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  JERRY HALL
STEPHANIE SEYMORE
MARC JACOBS
  ASIA ARGENTO
DENNIS HOPPER
ABEL FERRARA
BRIAN WILSON
WILL OLDHAM
DJ SPOOKY

The Melvins, 1998

WITH BOB NICKAS AND JOHN TREMBLAY
PHOTOGRAPHED BY DAVID ORTEGA



The Melvins have always been known as the undisputed masters of The Heavy Sound. Back in the day, when punk bands were trying to play faster and faster, the Melvins were perfecting a massive, lumbering "sludge rock" which is now theirs alone. They gave the big dumb lump that is hard rock an expansive, atmospheric, palpable sense of space and form. Heavy metal, but with a giant brain. And in the fifteen years since they crawled out of the primordial woods of the Pacific Northwest, they have become one of the most consistently inventive groups at work today. No surprise, then, that the Melvins turn out to be three of the smartest, dead-on funniest, most articulate people we've met. And helpful. They figured out how to get our dodgy tape recorder to work. And then we plied them with various forms of caffeine — including lots of chocolate-covered espresso beans.



BUZZO: Tell him, for future reference.
MARK: Where it says "Pause," instead of having "on" and "off," it has "in" and "out."
DALE: Pause goes in and out.
BUZZO: Pause in ...
MARK: Then you wait a while, then you go out.

JOHN: Your paws are in, or your paws are out.
BOB: So I heard you were in New Zealand recently?
DALE: New Zealand and Australia.
MARK: First time in the Southern Hemisphere.

BOB: And they were nice to you?
DALE: We were treated like kings in New Zealand.
BUZZO: Compared to the amount of records we sold there ...
DALE: We sold out the biggest hall in Sydney.
MARK: Almost sold out three nights in Melbourne.

BOB: And what was New Zealand like?
MARK: New Zealand is like what Alaska's like. You get the feeling that anything is possible.
BUZZO: The feeling that — no one's here.
MARK: And it's really clean.
DALE: Have you ever been on the Oregon coast, out in the middle of nowhere? It's kind of like that.
BUZZO: The ocean is dark green, right off the Arctic.
MARK: And just wild. We took this boat trip that was just nuts.
BUZZO: Oh, my god, the closest I've ever been to puking on a boat.
MARK: Thirty foot swells.

JOHN: That'll do it.
MARK: Very, very impressive.
DALE: I tried to watch this movie while the boat was like, rolling over sideways.

BOB: The Poseidon Adventure?
DALE: Liar, Liar with Jim Carrey.

JOHN: That'll make ya puke.
BOB: Last night after your show, our friend Wayne was elated but dejected. He kept saying, "They have all these records out, but they're not huge."
MARK: The only thing I can think of is that it's an industry plot.

JOHN: I don't understand why you guys aren't multi-billionaires by now.
BOB: I understand that. Why don't you understand that?
[laughter]
BOB: Put on the first track of the new record and imagine how many people will get through nine or ten minutes of "They All Must Be Slaughtered."
DALE: Man, I can hardly get through that.

BOB: I can't believe you opened your show with "Amazing Grace." You hummed it all the way through.
JOHN: Where did that come from?
MARK: It's sort of a personal thing and we can't actually speak about it.
DALE: It's spiritual.
MARK: Let's just say that if you look within the word "Melvins," you'll find the answer.

BOB: The only line that I know from that song is: "That saved a poor wretch like me." I guess there's a little identification happening there for me.
BUZZO: We never thought of that.
DALE: We don't know all the lyrics.
BUZZO: We want to record that, possibly for our next album. We'll do it humming.
MARK: We might actually put out an album of spirituals, because it worked for Elvis. The only album Elvis ever got a Grammy award for was his gospel album.

JOHN: So how can I get the lyrics to your songs? Do I have to write to some weird fan club?
MARK: Some of them are on the web site, but they're ...
BUZZO: ... usually wrong. See, I never correct the lyrics.

JOHN: There was a guy standing next to me at the show, singing along. I should have just asked him. He seemed to know all the words.
DALE: I sing along, and I don't know any of the words.
MARK: The thing is, pretty much, as long as you get the vowels right ...
BUZZO: I have a hard time printing lyrics because I don't have enough confidence in them, by themselves.
MARK: The risk is, once you get into the written word, then you're into a whole 'nother ballpark. You're in the same land as Dylan Thomas or Wordsworth.
BUZZO: And Jim Morrison.
[laughter]
MARK: And Hank Rollins.
[laughter]
MARK: And who's that clown in Rage Against the Snack Machine?
BUZZO: A bunch of teen-aged political blather — who could be bothered?
MARK: Angst-ridden, 15-year-old ... "Crush the system, but I get all my stuff from Sony at cost."
BUZZO: Lately I've been listening to nothing but The Beach Boys.
BOB: Really?
DALE: I bought that Stones on CD the other day.
MARK: Dale bought Some Girls by the Stones.

BOB: I heard they're back together.
[laughter]
MARK: They never split up.

BOB: So, can we talk about your new record?
MARK: We'll talk about anything under the sun, and a lot of things that are on top of the sun.
BOB: The new record ...
MARK: Honky is just a stop gap, it's like a plug. We're just putting it in the bath tub to keep the water in the tub. It's a quickie.
BUZZO: We wanted to get a record out as fast as possible, once we were out of the Atlantic contract.

BOB: Well, I don't want to be stroking The Melvins or anything, but the record before this one, Stag, is just incredible. It sounds like a band went into the studio, took their time, used their brains, and said, "We can do anything we want to do, and go wherever that takes us." And you'd think, well, don't most bands do that?
Melvins: No.
[laughter]

BOB: It's absolutely one of the best records that came out last year, a real achievement.
BUZZO: I think it's our best record.
MARK: In relation, Honky, you have to realize that it cost probably about fifteen times more to make Stag, which is not an indication that that was very expensive, it's an indication of how cheaply ...
[laughter]

BOB: ... you can work, and still come up with something really interesting. When I first heard Honky, especially after all the monumentalness of Stag, I thought you'd gone into the studio and said, "Okay, we're going to do this and fuck it, whatever happens we're putting it out."
BUZZO: All things considered, I really like the record. We spent three thousand bucks, total.
MARK: We spent literally three days in rehearsal for it, and six days recording it.
BUZZO: When you know that's what you have, it's like a quest at that point — we're going to do this in six days. And whatever comes out at the end is what we're putting out. We don't care what it is. Boom. And it came out great. We were working with an engineer named Joe Barisi, who's worked with us on the last few records.
MARK: He's really good.
BUZZO: What's good about him is he doesn't come from an art background. He comes from more of a rock background, and he's open-minded to everything because he's not aware of a lot of the artsy-fartsy stuff. He never says, "I can't do this, I can't do that." He just says, "Oh, sure, whatever you guys want."
MARK: And he's not conservative. You find a lot of conservatism amongst people who are producers.

BOB: Who else does he work with?
BUZZO: He's worked with everybody from The Scorpions to ...
MARK: ... Motley Crue.
[laughter]
MARK: And these are people who sit and listen to a snare drum for like, a week.
BUZZO: When we worked with punk rock-type people, we had more trouble getting them to do weird things. Because they've just got more rules than anybody else — "I can't do that. If I do that it will sound like Bon Jovi." I just want none of those constrictions at all when we're recording. If we think it should sound like The Beach Boys or a country album, then so be it. I don't want anybody giving me any garbage about it, certainly not from the engineering department.

BOB: Lately, when a new record of yours comes out, I'll play Guess The Band, and even people who follow your music don't always know it's the Melvins. Lots of bands sound exactly the same from record to record. But there are just so many ideas bubbling up in your music, unexpected sounds — the sitar, a valve trombone — and stuff that sounds like distorted country blues, atmospheric horror movie music ...
BUZZO: We had a project on Stag where we each did one song. You had to record it at your house, on a four-track with whatever you had, without going into a studio or anything, and you had to do everything on it.

BOB: The first track on Honky is so moody and creepy, like something from a Dario Argento film. You could easily be doing great soundtracks.
MARK: Well, we certainly have the capability to do that.

BOB: Nowadays, music coordinators for movies seem to just program the soundtrack like a juke box. They tack on one song after another, instead of asking bands to write original music.
MARK: It's really complicated because they have people that are hired to compose music for the film, really basic synth scores, and they farm it out to people who orchestrate it, and then there's music for end credits, and those people kind of work together.
BUZZO: But their only purpose is to construct a soundtrack record that they can sell. That's it. It has nothing to do with the movie.
MARK: We've been on soundtrack albums to movies where ...
BUZZO: ... we weren't even in the movie.
DALE: Happened with Demon Knight.
BUZZO: When they approached us about that, we had just finished the record Stoner Witch, and we said, "There's a lot of stuff on there that would be really great for a soundtrack, why don't you try using one of those songs?" But no. No interest at all, even in listening to it.
JOHN: That's rude.
BUZZO: I would love to do soundtrack stuff. But there's no interest. With some stupid band like White Zombie, they're going to get shitloads of requests to do that simply because they're able to sell the soundtrack record. And for a really good soundtrack, we would need at least as much money as it costs to do a regular album. But what I've found is that a lot of these movie people just turn it over to some music director, and then whoever's bootlicking them the most gets the money. So we've never been approached at all.

BOB: You know, sometimes in an interview a person will casually say, "Oh, I'd really like to work with so and so." And as it later turns out, that's how the other person knew they were interested. So you could take this as an opportunity ... Any directors you'd like to get calls from?
BUZZO: Kubrick.

BOB: Some of these people actually do read the magazine.
MARK: Jeunet and Caro, who made The City of Lost Children.
BUZZO: Their stuff is amazing.
MARK: They're doing the new Alien movie.

BOB: Anyone else?
MARK: Cronenberg.
BUZZO: Anybody, anybody. It wouldn't make much difference to me.

BOB: They'll work for anybody.
[laughter] MARK: That's right, but we'd rather have it be a film with at least a $75 million budget. If we had our druthers.
BUZZO: The thing is, we could do any kind of music they wanted — no problem. You want synth dance music? Fine. We can churn that out all day.

JOHN: Have any of the electronica guys, like Alec Empire, re-worked or re-mixed your stuff?
MARK: We haven't had any offers, no.

JOHN: But they might be doing it in their bedrooms without you knowing it.
MARK: Oh, I'm sure they're doing all kinds of things in their bedrooms ... [laughter] ... things you wouldn't want to know about.

JOHN: What's your favorite metal band?
MARK: Currently existing metal bands, I'd have to say Slayer.
DALE: Sepultura. That last Sepultura record was probably the last good metal record.

JOHN: I like some of the early Van Halen.
MARK: Yeah, of course. It's great.
BUZZO: I was a really big fan of late '70s Judas Priest.

BOB: Did you ever see the movie, Heavy Metal Parking Lot?
Melvins: Oh yeah.

JOHN: How about Melvins Parking Lot?
BOB: Did you ever see that Judas Priest movie?
JOHN: The kids who shot their faces off?
BOB: Dream Deceivers.
BUZZO: Oh yeah.

BOB: My fantasy is, even just once, to go into a house where a kid has killed himself, and replace the record on the turntable with something completely unexplainable, not evil in any way.
DALE: The Carpenters or something like that.
MARK: Put on an a Melvins record.

[laughter]
DALE: Put Prick on, that'd be the one.
BUZZO: It'd be justifiable homicide.

BOB: That's a very underappreciated record.
BUZZO: I would agree. If I had to pick out four or five of our records that I thought covered everything, that would be on there, definitely.
MARK: It's so free.
BUZZO: We laughed our asses off doing that record.
MARK: We laughed hysterically. It's all about mirth.

BOB: Let's talk about when you play live, because with most of the shows I've seen, the music flows all the way through. It isn't like a bunch of songs played one after another. There's a big chunk of something there that you're definitely shaping.
DALE: A lot of people who don't know us think that we're doing one long song.

BOB: It feels really organic and unpredictable. Does it change from night to night?
BUZZO: We do exactly the same set every night.

JOHN: Oh, really?
BUZZO: It works out better that way. In the dressing room, before you go on, they put up a schedule — okay, 10:00, 10:45. I consider that whole time period really important. I would get really restless if it was any other way than knowing exactly what was going to happen next. So for the first few nights of the tour we use a list, but now ...

JOHN: It's in your head.
BUZZO: It's just all upstairs. That's what's going to happen. Boom. There's a certain way that the songs lay out together that's better than any other way. And it's really important that we work all that out before we go on tour.

BOB: What was your absolute worst ever show experience?
MARK: Dallas, Texas, with Nine Inch Nails.
BUZZO: The place was packed, somewhere between 7,000 and 11,000, people. It was a hockey arena, so they had laid out pressboard over the ice. And before we even played, there were kids ripping pieces of that up and throwing it all over the place.

JOHN: So they could go ice skating.
BUZZO: No, just because they're rowdy and crazy.
DALE: Setting T-shirts on fire and tossing 'em into the air.
BUZZO: That was the mood of the whole place. By the end of the show, it was like, shin-deep in stuff on the floor. And we were hiding behind our amps just making all this noise.
DALE: The only thing I was really afraid of though, was that somebody might have a gun ... being down in Texas.
BUZZO: It was that crazy, definitely. They were going absolutely insane. And then, as soon as we were done, Trent Reznor walks out on stage, through all the garbage, stands there and says, "I don't want to see any more of this shit going on tonight, that's it." And the audience just goes, "Wooooh ... "

BOB: Dead silent.
BUZZO: For the rest of the night.

BOB: Meanwhile, there's an ambulance taking you off stage.
BUZZO: Nine Inch Nails was going to do a live video that night, and I thought, man, this is going to be great, the audience is going to be really into it. And then they canned the whole thing.
They canned a $150,000 shoot. The audience was just dead. Totally dead.

BOB: Do you play parties?
DALE: We have. Not in a long time.

JOHN: How much does that cost?
DALE: The thing is, Mark lives in London, Buzz lives in LA, and I live in San Francisco.

BOB: So it's only $300 to get you to play a party, plus three first-class tickets from those cities.
DALE: If it happened to work out while we're on tour, though.
BUZZO: Like tonight we could play a party.

BOB: We're having one, in a few hours actually.
MARK: We could play for two thousand bucks, no problem.

BOB: So are you available?
BUZZO: We're off all day today.
DALE: Well, actually, I'm supposed to be at ...
MARK: Have you called the dominatrix yet?

JOHN: Which dominatrix are you visiting? There are some good ones in this town. I visited one once. She was associated with a band, actually. She had this ring — it looked like a cheese grater. And I was like, "What is that?"
BUZZO: Me and Mark, we have nothing to do until 7:30 tonight.

JOHN: And then she said, "That's $200 please."
MARK: So what else do you want to know?
BUZZO: We're ready to answer all questions.

BOB: All these chocolate covered espresso beans were meant to loosen you up ...
BUZZO: I'm about as loose as I can be.
MARK: Those are evil.
BUZZO: They're strong as shit.
DALE: My ears are starting to ring.

BOB: My ears were ringing after the show last night. I heard it when I was in bed, but it wasn't just ringing, it actually had a structure.
BUZZO: A melody?

BOB: Nora, who works here, couldn't go to your show because she had a sculpture class. And I said, "The Melvins are sculpture. Going to their show is far better than going to your class."
BUZZO: Did you stay to see Helmet?

BOB: No.
JOHN: I had work to do.
[laughter]
MARK: We don't trust anybody who wears short pants on a show business stage.

BOB: What about Hanson?
JOHN: What about Angus Young?
DALE: That's different. That's an outfit.
BUZZO: Hanson's more of a NAMBLA thing.

JOHN: I saw Angus Young and AC/DC when I was in eighth grade, and there was a guy sitting next to me that just got out of prison. It was kind of scary.
BOB: We want to meet Floyd, the kid from your radio interview, the one who wanted to go on tour with you.
BUZZO: Oh, right. We never met him either.
MARK: Where was that? Fort Collins, Colorado.
BUZZO: That was right in the middle of a school day.
MARK: And he was at home ...
BUZZO: ... Drunk on his ass.

JOHN: He sounded like he was eight.
BUZZO: Whenever we get into a radio station, we always ask if we can take calls.
DALE: Sometimes that can be a mistake — you get kicked off the air.

BOB: Has that happened?
DALE: One time, we were asking if anybody could call in and tell us what "teabagging" was.
[laughter]

JOHN: It that like snowballing?
DALE: The sexual act of teabagging.
BUZZO: So we're on the radio, asking, "Does anybody know what it is? And you have to describe it without using any kind of dirty language."
DALE: And this guy calls in and says, "Well, that's where you dip your testicles ... [laughter] ... in your partner's mouth.
BUZZO: And within two minutes, the station manager was like: "You get them off of there!"

BOB: But if you had been on the Dr. Ruth Show, it would have been fine.
BUZZO: This was college radio.

BOB: I know you have to leave to take pictures in a few minutes, so just to finish up, is there anything you want to say to your fans? Probably none of them read our magazine ...
MARK: We just want to say, to all the rich influential people that read this magazine, that they should definitely get us involved in any kind of project they want to, as long as it's ...
BUZZO: Legal.
MARK: Oh, no, we'd consider something illegal.
DALE: We're looking for our own feature-length film or even a radio show, possibly a TV show ... The Melvins Talk Show.
© index magazinegelatin1
The Melvins by David Ortega, 1998
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