Artist Spotlight: Melvins (or; How To Leave Town Before the Gold Rush) [Part 10 of 11]

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9.

King Buzzo – This Machine Kills Artists (2014)

“If you look at somebody like Bob Dylan, who was heavily influenced by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, he’s much more-mean spirited. He did what they were thinking, but better,” guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne said. “I have no interest in sounding like a crappy version of James Taylor or a half-assed version of James Taylor, which is what happens when almost every rock and roller straps on an acoustic guitar.”

“We’ve done a lot of records over the years and I never felt like it was something I couldn’t do, so I wasn’t too worried about that,” Osborne told Australia’s Music Feeds. “I just felt like it was okay for me to do it, not like I needed to do it for any particular reason. I have a lot of material and I have the ability to write a lot of material.”

Ipecac Records released This Machine Kills Artists on June 3, 2014. I don’t have much to say about it. I think it’s fine, but the songs would be better as the full Melvins band treatment.

Hold It In (2014)

On the Melvins’ 30th Anniversary Tour, bassist Jared Warren was out on paternity leave, and he was temporarily replaced by Butthole Surfers bassist Jeff Pinkus.  Pinkus was in the opening band, Honky, for the tour, so he pulled double duty. He was in the Surfers from 1985 to 1993, and then back for the reunion in 2009. After leaving Butthole Surfers, he was in Daddy Longhead with Scratch Acid/Ministry drummer Rey Washam.

For the next album, Osborne and drummer Dale Crover drafted not only Pinkus, but also Butthole Surfers guitarist and sometime vocalist Paul Leary. “It’s a good cross-section of a lot of things we’ve done as well as some things we’ve never done,” Osborne said. “It’s the first Melvins record I played on where I didn’t write a majority of the material. That was a little different than what we normally do. Paul is a completely out-of-the-box guitarist that I’ve admired for the better part of 30 years. They handled it perfectly and are avant-garde to the highest degree.”

“Most of my recording experience has been as a producer or with the Butthole Surfers,” Leary said. “It was refreshing to be with a group of people who were just as anxious and happy to come up with ideas as I was. It was a whole lot of fun. I haven’t really written or performed on an album like this in a long time. It seems like it’s been forever. I’m excited to see what people think about it.”

My favorite track is “Brass Cupcake”, which has some additional vocals by Leary. A lot is made about Melvins being inaccessible, but for the past decade they’ve had plenty of songs that could be radio friendly. The only thing that isn’t mainstream is Leary’s vocals, but Butthole Surfers have sold millions of records, so what the hell do I know?

“[Brass Cupcake] was a song I wrote. I had the idea to let Paul do his amazing vocal work on the middle part of it. His thumb print is all over it,” Osborne said. “Paul is also one of my favorite guitar players, and I’ve thought about doing something like this with him for a long time.”

Released on October 14, 2014, Hold It In is probably my favorite latter-day Melvins release. It’s too bad that Melvins + BHS didn’t make any more albums, especially since the BHS reunion album that was announced is apparently not ever happening.

Mike & The Melvins – Three Men and a Baby (2016)

Finally, after 33 years of the Melvins’ existence, they at last had put out a record on Sub Pop.

Back in 1998, Seattle duo godheadSilo was on hiatus. Mike Kunka, bassist and vocalist, decided to tag along on a tour with his friends the Melvins. While on tour, the idea was brought up for them to record together, with 3 bass guitars and a drummer.

From the Sub Pop press release: “Sub Pop, ever on the hunt for music’s Next Big Thing, enthusiastically agreed to fund and release the super-group’s debut, and recording commenced sometime in 1999.”

Sure, Sup Pop. We see you. Osborne said, “At first Sub Pop, I think, was a little hesitant. Until they heard it, and they were like, ‘Oh, we want to put it out’.”

During the completion of the sessions for the Ipecac Trilogy, Kunka showed up and work on Three Men and a Baby would begin. “We had a bunch of songs. I had a bunch of ideas and [Kunka] had a bunch of ideas,” Osborne said. “And we had the idea to do “Annalisa” by Public Image Ltd.”

The album was then shelved for 17 years. “We got as far as we could get with that, and then it was time for him to do a bunch of vocals, and he just couldn’t figure out what he was going to do, so he said, ‘I’ll just take them home with me and then I’ll finish them.’ And we never heard from him again. Just disappeared. Literally disappeared. Like phones disconnected,” Osborne said. “So, there it sat. It just did nothing, nothing. Maybe a year and a half ago, Kunka got a hold of Crover! And he’s like, ‘Oh, I took all those tapes and digitized them. … I really was wondering if you guys would be interested in maybe finishing this thing.’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah! Fuck yeah we want to finish it!’ … So, he drove down from Seattle. I recorded my whole vocal parts, he recorded his… I didn’t have any idea even what was on it. ‘Wow, I don’t even remember writing this song’!”

I can remember this thing being talked about for years, it was like Bigfoot or Nessie. Was it real? Would we ever have proof? The proof turns out to be pretty damn good, but the delay in its release makes the vocals sound a little stilted when compared to the vocal harmonizing they’ve given us for the past decade or so. But even still, it’s an album that should not be ignored.

Basses Loaded (2016)

And then we have this. Here, we have the Melvins playing with a series of different bass players, all of which had come through the band’s orbit at some time. Nine of the album’s twelve songs had been previously released on Amphetamine Reptile singles, but the genesis of this as a full-length is bizarre.

“Dave Grohl had said that he wanted to do all that stuff with us. He wanted to do Nirvana songs with the Melvins, and maybe have David Yow singing. So Krist Novoselic came down and we started rehearsing, and Dave was supposed to show up — and he just never showed up. Blew it off, totally. And it was his idea!” Osborne recalled. “When he totally blows you off like that, it’s fucked. But whatever. There’s nothing I can do about that. So, we did some recording with Krist while he was here.” Novoselic played bass (and accordion) on “Maybe I Am Amused”.

Four of the songs were previously released in 2015 as Beer Hippy by Melvins 1983, which of course has Dale Crover on bass and Mike Dillard on drums. They are “Beer Hippy”, “Phyllis Dillard”, and traditional favorites “Shaving Cream” and “Take Me Out”. Well, not my favorites, you know I hate their takes on these traditional songs.

Four more songs were previously released in 2016 as War Pussy, which featured most recent bassist Steven McDonald from Redd Kross. These songs are “The Decay of Lying”, “War Pussy”, “I Want To Tell You” (George Harrison cover), and “Hideous Woman”. McDonald stepped into the bass slot when Jeff Pinkus was unavailable.

Speaking of Pinkus, he plays on “Captain Comedown”, which was released on the split Chaos as Usual with Le Bucherettes.

“Planet Destructo” had Trevor Dunn on bass, and “Choco Plumbing” had Jared Warren on bass and Coady Willis on drums.

As of the date of this writing, this is the last team-up with Big Business. In 2020, bassist Jared Warren said that the two duos were just doing their own things, and it’s left open for more collaboration at a future date, but nothing has been discussed.

Dale Crover – Skins (2016)

Perhaps most interesting, is Dale Crover’s solo EP, Skins. The EP has twelve very short songs, ranging in lengths from 11 seconds to 32 seconds. The “twelve sided” record is limited to 127 handmade and signed copies, with six hand drilled spindle holes. I was going to be pithy and say that no one has heard it except for the 127 people who managed to buy it, but 9 of the 12 tracks (sometimes in different versions) show up on his next full-length album.

“That thing is insane for them to make; they had to hand-make every record. Each one took about 45 minutes,” Crover said. “Anyway, I knew that a lot of people missed out on the actual music part, which is all these crazy little drum haikus. Kind of like little commercials. When I was recording it, I was thinking about TV theme songs.”

Mark Deutrom / Bellringer – Jettison (2016)

“I really just wanted to get out and play some of my solo material. I’ve tried to put projects together in the past, and usually because of personnel issues they haven’t worked out. I wanted to have a vehicle to play all this music that I started to accrue over the last decade or so,” former bassist Mark Deutrom toldVice. “I was like, I’m just going to look at it like a collective. I drew inspiration from Nine Inch Nails and St. Vincent, in the way that’s it’s one person behind the thing and a shifting collective of whomever they work with. I thought it’d be fun to make an album as band… I tend to write to the strengths of the people that I’m playing with. That allows for an expansive viewpoint on my own music and makes me think about things in a different way. I guess the difference would be, between my solo stuff and Bellringer, is that I’m being more inclusive of other people’s musical personalities. It’s interesting to follow that direction.”

Jettison, released in 2016, is sometimes credited to Deutrom solo, and sometimes credited to the band as Bellringer. The album is only seven songs clocking in at 40 minutes, and is much more direct, even though it explores blues, jazz, lounge, and psychedelia in addition to rock.

To be continued…