Melvins play the odds


April 27, 2001



Over the course of 16 years as a band, the Melvins have been dubbed post-punk, indie-rock, grunge, alternative and now stoner rock.

Whatever genre they've been lumped in, the venerated trio has only ever really played one thing: Melvins music--deliberate, lugubrious, wonderfully warped and pretty much without peer in the world of heavy rock.

"One of the reasons I like this band is because it's always a challenge," drummer Dale Crover says. "Throw out any kind of rule book to playing rock drums or whatever and do something completely different and unorthodox--that's kind of what our band has always been about.

"We do what we want to and don't have any set rules or guidelines about how we should write songs. That always keeps it interesting."

Formed by guitarist-vocalist Buzz Osborne (a k a "King Buzzo") in 1985 in the rural logging town of Aberdeen, Wash., the Melvins were early favorites of the young Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic, who talked the group up in interviews once they became successful as members of Nirvana. That eventually led to a deal for the Melvins with Atlantic Records--the band recorded some of its best albums there, including the Cobain-produced "Houdini" in 1993 and "Stag" in 1996--but it happily returned to the ranks of the indies in 1997, once the alternative moment had waned.

In 1999, the Melvins recorded a series of three extraordinary albums for the small IPECAC label--"Maggot," "The Bootlicker" and "The Crybaby"--showcasing their considerable diversity and justifying their reputation as underground legends. Now the trio is touring behind "Electroretard" (Man's Ruin), yet another strong effort that finds it reimagining some of its older tunes ("Gluey Porch Treatments," "Tipping the Lion," "Revolve") and bulldozing well-chosen covers by the Wipers, the Cows and Pink Floyd.

"We've always been oddballs because we have elements of heavy metal in our stuff, but we've always hated the cheesiness of heavy metal," Crover says. "We're too nerdy for the heavy-metal audience, and we're too heavy for any kind of alternative audience, but there are definitely people who like us and all the weird stuff that we do. It's great that we've managed to exist off this band for so long and not go away--Buzz and I have been doing this as our day jobs now for 10 years."

Actually, the Melvins have never sounded better. The trio is completed by bassist Kevin Rutmanis, and it's experiencing a resurgence thanks to the burgeoning stoner rock scene, which hails the band's patented lava flow as a pioneering influence second only to Black Sabbath.

"A lot of the stoner bands kind of base their sound on Black Sabbath, and it's funny, because that's what I was listening to 20 years ago," Crover says. "It's like, `Hmmm, you guys finally discovered this band!' Whereas I don't really listen to them that much anymore because . . . well, there's plenty of other stuff out there. I've heard those records billions of times and probably don't need to hear them ever again."

As for where the steadfastly iconoclastic band fits in the current pop firmament, the musicians aren't particularly concerned--they're just happy to continue making Melvins music.

"We always thought when we got signed to Atlantic, like, `This is ironic; we never would have guessed that this would happen in a million years!' We knew why it was happening: because bands from Seattle were getting attention and Nirvana talked about us so there was this interest in us. But we knew that it might not last forever, and if we got dropped, we'd just go back to doing what we were doing before. And we're happy to do that."