Melvins and the Tale of the Duelling Bassists

Not many bands who wander through the Astral Noize pages have quite the legendary, cult status that the Melvins possess. Not only are Melvins a precursor to grunge and a pivotal influence on sludge metal, but they keep plugging away to this day, releasing music and touring every year. Doing whatever the fuck they want, always with interesting results. Their latest album Pinkus Abortion Technician not only references a Butthole Surfers classic, but even features a killer Beatles cover to boot!

On their latest tour, they are playing with not one but TWO bassists, with Redd Kross‘ Steve McDonald and Butthole Surfers’ Jeff Pinkus joining forces to create gut-punching, earthquake levels of low end. Jeff and Steve’s journey with Melvins reaches far back, all the way to their origins. Though they may have only started sharing the stage recently, Jeff and Steve have been around Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover since their inception. We caught up with the Melvins before their show in Manchester in order to reminisce about those early days.

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When did you guys first get acquainted with Jeff Pinkus?

Dale [Crover, drums]: We were just talking about this last night. We were juniors majoring in Linguistics…

Jeff [Pinkus, bass]: It was like ’78, we were both in a sorority together, old school chums! Linguistics didn’t work on me.

Buzz [Osbourne, guitar and vocals]: You both had absolutely gigantic student loan debts.

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Was that before Melvins formed?

Dale: No it was during…

Jeff: It was during the inception… the sperm was still in the uterus!

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So when did you first play shows with Butthole Surfers, and did you ever tour together?

Jeff: No we never did, just a couple of shows.

Buzz: It wasn’t until [Butthole Surfers] reformed. We played a lot with Honky [Jeff Pinkus’ other band]. They finally woke up and thought it would be a good idea!

Dale: I played so many shows with Honky that eventually I ended up as the drummer!

Buzz: Jeff didn’t even notice!

*Everyone laughs*

Jeff: Where did our drummer go?!

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So can you think of any wild and crazy stories from back in the day?

Jeff: I played in the Butthole Surfers, so things were pretty chill!

*Everyone laughs*

Steve [McDonald, bass]: I have extremely mild stories! I would have met Jeff around ’86 when my other band Redd Kross supported Butthole Surfers and we opened for them for the whole tour. I hadn’t seen them play yet and Paul [Leary, guitar] rushes backstage before they’re about to play and yells “Can I buy a couple of guitar leads off you!?” Well, you can just borrow them… “No, you’re not going to want them back afterwards”. They open their set and just completely decimate their guitars on their first song, with our cables attached to them!

Jeff: Most people like to wait ’til the end, but we figured we’d do it on the first song! But that was when me and Steve first talked about letting Dale and Buzz join the Melvins with us!

Steve: There was a long-term picture, a big plan!

Buzz: Alright, alright, we’ll do it!

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Melvins and Butthole Surfers have both been on indie labels, then major labels, then indie labels again. Which do you prefer and what were the major differences?

Buzz: I prefer being on the labels that give us money!

Jeff: The thing I noticed was that when you go to a major label, they already have the answer for the question that they ask you, and you have a 50% chance of agreeing with them! That’s the major difference. Rather than actually being able to talk to someone about the decision at the time.

Buzz: Indies are about the same, except they just never pay you anything. At least with the majors you get something up front!

Dale: What labels aren’t doing now is having big fancy dinners.

Jeff: A friend of ours’ band, one year they sold 23,000 records and they were number twelve on the Billboard chart, and then the next year they sold 10,000 and were still number twelve!

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How has touring changed from the ’80s and ’90s to today?

Jeff: The floors are a lot nicer that we sleep on!

Dale: And we can actually find directions to the venue now thanks to these smart little phones! We don’t have to make any phone calls to anybody like [puts on redneck voice] “Where’s the venue at? Go past the train tracks, you’ll see a tattoo shop and then you’ll see the bail bonds, and the club is right next to that!”

Buzz: It’s got a bit better… show wise it’s no different.

Jeff: Social media is the new fanzine. There used to be fanzines and radio stations who would promote your shit, now it’s pay Facebook 20 bucks to promote your post.

Buzz: One thing I don’t like is that with everything being online. If people don’t like what they said three years ago, they can just go back and change it. Whilst with a magazine and a newspaper, it’s a hard copy. You can’t go back and edit it. So there are massive amounts of editing going on, it’s bullshit! The internet is heavily PC flavoured and has nothing to do with reality. And at least when it’s printed you can go back and say “look right here, you said it was cool to beat women”, *puts on Trump voice* “Well I was young then! I just got out of a bad relationship” or whatever! Now you can’t do that. The New York Times go back and change shit all the time! All the time! It’s like saying professional wrestling is more fake now than it used to be!

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So… two bassists?

Steve: WHAT!?

Jeff: Is that what’s going on here?

Buzz: Steve is just going to wait on the side of the stage and say “are you done… are you done yet? It’s my turn!”

Jeff: I tag him, he jumps in from the side of the ring, takes on these guys a little bit…

Buzz: Whoever wins gets the championship belt!

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Pinkus Abortion Technician is out now on Ipecac Recordings. Purchase here.

Words: Chris “Frenchie” French
Photography: Rich Smith (@digitalbathrich)




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