It’s not uncommon for a band to generate word-of-mouth hype for an indie release, get their shot with a major label and then seemingly vanish once the label unceremoniously drops them a few records later. The Melvins have been down that road, riding the Seattle grunge wave in the early 1990s (though they never really fit that category). Drummer Dale Crover played on two Nirvana albums, Bleach and Incesticide, and the band’s line-up included underground celebs such as Shirley Temple’s daughter, Lori Black (aka Lorax), and Matt Lukin from Mudhoney. All of it led to a three-album deal on major label Atlantic Records.
But when the grunge scene—and the record deal—faded away, the Melvins didn’t. Twenty-four years and 24 records later, they’re still going strong—touring, putting out videos and crafting new material. With their latest album, Nude with Boots, released July 8 on Ipecac, the band follows up their 2006 release, A Senile Animal. Both efforts are arguably the most accessible albums of the band’s storied career.
But the definition of “accessible” can be tricky.
“Accessible?” says King Buzzo, aka Buzz Osbourne, guitarist, vocalist and co-founding member of the band with Crover. “Maybe for us, I guess, but these aren’t straight up, ‘standard’ rock records. It’s not like they’re going to be playing the shit out of this on K-Rock or something. I don’t have the space cleared on my wall for the gold record or anything just yet.”
Nude marks the second collaboration between Buzzo and Crover and more recent additions bassist/vocalist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis. Both Warren and Willis hail from the band Big Business, which has ties to Missoula—they’ve played local rock festival Total Fest, and released two albums on Wäntage, local promoter Josh Vanek’s record label.
“When our last bass player left the band for—we’ll call it ‘personal reasons’—we knew we wanted Jared to replace him,” Buzzo says. “We had done some shows with Big Business and really liked his bass playing, so when we called him up we got both guys.”
The result is an unprecedented vibe for a band that has built a career out of odd records with sludgy instrumentation that stretch the term “weird,” even for longtime fans. The lineup features two drummers, and the duo’s cross-handed sparring (Willis plays left-handed, Crover right-handed, which makes for an interesting mirror-like visual) is clearly their foundation. “Weird shit” does surface in some of the extended, jammier pieces, but there’s also plenty of the Bonham-esque, heavy-handed riffing that has had more than one critic declaring it classic rock in both sound and approach.
The accessibility of the last two records to a wider audience is not lost on Buzzo, but he knows the score.
“It’s just the way the music business is fucked up, and always has been,” he says. “It’s the business that’s fucked up…It’s like the news business. They don’t report the news, they pick and choose what they are going to talk about and kill everything else. And the thing is, we let them do it to us. We let them fuck us. Liberals blame conservatives for fucking up the world, and visa versa, but we all do it, because we all let them fuck us.”
“It’s like this ‘American Idol’ bullshit…It proves that these people can make big, huge stars out of anyone if they just shove it in people’s faces enough. Look, if radio stations played Melvins music as much as they play shit like Pearl Jam, or Madonna, we’d be huge stars too. But we’ll only get that famous if I go out and blow somebody’s head off or something…”
The same thing that makes the Melvins appealing holds them back: When a new record comes out, no one knows what it’s going to sound like. At various points in their career, the band has followed up one album with another that would seem to come from an entirely different band. For instance, 1994’s Stoner Witch was a straight-up rock album while Prick—released the same year by Amphetamine Reptile Records because Atlantic refused to put it out—was highly experimental. The latter included a track called “Pure Digital Silence” that was actually a minute and a half of nothing. It makes one wonder if Buzzo ever looks back on some of those efforts and questions what the hell they were thinking.
“Never,” he says. “Not one time. Some of those records are my favorite records we’ve ever made. I think they were the perfect record for what the band was all about at that time.”
And how has all the stylistic gear shifting affected the band’s audience over the years? Buzzo laughs.
“I like to use the quote that David Lynch always uses. He says, ‘Every time I do a movie, I lose 20 percent of my audience.’ We’re the same way,” says Buzzo. “A record comes out, and 20 percent of the reviews are people going off about how much they fucking hate it…But at the same time, we pick up new fans, so it all kind of balances out. It doesn’t really matter. I always assume with every record that nobody really cares, that everyone thinks it sucks and that it will tank. It keeps my expectations low and keeps me humble. The last thing I want to do is turn into one of those egotistical asshole rock stars. I try and be nice, I’m always nice. Unless you’re a dick. Then I can turn it on.”
Rest assured, there’s still enough fire in the band to keep them motivated, and enough untried experiments to keep them interested.
“Oh, God,” says Buzzo. “OCD. OCD is what keeps me going. I’ll keep going strong as long as I can.”
The Melvins and Big Business play The Other Side Sunday, July 27, at 10 PM. $15/$12 in advance.