Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Dale Crover

Regarded by the wise as the finest band to ever come out of the American Northwest/Seattle area, the Melvins have spent the last (almost) thirty years releasing confounding, mesmeric, unconventional, smart and very often thunderous rock music. Equally as influenced by Black Flag as they are by Black Sabbath, and by Alice Coltrane as they are Alice Cooper; a Melvins record (or show) will do things to your mind that 'normal' music can not. Core duo of drummer Dale Crover and guitarist Buzz Osborne remain steadfastly two of the busiest men in music - seldom finding time between touring and recording with the Melvins and their various side-projects to even take part in interviews - so I was delighted when he agreed to talk to me. From playing drums on the first Nirvana demo, to touring the world with the Melvins and Mike Patton's Fantômas project (alongside his time with Shrinebuilder and as frontman of Altamont), he doesn't sit still for long.

Dale Crover. Photograph by Mackie Osbourne

You're just about to go on tour, and you're finishing it off by playing at Mogwai's ATP. Are you going to see any of the other bands playing?
Unfortunately I don't think we're gonna get to see Mogwai, because I think they play the day after us, and we're playing another gig in France that day. But it should be pretty crazy playing with Slayer, y'know?! But we're just there for a day, so all we're gonna get to see is our show! I think us, Sleep and Slayer is all that's happening that day, but I could be wrong.

Yeah, so you'll be in the same room as Dave Lombardo - can we expect anything special from the two of you?

Not yet. But you never know! We'll see!

You gave your last EP away for free. Is this something you'll be doing with future releases? I know you've been experimenting with packaging...
Well, unfortunately it ends up for free anyway! Haha! Pretty much every release we've done in the last ten years has ended up online before it's actually out. So one thing that's sort of cool about this, is that (label) Scion is actually giving it away free. And, also, they've paid us for that! I think it's kind of a unique situation. I don't know how much this will happen. With people being able to download illegally, it's probably going to make it so that we won't make full-length records any more. But we will be doing things like you mentioned, like special packaging. Usually it's vinyl, but we've done a couple of special-package CDs, and they're all limited edition. The way we see it, music is now free, so you're basically paying for a nice package. Nice artwork.

And you're gonna give us that?
Oh yeah. There's a bunch of different twelve inches coming out from the live record that we put out last year. Thirteen twelve inches, because there's thirteen songs on the record, and the flipside is a split with another band.

How did these splits come about? You're doing stuff with some pretty cool bands.

Yeah! Haha! We just thought "Who would be cool to do this with?", and then we thought "The bands don't even need to exist any more!", so we just thought we could use some old bands that we like, and songs that they've released already. Bands like the The Necros, Die Kreuzen, you can't really find their stuff anywhere. We figured that if they could give us an old song it'd be something kinda cool. I'm sure a lot of people haven't heard some of that stuff either.

It looks to me that everybody you asked must have said yes.
Pretty much, yeah! I don't think anybody said no. Haha! Which is great! Like The Necros, who don't exist any more, were like "I don't think we can do anything", and we were like "You don't have to do anything!" So there hasn't been much of a problem.

How did Melvins Lite come about? Is it something that's going to come and go?

I think so. We've played with (bassist) Trevor (Dunn) in the past. Before the Big Business guys were in our band he did some touring with us, and also did the Houdini live record with us. Once we got the Big Business guys in our band we said "We don't want you guys to quit your band, but while you're doing your thing we might do something else, possibly with Trevor and possibly with someone else". The Big Business guys did a big tour last summer, and we decided that - since they were gone - we would see if Trevor wanted to play some shows with us. Buzz had seen him play stand-up bass, doing a more kind of jazz thing, and he thought it was really cool. Really different. We thought that if we played with him for this, it'd make it really different from what we were doing with the Big Band. We booked four shows, and worked out a set. It was a set of old songs, and we thought it worked out really good, so we decided to do a whole record like that, and tour it and stuff. We'll be doing that later in the year. We're about to hit the road with the Big Business guys and Unsane, and then the Melvins Lite record will be out. I think in June some time.

Is there going to be another one after this one?
Yeah, well, we recorded a whole bunch of stuff. We've got enough stuff for at least another EP, probably. Maybe more. We'll see what happens. Eventually we'd like to do a tour where it's Melvins Lite, and Melvins including the Big Business guys. We'd eventually like to do something where Trevor's playing with us as well. Two bass players. We've been playing with the first Melvins drummer (Mike Dillard) too, calling that Melvins 1983. We've recorded a twelve inch EP for that too. 
And you're working with (former bassist) Kevin (Rutmanis) again. What's that like?
We ended up doing a Roxy Music song with Kevin and Jello Biafra. We've kinda become friends with Kevin again. We knew that he had done this Roxy Music song before, with Tomahawk.

And what song is it?
Ahhhhhh... It's sort of a secret. Next year will actually be the thirtieth anniversary of the band, so hopefully we can do some sort of tour and have all three versions of the band play.

There are rumours of a new Fantômas album. Can you tell me anything about that?
Well, I don't know anything about it, and Buzz doesn't know anything about it at all. So if there is one, he's not including us. Haha! I read that some place too, like "Oh, there's a new Fantômas!", but I don't think so. It could be true, but I don't think so.

Melvins 2012. L-R Jared Warren, Coady Willis, Dale Crover, Buzz Osbourne. Photograph by Mackie Osbourne.

What about a new Altamont record then?
Yeah, I hope so. We've been recording some songs - slowly but surely we're getting stuff finished - but I've been so busy doing Melvins stuff that I just haven't really had time, y'know? Plus the other guys live in San Fransisco, so it's a little hard for us to get together and practice.

Where are you?
I live in Los Angeles.

Is anything going to happen with the stuff you recorded with Jason Newsted and Devin Townsend?
I have no idea. I haven't talked to either of those guys since we recorded that stuff. That was like... Oh gosh. I can't even remember when. That was like 1997 or so? It was when he was still in Metallica. The reason that that thing came about to begin with, was that Kyuss had split up - and Kyuss had done some touring with Metallica - and Jason had heard about it and called Scott Reader to find out what the story was, and Scott was really bummed out. He was like "Why don't you come down and we can record and have fun, and you can forget about this stuff?" That's when they thought of calling me, and having me come over to play drums. It was just this weird weekend recording/jam session kind of thing, and that was pretty much the last time I talked to either Jason or Devin. He should put it out. I don't know what he does. He's kind of disappeared off the map, musically. I'm sure he's financially set. He probably made a lot of money off the Black Album, y'know? I mean, that was huge! I guess he doesn't have to work... When I went over there and played, it seemed he was really into recording, and doing different projects, and playing a lot. I mean, he'd done a bunch of different projects with other people as well. He had his own recording studio at his house. It was really cool. I know he was in Voivod for a while, right? But now, I haven't heard anything.

Electrical Guitar Company were meant to be building you a drum kit. What became of that?
I think it's still happening. I talked to the guy not too long ago, and I think he's gonna have something for me pretty soon. He's just been so busy with building guitars that I think it's been put on the back burner a little bit. Actually, he built a bass for the new bass player from Metallica. And the guys from Cheap Trick are buying a bunch of stuff from him.

It seems appropriate that Cheap Trick would want his guitars now.

Yeah! He's having a bit of success.

What was that rototom thing you used to play?

Haha! That's exactly what it was. It was the bottom of a rototom. It kinda had a bell sound. I dunno, I think Terry Bozzio came up with that idea.

Is Bozzio your favourite Zappa drummer?
Probably. Actually, I like Captain Beefheart better. I like Drumbo. He was great.

Dale. Photograph by KRK Dominguez.

How were you introduced to ribbon crashers, and to Pete Engelhart's metallic instruments?
I found that stuff in San Fransisco a long time ago, and became a fan of it right away. I thought it was a really cool percussion piece. Very sharp and abrasive sounding. We were really into that band Pussy Galore, and he (Bob Bert) used to hit on a gas tank and stuff like that, and had all this metal stuff. We thought it was a kind of cool piece to add in with our sound. Now I use a bunch of his stuff. I really like his stuff a lot. He's great. I'm kind of surprised more people didn't catch on to his stuff. I think the people who use it are more kind of Latin percussionists. It's good for me, because it makes my sound more unique!

Where did you learn to do that 'gravity blast', the one-handed roll on your snare?

Haha! I just figured it out. I'd read this interview with Ian Paice - do you know who he is? He plays drums for Deep Purple - and he does this one-handed roll, and they were asking him about it, and he was like "I'm not gonna tell you!" Haha! So I just kinda figured it out on my own. Later, I looked up on the internet and discovered that there's a bunch of YouTube videos of people doing it.

And you can do it with both hands?

You play brushes on one of the tracks on Freak Puke. Is that the first time you've done that on a record?

Yeah. Actually it is.

I guess it sits well with the stand-up bass, and with it all being mellower.
Yeah, it just kind of fit the song. Y'know, maybe, actually, that might be wrong... That's the first time I've played with wire brushes, but I've recorded stuff in the past where I've used these plastic brushes a bunch. But traditional brushes, yeah - that's the first time.

How's your hearing? Do you have any hearing problems?
Oh yeah, it's goin'! It's just gonna get worse and worse. Oh well.

Bill Bruford or Neil Peart?
Hmmmm... Ahhh... Jeez, I don't know... I'm probably more interested in Neil Peart.

Bill Stevenson or Robo?

That's a tough one. But Bill Stevenson. Yeah.

John Bonham or Bill Ward?
Apples and oranges. I'd say Keith Moon.

Elvin Jones or Tony Williams?
Ooh, that's a tough one. Umm... I definitely listen to a lot of the Tony Williams stuff from when he was playing with Miles Davis. But they're both pretty good. I'll tell you who the best drummer is I've ever seen. And he'll be the king.

Go on.
Buddy Rich. He's the best drummer I've ever seen, for sure. He's from another planet. Most drummers I can watch, and figure out what they're doing, but when you watch him, you see stuff and you're just "Oh my God", y'know? Keith Moon's a little bit like that too. There's some drum solos of his that are a little bit crazy. I like more the kind of radical drummers like that, y'know? A lot of people don't like Keith Moon, and think he's too sloppy, but I don't know what the heck they're talking about. He might have been drunk a few times, playing drums, but he's a great drummer. Also Ian Paice, I did see him a few times, and I was completely blown away by his playing. He's one of the best ones out there.

What's your favourite horror movie?

Hmm. Probably Evil Dead. Either Evil Dead or The Exorcist. I like a lot of the real vampire movies, from the Hammer era. Christopher Lee movies.

What would you be doing if you hadn't pursued music?
I dunno. I'd wanted to play music since I was about eleven. With it being that long, I'd have probably wanted to be a fireman or a cowboy. Or a baseball player. Haha!

How did the shoe come about? Nike SB made a Melvins Dunk.
We had a friend that worked there. I can't remember what he did there, but he was in the skateboard division of Nike. They asked a bunch of bands about doing shoes. We got Buzz's wife Mackie to do the design. There's two different ones. It's weird, there's this whole shoe-world that we didn't know existed. There are people who are big shoe collectors. Buzz was in a shoe store where they had the Melvins shoe, and this guy, this total hip-hop guy, came in and was like "No way, there's the Melvins shoe! That one's the shit!" And Buzz is looking at him and thinking that there's no way he knows anything about our band. He just knows the shoe. We've ran across a few people like that, who had no idea who the band was but were really into the shoe. We were selling some of them on eBay, and people always wanted to know that it wasn't a bootleg, and we were like, "There's not going to be any bootleg Melvins shoes, what are they talking about?" but then I saw one, somebody showed me one, and I was like "Oh my God, there really is!" There's actually bootleg versions of that shoe out there.

The Nike SB Melvins shoe.

People download your music for free, and now they bootleg your shoe...
Haha! I mean, since they're 'collectible', they go for a lot of money, so I could see why people would do that, y'know? I could tell the rip-off because the label was different, and some of the material, wasn't the same. But that was a real surprise. I couldn't believe it.

I think it's great that you did it. Dinosaur Jr. have one too. Whether people are interested in music or shoes, it's cool that people are into something. Was it a hard decision?
It was a no-brainer! "We want to do a Melvins shoe." "OK!" "We'll pay you guys in shoes." "OK! Sounds good!" We had no problems with it at all. 
What other Melvins albums would you like to perform live?
Well, actually, we're going to do the whole EP on this tour. So, the new one! But as far as a special performance, I don't know, but I think we're gonna make it over to Europe and do that whole residency thing that we did here. Eventually.

Do you have any plans to play either Hospital Up, Inhumanity and Death, P.G.x3 or I'll Finish You Off live?

Umm... I'd like to do Hospital Up, at least. That'd be good, but it might be kinda hard.

Do you have any pets?
 I do. I have a dog.

A loyal, noble dog? Or a wild, ferocious beast?
He's a very well-behaved dog. He's very mild-mannered. His name's Arthur.

Have you ever posted on themelvins.net?

Have I ever posted there? Nah. I wouldn't post there.

Have you ever had a scary encounter with a crazy fan?

Well, there's certainly people who are very enthusiastic, and that you see at a lot of shows, but nobody's stalked us or anything. Which is good. There's crazy people out there for sure, there's fans of ours who are nuts, but that's OK.

Melvins 2010.

What's your favourite Nirvana song?
Favourite Nirvana song? Hmm... Smells Like Teen Spirit! Haha! No, actually I think my favourite one is In Bloom.

Did you hear that 'mash up' of Revolver and the Beyonce song Single Ladies?

No! Is that on YouTube? I'll need to check it out.

It's not bad, it sounds kinda 'right'.
Who did it?

Just some guy in his bedroom I think. Nobody famous or anything.
How did you get hooked up with Volcom?
Through Totimoshi. Those guys had a record on there, and they asked us to do a split. We figured it'd be cool. I guess I don't really know too many of the guys there, but I worked on the record by that band Tweak Bird, and Volcom put that out. They gave us suits a couple of years ago. Haha! For those times that I have to wear a suit. I still have a bunch of their socks too, Volcom's good for clothes.

It's cool that you get shoes and suits just for playing music. Apart from Tweak Bird, is there anybody you think people should be listening to?
I don't know... I've been doing a bunch of recording. The engineer that works for the Melvins and myself have been trying to work with other bands, doing either performance or production. Or both. I've worked with a bunch of bands that I've done drum parts for, or percussion overdubs, and one of those bands is a band from Canada called Indian Handcrafts. They're pretty good.

Is there anybody you'd like to work with?

Not particularly. I would work with pretty much anyone who was serious about doing something. Even if it was something completely not what I'm used to. I don't mind. It makes it more interesting. I always thought that hip-hop should have real drums. That would be something interesting.

The Roots do it quite well, but it's still just hip-hop drums. It'd be good to hear something a bit more out-there.

Yeah. The normal hip-hop stuff just now, it's not very exciting. I just think it could be way better. I used to listen to N.W.A. a lot, but they seem like a punk rock band, y'know?

Massive thanks to Kevin Parrott and Kurt Midness for helping me arrange this, and the good people of themelvins.net forum for the best questions.

1 comment:

  1. loved the embedded clips man.

    fuck - i'd work with Dale on a project any day.

    come to Australia to live.