Rat-a-tat-tat, the new album by Dale Crover of Melvins is DARK. It has songs about dying when you're not ready to die. It has songs about busting up people trying to draw you into high school style drama bullshit. It has totally WHACKED out experimental tracks that sound like something out of Bowie's Low which were then assigned to a demented computer program. The black grime circulates throughout this bad boy. But, the weird thing is, Dale is a pretty happy-go-lucky kind of guy!
Dale has been drumming for the Melvins for almost 40 years now, and he is the boom-bapper of all boom-bappers. He brings the raw power of Bonham and the artsy-fartsy touch of Dennis Davis. So, on Rat-a-tat-tat, he merges his thunder-God smash with a decidedly creepy atmosphere.
To get to the bottom of this weird trip, Punknews' John Gentile spoke to Dale about the new album (out January 15 via Joyful Noise), how mix a cool record, and where the blackness comes from. You can check it out below.
Here’s the thing, this record sounds like a very dark record. It has a lot of creepiness in it. But, it’s my understanding that you’re actually a pretty happy guy. Yeah, I’d say that’s accurate. It does have a lot of creepiness… so I don’t know where that comes from, which is funny. I’m generally a pretty happy guy but then I’m sure people listen to that and go, “oooh… where’s he going?” I suppose it’s fitting for this year. The record is dark, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
What this album suggests to me- there’s the cliché that “great art comes from tortured people.” People like Nick Blinko, or maybe even Jello Biafra. But, this is great art, but you’re not a tortured guy. Does the tortured artist-great art correlation actually exist? I think mostly it’s that most musicians are total weirdoes- not necessarily tortured. They have a different view of things. Look at Bob Dylan for example. His stuff can be really dark. Or Cheap Trick. They’re a total rock band, but you look at the lyrics and they are not “she loves you” kind of lyrics. The themes of some of the songs are pretty creepy sometimes. You look at Rick Nielsen and he’s not a creepy guy at all. He’s a super nice, happy dude, but somewhere in his mind is all this weird shit… and I supposed you could say the same thing about myself.
Actually we’re getting off topic, but that does bring up a good point. Is the world an inherently good place, and inherently bad place, or is it amoral? I think we’re all living in hell, we just don’t realize it. People worrying about dying and going to hell, but we’re already here. People just have to learn ho to navigate through it.
Do you mean that literally or figuratively? Some Gnostics, and some bands that are influenced by that line of thought, think that this existence is literally hell, or at least one form of hell. I believe Dwid Hellion of Integrity has that belief. I mean, he’s not far off base. I mean, if there really was a God, would all this horrible shit be happening. It sucks. Don’t get me wrong. I like it here. It’s fun, but there is a lot of bad stuff that happens. People die from cancer. Your friends die from cancer. It sucks. Your parents die. It sucks. It’s really hard to navigate all that stuff.
In interviews you often refer to Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Cheap Trick, and those bands have had extended careers that have had highlights through out. It’s not a decline or incline, it’s a career with multiple highpoints. The Melvins are now nearing 40 years! And, you’ve had the same sort of multi-faceted career. Is that by accident, by strategy, is it hard work? All of those things. But, definitely hard work. Those guys you mentioned have all done a lot of hard work. I liked Bob’s new record a lot and I think it’s amazing that he’s been able to sell it for a kind of Cha-ching! Paycheck. Some people are appalled that he would do something like that, but, no! In today’s age, where you basically get music for free, it is worth something. His music IS worth something. I’d love for that kind of thing to happen to us, for us for our stuff to be worth something. For us to continue and making music. It is hard work, but there were accidentally stuff too. That’s part of making music, I guess.
You bring up a point I haven’t heard expressed yet- that the large Dylan sale shows that music is worth something. If someone came up to you and offered to buy your work for thirty million, forty million, and you sold it, would you be sad to lose complete control of your music? I’ll take the money! Fuck that, I want the money. Why not? I can just go write more songs. People complain, “oh now his music is going to be in commercials! I’m not cool with it!” Well, have you turned on the TV lately? Tons of commercials are using Dylan songs already. And, don’t worry, because people in advertising just use the same song over and over. They’re not going to do anything different. We’re the Melvins. We rarely get asked to use our music in a movie or tv show, but when it does happen, it’s always the same song. We have thousands of songs! They only want one or two things, really, and it’s because someone else wanted the same thing. Know what I mean?
One track that I really love on the album is “Tougher.” You previously said something along the lines that the song is about other people trying to get t you involved in drama, and you don’t want to be involved in other people’s drama. So, you’re opening up and showing a personal side. But, the irony is, the lyrics are cloaked in a sort of grimy filter! Do you avoid revealing your deepest emotions in songs? No, I wouldn’t say so… It wasn’t distorted for that purpose. Toshi mixed it. It’s actually his song with my words. It’s the only song on the record which is co-written. I’d say, just listen closely. Once the record is released, the lyrics will be included.
So, some artists don’t like bearing their soul. Others, put it all out in the open. Are you willing to total expose your core in a song? Well, it might not be me in a song at all. A lot of the write I stuff is fictional. Bits of it come from different things. I might not be myself when I’m talking. Maybe I’m playing a character.
I think of Bowie- and it is sort of cliché to bring up Bowie, but still- he would often portray characters in his songs, but many listeners, myself included, think he is singing about himself. With your song, “I’ll Never Tell,” to me, it had one of these mid-period Pink Floyd melancholy drifting through it. What’s the background there? It’s funny you should bring up Bowie on this one. With this song, I was trying tow rite something like the song “Andy Warhol.” The song isn’t about any particularly one person. The song is about someone is at the end of their life and they’re not quite sure about it- if that’s vague enough for you. There have been situations where, even in my family, somebody has been sick, and they start to get better, and then they fall off and end up dying. So, that’s what it’s about. It’s dark! Ha ha ha! But, this stuff happens to everybody, not just me. Like I said, I’m just not writing about “I wanna hold your hand” or “she loves you yeah yeah yeah.” Bands have done that to death.
When I write a song, sometimes I’ll have decided what I want to write about and then start writing. But, oftentimes, it turns into something completely different. Sometimes I’ll write and come up with a few really good lines and then try to write around that. I’ll often come up with the music first, and then hear a melody for a vocal, and I’ll have to write to that melody. Even up to recording, I’ll be changing things to the last minute.
On this record you have Toshi Kasai, Steve of Redd Kross, and Mindee Jorgensen. Why did you assemble this band for this record? Well, these guys have been my live band for a couple of years. After I did my first solo record, I decided, “oh, shoot, I should play this stuff live.” Not long after I joined Redd Kross, Steve was like, “if you put a band together, you can open for us on the Redd Kross tour. I’ll play bass for you.” That was great! He played some bass on the first record and Toshi made sense because he’s been a long time Melvins engineer and played on both records. Mindee has been a friend for a long time and I saw her at a show and she said she was looking to paly in a band. She had play in a few bands before. So, I thought it would be really cool to have her play. She’s in the Modpods, which is a band I like a lot. Plus, she can play guitar and bass, as well, so I thought that would be great for a live band, so we can switch around and she can play guitar and I can jump back there and play drums. But, when we have played drums, I have a little drum set in front of me, so I can switch between playing that and playing guitar and singing. We haven’t gotten to the point where we have swapped back and forth completely, but we might. So, these guys have been my band for a while and Steve is such an awesome bass player. So, of course I want him to play on everything. Mindy played drums on some songs and she even played saxophone on the record. I went in first and did the basics and had them put their parts on the top. I did that just because there’s not enough hours in the day. Steven and I are in a number of bands together- melvins, Redd Kross, and sometimes OFF! We have even done other outside recording projects.
Dale, what a last five years you’ve had! Melvins, the Dale band, Redd Kross, and OFF! What’s it like drumming for Keith Morris?! Oh, it’s great. Keith is awesome. I really like Keith a lot. It’s always a fun time playing with those guys!
One of the more experimental tracks on the new album is titled “The Bowie Mix.” Raw Power- who wins? The Bowie Mix, the Iggy Mix, or the Raw Mix? Oh, the Bowie mix! I like hearing the alternate version. But, I’m so used to the older one and the new one didn’t make it any better. I like the weird high end guitar mix- speaking of Jello Biafra, that’s the way he likes to mix a record. He likes guitar being very loud in the mix. I called him no it one time! “You just like the Raw Power mix!” And he was like, “You know… you’re right. I do like that sound…”
That track in particular, I did as an experiment. I wrote it on garage band. You can go into garage band, and they have these different “drummers” that you can use- they have names and a certain style. I just created the pattern with one of the “rock guys.” It was a different approach to songwriting that I never did before. I used garage band drums and samples and just totally fucked them up, with effetcs and compression and squashing and doing things that you’re not supposed to do.
This is just an esoteric question. There’s a flier floating around the Internet that is “Melvins, LA Guns, and LA Guns.” That’s fake, right? Oh, that’s gotta be fake. But, we would play that show? Why not?! We like eclectic bills.
Dale, it’s been a difficult year for a lot of people- but. you have this great new record, Melvins 1983 is next year, there’s a cool Melvins live show on New Year’s Eve, you’re in Redd Kross- you are seemingly triumphant despite all the hurdles of the modern world. What is your advice for people going into the new year? Geeze… I guess try to get outside. We’ll get through all this.