Heavy metal band
In more than a decade testing the limits of hardcore rock, the Melvins have been more successful swaying the course of modern music than finding a commercial niche of their own. Rolling Stone magazine, for one, credits the three-man band with being the first to fuse punk and heavy metal—creating the hybrid which fueled the groundbreaking, earth-shaking Seattle grunge sound. In fact, grunge innovators such as Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil have cited the Melvins as a major influence—acknowledgment that earned the band the dubious title “Godfathers of Grunge.” It is double-edged recognition that the Melvin’s frontman, guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne, can live with. “People say, ‘How do you feel about Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam selling all these records?’” Osborne was quoted in Guitar Player. “I can understand it; they’re a lot more commercial-sounding than we are. I wasn’t trying to write ‘Black Hole Sun’ or ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ Those songs are fine, and those bands have done well. I’m really happy for them, but none of that stuff concerns me in the least. If it did, we wouldn’t be making the kind of records we make. It’s our duty to push the limits.”
In the process, the Melvins have bounced between a half-dozen or so record labels and created a catalog of nearly a dozen albums and assorted EPs, singles, and live recordings—music variously described as a ponderously slow and heavy, uncompromising, sludgy, scuzzy, inscrutable, slob rock, and ugly noise. The essence of the band’s attitude about music is epitomized in Osborne’s comments about the song “Goggles” from the 1996 album Stag: “I managed to record absolutely the most hideous vocals I’ve ever done,” he told Guitar Player’s Mike Rowell. “It doesn’t even sound human. It’s the most distorted lo-fi vocal you could ever imagine,” he said with obvious pride. “Now I’ve got to do something worse.”
Osborne formed the Melvins with a high school buddy, drummer Dale Crover, in the mid-1980s in Aberdeen, Washington—the blue-collar town from which Nirvana would later emerge. Matt Lukin was the first in a series of Melvins’ bass players; he went on to play for the Seattle band Mudhoney. Mark Deutrom, the Melvins’ one-time producer, has been the band’s bassist since the tour supporting the 1993 album Houdini —which Rolling Stone called “the best heavy metal release of the decade.” The album was co-produced by Kurt Cobain, who also played guitar on one track.
As a guitar player, Osborne is primitive, but his taste in instruments is exquisite. “I have a totally ham-fisted guitar technique,” he told Guitar Player. “I can’t read music at all. In fact, I can barely remember the names of the strings. People get hung up on that kind of stuff.” Osborne doesn’t even bother with the all six strings. “I never use the high string,” he said, “so I never have to worry about breaking it…. I just realized I didn’t need it.” Despite his casual approach to his instrument of choice, Osborne appreciates a fine guitar. He owns four late-model black Les Paul Customs as well as a classic Fender, a Silvertone, and a Rickenbacker.
In the late 1980s, the Melvins released Gluey Porch Treatments on Alchemy Records, and Ozma on Boner Records. “The sludgy riffing that oozed from early releases,” Billboard wrote in June 1996, “cemented the band’s reputation for off-the-periodical-scale heaviness—a characteristic still present in the Melvins’ physically punishing live shows.” A few years later, the Melvins reached the big leagues when a major label, Atlantic Records, released the band’s headbanging classic Houdini and the follow-up Stoner Witch. On Stoner Witch, which sold 50,000 copies, with especially strong sales in New York and Seattle, the Melvins continued “a journey without maps, destination unknown,” Grant Alden wrote in Rolling Stone. “The band has become far more adroit than the monochromatic slow, grinding force its own legend would suggest.”
Guitar Player’s Rowell also recognized the band’s evolution: “The Melvins revel in testing boundaries: scuzzy guitar-noise sprees, Melvinized covers of anything from Kiss to the Cars, marathon drum solos and
Members include Dale Crover, drums; Mark Deutrom, bass; Buzz Osborne, guitar and vocals.
Formed in Aberdeen, Washington, mid-1980s; released debut album, Gluey Porch Treatments, on Alchemy Records, 1987; followed with a series of albums for Boner Records, Your Choice Records, Atlantic, Amphetamine Reptile, and Mammoth; toured over the years with Primus, White Zombie, Rage Against the Machine, and Nine Inch Nails; headlined the second stage on the 1996 Lollapalooza tour.
Addresses: Record company —Atlantic/Mammoth Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
the occasional set consisting entirely of one note,” Rowell wrote. “Early Melvin’s releases… contained some of the most ponderous sloth-rock ever committed to tape, prompting pigeon-holers to classify them as ‘the slowest band on Earth.’ While once deserving such a crown, the Melvins have diversified their sound over the years, with more recent releases… equally likely to contain accessible mid-tempo anthems and bizarre experimental forays.”
For the 1996 release, Stag, Atlantic relegated the Melvins to a subsidiary label, Mammoth Records—a move which could be construed as comparable to sending a major-league ballplayer to the minors. Osborne, however, didn’t see it that way. “At first it looked like we were getting pawned off on a side label, but it didn’t take long for me to see that we were going to be in a better situation,” he told Billboard. “Atlantic puts out about 3,000 records a week, and there were people who dug us there, but to Mammoth we’re genuinely a big deal.” Mammoth President Jay Faires said the smaller label could provide customized marketing which would double the band’s fan base. But radio play was the missing piece in the Melvins’ puzzle. “There are 40 or 50 important outlets playing aggressive bands like Filter, and I certainly think (the Melvins’ music) fits in with that mix,” Faires said. “They’ve toured with bands like White Zombie, Rage Against the Machine, and Nine Inch Nails and always gotten a response from that audience.”
Musically, Stag was a departure for the Melvins. “While chock-full of the band’s trademark blunderbuss riffage and inscrutable experimentation,” Guitar Player wrote, “the album tosses out a few left-field surprises, from trombone and keyboards to chiming pop songs with chipmunk vocals.” That album was followed by 1997’s Honky, which was released by yet another record company, the indie noise label Amphetamine Reptile. Jim Meyer of the Minneapolis Star Tribune called Honky “an uncompromising noise journey.” For his part, Osborne demonstrates no desire to become predictable. “I just do what I enjoy,” he told Billboard’s David Sprague, “and a certain number of people seem to enjoy it, too. If people want easy entertainment, there’s always going to be a Green Day or an Offspring to give it to them; that’s not my job.”
10 Songs, C/Z Records, 1986.
Gluey Porch Treatments, Alchemy Records, 1987.
Ozma, Boner Records, 1989.
Your Choice Live Series: The Melvins, self-bootlegged live album released on Your Choice Records, 1991.
Bullhead, Boner Records, 1991.
Houdini, Atlantic Records, 1993.
Prick (EP), Amphetamine Reptile, 1994.
Stoner Witch, Atlantic Records, 1994.
Stag, Mammoth Records/Atlantic, 1996.
Honky, Amphetamine Reptile, 1997.
Billboard, June 8, 1996.
Guitar Player, September 1996.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune, July 4, 1997.
Rolling Stone, January 26, 1995.
Additional information was provided by the Geocities web page and Melvins’ press material.
Heavy metal grunge band
Heavy metal grunge trio the Melvins has been together since the early 1980s, but has never caught on in the mainstream. The group's music is revered by its fans and by a few celebrity musicians and critics, but is considered too eccentric for most fans of popular music. The group spent a brief time at the edges of Nirvana's spotlight in the early 1990s, but returned to underground status when the Seattle-grunge craze died down. Despite playing "some of the heaviest and most idiosyncratic rock ever heard … despite critical accolades," wrote Chicago Tribune critic Rick Reger, "the Melvins are perennial outsiders. Too savage for the indie rock crowd and too spaced-out for mainstream metal heads, the trio is the proverbial square peg in a round-niched marketplace."
Three high school chums formed the Melvins in 1984, in the quiet Pacific Northwest town of Aberdeen, Washington. Vocalist and guitarist Buzz "King Buzzo" Osborne, drummer Dale Crover, and bassist Matt Lukin formed the group's original lineup. The three were raised on punk and heavy metal; their record collections consisted of releases by Black Sabbath, Black Flag, Kiss, Motörhead, and Ted Nugent. The band named itself after a clerk at the Thriftway grocery store where Osborne worked as a teenager—the name of the most reviled employee in the store. The group has experienced a seemingly endless procession of bassists. The first lineup change occurred when Lukin was replaced by Lori "Lorax" Black, the punk-rock daughter of Shirley Temple. Osborne and Crover have remained in the group since its beginning.
After releasing a debut EP in 1986 and Gluey Porch Treatments in 1987, Osborne and Crover left small-town Aberdeen for San Francisco, where prospects for a punk rock trio were a little bit brighter. Once they'd relocated, the Melvins, with Black, released Ozma. The album, released in 1989, included brief, weird, powerful songs like "Let God Be Your Gardener," "Cranky Messiah," "Creepy Smell," and "Raise a Paw." "The Melvins' wholly radical sound conjures visions of Neanderthal cavemen dragging slaughtered dinosaurs through a flaming tar pit," wrote Tucson Weekly online critic Ron Bally, who added, "Definitely an acquired taste—and not for the faint of heart."
The "San Francisco lineup" of the Melvins, as Osborne, Crover, and Black would later be called, next recorded Bullhead. The album was released in 1990 and would become the watermark for that lineup. Still laced with lots of feedback, the tracks were longer, heavier, slower, and more complicated than before. Their music, according to a critic at All Music Guide online, was described as "just one oozing pile of dark slime." A 1991 concert in Germany was recorded and released as part of the Your Choice Live Series in 1993. On it, the group recorded all of its material to date.
When Nirvana made it big, the Melvins came with them, at least for a while. On the underground music scene in Seattle, Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain was considered a protégé of the Melvins. Cobain idolized Osborne and the group. When Nirvana was between drummers, Crover filled in, and can be heard on Nirvana's Incesticide and Bleach. Cobain returned the favor by producing half the songs on the Melvins' 1993 release Houdini, and playing guitar on one track. After Nirvana proved able to sell millions of albums, the major record labels were eager to launch the next big hit band to emerge from the Seattle area grunge scene. The Melvins therefore became a target for these labels, despite the fact that they had left Washington state years before. "I'm not foolish enough to say it [grunge] hasn't helped us out," Osborne told Metroactive Music online. "But it happened years after we left. It's all been fame by association for us; which is fine, but it's also just dumb luck."
Despite the fact that they were ill-suited for mainstream consumption—and they knew it—the Melvins were only too happy to take advantage of the generous deal they were offered by Atlantic Records in 1992. "No one was more surprised than me that major labels were interested in us," Osborne is quoted as saying at Metroactive Music online. "I took it with a pound of salt. I still do. We're just not commercial enough." The band also enjoyed playing the mainstream festival tours of Lollapalooza and Ozzy Osbourne's Ozzfest in the mid-1990s.
The Melvins released three albums on Atlantic: Houdini, Stoner Witch, and Stag. The Melvins' "ear-splitting jams," as Ira Robbins of Trouser Press called them, were not music to the ears of mainstream radio listeners, and when the group's Atlantic deal came to an end, they returned to their independent status. Honky and Alive At The F***er Club were released on the Amphetamine label, and the group settled in at Ipecac Recordings in 1999. The label is owned by Mike Patton, the onetime Faith No More frontman, with whom Osborne also has two side bands, Tomahawk and Fantomas.
With 18 albums behind them, the Melvins had no trouble maintaining their schizophrenic persona. They tapped former teen idol Leif Garrett to open their 2000 United States tour with his band Godspeed. The tour took place after the release of The Crybaby, the third in an album trilogy that included The Maggot and The Bootlicker. In an ironic twist, Garrett lent his vocals to a Melvins' cover of Nirvana's hit "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on The Crybaby. The album also featured a cover of country legend Hank Williams's song "Ramblin' Man."
For the Record . . .
Members include Lori Black , bass; Dale Crover , drums; Mark Deutron , bass; Matt Lukin , bass; Buzz Osborne , vocals, guitar; Joe Preston , bass; Kevin Rutman , bass.
Group formed in Aberdeen, WA, 1984; released debut EP, 1986; relocated to San Francisco, c. 1988; signed to Atlantic Records, 1992; appeared on the Lollapalooza tour, 1996; signed with Ipecac Recordings and released album trilogy, 1999-2000; toured with Leif Garrett, 2000; released Hostile Ambient Takeover, 2002.
Addresses: Record company— Ipecac Recordings, P.O. Box 1197, Alameda, CA 94501. Website— Melvins Official Website: http://www.melvins.com.
The Melvins appear to be an act that will survive in its own world, and maintain an ardent, if modest, fan base. "The Melvins are out of their fuzzy little minds," wrote Chicago Tribune critic Rick Reger, "and their 18-year career is littered with quirky eccentricity, druggy incoherence, and spoofs on rock tradition as much as it is with powerful music."
10 Songs, Volcano, 1986.
Gluey Porch Treatments, Ipecac, 1987.
Ozma, Boner, 1989.
Bullhead, Boner, 1991.
Melvins, Boner, 1991.
Lysol, Boner, 1992.
Houdini, Atlantic, 1993.
Your Choice Live Series, Your Choice, 1994.
Prick, Amphetamine, 1994.
Stoner Witch, East West, 1994.
Stag, Atlantic, 1996.
Honky, Amphetamine, 1997.
The Maggot, Ipecac, 1999.
The Bootlicker, Ipecac, 1999.
The Crybaby, Ipecac, 2000.
Alive at the F***er Club, Amphetamine, 2001.
Electroretard, Man's Ruin, 2001.
The Colossus of Destiny, Ipecac, 2001.
Hostile Ambient Takeover, Ipecac, 2002.
Chicago Tribune, July 19, 1999, p. 2; July 5, 2002, p. 4; May17, 2003, p. 31.
Village Voice, June 4-10, 2003, p. 117.
Washington Post, April 28, 2000, p. N18; April 20, 2001, p. T7; April 25, 2001, p. C9.
"About the Melvins," The Melvins, http://www.themelvins.net (January 3, 2004).
"Melvins," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 3, 2004).
"Melvins," Trouser Press, http://www.trouserpress.com/entry_90s.php?a=melvins (January 3, 2004).
"Pell-Melvins," Tuscon Weekly, http://www.weeklywire.com/ww/08-23-99/tw_mus.html (January 3, 2004).
"Punch and Grind," Metroactive Music, http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/08.01.96/melvins-9631.html (January 3, 2004).
"The Melvins Tap Leif Garrett for Tour," MTV, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1429350/20000323/story.jhtml (January 3, 2004).