Echoes of The Melvins’ unmistakable yet mercurial sound can be heard throughout the eighties, nineties and beyond; throughout rock, grunge, hardcore and the legion strains of metal. Consistently prolific and innovative, the band have never wavered in their output.
I spoke with long-time drummer Dale Crover at the tail-end of the US tour for their latest full-length, Bad Mood Rising, released earlier this year through Amphetamine Reptile Records.
Crover has also performed and recorded with Men of Porn, Shrinebuilder, Altamont, Fantomas, Off! and Nirvana, amongst others. He released his third solo album Rat-A-Tat-Tat! in 2021.
So, Dale, you’ve got two more dates of the US tour, is that right?
One more. We were supposed to play tomorrow, here in the Palm Springs area but something happened with the venue.
I heard you were at home at the moment, which I assumed was the Pacific Northwest area.
Oh no, I haven’t lived there in a long time. Not since the eighties. We’ve actually spent the majority of our career in California, more than we have in the Pacific Northwest. It’s okay, I think people haven’t noticed that we left [laughs].
You left your influence, and left elsewhere.
Yeah, we left our stink all over the place [laughs]. So now we’ve been living in California for a long time. After San Francisco I moved to L.A. for quite a while, and now I live in the desert, where all the stoner rock bands are from.
Bad Mood Rising, really interesting album. You guys have always been prolific but always manage to bring something different with each release. I know you’ve done long tracks before, whether it’s been kind of droney, or experimental, or you know, sound collage. This is the first time I think I’ve heard a long track by the Melvins but this is the first time I thought, with the first track [‘Mister Dog is Totally Right’], this is a little bit proggy.
Maybe. I mean, definitely, Melvins you could say are proggy. Maybe not like, [the band] Yes.
No, no, sure, I’m not talking about Emerson, Lake & Palmer, here [laughs].
Right, no, but certainly, I’ve loved Pink Floyd for a long time, stuff like that, but I don’t know if that was necessarily a big influence on any of this at all.
There was so much development throughout the whole track. We talk about prog, I love albums that start off with songs that are way too long.
[laughs] I think almost all of these songs are long, but that one might be—I’d have to look but isn’t it like fourteen minutes long?
That one is fourteen minutes long. I think the only other one that kinda comes close is ‘Hung Bunny’ [from Lysol]. There was a little bit of—bringing back the interesting time signatures which during the (a) Senile Animal, Nude with Boots-era, you guys were playing around with a lot. What’s the process when you go in to record a studio album? Do you go in with a concept in mind, or do you go in and just—I hate this expression—let the magic happen?
[laughs] That’s almost the way that we do it now, really. For the last three, four, five records, we’ve kind of had our own studio, so with that, it’s been different, because we can just go in and write stuff and record it right there, you know? As opposed to, before, when we would have to go to a commercial studio, we’d have to have everything prepared, and ready to go; know the songs and have worked on them a bit, but I would say since we’ve had our own studio, we’ll go in and—I mean, it’s not like we take longer to do things but we can sit right there and it’ll usually be, Buzz and myself will learn a song and once I have it down then we’ll record it right there and then.
So it’s a bit more autonomous, you don’t have producers looking over you, saying you need to do this and that?
Maybe not necessarily, I guess we haven’t ever had anybody be much of a producer. The last twenty plus years we’ve been working with Toshi Kasai, as engineer, and if he thinks we need to do it over, he’ll certainly say “you need to do it over”; he’s musical, and he pretty much has full control over mixing and we give that to him because we trust him. It keeps things fresh and certainly there are songs we’ve recorded in the past, like on our earlier records where, thinking about it now, we spent too much time working on the song and rehearsing it, and hammering it into the ground and it kind of took the magic out of it.
Growing up, listening to The Melvins, I never really pegged you for rock or metal, you always stood somewhere in between, it was about heaviness. For anyone that knows The Melvins, your influence on heavy music as a whole has been vast. You guys have spoken about the kinds of things that have influenced you at the beginning, stuff like Kiss, the Beatles, Black Flag, Flipper, what are you listening to now? What’s inspiring you at the moment?
Besides Kiss, Black Flag and Flipper?
Funny, ‘cause we just saw the Flipper guys at our show the other day, and we’ve been playing ‘Sacrifice’, the Flipper song. But, oh yeah, there’s a band that we had on tour with us that’s kind of a new band, called Taipei Houston, they’re a two-piece, bass and drums, and they’re the sons of Lars Ulrichof Metallica, but you know, besides them being sons of a famous rock star, they’re actually really talented and they don’t necessarily sound like Metallica; they sound heavy but not necessarily heavy metal. If I could give you the short answer of what they sound like, it’s sort of like if The White Stripes were into [Black] Sabbath.
Kinda doomy garage rock?
A little bit. Check them out, they got some stuff that’s out there and a record coming out pretty soon. We really liked them a lot. They played just a little part of the tour. We already had another band playing with us, so they were just on the tour for about a week, and we ended up liking them so much that we wanted to get them on as many shows as we could. They were really great; really worth checking out. There’s another new band that we played with too, at least one show, from Chicago, called mr.phylzzz, another two-piece.
Since your inception, you guys have always been pretty fearless in terms of experimentation. Listening to your solo releases, again there’s a lot of exploration, particularly on your latest, Rat-a-tat-tat. It’s very groovy, psychedelic, noisy, occasionally jazzy; there were some power pop moments. Are there still some sonic corners you haven’t explored with The Melvins yet that you’d personally like to?
Well, nothing’s off-limits, but I mean, we’re not itching to make—definitely when we’re listening to certain things, it influences us, whether it’s like Miles Davis stuff or whatever, but there’s nothing where we’re like, oh, you know what we should do? A country record. Nothing like that. Everything’s pretty natural I guess. But it’s always good to change things up.
You’ve often showcased, with your own drum playing, sometimes a pretty experimental approach. Who were your favourite drummers that inspired you from the start?
Well, I really liked heavy metal drummers when I was growing up. I was really into Judas Priest, and I like that drummer Les Binks, and then the early Iron Maiden stuff, I really liked Clive Burr. He’s since passed away but he was really great. I never got to see him play, but I’ll still watch old videos of those guys. That’s my favourite version of that band.
Self-titled and Killers?
Killers, mostly, that’s the best thing, for sure. But then also, drummers like Bill Stevenson [Descendants] I really liked a lot, and it’s funny because I guess I always liked bands, and I don’t know, sometimes, it didn’t matter how good the drummer was, or if he was some flamboyant drummer or whatever. If the songs were good…
I think that’s the thing I see with your drum playing, I would never consider you flashy but as someone who uses the drums as a kind of sonic force, very much at the forefront with the guitars or vocals.
Well yeah, another big one I think for the band, who’s drumming totally works is Keith Moon. I would say [The Who] are probably even a bigger influence on us than people realise. Certainly, that’s one of Buzz’s, if not his very favourite band, and definitely I like Keith Moon. I love that stuff. I love crazy drumming. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about the drummer but that’s the perfect example, that’s the style of drumming we like.
Whether tongue-in-cheek or not, you guys have always enjoyed doing covers, everything from Hank Williams to The Beatles to The Beach Boys to Kiss to Venom. There have been countless covers of your own work. Are there any notable ones that you’ve heard and loved? Any that you’ve hated?
I haven’t hated any.Nothing like that. I’ve heard some interpretations where people may have taken some liberties on things, which is fine. I like the Mastodon one.
Yeah. I wrote the riff too, so I was pretty honoured they covered it.
That was cool, and then the Lamb of God guys, they did ‘Honey Bucket’. I got an email from the drummer not long afterwards, saying how he really enjoyed playing that song. It was really sweet that he reached out. I’ve never met him in person, but I thought that was pretty cool. But the one that really surprised me, that really did a good job, and I was almost like, oh, they almost do that song better than us was, and I didn’t know that they were gonna do it but it’s this band, Helms Alee, they were in the Pacific Northwest.
Oh cool, what did they cover?
They covered ‘At The Stake’.
One of my favourites.
Right on. And I didn’t realise they were gonna play it, and all of a sudden, I’m in the dressing room like, what the fuck? And I was like, oh, it’s really good, too! Wow! So theirs was kinda my favourite. They’re a great band and we’ve done some recording with them too, which I hope will eventually see the light of day. But yeah, Melvins have always done lots of covers, for sure, from the very beginning.
I think I remember being shocked to find that one of my favourite songs off of Houdini was actually a cover [of Kiss’s ‘Goin’ Blind’], but it’s still a song I go back to at least once a week.
Awesome. Well, it’s an obscure song for those guys.
Yeah, it’s not one of their biggest.
No, not at all. We actually influenced those guys to start playing it again.
Yeah, and for a while they were.
So you guys have done some collaborations down the line. Most notably with Jello Biafra, and then one of my personal favourites, Pigs of the Roman Empire with Lustmord; more recently, your stuff with Jeff Pinkus from Butthole Surfers. If you had the chance of working with absolutely—let’s say this is hypothetical—any artist or band, if you could give me a top three, who would they be?
Okay, it doesn’t matter if they’re dead, right?
[laughs] I hadn’t thought about that. Alright, yeah, they can be dead.
Jimi Hendrix, that’d be a good one.
I had a feeling that was coming
I think I remember reading that you guys started off playing Cream and Jimi Hendrix covers.
I suppose so. Let’s see, who would another good one be? It has to be an artist, right?
Any musician, any combination of musicians, any band, any artist.
Right. Well, I’m trying to think of something that would be good for the band [laughs] so, I mean, if we were gonna pick people we really liked a lot, plus ones that would be impossible, that would be good.
We’re really talking like, hypothetical here, this is real pipe dream stuff.
I think Melvins with George Martin producing might be kinda cool.
Why not? We’ve sort of worked with producers in the past, you know, not really.
And I suppose he would be the ‘fourth Melvin’.
Right, yeah, well, he was the ‘fifth Beatle’, right? Maybe even more possible would be Giles Martin, that would be cool to see happen. He’s still alive and working on stuff and I have enjoyed all the Beatles stuff he’s been involved in. Maybe not everybody’s excited about that band as I am, or as we are, but tomorrow, the Revolver record comes out, remixed with a big deluxe repackaging and I cannot wait.
I think the first time I heard ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ was possibly one of the most formative experiences of my musical life for the pure reason that backmasking anything just sounds amazing.
[laughs] Okay, here, let me try to think of somebody who’s alive ‘cause that would be good. I always thought it would be cool to do something with Iggy Pop. That would be almost possible.
Great stuff. Okay, so next month marks the thirty-year anniversary of Lysol. One of my favourite Melvins releases—is it true that Dylan Carlson appears on Bad Mood Rising?
So Earth 2 and Lysol had a huge impact on what is to me unfortunately quite a small genre. When we speak about drone metal, these were really important releases and this is a genre where your instrument is your amplifier.
Except if you play drums.
…Except if you play drums. Do you think it’s something you’ll ever delve into again?
I think some of the stuff on that long song is pretty droney. On ‘Mister Dog…’. It’s just a really slow time signature. All that stuff, there’s a flow, it’s not just something that’s hanging there in space.
You have a lot of very technical bands and if anything it’s a lot easier when you’re listening to something that’s fast, whether it’s death metal or technical metal, it’s a lot easier to find out the time signature but I honestly remember listening to ‘Hag Me’ [from Houdini] and thinking, what the fuck is the time signature here?
Oh right, yeah.
It’s such a slow song, and yet, it’s so hard to find a beat.
Well I mean, it’s all in 4/4 [imitates riff and clicks fingers].
Yeah, I only realised this years later.
Well, things are a little bit elastic.
That’s a good word. Speaking of Lysol, I recently ordered a copy of it. It’s been ages since I’ve heard it. I can’t remember how I used to listen to it but either way I ordered the CD ‘cause I thought it’s been a while and I often miss the excitement of buying physical music. What do you think has changed for the better in the way that we consume music now and conversely, what do you think has changed for the worse?
Well, for the better, it’s easier to listen to new music. I like being able to hear a band and then just go and listen to them right away. I pay for a streaming service, so I can do that. Obviously you don’t have to, and there’s lots of people that don’t. The worst part is now there’s not as much money as there used to be. Bands don’t get paid like they used to.
I pay £10 a month to use a streaming service and the amount of artists I have access to for that £10 is astounding.
Yeah. I don’t know if everybody views it the same, but as a music fan, I really like that. I’ve heard so much more stuff than I would’ve. I’ve checked out bands I never would have given a chance, and stumbled upon stuff that’s now some of my favourite. I love stumbling upon a band that you’ve never heard before and you’re like, what the hell is this? You know? Like, wow, these guys are really great. So, you know, even though I’m saying bands don’t get paid, at least there might be an audience for people, so it’s hard work, but it always has been hard work.
In 2017 you released A Walk with Love & Death, the first half, Love, being the soundtrack for a short film entitled A Walk with Love & Death by Jesse Niemenen, if I’m pronouncing that correctly.
Pretty close. Something like that.
So I found this name and I think I’ve only connected it to a couple of Melvins music videos that have been directed by this person.
Where is this short film? Has it been completed?
Yeah, it’s on DVD.
Okay, see I can’t find any information on it, anywhere.
Oh, okay? I wonder if it’s online anywhere. I haven’t actually looked for it. It’s a film that Buzz and Jesse put together and goes along with the soundtrack. It’s really good, it’s arty and weird and really cool; very visual.
I wanted to check it out but it was impossible to find; maybe I’ll have to look again.
I don’t know if it’s streaming, but it’d be great if it was.
So one last question, what’s your next upcoming project?
Weelll… next year is our forty-year anniversary. You were mentioning Lysol having its anniversary, I never remember that stuff. Someone will go, woah, it’s Houdini‘s thirtieth anniversary, and I’m like, oh, really? People ask, are you gonna do anything big? I’m like, oh no, totally forgot, but, totally didn’t [this time], next year is our forty-year anniversary and we’ll do something, only thirty-nine for me, so that means for the next two years we can do a fortieth anniversary tour. We’ll do something big, we’ve got plans for more music coming out and hopefully we’ll be doing a giant bunch of touring next year. All other kinds of good stuff, I’m sure.
Bad Mood Rising is out now via Amphetamine Reptile Records and can be ordered here.
Words: Rory Hughes