Metal Rules

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Metal Maniacs January 2004 interview MELVINS "Metal Rules"

by Andrew Sample

The Melvins, Seattle's oldest forgotten bastard sons, have been around for 20 years confusing metalheads for almost as long. Whether it's the barbaric, pre-grunge indie rumblings of Ozma and Bullhead, the major label dynamite sticks Houdini and Stag, the AmRep "hey let's be noisy just to be noisy" concotions of Honky and Prick, or the current day bedazzlings of Hostile Ambient Takeover or Electroretard, guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osbourne, drummer Dale Crover and bassist Kevin Rutmanis have always done things their way. The Melvins way.

Is it metal? No and yes. Is it heavy? Oh my, unfortunate son...ton o' bricks heavy! Is it amazing? Well that's left to the ear of the beholder. But there is no denying the band has carved out one of the more prolific and original careers in heavy rock history. Everyone from Jello Biafrato Tool to Mike Patton (who signed the band to his Ipecac label a few years back) have embraced the band's music and have collaborated with them since, while other doom/stoner bands such as Sleep. Electric Wizard and Bongzilla have almost borrowed as much from The Melvins as they have Black Sabbath. With the band's big 20-year celebration nearing, it's a fitting time for Ipecac to release (well re-release) the new 26 Songs (1986's 10 Songs debut, plus other old and odd studio meanderings). Much like most of the band's albums, there's probably something that most people won't like or simply won't get, but that's part of the continuing beauty of The Melvins way. This reporter was fortuante enough to catch up with masterminds Osbourne and Crover before the second show of their spring tour with Tomahawk in Anaheim, California for a quick speak. Amongst the witty banter about Kiss and Los Angeles-area dwellings, I figured it was time for these guys to get some metal press again. Far beyond metal indeed...

  • Metal Maniacs: Musically, The Melvins have always been sort of an antithesis to heavy metal, however, part of your current fanbase are metalheads who have only discovered you in the last 10 years. What are your true views on heavy metal and it's fans?
  • Buzz Osbourne: I don't think they're any smarter than the other fans.
  • Dale Crover: We've never been anti-heavy metal, there's a lot of heavy metal stuff we like. Motorhead, Iron Maiden... stuff like that.
  • MM: What were you listening to aroung the time you recorded 10 Songs, back in 1986?
  • BO: Stuff like Venom, Motorhead, Black Flag, Flipper, Bad Brains, Meat Puppets, Hellhammer.
  • MM: And Kiss?
  • BO: Well,as a band, I'd say that we were never really musically influenced by things of that nature.
  • DC: We're fans! Our stuff is nothing but slowed down Kiss riffs!
  • MM: It seems a lot of your current fans don't know some of your earlier releases before the Atlantis Records years.
  • BO: Well, it's always been available.
  • MM: Since you've had better distribution, promotion and a larger and more diverse fanbase in the last 10 years, has your approach to writing material changed or been affected at all?
  • DC: Maybe it's influenced us to write something really hideous. Not to write something nice and palatable, that's for sure. If anything we've goen the other direction.
  • BO: Yeah, I have no interest in being bright and breezy. I mean, I lost all faith in humanity years and years ago...all faith. The heavy metallers will abandon you as quickly as other fans will. And I find all those genres to be very limiting in and of themselves. It's too bad that people are pigeonholed, because there's a lot of good music out there. I like lots of heavy metal. I like the rebellious attitude of the whole thing. But I dislike the failure to incorporate things equally heavy, but not the same kind of bullheaded garden-variety heavy.
  • MM: Metal fans aren't exactly quick to accept a band's decision to change.
  • BO: Exactly. I don't know, a lot of times people can write off stuff that we do, but 26 Songs first came out as 10 Songs 17 years ago. A lot of things have happened since then. And you'd like to think the same people who had a problem with us doing things different would really hate us if we'd never changed. For better of worse, we try to keep it interesting for ourselves. We all have good taste in music and we all have good judgment, so it we think something is good, people should like it [laughs].
  • MM: Some of the extra tracks you put on 26 Songs , "At A Cawl" and "Set Me Straight," to name two, are original versions of songs that appeared on some of your '90's releases. Why is it that those songs didn't make the cut back then?
  • BO: Some of them did.
  • DC: Originally, when we recorded the debut, it was going to be a full-length but the record company didn't have enough money so it became a 7-inch...
  • BO: ...a six song 7-inch.
  • DC: ... that got turned back into a full-length...
  • BO: ...10 Songs. When we did Ozma, we never thought it would even come out. We liked a lot of those songs and thought it was a shame that some of them would never be heard, much less re-released.
  • MM: You guys have had some old material come back into view over the years.
  • BO: And at the time it was viewed very differently that it is now. I mean, we weren't part of any kind of open arms scene by any means. And when that record (10 Songs) came out, it was basically all skinheads who wnated to kick the shit out of us. And even in Seattle when we were playing every weekend, there really wasn't much there, it was very gutter-level at best. We did some shows opening up for bigger bands like the Minutemen and stuff but basically for us it was chump change. "Here's 12 bucks... take it or leave it. haha."
  • DC: That would get us a six pack... and maybe some gas.
  • BO: Yeah we did plenty of "sleep-in-the-van" type stuff.
  • MM: When did you realize something was actually starting to happen in Seattle?
  • BO: That stuff all started after we left, like '87. For us, nothing ever happened, we couldn't make $50 a show.
  • MM: Reading the liner notes for 26 Songs paints a really good picture.
  • BO: I didn't make any of that stuff up. The best thing we could've ever done as fas as our popularity in Seattle was to leave! As soon as we left, it started getting better for us there. Go figure that out!
  • DC: Yeah, then we would go back and play bigger shows.
  • BO: There were local bands that did great there, but nowhere else. When we moved to San Francisco, the first few tours that we did of the US, we couldn't get a show in Frisco or Los Angeles. We could tour everyone else in the US, but not there.
  • MM: You have friends in much bigger rock band. Do you aspire to sell as many records as some of those acts?
  • BO: That would be great. I don't forsee it happening, though. Lots of people think they know what it takes to sell a lot of records, but if they knew the sales for every record that a label puts out, it doesn't happen. I've heard Mike Petton say,"You know how many times I've been told and thought that a song was going to be a hit and it never happened? I'm over that" [laughs]. You never know.
  • MM: You must be sick of being asked about Kurt Cobain for the last 10 years.
  • BO: But it never surprises me, I mean it's understandable.
  • DC: People are gonna ask about that stuff. It's just a shame that sometimes that's all they know. "You guys knew Nirvana, right?" Or another good question is, mostly form the kids, "What was Kurt Cobain like?" And I have no idea how to answer that.
  • BO: "He was so great... smartest person in the world." He's so smart he's dead. Great. I don't know, people like to look back on that stuff and think, "Man, it must've been great." Yeah, you know there's a real upside to heroin addiction and death, y'know? A good happy side [laughs bitterly]. It's weird that we're even a part of any of that stuff, at the tiem when all the stuff was going on it all seemed pretty hopeless. There was nothing going on for us. If you would have told me back then that those guys in Nirvana were going to do as well as they did, I would never have believed it for anything. No way.
  • MM: So when did The Melvins actually first start jamming?
  • BO: Me and Dale started playing together in '84.
  • DC: August of '84.
  • MM: And who was playing with you two?
  • BO: The bass player for Mudhoney [Matt Lukin].
  • DC: Mudhoney was going before that, though, I saw them in December of '83.
  • BO: That was with a different drummer.
  • MM: The Melvins have had some very cool artwork done by some great artists over the years. Are there any pieces or layouuts that stand out as favorites?
  • DC: I really like Hostile Ambient Takeover.
  • BO: I like Colossus of Destiny.
  • DC: Tell 'em about your book.
  • BO: Oh, the book! Yeah, I've written this huge book. It's not like a rock biography because I hate rock biographies. What could be more boring than reading about where a band started. Who cares? This is more like an elaborate CD package, 200 pages, big coffee table book.
  • DC: A bunch of artists and writers are contributing. It doesn't necessarily all have to do with The Melvins.
  • MM: What else is coming up from you guys music-wise?
  • BO: We have all kinds of things in the making. We have a remix record that hasn't come out yet. Electroretard we've remastered with extra stuff that's eventually also going to come out. It's a little too soon to reissue, really, there's still copies out there, so we'll just wait. There's no rush. I have an old recording from the very first lineup of the band that we'll eventually put out, sort of like the 26 Songs thing. And we never really wait t long between real records either. Tomahawk, Kevin's side band [laughter] has a new album out. Fantomas has a couple albums, my side project [laughs]. We're doing a record with Jello Biafra. It's about half done. It's him singing on half our lyrics. We could never take six months off. It's not financially feasible for us.
  • DC: Yeah, the normal Jow nine-to-five can't do that.
  • BO: Yeah, Joe six-pack. 40 hours a week!
  • MM: Anything else?
  • BO: Metal rules!
  • DC: Yeah!
  • BO: Judy Priest, man!

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