Friday, August 11, 2017
Review / Interview: Dale Crover, The Fickle Finger of Fate, 2017
Who Said the Drummer Can’t Write a Song?
By Ken Geiger
Many of us were taught in life that too much work can be bad for your well-being. I guess that piece of advice fell on deaf ears for Dale Crover, as evidenced by his 30+ year tenure as the drummer in experimental metal establishment, the Melvins. But, while being able to pound out some of the heaviest and weirdest beats for that long is impressive, listeners have not been able to experience Dale Crover in songwriter form. There was the Dale Crover EP the Melvins put out in the early 90s that he wrote all the music for; but, outside of that, King Buzzo handles just about all the songwriting duties for the group. Still, there was something about that EP that left many fans thinking, "I wonder what it would sound like if Dale made a full album?"
It may have taken him 25 years, but Dale Crover has finally given those left wanting more something in the form of his proper solo debut, The Fickle Finger of Fate; and, oh boy, can this drummer certainly write a catchy tune.
Ranging from 20-second interlude pieces on the more absurd side, to laid back acoustic guitar work and even doses of prog-rock, The Fickle Finger of Fate is a great record that can be enjoyed by more than just Melvins diehards. It has a great sense of variety to it that is honestly refreshing to have in a more straightforward rock record nowadays. I think that if you are into more power pop / hard rock like Ty Segall, Cheap Trick, or Queen, then this record is for you. Dale (and Melvins bassist Stephen McDonald for a brief moment) was certainly eager to impart some information to me on the record, as well some Melvins related topics, when the band rolled around to the Stone Pony on August 5th in an interview that you can read below:
K = Ken D = Dale Crover S = Stephen McDonald
K: I'll just start by asking: is this the first time that the Melvins, or anything you've been involved in, have played New Jersey?
D: No, no. We’ve played here before actually.
K: Any good bands or memories from the area that you can tell about?
D: I remember when we first came here, we played this place [Stone Pony], and this [the dressing room] certainly wasn't here (laughs). Actually, none of that outside [Stone Pony Summerstage] was here. It was a ghost town. The only thing that was here was the Stone Pony. You also didn't wanna go out at night… or in the day time for that matter.
D: We pulled up, and there was this big square with all these parking meters -- but no cars. We just thought 'man this is weird.' Then we found out about the history of what happened here in the 70s. This was all in the 90s when this happened. I know we also played the bowling alley [Asbury Lanes] in 1990, and then the last time we came here was in '97 with Tool at this huge place by the arcade [Convention Hall].
K: So you guys have a bit of a past around here. Do you enjoy it here?
D: (shrugs) It's certainly a lot more different than when we first came here. For people who may not understand, it was like what Detroit is now, but with a beach resort (laughs).
K: Do you have any warmup that you do before you go out for a show?
D: I'll just do a stretch. Maybe a little diddle on the drumsticks.
K: (laughs) So anyways, new Melvins album: this one blew me away upon first listen, definitely one of my favorites from you.
D: Oh, cool. Thanks man.
K: One thing I noticed that has started back to the War Pussy EP you put out on AmRep, your first thing with Stephen McDonald, is that you guys are starting to lean into a more psychedelic rock sound. Although, it is impossible to pigeonhole you guys to one sound.
D: Okay, that's fair. Well I don’t know if you're aware or not of the fact that Stephen is in Redd Kross.
K: I am a fan of their Neurotica album.
D: Yeah, well that album is kind of like psychedelic pop. We liked it when it first came out. Then, when he joined us, we just told him to go crazy. He doesn't use a lot of effects in Redd Kross.
K: (laughs) I saw you guys on Thursday at Irving Plaza, and I can't say I would have ever been able to picture Lysol live with bass solos over it.
D: And how does it sound?
K: Sounds great.
D: (laughs) Okay, good!
K: So how does Stephen's presence in the band affect songwriting? \Are a lot of the songs already made by Buzz [Osbourne, singer/guitarist of the Melvins], or did you guys sit down together?
D: Well, all the stuff on the record was done by Buzz and I first. Then we just kind of handed it to Stephen for him to do whatever over. It might have been at a time where he had his hands full with other stuff. He produces records, he plays with OFF! and Redd Kross and a bunch of family stuff. So, we went and did the rehearsing stuff first as a duo. Then he has a studio where he can just go and work his own parts out. I think it's great, because he really went in and fine-tuned a bunch of stuff. I really like the first song off the record. He worked on that.
K: I was gonna ask you what your favorite song off the record was…
D: Favorite song? I don't know, but that was a good start. I like the drums. They're not very powerhouse.
K: They're loud when they need to be loud, and soft when they need to be soft.
D: Yeah, it's sort of darker -- maybe not darker -- more moody, I would say. But there's also some rocking songs on there.
K: Certainly! But, transitioning from the Death record to the Love record, I noticed that Love reminded me of another great record of yours: Colossus of Destiny. What instruments were used to make Love? Did any of them appear on Colossus?
D: Definitely. Colossus was like me playing synthesizer and drums. Everybody was making a large racket more or less, but we've always said there was a whole plan to the performance. I think the same thing can be said about the Love record too, except that's a studio record, rather than a live record. There's all kinds of shit on there. We have a lot of toys in the studio to play with. There's a lot of field recordings on there. I know I recorded a whole bunch of stuff on my iPhone.
K: Just going for walks on the town, I suppose?
D: I think it was more of stuff I purposely recorded. It wasn't always an instrument necessarily, but instead, a moment of what was happening at the time. It's great. Stephen did some stuff with that. Buzz did a whole lot of stuff. Even Toshi [Kasai, the main sound engineer for the Melvins] did too. There was a bunch of stuff that Buzz and Toshi did separately that was in the vein of Throbbing Gristle that ended up on there.
K: So between the soundtrack and an actual Melvins album, which style of music is easier to record for you?
D: The soundtrack took longer to compose. It wasn't worked on any less than the songs were, certainly. What's easier though? I don't know. It's hard to say. We work hard at both things.
K: That hard work definitely comes out in your music. Moving on, though, the next thing I want to talk about are the [KISS-inspired] solo albums you did in the 90s. They’re 25 this year!
D: Wow, I didn’t know that.
K: Hard to believe it’s been so long… So I know you guys were reissuing these through Boner Records, but who came up with the idea of having Tom Hazelmyer [owner of Amphetamine Reptile Records] make art editions of these?
D: Probably Buzz. But, we have been doing a lot of reimagining of our old artwork with Tom. Last year, we did the Atlantic records (Houdini, Stoner Witch and Stag) through Third Man Records. We ended up buying a few of them from the label, and then Tom made art editions.
K: I love Tom's art, and actually, with his help, you guys finally completed the series of four! Stephen over there (points to Stephen, who had just entered the room) finally joined in. I love his now. I just picked it up the other day.
D: Yeah, it's great. Awesome.
K: I just wanted to ask about Stephen’s EP. Was his music made specifically for this EP?
D: Well, why don't you ask the man himself (waves Stephen over)?
S: What are we talking about?
D: We're talking about your new solo record!
K: I had a few questions about it.
S: Did you even hear it?
K: Yeah! I bought it at the Irving Plaza show.
S: I haven't even heard it (laughs). Does it sound ok?
K: Well, it sounds great. I especially love the Sparks cover.
D: I did drums on that, actually.
S: Dale did drums on the entire record.
K: I actually was going to ask whether the other guys were involved at all…
S: Yeah, there aren't any credits on it, but Dale played drums on everything. Buzz plays guitar on "What Did I Ever Do to You?" Josh Klinghoffer from the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers plays the guitar solo on the Sparks cover.
K: Whoa, really?
S: We played in Sparks together for a couple years. So, it was like a fun thing for us to do. The original Sparks version was produced by the Pet Shop Boys, so it had that kind of 80s new wave vibe.
K: Before I did my research, I thought you wrote that song.
S: Well Sparks didn't get credit on it. I'm a little embarrassed, honestly! I wanna give it to them, but then they'll be like, "Why isn’t our name on this?"
D: Why is that?
S: Tom never asked for credits. I told him to let me know when he needed credits, and he just never came around to it.
D: Well, it is hard to carve all that (note: Hazelmeyer's artwork is done in linocut style).
K: What kind of timeframe did you have to make those songs though?
S: It was between the time of the Melvins album recording, before Dale and I went on a Redd Kross tour in April.
K: Did you have any of that music already made, or was it all crammed in there last second?
S: The thing is that I don't really write a lot, so this was new for me. Most of them were born with me playing bass over a click-track, and then Dale adding drums over it.
K: Well for a first songwriting effort of sorts, it was great.
S: Thanks man. I gotta tell you, besides Dale, you're the first person who's heard it and told me anything about it. It's really great and encouraging to hear your words about it.
K: You should write more.
D: We're gonna make you write more now.
K: Time to start the Stephen McDonald Experience.
S: (laughs) Well I did work a few long nights on it, so it's really great to hear your positivity. Thank you.
*Stephen exits the room*
K: Anyways… to finally wrap up this whole solo album ordeal, this came around the time that Joe Preston was in the band.
D: I think he was only in the band for about a year, honestly.
K: He played on Lysol, too. So I thought I would ask, since these reissues are happening and a lot of your set this tour includes Lysol material. Can you share any memories from the time period? It can be about either making Lysol or the Dale Crover EP.
D: Lysol was done in about 5 days. We toured a little with Joe before making that. It was all pretty quick.
K: Then did the solo records come out right after, or had that concept been kicking around for a while?
D: You know, I think that was the first thing we did with Joe. I can't remember though. What does that thing [my copy of the Dale Crover EP] say?
D: Oh, then Lysol came out first. But with the solo albums, I was pumped to do mine. \I had never written songs for a record before. It was a big first time. I remember Joe being a little freaked about it, and treating it as if it were a homework assignment for him.
K: Why's that?
D: I think we assumed he had done more than he actually had. He had played in some bands before, but I don't think he had done much writing for them. But, there are people who really like his.
K: I'm in that minority. You and Joe made the best ones.
D: Buzz's was good too, but he's also the main songwriter for the Melvins; so, it was a little bit harder for him to write something that fans may have seen as standing out from the rest of our stuff.
K: I think that track Dave Grohl does vocals on ["Skeeter"] was out there. But I’m still in that niche who thinks the Joe EP and Lysol are great.
D: I didn't think anybody would like that record when it came out.
K: Now you have bands like Sunn O))) making pretty good careers off of it.
D: I think Sunn O))) has always said they were influenced by that stuff. Then that Sleep record, Dopesmoker, is in the same tuning kind of. That, and it's also one long song. I know they've always been fans.
K: I can hear it now in my head. They are similar tunings.
D: It's just a weird tuning Buzz made. It's kind of like the Keith Richards tuning if he kept his E-string on, and tuned it to C.
K: And if you had him playing through an entire wall of amps.
D: I remember opening for Soundgarden right when that record came out. We played that song. The review in the paper the next day said we just played one note. That made us think like “Oh yeah?? We can show them one note.” That was what the set that night ended up being.
K: It must've been hard to do on drums.
D: Oh yeah, exhausting (laughs).
K: Do you guys think you'll ever play stuff from the solo records live?
D: I don't know. I know I never have.
K: From a fan perspective, I think it would be great.
D: Sure, sure. Maybe. I mean, I have a new one out, so…
K: That was what I was about to mention! You have this new album, The Fickle Finger of Fate, which is really great. It's not a Melvins thing, it's a Dale Crover thing.
D: Yeah, thank you. I started making stuff for that before the new Melvins record. I knew I wanted to make a solo record, but had to wait to finish it after we did Love & Death.
K: When did the idea come to do the solo record? I have a single you released that features one of the tracks, "Big 'Uns," on it. Then, all the drum interludes are from that Skins EP you made. Did you have the intention to always make these songs on a solo record?
D: Yeah, pretty much. I thought I would just release a few singles, and then when I had enough songs, I could just make it an album of some sorts. Even before that though, I had done a single with Tom Hazelmyer.
K: "United Fruit?"
D: Yeah, which I was going to put on this one, but decided against last second. The album had enough songs.
K: Wasn’t there the Black Flag cover song too?
D: That was my other band, Altamont. I play guitar in that. Just a couple of friends jamming is all.
K: Ah, ok. My mistake. In terms of your solo writing though, who are your influences? I noticed your stuff sounds a little like Ty Segall.
D: That sounds fair, kind of. Mostly, it just comes in the moment. I may have something cooking for a really long time, in terms of riffs. Or, I may pull out my iPhone and just record me dicking around and such. A few of the songs on this record though have been around for a long time. But, each song has its own flavor in my opinion.
K: That’s true. You go one minute from mellow-rock stuff to a song like "I Found the Way Out," which is like a Pink Floyd sounding track almost.
D: Sort of. That song was made as we were recording the record. Toshi, who did the sound engineering, was just messing around with me as I detuned my drums. I got inspired to do that by listening to this band called the Lemon Twigs. They had done that drum sound, which is a 70s era sound. Toshi had also wanted to do that drum sound for a long time too, even without me mentioning that band to him. Then, from there, he had just been messing around with the keyboard to make the main riff. He wrote that song, basically. That was tough though, because he writes a lot different from the way I do. I thought we would make the song more bluesy, and he was like, "No! I don’t want it to be like that." He was going for a Queen vibe, because he's a big fan.
K: All this is a good lead into my next question: Did you have anyone else help you play stuff on this record, besides Toshi?
D: Yeah, Steve plays bass on a few songs. There was one song, "Little Brother," which I knew I wanted him to play on with his Hofner bass. It has flat strings on it, which gives it a 60s sound. He played it on some Redd Kross stuff, and then, also, when we did an acoustic performance to go along with a screening of the Melvins documentary that was released this year. But, long story short, that bass really changed the whole tone of the song.
K: It's amazing how one sound can do that.
D: Yeah, for sure.
K: You think there are any plans to do this live?
D: Well, the Melvins tour so much, I don't know if I could do a full-scale tour. It would be great to do some shows though.
K: It certainly seems hard to compete with the Melvins tour schedule. I was surprised the Crystal Fairy [Dale and Buzz’s new band with members of Bosnian Rainbows] was even attempting to play before those shows fell through.
D: Actually, the Melvins tour took the place of the Crystal Fairy tour when that was canceled.
K: It seems like the Melvins tour schedule is just work in the studio all winter, tour all summer.
D: More or less, yeah. We don't like to tour in the winter. It's dangerous and too cold. I think we are a good enough live band where we can keep it to just a certain part of the year.
K: Oh my God. That show on Thursday at Irving was amazing. It was like you were on a mission from God.
D: We were (laughs). '’m glad you liked it.
K: For sure. Now before we end this interview, I want to take a look into the future. What's after the Love & Death tour? I've heard there's a record made with Steve AND [Butthole Surfers bassist] Jeff Pinkus play on.
D: Shhhhh (laughs). I think I mentioned it way too soon to people.
K: I can keep that out if you want.
D: Nah, it's cool. I doubt you’re the only one to know it exists. I'm sure there will be other material too.
K: Does that record have a timeline on it?
D: I think we're gonna hold off on it for a while, honestly. It's weird. I think it'll shock some people. But we can save all of this for next time. We must leave surprises.
K: And what about leftover solo stuff?
D: Yeah, I still have some leftover stuff. I'd like to put some more out eventually. The label is into it, and plus we've always stuck to our principles of that we can do whatever we want.
K: I can’t imagine you or any Melvins members operating in a different way. Plus, I think that Joyful Noise Recordings has even allowed a band called Anal Trump to put out a record.
D: That's a great band name.
K: (laughs) They make decent songs too. But, finally, can you give me any word on that band you started with Stephen and Ty Segall called Broken Bat? That snippet you guys made years ago is the only thing that surfaced, and I'm curious as to what happened.
D: Well that started when I toured with Stephen in OFF! We got to know each other much more on tour. We tried to start a band, and Stephen brought up Ty Segall. He said we should ask Ty to jam with us, so we did and started to do stuff. We made that one song, and that was sadly kind of it. He's always busy with things, and Stephen and I are doing the Melvins stuff now.
D: It was actually his absence that got Buzz to jam with Stephen and I, which ended up with us having him now as our bassist.
K: It's all full circle now!
D: Well it worked out so well because he's local, and we are open to anything. We never close doors.
K: Was that a philosophy that you guys adopted from the start?
D: Hell no (laughs)! We just take it all one day at a time. Enjoy the ride.
Dale Crover’s The Fickle Finger of Fate is out now on Joyful Noise Recordings. Catch him drumming on the road this Summer and Fall with the Melvins, as they tour their new record, A Walk with Love & Death.