Artist Spotlight: Melvins (or; How To Leave Town Before the Gold Rush) [Part 3 of 11]

Part 1. Part 2.

King Buzzo / Dale Crover / Joe Preston (1992)

Melvins guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne said to Flipside in 1991 regarding the KISS solo albums, “I think it was a good idea, but it didn’t work. Those posters were the worst art! I dunno, they’re a parody band. Spinal Tap doesn’t have to exist… KISS already did all that stuff!”

Whether or not this is the moment Osborne has the idea to rip off KISS, who’s to say? At any rate, the band went to record their own solo EPs, which had cover designs like the KISS solo albums, and artwork modelled after them.

Of course, King Buzzo sounds the most like Melvins, and what they would become. The trio of albums have a lot more experimentation going on, that people would see a lot more of on the major label releases. The album is just Osborne and Dave Grohl (credited as Dale Nixon). You might remember Dave Grohl from being the drummer in the all-star band for the film Backbeat, which was about the early Beatles, but you certainly don’t know of him from anything else. But I digress. “Isabella” sounds like it came right off of Eggnog. “Porg” is a looped sound experiment, and “Annum” sounds like it would fit perfectly on the second side of Stoner Witch.

But the track everyone loves is “Skeeter”. This track actually doesn’t even have Osborne on it, it’s a remixed version of a track Grohl recorded for his Pocketwatch cassette release wherein he relates a story about Scream bassist Skeeter Thompson.

Perhaps most surprising is the Dale Crover release. It’s incredibly musical, and shows some of the direction that the band would go in the 90s. Prior, Osborne wrote 99% of everything, but after moving to a major label, songwriting credits read just “Melvins”, and then evolve into individual credits. There isn’t a lot to say for the four tracks individually, they’re just great rock music, and drummer Dale Crover’s voice sounds really good.

But bassist Joe Preston’s EP is the one that’s really the furthest out there. It could be a reflection of what he wanted to do, or perhaps he was slagging it off because resented having to record it, as he once said that he felt like it “was fucking homework”. There are no vocals to speak of, it’s all samples… unless the screaming at the end of “Hands First Flower” is real live screaming and not a sample, it’s hard to tell. After the nearly 23 minutes of it, you’ll be screaming as well. “The Eagle Has Landed” is a weird little song that is taking place at a supermarket maybe? It’s hard to say. At any rate, “Bricklebrit” is a heavy groove that sounds most in-line with the Melvins’ discography.

Osborne has said that it is his least favorite Melvins release, ever. He told CMJ New Music Weekly in 2005, “[Preston] wasn’t into it at all. We couldn’t believe that he wasn’t interested in this. That was the beginning of the end for him. It’s terrible. His heart wasn’t in it and he was a dumbass for doing that. He did it in about an afternoon.”

The trio of EPs were reissued in 2017 on vinyl. You can get the King Buzzo and Dale Crover ones digitally on Amazon for $3.98 each, but Joe Preston is $9.98. No doubt because of the 23-minute track on it, but you can get the first two songs for $0.98 each. At least listen to Joe Preston on YouTube before spending your money on it.

Lysol (or Melvins, or Boner, or Lice-All) (1992)

Heading back into the studio, the band recorded their next album in 4 or 5 five days (Osborne says 5, Crover says 4). With a budget of $500, the band entered Razor’s Edge in San Francisco, a tiny, one room studio. The band recorded most songs in one take. “’Hung Bunny’, we didn’t play that song more than once,” Osborne told The Village Voice in 2011. “I know there’s even a pretty good guitar mess-up in the second half of the song, but fuck it, I’m not re-recording that.”

Because of the limitations of the studio, the instruments were all bleeding together. As a result, Crover was unhappy with the snare sound of his drums. The band used an old keyboard to sample a single snare from Led Zeppelin’s “D’Yer Maker”, and used it for the martial drumming in the Alice Cooper cover “The Ballad of Dwight Frye” (which also had a short version of Alice Cooper’s “Second Coming” at the beginning, which the two songs follow the same sequence on Cooper’s 1971 Love It To Death).

Lysol had six tracks, including a cover of Flipper’s “Sacrifice”, and the album closed with an original called “With Teeth”, which is… optimistic? “The lyrics are meant to convey a sense that you’re doing the best job that you can, regardless of whatever it may be,” Osborne says. “Everything’s fine because you did the best that you could do. That’s all anybody can ask.”

The album’s six tracks were presented as one long song on the CD version, pretty much entirely because Osborne didn’t want people to skip the ten-minute plus “Hung Bunny” (which was inspired by Lorax and Osborne seeing the Tibetan Monks when the band first moved to San Francisco). However, people almost didn’t even get to hear the album. Crover accidentally leaked the title to a fanzine, and the Lysol company people got wind of it somehow. A person posing as a reporter wanting to interview the band, got into the label offices and confirmed the name of the album. He came back with a crusty 1,000 year-old attorney and the case actually went to court (or at least a deposition of some kind). Label head Tom Flynn lied when he said none had been printed, when in reality there was were 15,000 ready for distribution. Well, the undercover “journalist” was actually a private eye, who had photos of the albums. Twist! A compromise was reached where the label had to block out the word “Lysol” with a black sticker and black out the spines with a marker. It was officially retitled as Melvins, and when I bought it off the internet in 1998, it was titled Boner, which is obviously wrong. It was re-released on vinyl in 2015 with Eggnog, and the name changed to Lice-All.

Apparently, the band had finally found their niche and their fanbase. “I was kind of surprised when people actually did like that record. Certainly not everybody did,” Crover recalled in 2011. “We ended up opening some shows for Soundgarden. We opened with [Hung Bunny]. After the first night, there was a review in the paper where the guy was like, ‘This band Melvins played and all they did was get up there and play one note for an hour!’ I think the next night we actually did just play one note.”

After the 1992 tour with Gwar, Joe Preston was fired from the band. There are a number of possible reasons. Most say that tensions increased after the KISS solo EPs, when Preston said he didn’t get enough credit for his contributions to the band. This is why on the back of Lysol, Preston’s name is printed ten times bigger than everyone else’s. Osborne said in response, “As far as his influence on that record, I thought he played the songs that I wrote fine.” For his part, Preston states he was fired because Osborne and Crover didn’t want to share the major label money that was about to roll in.

Preston went on to his own solo doom metal/noise rock Thrones, played bass with High On Fire for a time, and also was a touring member of Sunn O))).

Melvana (1993)

There isn’t much to say about this, because there isn’t much confirmed. Recorded January 15, 1992 at the Crocodile Café in Seattle. It’s not been confirmed if it was a Melvins show or a Nirvana show intitally, but Osborne got onstage with bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl and played four Flipper covers. “Sacrifice” and “Way of the World” were released as a bootleg on Teen Sensation Records.

To be continued…