Artist Spotlight: Melvins (or; How To Leave Town Before the Gold Rush) [Part 8 of 11]

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7.

Mangled Demos From 1983 (2005)

Clearing out the vaults, Melvins released a collection of demos from the original lineup before drummer Dale Crover joined the band. None of these songs had been released before, with the exception of “Forgotten Principles”, which was released as part of the singles from Amphetamine Reptile that were collected on Singles 1-12. The liner notes are not at all helpful, and some of the titles were forgotten, so they were replaced with symbols.

Jello Biafra with the Melvins – Sieg Howdy! (2005)

The group released what was left from the sessions with Jello Biafra as Sieg Howdy! on September 26, 2005.  It’s the rest of the leftovers, padded out with some remixes, and a live, updated version of “California Über Alles”.

A Live History of Gluttony and Lust (2006)

At some point in 2005, bassist Kevin Rutmanis was fired from the band. The official reason was “increasing unreliability”, but the rumors were Rutmanis had a severe problem with drugs.

Despite being without a bass player, Melvins accepted an invitation to play the All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival as part of their Don’t Look Back Series, where bands play an entire, classic album.  The band were invited and performed Houdini in its entirety with Mr. Bungle/Fantomas bassist Trevor Dunn filling in. After performing at the festival, the band decided the performance would make a good live album. Unfortunately, they didn’t record it. So, instead they rented a warehouse for two days, and recorded the set twice, taking the best from each.  The set list is rearranged a little, and does include a cover of Cream’s “Deserted Cities of the Heart”.

“A bunch of those songs we’d never played live before,” Crover said. “The warm up show we did was actually better than the official show, so we did another, and that’s the one we recorded.”

Osborne says that he likes this better than the studio version. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it is a worthwhile release. The band would move on without Dunn, but this is not the last we’ll see of him.

(a) Senile Animal (2006)

When it came time to move forward, the band decided to integrate an entire band, instead of just a bass player. Well, maybe not a band, but a duo, at least. Melvins brought in Big Business, which is comprised of drummer Coady Willis and bassist/vocalist Jared Warren*. Willis, previously of The Murder City Devils, and Warren, previously of Karp, had moved Big Business to Los Angeles prior to hooking up with the Melvins.

“It was easier hiring them than trying to find a new bass player. I’m probably getting ready to kick them out,” guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne said sarcastically. “Well, who knows, I might be serious.”

“Now we’re going to be a four piece, two drums, just like the Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead!” Crover told Billboard. “[Willis]’s left-handed, so we want to do this mirror image type thing… We’ve known the guys for a long time. It’s not like they’re going to quit Big Business or anything like that. When we tour, we hope they’ll open.” When asked about any nervousness about having two drummers in the band, Crover said, “It was something we had thought about for a long time. Originally, we were going to do something with Dave Grohl a long time ago, while he was actually still in Nirvana… then it just never really panned out.”

“I think I first saw Dale live when I was 15 or 16,” Willis said. “He’s someone I’ve looked up to for a long time… He knows when to play quiet and when to play loud, something I need to get better at. I’m learning a lot.”

The band began recording in LA, and finished the record in 13 days, with 2 days being dedicated to only drums. “We tried to utilize what we could with three singers, and wanted to see how that would be different,” Osborne said. “The record definitely has a different feel than what we’ve normally done, as a result of the double drums and the extra vocals.” Warren said, “I learned a lot about getting a lot done in a short period of time.”

(a) Senile Animal definitely sounds like the Melvins, but it’s also not like their other records. It does resemble Stoner Witch in that the album is front loaded with the shorter, more accessible songs, saving the longer stuff for the end. Osborne says it was not intentional, but you know, maybe it is?

The album is pretty straight forward for the most part, but there is some crazy percussion stuff going on in the background. “Civilized Worm” sounds not unlike something that could’ve been on Stag, while “A History of Drunks” could’ve been on Hostile Ambient Takeover. “Rat Faced Granny”, “The Hawk”, and “You’ve Never Been Right” are technically three different songs, but they way they run together you’d be mistaken for them being on ever shifting heavy rock workout. “A History of Bad Men” illustrates some of the things they were expanding with in regards to vocals.

Also, Crover contributed the majority of drums to Mike Patton’s “pop” project Peeping Tom. “I did some recording with [Patton] a while back,” Crover said. “I think he’s almost done with it, he’s been planning it for the last seven years or something…It’s weird. It’s drum machines mixed with live drums mixed with crazy samples, but then there’s guitar and bass. Who knows what it sounds like now.”

*Jared Warren was also a member of short-lived Portland band The Whip, with none other than Buzz Osborne’s mortal enemy, former Melvins bassist Joe Preston.

Mark Deutrom – Iraq (2006)

After resting on laurels for a while, former Melvins bassist Mark Deutrom self-released an album called Iraq. It is seven instances of George W. Bush saying the word “Iraq” looped for 59 minutes. The word “Iraq” is spoken 14,112,000 times.

Be thankful it isn’t on YouTube.

It should also be noted, that Deutrom was very vocal in his disappointment about not being asked to participate in the live recording of Houdini. He was also photographed wearing a shirt that read “If Mark Can’t Do It, Trevor Dunn It.”

Making Love Demos (2007)

More stuff from the vaults, as the band released them to be included with Brian Walsby’s Manchild 3 graphic novel. It was the last demo with original bassist Matt Lukin, and some of the songs turn up later on Ozma, but some had never been released before.

Nude With Boots (2008)

After several months of touring, the band returned to their Los Angeles rehearsal space to start work on their next album.

“We’ve got a lot more under our belts… when we made (a) Senile Animal we’d never played a show with those guys. Now we’ve played 150 or 160 shows together. So, we’re just tighter as a band,” Crover said. “There are tons of possibilities and I think we have a lot more left that we can do. This is still the beginning for us with these guys in the band.”

The band started rehearsals, and actually recorded some stuff in their rehearsal space. Osborne stated he would never tell what was recorded at rehearsal, and what was in the studio, because no one can tell the difference and he doesn’t want any of the songs to have any sort of prejudice against them.

Warren said Osborne would tell him to “go in and make bass noise for 3 minutes, use whatever affects you want,” and that the recording sessions saw “a lot of experimentation, a lot of real weird goofing around.”

The album is weirder than (a) Senile Animal, but it also has some of their most accessible songs on it. “The Kicking Machine” and “Nude With Boots” sound like straight up classic rock songs direct from 1974. The album also has a cover of “Dies Iraea”, which was adapted by Wendy Carlos (from a 14th century Latin hymn) for The Shining. Osborne had suggested it for Fantomas’ Director’s Cut, but Patton passed on it.

Chicken Switch (2009)

Why would the Melvins release a remix album? More like, why wouldn’t they? The concept here is that the remixers get an entire album for their track instead of just a single song. It’s incredibly trying.

Pick Your Battles (2009)

More vault clearing, this time a live collection sold with Brian Walsby’s Manchild 4. The first 8 tracks were recorded in 1989 with Lori Black on bass. Tracks 9 through 15 were recorded in 2008 with the most recent lineup.

Shrinebuilder – Shrinebuilder (2009)

Crover hooked up with Scott Kelly (Neurosis), Al Cisneros (Sleep, Om), and Scott “Wino” Weinrich (The Obsessed, 300 other bands) to form Doom metal band Shrinebuilder. Crover played drums, co-produced and supplied back-up vocals.

The band played sporadically, but ultimately the group disbanded because it was too difficult to maintain.

The Bride Screamed Murder (2010) / Sugar Daddy Live (2011/2012)

There’s not much about this album out there, but in either 2009 or 2010 (sources vary), the band spent two weeks recording their next album. The Bride Screamed Murder was released on June 1, 2010. The album is more experimental and more difficult than the last couple of albums. Most of the songs have three parts to them, usually a rock part, a drum part and then something weird.

The opener, “The Water Glass”, starts with a rock part, then devolves into military cadence with call and response.  I am… not a fan.

The next 4 tracks are pretty good standard Melvins tracks, but with more weird drum asides. One of the best is “Pig House”, which in alternate take was released on a split with Isis (the band, not the terrorists… I think, anyway).

Once again, most of the weird stuff is shoved at the end. The second to last song is a cover of The Who’s “My Generation”, which clocks in at over seven minutes.  I respect that they didn’t just do a bog standard cover, but I hate it.

The final track is “P.G. x 3”, which is listed as traditional… not sure how. It comes from the film The Proposition, based on a screenplay by Nick Cave. The song is sung a capella by the villain. It’s… a thing I’ve listened to.

The show for their live album, Sugar Daddy Live, was recorded before The Bride Screamed Murder but released after. Most of the songs performed are from (a) Senile Animal and Nude With Boots. In 2012, the band released every song from the album as a 7” split single with a series of other bands that are sort of the same weirdo rock, like Butthole Surfers, Cows, Killdozer, Mudhoney, and…. Melvins 1983. More on that later.

Mark Deutrom – The Value of Decay (2011)

Meanwhile, after laying low for a number of years, former bassist Mark Deutrom reared his head again. “The Value of Decay had a long gestation, and I ended up having to whittle down a ton of material to end up with that.  It was really finished in 2007 or so, and didn’t end up on vinyl until 2011.  There was a digital release around that time, but I didn’t manage it as well as I should have, so it fell down a hole,” Deutrom told Psychedelic Baby. “I just got in the converted garage with the drummer Cully Symington [Gutter Twins, Okkervill River, Conor Oberst, Roky Erickson] and started assembling the thing.  Most of the drums were done in a few days, and then I pieced it together over a couple of years doing the rest myself.  There’s a lot of deeply personal and conceptual stuff in it, and there could have been more, but it just needed to end, and so it did… There’s a cornucopia of formats that comprised it: everything from 4-track cassette to CD-R to 8/16/24 bit audio through horrible Behringer converters to pocket memo recorders.  Somehow it hangs together and sounds pretty good.”

The Value of Decay is a very good album, it’s really a shame it isn’t more heard. The opening track (“From the Deepest Well”) is this short intro that sounds like a haunted western film, but it really sets the tone for the album. “Dim Candle” is a psychedelic freak out, and closing track “Empire Sands” starts as a sort of heavy blues number, before transitioning into a violin assisted spooky western thing, brining the album full circle. You can practically hear the dust coming off of the strings.

To be continued…