It’s an odd thing to call the version of your band that endured for 24 of the 29 years you’ve existed as the “lite” rendition. Yet, when the core duo of the Melvins – Buzz Osborne (vocals, guitar) and Dale Crover (drums, vocals) – decided to record an album with standup bassist Trevor Dunn of Mr. Bungle, Fantômas, John Zorn, and Tomahawk, they dubbed it Melvins Lite. Their Big Business counterparts, Jared Warren (bass, vocals) and Coady Willis (drums, vocals), were so integral to the continuing success of Melvins it was a disservice to let sleeping dogs lie. Allegorically, the thing makes perfect sense and therein lays the secret behind perpetual oddballs Melvins success: respect your damn band mates and always evolve and challenge your audience.
“I had the idea for a long time and I knew [Dunn] could do it, so we just trusted him. It’s best to trust the people you’re playing with, let them do their job,” confirms Osborne from his Los Angeles home. “You’ll be a lot better off than telling them what to do. I might not be subjective, so by and large, I trust these guys and I think with that type of thing it materializes into something new that you haven’t thought of.”
The result of Melvins Lite is Freak Puke, which is flat out strange, even by these musicians’ standards. Their standard, sludgy, off-kilter riffs and drawling, bellowing vocals ooze all over the record, joined by unnervingly creepy and indecisive bass, noisy, screeching samples and gang vocals. Some of it works, some, not as much. But Osborne doesn’t give two shits about what I – or you – think. And it’s why Melvins have garnered a devoted fan base.
“The goal is to make music that I would enjoy as a fan… That’s not just the music itself, it’s the whole attitude, the whole package. I don’t have a lot of time for normal rock ‘n’ roll bullshit,” he says. It’s true: the Melvins whole discography is an exercise in abnormalities. Prattling off the notable names of Gluey Porch Treatments (1987), Houdini (1993), Stoner Witch (1994), The Crybaby (2000), (A) Senile Animal (2006), The Bride Screamed Murder (2010) and so on does little to demonstrate their remarkably inconsistent consistency and reflects only a minute portion of their released output.
“We make really eccentric weird music and millions of people will not like it. And it’s good,” says Osborne. “My target audience isn’t millions. I think millions of people should buy it, but, I can’t be concerned with it, you know?”
Osborne seems unconcerned with most things. He is more interested in moving onward than in a specifically laid out trajectory. So questions about those rumoured splits and releases with Napalm Death and Scott Kelly (Neurosis), garner brief responses: “It’s going to come out some point later,” says Osborne. I retort, “Venom covers right?” His laughs, “Maybe?” He does know that the Melvins as a four piece will continue on and hopes one day soon to do a release with all five members, recorded by the guitarist of Big Business, Toshi Kasai, who has recorded every Melvins full-length record since 2002’s Hostile Ambient Takeover. A plethora of other engineers have recorded their numerous splits, singles and covers, which are nearly impossible to collect in their entirety. Given the difficulty of obtaining such a vast discography, I ask Osborne if he is a vinyl collector or a sadist.
Neither. Instead, Osborne says he likes collecting “strange stuff in general,” such as “ancient weaponry, strange postcards, toys.” It’s more about the mentality of collecting, but the endless releases are also a way to continue making a living off the Melvins, just like the equally relentless tour cycle. The “heavy-weight Melvins” just completed a four-week American tour, while Melvins Lite will follow that with a Canadian tour and then a Guinness Book of World Record-breaking 51 dates in 51 days American tour. Why not just get a damn day job to tide you over?
“I don’t have much interest in just sitting around resting on our laurels. We are adventurers. We are explorers,” he says. “We are too dumb to know any better, how about that? There is a fine line between genius and stupidity, we try to balance both sides of that.”
With Freak Puke, the Melvins, Melvins Lite and Osborne alike you get a little bit of both and that’s the way us fans like it.
Watch Melvins Lite play songs from across Melvins discography on July 12 at the Republik with Retox.
By Sarah Kitteringham