Artist Spotlight: Melvins (or; How To Leave Town Before the Gold Rush) [Part 6 of 11]

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5.

Honky (1997)

“So, we got dropped from Atlantic, put out the Honky record about a month later, hit the road, and toured for the next year,” guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne recalled. “I saw the writing on the wall with Stag, and we went ahead and recorded another record without them knowing. So that the second that they dumped us, that we were legally done, we could have an album come out. No waiting time, no down period where people think that you broke up… Then, if they wanted us to do another record, we’d go ‘Okay’, collect the advance, sit around and pretend that we’re recording, and then give them that record. It was flawless.”

Honky wasn’t any kind of statement record about being mad at Atlantic Records or anything like that,” bassist Mark Deutrom said. “It was just simply another Melvins’ record, and that’s also what just came out of the band at that time. It’s also the record that I wrote the most material on. I think I wrote almost… half of the record, really.”

Recorded for $3000, and recorded in four days after three days of rehearsals, the album is much more experimental than previous albums, with the exception of Prick. But there is still a lot to like here. The 8-minute opening track, “They All Must Be Slaughtered”, is an ambient piece that sounds like a misplaced horror soundtrack that features Babes In Toyland’s Kat Bjelland on “vocals”. Vocals is in scare quotes because there isn’t really anything that resembles traditional vocals here.

“There is a tune called ‘Laughing with Lucifer at Satan’s Sideshow’, which seemed to epitomize the major label experience for us, and probably a few other bands, I would imagine,” Deutrom said. “The voices on this are actually the band’s manager, and a woman, I can’t remember who, quoting real statements made to us by individuals in some of the higher positions at Atlantic, after Danny Goldberg had left. Such chestnuts as ‘you should consider yourself lucky, any other major label would have dropped you by now’ and ‘the people here in radio just don’t like your band’.”

The album does have more typical Melvins fare, such as “Lovely Butterfly”, and my favorite, “Mombius Hibach”.

Singles 1-12 (1997)

Going way back to when Melvins were still on Atlantic, they released a series of singles on Amphetamine Reptile, one per month and limited to 800 each.  They had no plans to ever release it on CD, but then someone bootlegged it, so they put their version out.

There are some good tracks here, but there’s also a lot of stuff that isn’t essential. Among the good stuff, is a cover of “Lexicon Devil” which was on a Germs tribute album, “In the Rain” which is a “brit pop, shit pop” song. There’s also a demo of “The Bloat” (originally on Stag), a noisy mix of “Queen” (from Stoner Witch) to scare their A&R guy, and a version of “Leeech” that was maybe recorded at a keg party, per the incredibly bare bones liner notes. There’s also a cover of (Deutrom’s prior band) Clown Alley’s “Theme” and Flipper’s “Way of the World”.

The band toured for pretty much all of 1998, but Deutrom split from the band (more on that later). He was replaced initially, and then permanently, by Kevin Rutmanis from The Cows. The band went on tour opening for Tool, and then went on the ’98 edition of Ozzfest, as Tool’s special guest. Basically, Tool refused to do Ozzfest unless Melvins came along. “We did Ozzfest [in ’98]. Talk about metal that sucks. Not because Ozzfest wanted us, because Tool wanted us,” Osborne said. “And I quote, they told us that they will not do it unless we do it, because [Tool] wanted at least one band on the tour that they liked. So, they took us with them on the tour. Ozzfest people were adamantly opposed to us playing. Every single band on that Ozzfest tour were bar none Korn-cloned horseshit. Which I absolutely don’t get.”

Fantomas (1999)

While the Melvins were in between record labels, Faith No More / Mr. Bungle vocalist (and Ipecac Records co-founder) Mike Patton was working on a project of avant-garde metal and had sent demos of what he was trying to do to Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle), Igor Cavalera (Sepultura), and Buzz Osborne.  Osborne and Dunn accepted, but Cavalera declined (actually, Roadrunner records threw a monkey wrench in it), but suggested Dave Lombardo (Slayer) in his place, who did accept.

Fantomas was released on Ipecac on April 27, 1999, and took about 11 days to complete recording. A tour commenced with all members in attendance. This begins Osborne’s (and Melvins’) long relationship with the label.

“Mike just asked me to do it. He called me up, and then sent a demo of the stuff. That was it. I certainly wanted to be involved in it. It’s weird and interesting and a challenge,” Osborne said of the project. “We play all that stuff live and pull it off. It’s incredible. It’s difficult and very fun and exciting. I’m happy to be doing it, I’m happy to be involved in such an interesting project. We have virtually no help other than the print media, people such as yourself. We’re doing very well, selling lots and lots of records— 30,000 plus.”

The Maggot (1999) / The Bootlicker (1999) / The Crybaby (2000)

After the grueling indifference of the Ozzfest crowd, Melvins announced they would be releasing a trilogy of albums within the span of a year, with new (permanent) bass player Kevin Rutmanis. The first album would be heavy, the second album would be lighter fare, and the third would be… something else, they never actually said what it would be until it closer to release. Initially, drummer Dale Crover called it the “unlistenable one”, but it turned out that it would be collaborations. The “unlistenable one” ended up being the “fourth part of the trilogy”, and that was Colossus of Destiny, which came out in 2001. I’m not going to cover that one because it’s just a noisy mess for an hour, and then a live version of “Eye Flys”.

Putting albums out on Ipecac was a real boon for the band. “They’re much more open to our stupid ideas,” Crover laughed. “I think regarding our latest project, working with a major would be like pulling teeth trying to get them to work on three records at the same time. We’re pretty much doing it because we can.”

The first album, The Maggot, was released on May 17, 1999. The album is heavy and abrasive, and stands as one of the best in their catalog. Inspiration came from an unusual place for some of it, Judas Priest. While on tour on the previous cycle, Crover had picked up some Judas Priest bootlegs, which inspired their songs “We All Love JUDY” and “Judy”, as Judy was their code work for Priest. They also covered (pre- Nicks/Buckingham) Fleetwood Mac’s “Green Manalishi (With the Two Pronged Crown)”, which had also been covered by Priest.

My favorites are “The Horn Bearer” and “See How Pretty See How Smart”. “Horn” which is practically thrash metal ending in a noise outro. “Smart” sounds like a more developed “Hands First Flower” from the Joe Preston EP… Osborne would slap me if he read this. But “Smart” also has a tease of the next album opener at the very end, every album in the trilogy ends with a tease of the next album, the third one with a tease of “amazon” from the first, naturally.

Irritatingly, all of the tracks on the CD version are split into 2 tracks. There’s not been an official reason for this, but most speculate it was done to irritate music pirates… as if they don’t have software to merge the tracks.

Released on August 23, 1999, The Bootlicker was the exact inverse of The Maggot. The album is loaded with songs that could’ve been on Stag. The first two tracks, “Toy” and “Let It All Be”, are my favorites, which means the rest of it is a lot of filler for my tastes.

“The third album, is again a bit of a departure for us” Osborne said. “We are having a lot of guests on it, and that is what is going to make it possible for us to pull off this trilogy. It is going to be great, it is going to be really weird, it’ll be straight-forward in some aspects and strange in others and I’m really looking forward to it.”

The guests are all pretty interesting choices. Hank Williams III, Mike Patton, Tool, J.G. Thirlwell (Foetus), Henry Bogdan (Helmet), David Yow (Jesus Lizard), Skeleton Key, and… Leif Garrett. The only one that was mentioned in interviews that didn’t turn up on The Crybaby was Beck. Osbourne states that Beck’s management got involved and screwed the whole thing up, saying Beck “didn’t have enough time” to work on a song, despite having it 6 months in advance. Beck did sample “Hog Leg” from Eggnog on his 1994 single “Beercan”, and Osborne appears in the video, so I doubt Beck thought he was too popular to slum with the Melvins.

Osbourne considered the centerpiece of the album to be the cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with Leif Garrett. When the idea of a collaborative album was approached, Ipecac co-founder Greg Werckman suggested Garrett after seeing his episode of VH1 Behind the Music. “It’s one of the best, most fucked-up ideas I’ve ever come up with. Especially with Leif’s obvious drug past and Kurt’s public drug use, Osborne said. “Leif’s not a dumb guy. He saw the idea of this as being something that would be interesting to capitalize on — not really to become rich and famous again, but just to do something cool.” I’m not really a fan of it, but I couldn’t really not comment on it, either. It doesn’t offend me, in fact, I don’t care if I never heard “Teen Spirit” ever again.

“Divorced” was written by Crover after his, well, divorce from his wife Lori S. (singer of Acid King). The tape was sent to Tool who added to it and sent it back, it’s hard to know who did what here.

I can’t sit and detail every track, as much as I’d like to, but you also get some country with Hank Williams III doing “Okie From Muskogee” and “Ramblin’ Man”. Williams has been friends with Crover for years, Crover drummed on Williams’ Risin’ Outlaw album because he wanted a rock drum sound instead of the traditional Nashville country drum sound. I think my favorite might be “Mine Is No Disgrace”, the collaboration with Foetus. In the liner notes, they said that Thirlwell sent it back so quickly, they didn’t think he did anything with it.

“The interesting thing is that people complain about us becoming too weird and not being metal or rock enough anymore, but the same people would complain if we hadn’t changed. They probably wouldn’t like us now if we had put out six or seven albums that sounded like Bullhead, they would have forsaken us a long time ago,” Osborne said. “When I measure myself against the benchmark that is Orgy, Hole, Eminem or anything else that is ‘current,’ I don’t know how I can continue. If people are going to judge us along those lines, we don’t have a chance.”

While looking up the Ipecac Trilogy, I found this out, and there isn’t any place else to put it because there’s a severe lack of details, but Crover worked on music with (then) Metallica bassist Jason Newsted. Metallica and Melvins were both on the 1996 edition of Lollapalooza, and Newsted would check out Melvins’ set on the second stage every single show. When doing press for the Ipecac Trilogy, Crover was asked about the collaboration, and if it would ever be released. “Yeah, I doubt it…I haven’t really heard from Jason in a long time. You know, he just kinda does… puts together little projects with friends of his and stuff. He’s got a home studio, so he just sits around and records when he’s not working with Metallica. I heard that… I don’t think the other guys in the band want him to do extra stuff outside of Metallica that much. But you never know. Maybe someday.”

Mark D(eutrom) – The Silent Treatment (2000)

Meanwhile, in 2000, former Melvins bassist (and multi-instrumentalist) Mark Deutrom released The Silent Treatment, which was credited to “Mark D.” The album was reissued in 2018 under his full name.

“The whole time I was in The Melvins I was writing material. Some of it I brought to the band. Some of the things they liked, some of them they didn’t…. I had a pretty large amount of material, and I wanted to record some of it and make my own record,” Deutrom said. “I started thinking about it while I was still in the band, and I just decided to do that. Some of the material that I submitted to The Melvins made it on to The Silent Treatment and a lot of it didn’t. I still have a lot of material from that period. I felt like I needed to make a solo-record at that time. I needed a bigger space for my musical voice outside of the Melvins, but anyway, it wasn’t my choice to leave The Melvins because of that… Buzz called me up one day and said that he didn’t want me in the band anymore while I was actually recording The Silent Treatment. So that decision was made for me without any discussion. I just had to move along and keep doing what I was doing. So that’s what I did.”

For Osborne’s part, he tells a slightly different story. “Basically, over time I got to be more into the idea that he was wanting one thing and I was wanting another. We finished the last tour and I thought, `I don’t wanna do this anymore.’ Then I realized no, I didn’t want to do it any more with HIM. That was it… I just never thought especially towards the end, that he wanted the same things that I wanted for the band. I’m not prepared to do a demo for a major label… Mark was trying to set up all these meetings with labels. If you think I’m willing to hand over my music to a 23-year-old A&R guy so he can tell me what’s wrong with it – I’m sorry, but that’s just not going to happen.”

“I was just so disheartened with trying to get anybody to put out The Silent Treatment,” Deutrom said. “Licensing it to [label] Tee Pee took two years, and then they didn’t really do anything with it.” The Silent Treatment was finally released, and at 55 minutes, it’s a little bloated. However, a lot of it sounds very comparable to Stag, there are weird interludes, and then some heavier rock stuff that comes off sort of like Kyuss but with more of a sludgy slant.

Although Deutrom toyed with the ideas of becoming a professional chef or a gardener, this isn’t the last we’ll see of him.

To be continued…