The Melvins Take Us on a Tour of Their Los Angeles
Despite its slick vinyl interior and oozing red lights, the Cha Cha Lounge in Silver Lake is still a gum-under-the-table kind of joint that looks as though a piñata vomited paper rosettes all over a rock club. Melvins drummer Dale Crover sits in a corner booth and stirs a tart Bloody Mary with skewered olives, as pictures of heavily made-up drag queens gaze up at him from inside a shellacked tabletop. This is the first time Melvins singer and guitarist Buzz Osborne, who doesn’t drink, has been to Cha Cha during business hours, save once, when he guest-bartended. Crover, on the other hand, stops here more regularly to DJ on Thursday nights and has also been known on occasion to pimp paint thinner.
“Buzz has some spectacular drink specials,” Crover reveals, including the Vienna Floater (Vienna sausage bobbing in a shot of Jägermeister) and the Moby Dick (a sardine swimming in a Pabst). Osborne appears in the doorway, his signature hair mussed. He’d been outside taking a phone call. “That was Biafra,” he says, meaning Jello Biafra, who is visiting from San Francisco. “He wanted me to ask you guys if there is anything happening tonight.” What’s happening is the new Melvins album, Nude With Boots, their first since 2006’s (A) Senile Animal and the second with the band’s new additions, Jared Warren and Coady Willis of Big Business. On the condition they get to drive my car, Osborne and Crover offer to take me on a tour of their favorite Eastside haunts while we chat. “It’s a weirder record than our last one. I think it’s a better record,” Osborne says, laughing, his gold tooth glinting. “But the next one is going to be intentionally much more of a departure.”
We step outside, and I hand Osborne my car keys. Baseball enthusiasts and ruthless Dodger fans that the Melvins are, they immediately change the radio station to 790 AM to listen to the game. “Okay, this is the best radio station in L.A, right here,” they insist, appalled I don’t have it preprogrammed. Dodgers lead the Padres one to nothing ... “Yes!” Osborne shouts as he starts my car. He flips a U-turn and heads up Silver Lake Boulevard.
As we circle the reservoir, our conversation turns to Los Angeles — the city the Melvins have called home for more than a decade — and how, despite the fact they’ve never even actually lived in Seattle, the drone-metal kings are still considered the godfathers of Seattle grunge. When many of their punk peers in the mid-1980s were playing as fast as they could, the Melvins had the good sense to slow the pace to a crawl, and many of their Pacific Northwest colleagues — including, most famously, Nirvana — took note.
“When we lived up there, we did one album,” Osborne says. “That was it. Then we promptly moved to California. We’re not even considered an L.A. band! It’s very humorous.”
Crover nods, “We’ve lived in California for more than half our career.”
The plucky pair first met in 1984 as teenagers in Washington — Osborne from Montesano, Crover from Aberdeen — where it’s said Osborne recruited Crover from an Iron Maiden cover band. But by the time the brief and intense Seattle scene had exploded in the early ’90s, the Melvins had already packed their bags to head south.
Over the years, those Seattle associations have ultimately helped, but the Melvins remain unabashed Angelenos. In fact, Osborne insists that the only way he’s leaving L.A. is in a box. “I still haven’t changed my mind about that. I really love it here.”
Nearly 25 years since meeting in “hicksville,” the Melvins are icons who have proven their staying power, and the years since their signing with Ipecac Records (in 1999) have been their most prolific. From the jump, the Melvins embraced Ipecac with insatiable newlywed ferocity and released The Maggot, The Bootlicker and The Crybaby — a commanding trilogy of fevered, cavernous left-of-center arrangements — all within a one-year period. The band has since released one or more studio albums, EPs, live recordings or 7-inches a year, including 2002’s Hostile Ambient Takeover, an album that sounds exactly like its name, with snarling songs, some so rough they strip tooth enamel, others sparsely atmospheric. More recently, in 2006, the Melvins released (A) Senile Animal, their first album with the addition of Big Business, and this year our current favorite, Nude With Boots, an album whose brutality is not without melody and is at times, dare I say, catchy.
We blow through a yellow light on to Santa Monica and past Astro Burger (“amaaazing!”), which sparks conversation of publicity dinners gone wrong while with their first (and only) major label, Atlantic Records. “They always told us if we would hang out with the radio people here more, we’d get more attention,” Osborne recalls. “That’s just jive! You mean, I have to hang out at some coke party with a bunch of dumb-asses who know nothing about music in order to get them interested in our band? Wrong guy. Drop us now, please.”
To their peers, the band is an influential, overlooked talent — especially live. “They’re brutal,” guitarist Adam Jones of Tool gushes to me later on his way downtown to rehearse with the Melvins. “Big holes of silence between orchestrated movements, they make your nose bleed but in a really good way. ... They go beyond their potential ... microwaving the crowd.”
Their first gig in Hollywood found them playing with Mudhoney at a small club across from Mann’s Chinese Theatre. “We played terrible. It stands as one of the worst L.A. shows we’ve ever done,” Osborne grunts.
Although the Melvins didn’t move here for the music scene initially, he explains, “If I was starting a band [now] this is where I’d want to be. ... What we’re doing [now] is what drove me to punk rock in the first place.”
After a quick dinner at Philippe’s — the downtown diner off Alameda with a “baseball, train, circus vibe” that boasts it’s the birthplace of the French dip — we head back toward Cha Cha, passing Dodger Stadium. “What’s the score!?” Osborne demands to no one in particular, turning the radio up. Dodgers gave away a run ... bases loaded and one out at the top of the 7th ... Padres with a 2-1 lead. There is a collective groan, and Osborne, laughing maniacally, asks if he can drive my car through the stadium’s chainlink fence. Alas,L.A. Weekly doesn’t include bail money in its freelancers agreement, so I quickly resume chatting about the new album, Nude With Boots.
Crover continues, “The thing about us, especially at this point in our career, almost 25 years now, is we’re still willing to try something new, which is relatively rare.”
“I’m not trying to fit our music into something that’s going to sell,” Osborne adds.
Mainstream success or not, the Melvins have more than a wealth of accomplishments; they are a legacy. “I’ve always called myself a person with a genius level of intelligence in his brain, none of which I can use on a daily basis,” Osborne laughs, as he thinks back on the trappings of previous jobs, like slinging pizzas with Crover at Round Table. “I’ve tried never to forget exactly what it was like to work a 9-to-5 job, and how much I never want to do that again. I haven’t had a 9-to-5 since ’89. That, to me, is a major accomplishment.”
The Melvins | Nude With Boots | Ipecac
The Melvins play Amoeba Records on July 15.
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