Artist Spotlight: Melvins (or; How To Leave Town Before the Gold Rush) [Part 2 of 11]
“She was always a weirdo, which is what attracted me to her,” guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne said. “I knew, within the next year, when she became my girlfriend, that I wanted to move to San Francisco.”
“Lori [Black] was a really solid bass player,” drummer Dale Crover said. “I really liked her… She really had a tough time because she assumed people wouldn’t accept her being in the band. One, being female, and two, replacing Matt Lukin. People definitely liked Matt Lukin.”
In 1989, Melvins fan (and future member) Joe Preston ran a fanzine called… Matt Lukins Legs 4. In the ‘zine, among discussions of Tibetan Monks and breakfast cereal, the members recalled an instance:
Buzz: We had some girl come up to us and say “you guys suck without Matt in the band”.
Lori: She said that before we even played.
Dale: She’d never seen us, but she was saying “I like all the Sub Pop bands, they’re so great, so cute.”
For those who don’t already know, bassist Lori Black is the daughter of oil baron Charles Black and child actress Shirley Temple. “I started going out with her long before I ever knew who her mom was,” Osborne explained. “They probably thought I was some leeching weirdo and that their daughter went out with me just to screw with them.”
After the band moved to San Francisco, they laid low for a while. Gluey Porch Treatments was technically released, but no one could find it anywhere. History repeats. “It’s not getting distributed. Supposedly it is all over the world but we have gotten like two letters from people who said they got it,” Osborne said. “We have heard from at least a number of people who have said that they would like to get the record but just can’t find it anywhere.”
The band saved up enough money to get a van, as they couldn’t really play out until they got one. “Our main problem has been no transportation,” Crover said. “but now we’re ready to rock!” After getting back on their feet, the band was ready to go back into the studio for their next record. Even though they weren’t going to go through Alchemy Records again, they called in Clown Alley guitarist/vocalist Mark Deutrom again to produce their next effort.
“Lori and I were together for about 10 years,” Deutrom said. “We split up, Lori and Buzz got together, Lori joined the band, and I moved to London at that point. Then Buzz called me up and said, ‘Hey, want to produce our next record?’ So, I came out from London and we recorded Ozma. That was, of course, pretty much the Fleetwood Mac scenario.”
Osborne stated that the album was recorded almost entirely live, with very little overdubs, with the exception of double tracking some vocals or some guitars. The album was initially released in May of 1989, and most of the material was at least two years old.
Frankly, I’m not really a fan of it. The songs sound too much like Gluey Porch Treatments, but somehow less developed. Despite having the same producer as Gluey, the songs sound kind of flat. That being said, there are two real bangers on it, “Raise a Paw” and “Oven”, the latter of which is still played in setlists today.
The album was reissued on CD later that same year with Gluey Porch Treatments tacked onto the end, and a bonus cover of The Cars’ “Candy-O”.
Nirvana – Bleach (1989)
“In January 1988, Kurt Cobain called me up at the studio and said, ‘I don’t have a band name, but I’ve got the Melvins’ drummer helping me out. We just want to come up and record some songs’.” Reciprocal Records engineer/producer (and Skin Yard guitarist) Jack Endino recalled. “I’d already been a Melvins fan for years, and thought, this is a no-brainer. Let’s do it.”
“When I first played with them, they weren’t even called Nirvana. One show we did as Pen Cap Chew… I named the band Ted Ed Fred for a show,” Crover said. “They wanted to have their stuff on tape so they could shop it around and find a drummer. They got a record deal instead.” Crover continued, “I was friends with the Nirvana guys, but I’d already invested all the time playing with Buzz, and I liked the Melvins better. I probably could’ve done both bands, but I was moving away.”
The group recorded 10 songs in 5 hours at reciprocal studios. Three songs directly from this session ended up on Bleach: “Floyd the Barber”, “Downer”, and “Paper Cuts”. Five of the tracks from this session would end up on the Incesticide collection: “Beeswax”, “Downer” (again), “Mexican Seafood”, “Hairspray Queen” and “Aero Zeppelin”.
Your Blessened b/w Pronoun Piece Me (1990) / Steel Pole Bath Tub Split (1989) / With Yo’ Heart Not Yo’ Hands (1990)
This is where Melvins started putting out non-album singles, which is something they’ve kept up off and on. Over the last 20 years, they’ve increased the number of non-album singles they’ve put out in response to people buying less albums.
Melvins released Your Blessened b/w Pronoun Piece Me in 1990. “Your Blessened” is a live track recorded in 1989 with Black on bass, and would end up in studio form on Bullhead. “Pronoun Piece Me” has former member Matt Lukin on bass, and is an outtake from the C/Z sessions that produced 6/8/10/26 Songs. It’s worth it just for the cover art.
In either 1989 or 1990 (sources differ), Melvins recorded a cover of Mudhoney’s “Sweet Young Thing” for a split single with Steel Pole Bath Tub (they were covering Sonic Youth’s “I Dreamed I Dream”). The single was originally going to be on Sub Pop, which is where Steel Pole Bath Tub was signed at the time. “They said they were gonna give us a certain amount of money to do it, which was literally the only reason we wanted to do it,” Osborne told Flipside. “Then it came down to it… they didn’t want to give us what they originally said. I just decided I don’t want to get involved in this whole thing. I’ve heard about the things that go on at Sub Pop, I’m really glad we didn’t do it.”
Also, in 1990, the group released a three-track single, With Yo’ Heart Not Yo’ Hands, which was a cover of Deep Six alum Malfunkshun. “I really liked that guy [singer/bassist Andrew Wood] a lot, he was really cool. We always liked that band a lot. I would say Malfunkshun was definitely one of the early bands from Seattle that was completely unrecognized,” Osbourne said. “They’re a lot more rock n’ roll than we are, they’re kind of like Discharge/KISS, sort of… we were really bummed when he died.” I’m not sure a marriage of Discharge and Kiss is accurate, but it’s an interesting interpretation. Anyway, the track is awesome, and it comes with “Anal Satan” and “Four Letter Woman”.
It should also be pointed out, that Osborne is responsible for introducing Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic to drummer extraordinaire and all-around cool guy Dave Grohl sometime in 1990. Osborne had been friends with Grohl for a while, and took the pair to see Scream play in San Francisco. Soon, Scream broke up, and Osborne pointed Cobain and Novoselic in Grohl’s direction.
Sometime in 1990, the trio recorded their third full length album, Bullhead. After the prior albums had been recorded in 24-track studio, this album was recorded on 16-track. The band was happy with the result, Crover in particular liked the various drum sounds, but Osborne thought that sometimes they sounded too much like a machine. This also begins the trend of the band being incredibly frugal, but smart. The band only used half of their budget for recording, and pocketed the rest. It’s probably the key to their longevity, in that they escaped the fate of so many bands by not getting hopelessly in debt to a label.
The album is, up to this point, the most adventurous album they had put out. It has the long drone songs, like “Boris”, but it also has a song that approached actual pop music, with “It’s Shoved”. The album is considered one of the band’s best, it’s somehow both difficult and accessible.
Released later in 1991, Melvins released a live record, Your Choice Live Series Vol. 12. The set was recorded live January 23, 1991 in Germany. The concert took place after Bullhead was recorded, but before it was released. Osborne stated that the record was released under duress. He said, “This guy asked us if we’d let him release a live album and we said we wouldn’t do it unless he came up with a certain amount of money. I think it was like two-grand, which was an outlandish amount for us at that time. So anyway, we’re in Europe and he shows up at the show. So, he shows up with money and I’m like ‘Oh shit, I forgot about this’.”
Even later in 1991, Melvins released the Eggnog EP. It’s four tracks, and pretty much an extension of Bullhead, but even weirder still. “Hog Leg” has a lengthy set of samples of a televangelist, and “Charmicarmicat” is a punishing drone of twelve and a half minutes.
From the Boner Records press release for Eggnog:
Ok, It all started back in ’69 when guitar king Buzz Osborne met up with ex James Gang member Joe “Dale” Walsh and dianetics guru Lori Ron Hubbard to form the space boogie ensemble we now know and love as ZZ Top, thus paving the way for what would become industrial disco. And then they changed their name to Melvins and released “Eggnog”. The End.
After the release of Eggnog, bassist Lori Black (credited as Lorax) was out of the band. In Everybody Loves Our Town, Osborne said she was out because “she had a whole bunch of troubles”. However, Osborne told Kerrang in 1992, that Black had cancer and had to have a series of operations, so she quit for health reasons. She was replaced by Joe Preston, who you remember also distributed the Matt Lukins Legs fanzine, and by this time he had a been a bass player for Earth.
Nirvana – Here She Comes Now b/w Melvins – Venus In Furs (1991)
In June 1991, Melvins and Nirvana released a split single, with each group doing a Velvet Underground cover. This was released about a month and a half before Nevermind came out, and about 6 months before Nirvana really blew up. As a result, this single is counterfeited to high heaven. It’s impossible to know how many were produced legitimately, the inside sleeve says “Limited Edition of ___ / However Many We Can Sell”. Not real helpful, guys. There’s an estimated 10 to 25 different color variations.
To be continued…