Melvins keep rocking after 26 years
Kurt Cobain was almost a member and cited them as an influence. The Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra fronted them for a few albums and tours. Musicians as varied as alt-rock hero Mike Patton and jazz wonk John Zorn have routinely sung their praises, and they’ve influenced an entire galaxy of off-the-rails punk, metal and sludge acts as unique as Tool, Swans, Mastodon and Boris.
Not bad for a band named after a grocery clerk in a nowheresville Washington state town that never exactly saw mainstream limelight.
Yes, the Melvins are a cult – legendary among music lovers of all stripes for their 26-year longevity. But they’re also icons – still cranking out albums – and they haven’t played a proper Boston date in at least two years, so expect this Saturday’s headlining performance at the Paradise to be packed tight, loud and sweaty.
When asked if the Melvins’ iconic status surprises him at all, guitarist/vocalist Buzz "King Buzzo'' Osborne prefers the shrug-off approach. Overanalyzing would kill what makes them special, he maintains.
"I honestly don’t think about it too much,'' he said. "You have to take that (stuff) with a grain of salt. And I never plan that far ahead, and I’m never afraid of change.''
It’s a tad disingenuous to say the Melvins have remained completely intact. Osborne has been the only consistent member for the band’s 26-year run, and there have been lineup changes galore.
In 2006, Osborne and drummer Dale Crover (in place since 1984 and the drummer in Cobain’s original band, Fecal Matter), added bassist/vocalist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis. Warren and Willis are in the stoner metal band Big Business – which will open the Paradise show – and when fused to Osborne and Crover make for a four-man, two-drummer Melvins roster.
"We’ve barely scratched the surface on what we can do with a two-drummer band,'' Osborne said. "It’s like playing onstage with a freight train behind you, and it’s no doubt informing the songwriting. We’re only beginning to think in terms of what’s possible.''
The Melvins’ latest, "Nude With Boots,'' is the band’s 19th release overall and the second studio effort with the current lineup. The sludge metal hallmarks remain – that slow-burning, dense, oversaturated tower of sound – but the Melvins have always delighted in taking that ’70s-derived aesthetic and twisting its edges. On "Nude,'' straight-ahead power rock tracks like the opening "The Kicking Machine'' stack up next to Zeppelin-meets-avant/instrumental-meets thrash-meets R&B boogie amalgams like "Billy Fish'' and "The Smiling Cobra'' – adventurous for any band, standard operating procedure for the Melvins.
It helps that Osborne himself is as eccentric – and his interests as varied – as his music. He cites Johnny Rotten and the Who’s Pete Townshend ("a severely underrated guitarist and genius'') as standard-bearers, but would just as soon find the lineage between the Melvins and Hank Williams ("a diseased mentality, and a bada**'') and Jerry Lee Lewis ("every parent’s worst nightmare'').
The Melvins keep moving. In addition to the current tour and its members’ involvement with other projects, this month sees the release of "Live in London 2006,'' a DVD capturing a joint concert between the Melvins and Fantomas, the avant garde metal collective Osborne has with former Faith No More leader and current Peeping Tom frontman Patton, Slayer’s Dave Lombardo, and Mr. Bungle drummer Trevor Dunn. Osborne and Patton will also be co-curating an edition of the All Tomorrow’s Parties Nightmare Before Christmas music festival this December.
And what keeps Osborne’s creative spark burning through it all? Well, he’s not one to linger.
"I didn’t always mean for things to happen the way they did, they just sort of worked out that way,'' he insists. "But we play 100 shows a year and I think we’re coming up on, like, 2,000 shows overall. It just never ends – and the next album I could change gears and do something radically different. It helps to be a moving target.''
The Patriot Ledger