Published Feb 01, 2000It was 18 years ago, when singer, guitarist, big haired and mouthed firebrand Buzz Osborne picked up a guitar, that the confusing story of the Melvins begins. At that moment, he gave birth to one of the most fearsome three pieces ever to abuse the auditory sensibilities of the musical world. Over the course of their existence, the Melvins (completed by longtime drummer Dale Crover and recently recruited Cows bassist Kevin) have done everything they can to become a force in the world of music, while simultaneously struggling to distance themselves from it.
They are infamous for inciting near riots while touring with some of rock's biggest - the likes of Kiss, Nine Inch Nails, Primus, White Zombie and Rush. They are as likely to play a traditional song as they are to embark upon a ten-minute noise jam simply to annoy the audience. They've confused their fans by embarking on a steady musical metamorphosis, from the pioneering sludge rock of their first records, Gluey Porch Treatments (1987), Ozma (1989) and Bullhead (1990), to full-out rock monsters like their major label debut Houdini (1993) and its successor Stoner Witch (1994). Their latest musical endeavours have taken on aspects of the ambient/noise genre, while still retaining some of the facets of their earlier molasses-like metallic crawl (Honky , 1997), and they can still offer up a rock extravaganza like Stag (1996).
The Melvins myth isn't limited to boosting headliner credibility or releasing an eclectic and extensive volume of work. The Melvins will forever be remembered as the band that helped break Nirvana. (The Melvins were the name Kurt Cobain dropped to get his first demo recording time; legend has it he roadied for the Melvins before touring with them incessantly leading up to the success ofNevermind .) In fact, they influenced almost everyone in the Seattle scene, from Green River to Nirvana and Soundgarden, and, unlike many, survived the inevitable backlash against all things flannel.
The Melvins are not a band to rest on their laurels, though, nor hope that past success will carry them into the new millennium. While the average band (and label) is content to release an album every three years and milk it for all it's worth, the Melvins are embarking on their most ambitious project yet. In the next five months, the band will release three albums on Mike Patton's fledgling Ipecac label. The first, The Maggot , is a return of sorts to the metallic rock ofBullhead , highlighting the slowed-down Kiss riffs of the Melvins' adolescence.
The second instalment, The Bootlicker - described by Ipecac honcho Mike Patton as a more "ambient and listenable album than past Melvins noise releases, which even has Buzz singing and playing an acoustic guitar" - will drop in August. The third, a still-in-progress fall release calledThe Crybaby , featuring a number of guest appearances, will be the furthest deviation yet for the Melvins.
"When the whole thing is done and it comes out, some people are going to piss all over it and I think they're going to miss the point of it," Buzz explains. "The way I figure it, people will like the first record and they won't like the second album, which is a shame. The first one is more of a metal album and the one to follow, I'm happier with it because I think it is more of a departure for us.
"People bitch about us becoming too weird, but the same people would complain if we hadn't changed.
"The interesting thing is that people bitch and complain about us becoming too weird and not being metal or rock enough anymore," Buzz continues, "but the same people would bitch and 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. Since we didn't, they are still curious about us. But they still bitch and I find that really interesting. Then you find out what bands they are into, and you go, 'Well, that explains it, you're obviously a moron.'
"In a lot of ways, Leif Garrett and Kurt Cobain are a lot alike."
"The third album (The Crybaby ), is again a bit of a departure for us. 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. Some of the guests we're having are Jim Thirwell (Foetus), Beck, Hank Williams III, Tool, David Yow (Jesus Lizard), Kevin Sharpe (from the now defunct Brutal Truth), Mike Patton and, of course, Leif Garrett. We're doing a cover of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' with Leif singing, and that'll be great. The whole idea is Leif is going to carry this baby and it doesn't matter what it sounds like. It'll be a perfect capper for the '90s - the guys who got Nirvana started doing their song with a teen idol from the '70s. In a lot of ways, he and Kurt are a lot alike. I'll leave the rest up to the imagination."
Ipecac and the Melvins may be, tongue-in-cheek, offering the trilogy up as the final nail in their coffin, referring to this as their "career suicide" project, but the band has always embraced directions that could be construed as career assassination.
"If I started to sound like Smashing Pumpkins, that would be career suicide. I think people who are smart enough to like our band can handle it. A lot of dorks, especially in the glossy rock world, won't be able to understand it because they are used to dealing with bands of far lesser value and talent," Buzz declares, with just a hint of self-depreciating humour.
"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, because they are obviously so stupid that they won't have time for a band like the Melvins."
Even fans who have time for the Melvins will admit that it can be a devilishly frustrating affair. One never knows whether they will receive a sludge/metal masterpiece such as Lysol (1992), a rock opus like Stoner Witch or a beautifully absurd, noise overindulgence like Prick (1994), perhaps the most hated of all of the Melvins' considerable catalogue.
"In the grand scheme of things the general population is stupid," according to Buzz. "A small minority of them are going to be smart enough to understand a band like us. We're not pabulum, we're not soilent green being served up for the masses. I think it takes a bit of intelligence to understand us, and that is unfortunate in the grand scheme of music because intelligence isn't something that usually comes into play. I think a sense of humour comes with intelligence, and that's why Prick was the perfect album for us to put out. If people just want to sit there and take the album at face value and not look at the ironic nature of it, then I can't help them," he laments. "They are beyond my ability to save.
"It's my job to push the limits, at least to a certain degree. It's all these other bands whose job it is to be safe - they shouldn't expect us to be like all the other stupid fucking bands they listen to. But I don't want to win. I don't care. I don't give a monkey what Spin or Rolling Stone or Nirvana's management or whoever thinks - it doesn't concern me at all. We can always go out and play and find people to put out our albums, so I have succeeded. Not only succeeded, but have become a taxpaying citizen. How strange is that?"