Dale Crover goes deep into ‘Working With God,’ his solo records, jazz, Redd Kross, Melvins TV and ‘playing’ young Neil Young
With every delicious slab of Melvins meat, there’s the element of surprise.
Lineups are constantly in shuffle mode so you may get the two-drummer lineup with Big Business, the trio with Mr. Bungle’s Trevor Dunn on standup bass (as Melvins Lite) or ex-Butthole Surfers’ Jeff Pinkus may be in the mix alongside Redd Kross bass-man Steven McDonald. Or you may be on the receiving end of Mike & the Melvins, King Buzzo and Dale Crover’s killin’ collaboration with godheadSilo’s Mike Kunka and bassist Kevin Rutmanis. And that’s just spouting off a bit of their trademark fuckery.
On the latest—and characteristically bone-crushingly heavy—album from these tireless avant-metal lifers, the King and Crover have thrown yet another curveball. As on 2013’s Tres Cabrones, they’ve rejoined forces with pre-Crover original drummer Mike Dillard under Melvins 1983 on Working With God and it’s an epic trip where sonic heaviness and absurdist shits ‘n’ giggles meet head on. Only the Melvins, with goofball Dillard in the fray, can pull aces in spoofing the Beach Boys classic “I Get Around” (as “I Fuck Around”) and a hilarious surf-metal earworm called “Fuck You,” amongst other rabblerousers.
VIDEO: Melvins TV 2021
Despite the wrench that the pandemic has thrown their way, the Melvins are adapting to these tumultuous times. They’ve released Working With God and, in lieu of tour plans, have masterminded “Melvins TV,” an ongoing livestream event chock full of live performances, weirdo visuals and, of course, Melvins’y high-jinks (the next installment is on May 1st and will feature a Melvins acoustic set).
On the phone from his L.A. home, drums godhead Crover is singing the praises of Working With God and talking handing the traps mantle back to Dillard while he takes over bass duties. Crover is also reveling in other action, namely the release of his latest solo joint, Rat-A-Tat-Tat! He’s no stranger to going it alone:
Crover first went the solo route on the Melvins KISS sendup in 1992 then in 2016 Joyful Noise Recordings released a record of his drums experiments called SKINS. The latter ultimately spawned a fruitful alliance that continued on Crover’s The Fickle Finger of Fate (2017) and now on Rat-A-Tat-Tat! Those overlooked gems showcase Crover as ace songwriter, guitar shredder and tasty hooks boss.
The Globe had the pleasure of talking shop with Crover.
What made you go the solo route again after being out of that game for many years?
Before I did the last record, The Fickle Finger of Fate, I had just the Melvins KISS solo record. But, after that, I used to have a band in San Francisco where I played guitar and sang and wrote most of the stuff called Altamont so that’s kind of where that went to. Those (Altamont) guys still live in San Francisco and I moved to L.A about twenty, twenty-one years ago, and though we still play and not very often, it’s hard for us to get together and do anything (laughs).
But having Joyful Noise, really, having those guys have interest in me doing stuff really got things going, as far as doing more solo stuff. I started doing weird drum stuff with those guys. They were into a record where they were like, “Hey, let’s do a record where you just play drums” and I was like, “Well, okay.”
Was that the SKINS EP?
Yeah, there’s that. Even before that, they released a record that was me, Coady Willis, who’s in Big Business and Melvins, and Joe Plummer who played in Modest Mouse, Black Heart Procession and a shit-load of bands. We did a record that was like a drums-only type of thing where we were influenced by a certain Max Roach record.
I didn’t realize you were heavy into jazz.
Oh, sure. I love all those drummers. Actually, somebody had told me that they thought that the record was kind of jazzy. I really like the 70’s-period Miles Davis and the Coltrane stuff from around that time. I like their psychedelic influence and I can see how that might be possible on that record.
When did you actually get into jazz? As a kid or later on?
It wasn’t until way later but I did see some stuff when I was a kid. I saw Dizzy Gillespie play and I saw Buddy Rich play. He came pretty close to my hometown and that was really cool. I was taking lessons from a drummer (at the time) who was a jazz drummer and he was like, “You gotta go see this guy play.” He’s from another planet.” But I was too much of a rock ‘n’ roller to know anything and to have anyone really show me stuff that I would like until way later. Then a bass player that used to play in our band turned us on to all that 70’s Miles Davis stuff and Coltrane and everything from there. He was into it and that’s who we got into it.
Which bass player was that?
Mark Deutrom. He had pretty good taste in stuff.
On both The Fickle Finger of Fate and Rat-A-Tat-Tat! there are some cool, weird solo drums experiments.
The first one, that was just little, weird drum experiments. Those guys (Joyful Noise) are into making freaky records and seeing what’s possible. SKINS sold out right away and people were bummed that they couldn’t get it so that’s when I was like, “Well, let’s make a full record and I’ll add songs to it.”
Do you prefer doing albums that only have “song-songs” then put the drum experiment-type songs separately or merging the two together on one record is ideal?
I don’t know what will come next. Because of the first record, I ended up putting a band together after I made it. I was like, “That would be fun to play this stuff live.” Live, it’s me, Toshi Kasai, who engineered and does a bunch of the Melvins stuff, then Steve McDonald, who plays in Redd Kross, as do I know, and OFF! He offered to play bass. He played stuff on the first record then pretty much everything on this next record (Rat-A-Tat-Tat!). Then I got a live drummer, this girl Mindy and she’s on the new record a little bit, too, and also live I play a standup drum set: a cocktail kit.
It’s not unlike the Melvins two-drummer lineup, huh.
Well, I figured I had to play drums. Most people might think that I’d be playing drums, so at least I wanted to play a little bit and switch off and stuff like that. Another reason for getting Mindy in the band is she plays guitar, bass and other stuff as well so I figured I could jump behind the drums and play a few songs.
You have the solo albums that came out the last couple of years then all the Melvins stuff and being in Redd Kross…how do you find the time?
I dunno! We’ve always had to work and keep going and we’ve haven’t really had time to stop. We’re not millionaires. We’re not some giant band who could actually take a couple years off. We’re more like normal folk who have to work nine to five (laughs). Because of that, we just kept working and haven’t really stopped.
Melvins are always on tour.
We try to do between 80 and 120 shows a year and I think that’s fair. If somebody like Bob Dylan can do that when he’s in his 60’s, 70’s and now I think he’s 80 or damn near…it’s inspirational for us.
VIDEO: The Melvins Live at the Knitting Factory 1999
The pandemic has obviously put a serious dent in touring but you guys came up with a cool idea.
It’s been over a year since we last played a show. It’s bad.
We rely on that. It’s a big chunk of income for us. But while we’re waiting, we’ve come up with this idea: there’s a lot of bands doing streaming concerts and stuff like that, which we could do, we could do a whole concert. But then we figured we could only do one concert, one streaming concert. And then what are you going to do? So, we came up with the concept of “Melvins TV.” It’s five songs for five bucks then there’s interviews and a bunch of us doing dumb stuff and an opening band. There’s one that came out on New Year’s Eve and one that came out on Valentine’s Day. And my band got to open (laughing).
Your own band has never done a full-scale tour?
Not really. We did a West Coast tour a little over two years ago with us opening for Redd Kross so that was easy enough. That was Steven’s idea. He was like, “Redd Kross can do a west coast tour and we can open.” That was our first touring and it was fun.
When did you and Steven McDonald first cross paths?
Well, I saw Redd Kross play in 1987 in Tacoma, Washington. I tried to talk to them when they played the next time, which was a few months later in Seattle. But I didn’t really officially meet Steven until…we had a mutual friend, this guy Bill Bartell (AKA Pat Fear), who was in a band called White Flag and he had a record label called Gasatanka and they actually put out the Redd Kross record, Teen Babes From Monsanto. We met Bill around the time we were doing the Houdini record. We had mutual friends and he was doing the Germs tribute record (A Small Circle of Friends) and he wanted Melvins to be on it and we did it. From that, we became friends and I met all those (Redd Kross) guys through him. I remember officially meeting Steven at Jabberjaw, which was an all-ages place in L.A. I remember we were talking outside and it was one of those places where it was a pretty dangerous neighborhood. There was some gunfire and I remember we all ran back inside. It happened all the time but it was pretty sketchy.
Steven seems to have fit in seamlessly as a member in the Melvins.
Yeah, for sure. For the longest time, I always thought he was one of the best bass players—really, really good. And quite a showman (laughing).
The energy he brings is really infectious.
I think some Melvins fans, at first, were a little turned off by it. All I can say is when I saw those guys play in 1987, it was kind of like a who’s-who of the grunge scene that was in the audience. A pre- Nirvana were there and I remember those guys saying something like, “Why are those guys so happy?” They were a little bit turned off by them being, like, “Hey! It’’s so great to be here!” But then later, I was like, “That’s just Steve and the way he is.” It’s his stage face. He’s there to kick your ass—with a smile on his face (laughing). That was definitely an influential show. The scene was already still happening there but Green River were opening and Soundgarden were opening. I always say, and people probably don’t realize it, but those guys definitely had an influence on the grunge scene for sure with Neurotica. Even when I joined the
Melvins, those guys were super-into the band.
How did it all go down with you joining Redd Kross?
It’s funny because I always hinted, like, “Hey, you guys ever need anybody, let me know!” They had taken a big hiatus then got back together in 2012 for the Researching The Blues record.
I love that record. I couldn’t believe they made that record after being gone for so long. But they didn’t get to do a lot of touring because, Roy (McDonald) their drummer, had a steady job that was pretty good where he couldn’t take a lot of time off and also, at the time, was still in the Muffs. He was the drummer that was on Neurotica, had left the band then came back by the time they made Researching The Blues. Anyway, they had had another drummer and since Roy couldn’t tour and Melvins were going to take a little break and concentrate on Crystal Fairy but that whole thing crashed and burned, unfortunately. Steven had a tour booked and his drummer, the newer drummer after Roy, was a little apprehensive because, all of a sudden, he had got a cushy job. I don’t know exactly but Buzz, Steven and I are all driving back in a van from San Francisco and Buzz was like, “Why don’t you have Dale play drums?!” I was like, “Yeah, I’ll play drums.” We talked about it for a long time and I sold myself as much as I could. Then I had to pass the test with his brother. Jeff didn’t know me as well (as Steven). By that point, Steven and I had been playing together a lot. But it was fine. I went in there, I knew their songs, I was a fan. The good thing is those guys love to rehearse and are totally dedicated musicians.
Did you have to refine your approach to play in Redd Kross versus the Melvins?
No. I mean it’s different. The Melvins stuff is harder to play. With Redd Kross, it’s fun, it swings, it’s great. It’s really fun to play, for sure.
Getting back to Melvins TV: So it’s you, Buzz and Steven and not the 1983 iteration which you just put out Working With God with original drummer Mike Dillard on drums.
It is with Steve but it would be fun to play with that lineup with Dillard because I get to play bass (laughing). Working With God just came out that I’m pretty happy with. It’s fun to have that version of the Melvins. It’s weird, we gone into the realms of like multiple Superman or Spider-Man or something, ya know? (Laughing)
Melvins had that record a few years ago with Dillard, Tres Cabrones. Working With God and your record, Rat-A-Tat-Tat! were both recorded pre-pandemic?
Pretty much. Well, with Working With God, we were recording right before it before it hit. Mike was actually in town and we were working on stuff right when it was kind of scary. We decided to get Mike’s drum tracks done and he should head back home before they close the airports or who knows what’s going to happen. So we were worried about that. We did that and then we took a little bit of a break working on stuff right when it all happened.
So, you switched from drums to bass on Working With God and Dillard is behind the kit?
Yup. And Buzz and I co-wrote a song on this one, too.
There’s songs on your solo records that are Melvins-ish. Does it work in the Melvins where you bring your own songs that you’re working on and they wind up on a Melvins album?
It could totally go where I’m like, “What do you think of this song?” or whatever. The song that I have on the new Melvins record could have been a solo song, too. But Buzz was like, “Come up with something.” So, I had this riff that I thought would be perfect for Melvins 1983—a song called “Brian, The Horse-Faced Goon.”
And there’s two versions of that song on Working With God…
It’s like a stupid inside joke that only amuses us (laughing). I think the Melvins 1983 has that kind of stuff, stupid humor, like “I Fuck Around” or whatever. We did “99 Bottles of Beer” on the previous record.
Is it Dillard who brings that humor to the band?
I think so. It’s sorta like the original spirit of the band. He’s one of those guys that, whenever we hang out with him, it doesn’t really matter how much time has passed. Once you see him it’s like nothing’s changed. Immediately, you just pick up where you left off. Once we got back together with him, which I think the reason that it happened in the first place, was because we played Jello Biafra’s 50th birthday party. I don’t know if he asked but somehow we ended up doing it and that was the first time. Maybe it was because Alternative Tentacles released the Melvins early demos on vinyl so that’s how it ended up? I had said, “We should reform that version of the band” and Buzz was like, “Well, okay, but we’re not doing it with (Matt) Lukin so…” and I was like, “Okay.” Once we were rehearsing for that show, that’s when we were like, “We should just write new songs and start a new version of the band.”
One thing about the Melvins is as we’ve always come up with really goofy ideas. Usually it’s Buzz has some idea that you’re just like, “That’s just insane”—like doing 50 shows in every state. Somehow we make these goofy ideas a reality (laughing). Anything’s possible.
You replaced Dillard in the Melvins originally, right?
Yeah. You know, I never thought of that: I replaced both Mike and Matt (laughing). Pretty good.
Obviously, there’s no hard feelings between you and Dillard.
Yeah, there’s no hard feelings, not with him. Matt, on the other hand, doesn’t like us at all.
After all these years?
Yeah, yeah. I don’t know. Whatever. He feels that he’s owed something.
How’s it for you to play bass and let Dillard play drums? You play bass on your own records and on Working With God…
Well, if we were gonna play a show, I’d definitely want to get some practice in. My fingers are pretty good right now because I play a lot of guitar. Bass definitely works your fingers even more but I could do it (laughing)!
Would you play drums any differently than Dillard does on Working With God if you were on there?
Hmmm, maybe, but listening this new record, I’m, like, “It’s really good.” I’ve kind of wondered if we didn’t tell anybody that that’s what this is, would they notice that it wasn’t me playing drums?
I wouldn’t know.
Maybe if somebody told you, like, “Oh, that’s not him” and you’d go, “Oh, okay, you’re right.” I think Mike plays great. He doesn’t play all that often. We would send him demos of the songs for him to learn. He’d take that stuff and practice it on his own. The drum stuff he came up with.
Did you tour for Tres Cabrones in 2013 with the Melvins 1983 lineup or you’ve never toured with Dillard?
Not really, just a show here or there. Mike’s got a regular union job so he could only use his vacation time (for touring). He won’t quit his job (laughing).
You’ve made come cool videos for a few of your songs (the Paul McCartney spoof for “Bad Move” and “I Can’t Help You There” from Rat-A-Tat-Tat!) from your solo albums. The Melvins used to make videos back in the 90’s but you guys don’t really do that anymore.
Not really. Buzz isn’t that into it. He kinda hates being in them, besides that. This live thing (Melvins TV) is cool and I’m glad we’re doing that because it is like making a video but not like a lip sync type of thing.
VIDEO: Neil Young “Harvest Moon”
Of course, as far as videos go, you famously “played” Neil Young in Neil’s video for “Harvest Moon.”
I met Neil while I was dressed up as Neil, which made it even more bizarre. He was looking at me really weird so it was a really odd way to meet him but it was fine (laughing). I was a big Neil Young fan to begin with so it was really odd but he ended up being really nice. We had some pretty funny exchanges, having to swap clothes back and forth between shots.
You know the video: there’s a flashback scene to where he first met his wife at this bar/restaurant but it starts out with he and his wife going to this place where they met to have a good time and dance. He’s playing on stage and dancing with his wife (laughing) so when the focus is on him you’ll see me in the background playing with his band and then when he’s on stage, I’m actually dancing with his wife. So we had to swap back and forth our clothes between shots. At that point, they made me up to look just like him rather than his younger self. They made my hair as close as it could get. I remember we were in the trailer and I’m putting on the stage clothes and I’ve got the harmonica and Neil was telling me, (imitating Young’s voice), “Now don’t get the harmonica stuck in your hair ‘cuz you’ll fuck up.” Then in the video, it’s what I did and he said, “Hey, ya fucked up.” So, there’s Neil Young trying to get his harmonica unstuck from my hair.
I got the part (for the video) having just showing up to an audition; there was no other connection than that. I just showed up and the producers were, all of a sudden, looking at me really weird. Then they said, “Ya know we are looking for a ‘Young Neil Young’ for this thing?” and I was like, ‘No.” The casting call was up in San Francisco where Neil Young lives and they’re like, “We were thinking we’d have to look for someone in L.A.” It worked out good (laughing). I couldn’t believe after I did that how much it was…I would turn on the TV and it would be on. It was like, “Oh, my god! Wow.” It was on heavy rotation.
Odd things like that but it was quite an experience. I’ve seen him since a couple of times, too. I think he kind of knew, eventually, who the band was. I told him, “I play in this band” and it was right when we had been signed to Atlantic.