Artist Interview: Band, (the) Melvins

It goes without a doubt that The Melvins are classified as one of the legacy bands of this century playing around in a noisy undisclosed genre. Comprised of guitarist Buzz Osborne and drummer Dale Crover, the duo have rotated around members over the years to come up with something new on every record that they have ever done. Most recently with the release of A Walk With Love and Death the two experimented with darker tones and arguably more simplistic instrumentation when compared to the layers of instruments used in previous records. Not only that but along with the “Death” side of the LP they have come up with a score track for Jesse Nieminen’s visual short which will be the title “Love.” We were lucky enough to be able to take the time to talk to Dale about this release and have a little insider on what was going on with them and their bassist, Steve Shane.

Dale and Buzz are lucky enough to have a studio of their own to be able to work and construct music consistently. With the amount of work that they two have, whether it is with the Melvins, their solo work or the other projects that they have taken part in, it has become the perfect place to get things done. Previously the band had to come together, rehearse, and then set themselves up in a studio somewhere. Now they are able to have a new luxury of writing things on the spot, recording the tracks, and earning a sense of freedom through the process. Dale even further commented that, “I like it because it’s fresh and I don’t necessarily have parts written up yet and I can be freer. I notice too that if it’s a song that I have rehearsed already when we record it I will probably screw it up where with the new ones I can’t screw it up because there’s nothing to mess up yet.” It’s because of this studio and their ability to jam everything out along with Steve Shane (of Redd Kross) that they have been able to produce things so efficiently. It furthers the creativity that they are known to encourage. 

On previous albums the duo have had several musicians come in to record albums or EP’s with and then tour on. This could mean having multiple people play bass, guitar, or any other instrument that they could fiddle around with. When it was announced that A Walk With Love and Death would only have themselves and Steve Shane with them it came as a bit of a surprise. “We’ve been playing with Steve for a while and he actually played on the previous record a little bit but this is kind of his first full length [with us]. We like his bass playing a lot, we’ve been a fan of his for a long time. We moved to LA and became friends, got to know him and thought that he would be a good bass player when we needed somebody. It’s kind of incestuous. It started because I as playing with OFF! filling in, in his band. He’s in a band with Keith Morris. Went from that and then from him playing in the Melvins and now I’m playing in the Redd Kross. Some of the stuff I would record with just Buzz and I. We would record by ourselves and Steve’s also a recording engineer so we kind of let him take the tracks and come up with a part.” When they played together running through the first song on the album they had Steve go through and pull out all of the stops as a bassist. Dale even had to comment on the reminiscent of the middle David Bowe period, “Playing with different people kind of gives us ... That.”

Not only did they have Steve go on tour with them and perform on the record but the Melvins also were able to pick up a few other guests as well including Le Butcherettes, Teri Gender Bender, as well as Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago. Dale was so excited to have these musicians as a part of the album where they were able to pull from different influences without really sounding anything like what they thought of. Santiago’s part in “Christ Hammer” feeds off of him, Buzz and Dale having a musical back and forth and while Dale recognized that musically it does not sound the same the influence comes from “The End” by the Beetles where they had similar solo switch offs. 

Though there are fun moments like this there is no doubt that A Walk With Love & Death is one of the darker sounding Melvins records. Not even Dale is certain if there was a direct intention for it to go into this direct but simply stated that when they started writing things just came out this way, “I was kind of playing a little quieter because Buzz was and I don’t know Drum-wise I played with plastic brushes that gave the drums a different quality. Also messing with different tunings on drums which I had kind of done but not really. here’s this record that came out by the Lemon Twigs. They’re these two brothers from Long Island and you can tell they like Queen and the Beetles. They did this kind of thing with the drums where it’s kind of an old trick, almost 70s sounding, where they made everything kind of dead and deep. And i thought that was so cool and that I had never done anything like that before.” While having a conversation with their engineer, Toshi Kasai, they talked about doing something where the drums were dampened and de-tuned. It was perfect and fit exactly what Dale had been considering after listening to the Lemon Twigs.

While the “Death” section of their album may be an eerie version of their typical Melvins discography the “Love” portion of the record holds a lot of crazy intricacies that people need to pay attention to. Artist and friend, Jesse Nieminen, was asked to set out and create a cinematic short for the music that the Melvins created. Now the record is out and the movie is not quiet done yet and there’s no specific date set for release but it is coming. Dale mentions how they had given Jesse a few different ideas and how Buzz had given him directions on different things for the footage and a lot of different photographs. Essentially the video teaser to A Walk With Love and Death gives an idea of what the movie will come out like. “ The soundtrack is the script for the full thing. There’s a lot of field recordings in there that we took and manipulated as well, even conversations, toys. I even had a bunch of stuff already,” Dale continues to say that Buzz wanted stuff recorded on their phones. No guitars or music simply just conversations or moments with their kids. One of the best moments for Dale was when he was able to grab a sound clip of his son and their friend, “They were playing video games and I slowed it down and they sounded like teenagers. It’s sort of hilarious because they’re talking about dying and stuff like that ‘I died. I glided to my death.’ That’s perfect!”

Among the audio clips there are also a bunch of toys that Dale, Buzz, as well as Toshi had that they were able to through into the mixes. For a while the group got into circuit bending toys, creating something new out of an old toy and embracing that unique culture. “There’s a song called ‘Scooba Doo’ here there’s this old doll from the 60s and it was a Beatnik doll. I have three of them that don’t work but Buzz has one that does work and they would say things like, ‘Hey, dig these crazy black stockings’ or ‘Hey man, what are we going to eat.’ So she’s on there and we made a bunch of songs out of it ... Then i recorded this other thing with this toy where the batteries were dying so it makes it all warped sounding.” 

There were moments in their recording process that they contemplated that the nature of this half of the record would end up being more Death than Love but ultimately concluded that it fit more as Love in their walk. Dale notes that in life both are essentially inevitable. While one could live without love he cannot imagine a world where someone would want to do that. It is openly an uncomfortable record fitted with some weird stuff but more than anything is an example of how the Melvins embrace art in their music more than anything else, “It’s not something you are supposed to dance to but it is something you let overcome you.”

Among the audio clips there are also a bunch of toys that Dale, Buzz, as well as Toshi had that they were able to through into the mixes. For a while the group got into circuit bending toys, creating something new out of an old toy and embracing that unique culture. “There’s a song called ‘Scooba Doo’ here there’s this old doll from the 60s and it was a Beatnik doll. I have three of them that don’t work but Buzz has one that does work and they would say things like, ‘Hey, dig these crazy black stockings’ or ‘Hey man, what are we going to eat.’ So she’s on there and we made a bunch of songs out of it ... Then i recorded this other thing with this toy where the batteries were dying so it makes it all warped sounding.” 

There were moments in their recording process that they contemplated that the nature of this half of the record would end up being more Death than Love but ultimately concluded that it fit more as Love in their walk. Dale notes that in life both are essentially inevitable. While one could live without love he cannot imagine a world where someone would want to do that. It is openly an uncomfortable record fitted with some weird stuff but more than anything is an example of how the Melvins embrace art in their music more than anything else, “It’s not something you are supposed to dance to but it is something you let overcome you.”

 

Photographs & Writing Presented by Brandynn Pope

Brandynn Pope