. It's like stamp collecting, guess what kind of stamp I have? It's utterly meaningless. ZZ Top did their first album on an eight track and it's a classic album.

SR: Have you seen a copy of the Roger Corman comic book about the Melvins? How much were the band members involved?

MD: Yeah, sure. We weren't really involved at all. When they did the first one they had a story board that they showed us. We just okayed it.

SR: There's more than one out?

MD: Yeah, it's Rock N' Roll High School Part 2. I've seen it.

SR: I'll have to pick up a copy along with Buzz's piece in Hustler Magazine.

MD: I don't have a copy myself.

SR: Isn't someone in your camp doing the archival thing?

MD: Well, between our management and our label it all gets collected. If we see something while we're out on tour, we'll grab it. There's so much all over the place, it's a little difficult to keep track of. A lot of it, I'm just not that interested in.

SR: How was it working with the famous porno director Gregory Dark on the video for "Bar X the Rocking M?" Why am I not seeing it on MTV?

MD: You won't see "Bar X" on MTV. The quote directly from MTV on that song via Steve Bascom, who runs the Mammoth label, was 'We don't like the band.' That's a direct quote. We laughed ourselves silly when we heard that, as if we expected something different. They've never played us before so 'oh, no, what are we going to do now?' Like everything else we do as a band, we're just going to figure out ways to get our video out there without using them. There are plenty of ways to do that today. In Europe and the U.S. we've got all kinds of regional shows and the club circuits.

SR: Don't forget the comic book circuit.

MD: Exactly. We've got a couple of ideas up our sleeves that we'll work on.

SR: Your sidewalk 7" single recordings are so wonderful. I respect any band who puts their fans first. When will the 7" live boxed set be coming out?

Plus the cover of Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive" which is being released on Frank Kozik's S.F.-based label, Man's Ruin.

MD: The Amphetamine Reptile boxed set with a single for every month of the year is a tough one to find anymore.

SR: I only wish you'd make more than 800.

MD: The reason we do that is that our fans like the idea that it's difficult to get and it's like a little treasure hunt for them. Also, by limiting them, it keeps the big boys happy. It's free publicity for the band. It pays for itself. It's just a fun thing to do. The Pink Floyd 7" is not out yet, but it'll be soon.

SR: What can the fans expect as far as set one, set two and set three goes?

MD: We're not exactly sure of the sequencing yet. I guess tonight is the first time we'll be trying it in the U.S. We're in New London, Conn. tonight.

SR: I'll see you at Liberty Lunch. You'll have it going by then.

MD: Actually we just came back from Europe and we were trying out two sets over there. It worked out really well. One set is probably going to be more like a set we'd play live on tour, then another will be some of more experimental tunes like "Sterilized." I'm actually going to get to play guitar on about four songs. Another set will be the quieter jazz stuff.

SR: How long are you out this time?

MD: We've been out since the beginning of July, went out with KISS and then the Lollapalooza. We're interested in finding out how the U.S. fans take to the three set a night show.

SR: I'll say this album might make you more famous than you want to be.

MD: We'll see about that.

SR: Are you an Internet surfer?

MD: I think the whole thing is evil. Yeah, let me tell you. It's to the point now that you can't tell anybody anything because you don't know if they know anybody. You could just be saying something that was confidential and they might tell someone else and then there's one person who puts it out on the Internet. The next thing you know you're reading about it in a place where a zillion people can see it. Some things that were told in confidence have ended up there. Just the idea of information or diss-information is potentially a pretty dangerous kind of thing to happen. It's just like the Sears catalog from hell. I think it could be a great tool for information, but I also think it's just the most hideous gossip mill ever.

SR: Sasha from KMFMD says it's total anarchy.

MD: Oh, yeah, I think it is. I like to fool around with it when I'm at my parent's house.

SR: Thanks for your time.

MD: An interview is one thing. I don't care about that, but the Internet is insidious. I hate to think I have to be careful about what I say now. I'd rather give my money to a humane society.

SR: One last word to your fans.

MD: Come on down and see us. You'll get twice your moneys worth.

SR: I'll pay my respects in Austin.

MD: We'll look for you the end of the month.

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