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The Melvins

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The Melvins occupy a strange space in the rock music landscape. They’re revered by fellow musicians and rock nerds as pioneers of the ’80s grunge rock scene, as original and weird today as they were 30 years ago, yet they fly largely under the radar of most mainstream rock fans. With more than 400 original songs on over 40 albums, the band has gained a reputation for their feverish work ethic and willingness to try things that would make most record company executives eyes roll back in their heads.     They’ve produced KISS-style solo albums, released experimental/noise albums, and once put out three albums in the same year. The band has taken countless forms over the years. They’ve put out albums with Mike Patton and Jello Biafra. They’ve absorbed the (then) two-piece Big Business for an iteration that paired powerhouse drummers Coady Willis and Dale Crover. And they’ve done all this because… well, because that’s the kind of thing they set out to do from the beginning.     Add to that a constantly-rotating cadre of bass players (“They’re musical polygamists,” says current bassist Steve McDonald), some nonsensical lyrics (“the golden talking equine god / means nothing to no way”), a lot of bizarre imagery and dark psychedelia, and you’ve got one of the most enduringly weird and surprising bands ever. With their crushingly heavy, crawling sound, they’ve influenced countless other bands, from Nirvana to Tool to Mastodon, and a whole new generation of heavy rockers like Helms Alee, Big Business, and Tweak Bird.     Last month, an independent documentary about the band, The Colossus of Destiny: A Melvins Tale, produced by first-time filmmakers Bob Hannam and Ryan Sutherby, premiered in Los Angeles. The Advocate caught up with Buzz Osborne, Dale Crover, and bassist Steven McDonald (Redd Kross, Off!) when they came to the Calvin Theater in Northampton on Aug. 27, the latest stop on their Basses Loaded U.S. tour. Here are just a few cherry-picked highlights.     Plus: watch the video at valleyadvocate.com.

—Peter Vancini, [email protected]

 Dale Crover: [Steven] was surprised when he got in the van and we told him that we like to ride pants-less. Buzz Osborne: A lot of the time. Dale:  We call it Porky Piggin’ it. Shirt’s fine. Peter Vancini: So how are you guys getting around now? Did you say it was a van? Dale:  Jet. Learjet. Three of them. Pete:  One for each of you? Buzz:  A Lear-van. We’re in a Lear-van. Pete:  You guys are kind of known for keeping a punishing schedule. You did the [2012] 50 states in 50 days thing. Buzz:  Plus D.C. Pete: Right, so 51. What was that like? How do you keep your energy up on a tour like that? Dale:  Performance enhancing drugs. Jennifer Levesque:Where did that idea come from? Buzz:  (Points to his head) It’s in here. Jen:  So you just thought that you could do it? Buzz:  You think of it and you do it. Envision, execute. Dale:  That’s right. This is a really dumb idea. We should do it! Yeah, you know, actually we should do it. That’s usually how it starts. Buzz:  Think of something and then think, I think maybe we could do that, and then think of how it could be done; then you realize you could make it work. [The 51 in 51 Tour] was great. It was actually a really good idea. And people go, ‘You guys just did that for the publicity!’ It’s like, well why else would you do it? Duh. Steven McDonald:  Well, you got paid, you promoted your record, made the people happy.

 ON AVOIDING AWKWARD CONVERSATIONS ON THE ROAD

 Buzz:  Claims adjusters is usually what I tell them. We’re claims adjusters from Iowa. “Really?” Yes. That usually ends the conversation with a dud. And then you’re done. Dale:  They don’t believe it, but they know they shouldn’t ask anything else. Buzz: “Are you guys from around here?” Yes. Yes we are.

 ON THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

Pete: Is there anything that’s particularly frustrating to you about the music industry or working as a professional musician? Buzz:  Oh, well sure. I mean, there’s not really any aspect of it that I’m completely satisfied with. I mean, I can’t think of anything. I think that’s what drove me to punk rock in the first place — even that I’m not happy with. I’ve always been really picky. I’m not happy with any of those peer groups … I guess I’m a lot of times disappointed with how similar people act no matter how alternative they think they are. It’s disappointing. Pete: So you think it’s … homogenous? Buzz:  Well, you take a typical like “we’re-a-punk-rock” band and they’re on the same kind of tour buses with managers and booking agents. Pete:  Does it ring false to you? Buzz:  It just seems like there’s not really much —  I mean, it’s the same drugs and divorces as Mötley Crüe. Not really doing anything different as far as I can tell. I’m not fooled.

 DIY ETHIC

 Jen:  In the documentary, [A Melvins Tale] your wife [artist Mackie Osborne] has a printing press at home. That seemed like a really cool passion … You are hands-on with the posters and the CDs and stuff. Buzz:  Very much so. Jen:  I think that’s pretty awesome. You’re taking control of that as well. That’s part of the music, that’s part of the experience that you’re listening and viewing. Buzz:  Our life at home for me and my wife is very 30-hours-a-day type stuff. We’re not sit around, vegging out type of people at all. We never have been. Jen: Always projects, projects? Buzz:  There’s just something cooking at all times. All times. That’s just how we’re wired. She’s constantly doing something and so am I. We’ve been married almost 23 years and we had cable TV one of those years and we just never watched it … But we have a really strange setup at our house. It’s like, my house, for the most part, is almost dead silent. In the main part of our house — and it’s not because we’re against it — we don’t have any media at all. No TV, no music, anything. Dale:  I don’t see how it could possibly be dead silent with him in the house.  Buzz:  I mean I’m not like, “oh, you shouldn’t do this” or “don’t play video games.” I just don’t do it. I don’t care what people do. You want to veg out in front of a video game, fine with me. At least you’re not out Clockwork Orange-ing somebody.

 MUSIC AND OUTLETS

 Pete: So, do you guys need an outlet from — I mean, for a lot of folks, music is their outlet. But this is your job that you do all the time. Is there ever a time when you feel like you need to step away and have a different outlet? Buzz:  I don’t. I do it all the time. (Silence.) What do you guys think? Do you need an outlet? Steven:  (Shrugs.) Well, I was kind of listening to that and thinking that you do. You have golf. Buzz:  But I don’t feel like I need to get away from music. I mean I don’t [say] ‘I have to do something else or I’m going to go out of my mind.’ Steven:  Well, I don’t know what motivates you to do it, but it seems like you have other interests. Buzz:  I do, but I do it “as well,” not “because of.”

 ON THE PLAYLIST?

 Pete: What music are you guys listening to? Dale:  Today I listened to to some Elton John. All kinds of stuff. Pete:  What album? Dale:  Goodbye Yellow Brick RoadBuzz:  That’s a good one.

 ON COLLEGE

 Pete: So, you guys have been at this for greater than three decades now. Dale: Thanks for making us feel old. Pete: But I mean your work ethic is through the roof. Your output has been staggering! What is it that’s been driving you guys forward all these years? Dale:  Because we burned every other bridge and we can’t do anything else. It was either this or trying to get a job at 7-Eleven. Buzz:  Which won’t happen. Dale:  Because we’re not qualified enough. Buzz:  We’re overqualified … And we never went to school either. You know why? Pete: Why? Buzz:  Because college is for suckers! Pete: As someone with a significant amount of student debt, I’m inclined to agree with you. Buzz:  What did I just say? The government told you to go. And what do they say about the government? Don’t trust the government. Jen: Did you guys finish out high school? Buzz:  Unfortunately. If I had it to do over again, I’d quit. Dale: I quit and there’s no difference here, is there? (Gestures to Steve and Buzz.) College boy. College boy. Buzz:  I went to college, but I withdrew after the first semester. Steven:  I didn’t really go to college either. Dale:  You kind of went, didn’t you? Steven:  I went to like 13th grade in my early 30s. Pete: Decided it wasn’t for you? Steven:  Oh, no. I did what I set out to do. Buzz:  A bunch of wacky pranks on the dean? Steven:  Yeah.

 PRE-BAND LIFE

 Buzz:  I worked all kinds of jobs from the time I was 13. I cleaned up a butcher shop, mowed lawns, paper route. Basic jobs. (To Dale) How about you? Dale:  Paper route. Steven:  I had a paper route. Out of high school I worked for a telemarketing company that was a scam that paid a bunch of delinquents more than they deserved to scam. Pete: What kind of scam? Steven:  Oh, it’s boring, but basically it was really bad karma because we were stealing from small companies, small businesses not unlike the kind of business my parents owned. We were selling them promotional items and baiting them with a “free gift” they had already won. Buzz:  Did it work? People fell for it? Who fell for it? Steven:  It was sad. It was only old people, probably with dementia. They were like, “Can you hang on for a second? I think my social security check might be here.” And you’re like, “Ohhhh.” And you just hang up. But then the guy would be on your back like, “Stay with the pitch!” They hung up; there was nothing I could do. Buzz:  I think it was the sheriff trying to trace the call. Steven:  But I was getting paid like 10 bucks an hour in 1985. Buzz:  Wow. That’s good money. Steven:  I did it for an entire what would’ve been my 13th year of school, had I gone to school. I did it from September to June and that was that. Buzz:  Did you buy any gear with that money? Steven:  Yeah, I probably did. Gear and candy. Buzz:  Acid. Did you buy any acid? Steven:  Amplifiers, acid, and candy. What else is there for a young musician?

 STEVEN ON JOINING THE BAND

 Pete:  So, what’s it like playing with these guys, Steve? Must be kind of a dream come true. (They all laugh.) Buzz:  Well, I don’t know about that. Steven:  It’s been a blast. It’s been a lot of fun. And it’s been not just playing with them, it’s touring with them and getting a sense of how they run their machine. As you mentioned, they’ve been doing this for a long time and they’ve been consistent about it. Which is something that I think really sets them apart from most people in our peer group. So, you know, a lot of it’s just been me keeping up with them. I remember the first night, we played a show and I was just like, “yeah okay, I made it.” And I was relaxing and these guys were already dressed. And the crew was already moving. And I was like, “whoa, okay; I guess that’s one of the keys to success.” And there’s lots of little lessons like that; how you manage to do eight-week tours and do them consistently year after year, sometimes back to back and not implode.

  FAVORITE MELVINS ALBUM?

 Pete: Do you guys have a favorite Melvins album? Or is it like choosing a favorite child? Buzz:  I don’t. I’m too close to it. I make the records and pretty much walk away from them. By the time they come out, I’m done with them. Dale:  Usually the favorite is the one that we’re working on at the moment.

 Want more Melvins? Watch the extended version of the interview at valleyadvocate.com. 

 Contact Peter Vancini at [email protected]. Contact Jennifer Levesque at [email protected].