Interview with The Melvins: Talking About Their Generation

The Melvins are the quintessential quirky ‘90s band, heralded as the forebearers of grunge and their long reach of influence has extended across a dozen or so subgenres of heavy rock. Consisting mainly of guitarist and songwriter King Buzzo and drummer Dale Crover over the years, in 2006 they took on the two members (at the time, there were only two) of Big Business, bassist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis after a hole was left in the rhythm section by the disappearance of Kevin Rutmanis.

The lineup’s remained stable since, and the doubled percussion style has only further fueled the Melvins’ iconic rhythmic approach. Their third album in this configuration, The Bride Screamed Murder, features the most intricate percussion interplay yet and it only seemed natural the below talk with Crover focused on rhythms. After all, he is a drummer.

But before the release and an upcoming East Coast tour with Isis (who are now hanging it up), we touched on a few other things—the writing process, their newfound love of vocal harmonies and the future of his other projects, like Shrinebuilder and Altamont.

When did the actual writing and recording for this album happen? I know you were around trying to get to Europe with Shrinebuilder. Couldn’t get through the ash cloud?

No. We tried. We hung around Brooklyn for about five days. We had flights booked out again—our flight got canceled on a Thursday and they moved us to Monday—but we kind of figured with all that was going on that we weren’t going to make it. The flight ended up getting canceled again and we’re just thinking, ‘You know, even if we do make it over there, what if we get stuck? We have to come back.’ We’re rebooking that tour for November and hopefully everything will be okay.

But god, they’re worried about that volcano. Last time it blew up I think it went for a whole year, on and off, spilling ash into the air. I hope we make it. We had a pretty good tour set up and we were all pretty bummed that we missed it. Got to go a Yankees game anyway. That was cool.

I haven’t been to the new stadium.

It’s alright. I never did get a chance to go to the old one unfortunately, but this was cool. Me and the guitar player Scott went because we’re big baseball fans. We decided, ‘Ah, let’s go, this will make us feel better (laughs).’ He’s kind of a Yankees hater, or at least he was, but then once we got there, he was like ‘Oh, this is cool.’ Everybody that played for the Yankees—even if you didn’t like them, they’ve got great players.

So you were writing and recording this in the fall and the winter?

Yeah. Buzz does most of the writing and he probably started writing songs when we finished our last record. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these songs have been in the works by the last record. I know at least one of them, a song called ‘Electric Flower,’ the main riff to that I know he’s had for a long time because it’s something that I’d always hear him play to warm up. Just a little weird run and then finally it evolved into that song. Which ended up being one of my favorite songs on the record.

‘The Water Glass’ is interesting in that it breaks into that chant.

It’s a Marine Corps drill instructor type of thing. Kind of like in Full Metal Jacket. That was something that Buzz came up with. He was like ‘I got this idea! I want to do kind of these Marine Corps chants.’ He’d been going on YouTube and finding all these different ones and realizing how good the drill instructors were. It’s almost kind of a weird gospel-y type of thing that they’re doing. It’s real old school rap, I guess (laughs). The ones that he found weren’t quite as juvenile as ‘I don’t know what I’ve been told / Eskimo pussy’s mighty cold.’ And some of them are really cool.

What we did was took what we thought were the best lines from a bunch of different ones and put together one line that we thought was good. And we just thought that that would be something different; we’ve never really heard a band do something like that. That and we were also really influenced by marching band kind of cadences too. We originally had the idea that we were going to do both of our high school cadences from marching band. He could remember the one from his high school and I can remember mine, but we just kind of put together our own.

There are almost three parts to the song; there’s the heavy metal intro into the crazy noisy drums stuff that goes into the high school marching band and military cadence. Good way to start off the record (laughs). Sets the tone for the whole thing. I’m sure there will be a lot of confused looks on people’s faces.

That’s what I think is interesting when you say Buzz tends to write a lot of stuff alone. The rhythms on Melvins material are always among the most unique characteristics of the music and I’m surprised that you guys aren’t jamming on that stuff endlessly.

We do, but I’ve been playing with Buzz for a long time, so I know where he’s coming from. Rhythm-wise, he comes up with a lot of stuff. More than you probably think. The drum part that I had for ‘Evil New War God’ originally was far different from what it became. Buzz won’t let me get away with anything easy. We’ll always work on stuff.

With that one, I think we had something of a more regular sounding heavy metal drum part. But he was like, ‘Oh, let’s change that a little bit. Make it more interesting. Why don’t you try this; I want you to start a roll in this part right here, and then do something more sparse right here.’ He always has ideas about that kind of stuff, which is great for me, because it certainly helps me out and it makes it more challenging and in the end we come up with something that’s more interesting.

We do jam on that stuff quite a bit, but Buzz will come in with all the main riffs kind of done. Not necessarily arranged, because we’ll do a lot of that, as far as jamming goes. Cutting parts. We do a lot of cutting. We do a lot more cutting than adding.

I think drummers tend to think about music a little differently, and for a guitarist, it seems like there might be a disconnect in trying to explain rolls and things like that.

I could see how some drummers—and I’ve seen this happen—where they get offended that a guitar player is telling them what to do. ‘I’m the drummer!’ That’s just kind of an ego thing really. I consider Buzz to be the composer of the song. And if you’re composing, you probably have a good idea of what you want. Not always—but listen to the composer. What’s good for the song rather than what’s good for your ego.

So at what point do Jared and Coady come in?

Usually the same time. There have been times where I can’t make it for some reason to practice and those guys have worked out something before I get there. It doesn’t really matter too much. Sometimes Buzz and I will work on stuff on our own, sometimes we won’t. But usually those guys are right there when we’re all working on stuff together. And certainly we want their input.

Though Buzz may have good ideas about things, he’s not married to them and is certainly open to any suggestions, you know. He doesn’t necessarily tell Jared what to play all the time, and lets him do his own thing. I have worked with people before where they have a set way of how they want the song to go and there’s no room for expansion, and that’s certainly not the case with us. Buzz is certainly open to any ideas and all ideas. He lets the musicians have their own identity. Every bass player that we’ve played with it’s always been like, ‘Do what you want to do on this.’

And with these guys, if we’re learning old songs, they don’t necessarily have to play the part the way it was on the record. We’re doing a few new songs that we haven’t done before with these guys and it’s like, ‘Well, you can listen to the song if you want to on the recording, but you’re more than welcome to come up with your own interpretation of it.’ And I think that’s interesting too. Makes the songs kind of evolve live.