It’s a little hard to grasp the fact that it has taken over 25 years for one of the most iconic bands in the Pacific Northwest to release an album on Seattle super-indie Sub Pop Records. What we are talking about here, for those who’ve been following the script, is an event that almost seems like it should rank right up there with a plague of locusts or a frog rainstorm as a sign of the apocalypse.
But in 2016, the impossible happened when these two titans of the North finally came together to put out an album, albeit one originally recorded in 1999 with former godheadSilo bassist/vocalist Mike Kunka (who was signed with Sub Pop at the time before going on hiatus in ’98). Three Men and a Baby was conceived in a period when the band was freshly signed to their longtime pal Mike Patton’s then newly launched label Ipecac Records in the wake of their spirit-crushing tenure at Atlantic Records in the mid-’90s. And for fans of their epic trilogy The Maggot/The Bootlicker/The Crybaby, especially the middle title, this album is a total treat for fans of that era of The Melvins when Kevin Rutmanis from The Cows was playing bass for them, as it marks a return to the roar that made the trilogy such a big favorite in their universe.
Meanwhile, main Melvins Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover continue to push the boundaries of creativity as Ipecac artists with their latest LP, Basses Loaded, in where they employ the assistance of six different bass players across these 12 new cuts, including Steve McDonald of Redd Kross/OFF!, Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic, Jeff Pinkus of the Butthole Surfers, Mr. Bungle/Fantomas bass great Trevor Dunn and Jared Warren of Big Business. Even Crover himself steps from behind the drum kit to play bass on four songs, including a somewhat straight-faced rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” They even brought back their old drummer from 1983, Mike Dillard, for a tune called—funnily enough—“Phyllis Dillard,” not to mention a totally faithful cover of “I Want To Tell You” by The Beatles.
Paste had the chance to catch up with both Buzz and Dale to talk about all this good stuff and more when we spoke with them prior to the June 3 release of Basses Loaded. The Melvins will be touring the U.S. later this summer with Red Kross bassist Steve McDonald, while Third Man Records will be reissuing the band’s trio of Atlantic Records titles, 1993’s Houdini, 1994’s Stoner Witch and 1996’s Stag, on vinyl in the coming months as well.
: It’s pretty shocking to think Three Men and a Baby marks the first time the Sub Pop imprint has been featured on a Melvins record.
Buzz Osborne: I guess I’m not shocked. There was once a time where we would have, but I had a problem with a few things and we wound up not doing it. And when the thing with Mike came up, we would have done it back in 1999, but then Mike disappeared. He fell off the radar. I don’t know if the powers that be—Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman—would have done it at the time. They never really expressed much interest in our band, and I’m not one to beg. I also don’t deal really well with humiliation at all; the slightest hint of it and I’m out.
Dale Crover: It didn’t matter anyway, because people thought we had stuff on Sub Pop already [laughs]. But now, here we are years later, finally on Sub Pop Records. I was at the Sea-Tac recently and was looking for their record store, because I wanted to see if they had the album in there. But I couldn’t find it.
: How was it working with Sub Pop for this particular project?
Osborne: I didn’t really deal with them directly at all for this, but everything was good. My wife did all the artwork for the packaging, so all that was fine. But in regards to working with them on a strategy or marketing, I hadn’t talked to them at all. Nothing. We even played Seattle recently, and I didn’t see one person from Sub Pop. I’m sure there’s not a lot of hope from the label about how this record is going to do; at least I’m getting that impression. But like I said, I’m not one to beg, so it’s their deal. The ball is in their court. I’m doing all I can to promote the album.
Crover: They haven’t gotten any kind of big promotion machine behind it. Correct me if I’m wrong, but our regular publicist set up this interview, right? I was under the impression that they really liked the record. While we are not going to tour with Mike Kunka, we still go out on the road all the time to promote every record we release. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bumming on Sub Pop. I’m happy that this record has even come out, considering it was made 17 years ago and never finished. So finally when Mike said he wanted to finish it, we asked them if they were even interested in putting it out, because we had some sort of contract with them on account of Mike being signed with them as a member of godheadSilo. They had forgotten all about it and went back to see what the deal was, and they seemed really into it. Mark Arm was telling me they listen to it in the warehouse all the time [laughs].
: Three Men and a Baby was recorded during a great time for The Melvins as well, having just signed to Ipecac and in the throes of your album trilogy. What led you to revisit it?
Osborne: Well, Mike reared his ugly head again and said, “Let’s finish it.” We had to finish some things on it like vocals and other little parts here and there, but 80 to 90 percent of it was already done back in 1999. I think it turned out really, really, really good. I thought it was never going to come out, so I didn’t have any hope for it and put it out of my mind. But I’m really happy it’s being released at all, and it’s very exciting.
: How far do you guys go back with Mike Kunka?
Osborne: Way back, man. We’ve done a bunch of touring with godheadSilo and another band he was in called Enemymine. And being on the road with both those groups was a good time, and that’s what made us want to work with Mike in the first place.
: What was it like revisiting the Kevin Rutmanis era of The Melvins?
Crover: It’s funny how things come full circle, because we had had trouble with Kevin and we wound up kicking him out of the band. So we weren’t friends for a long time, which took quite a while to heal. But it did. And when we started finishing up this record, he was involved in it, which was really cool.
: Did you leave the door open to perhaps do more work with Kevin in the future?
Crover: At this point, you never know, probably some recording or something. Actually, a couple of years before we re-started on the Mike and The Melvins record, we recorded a cover of a Roxy Music song with him and Jello Biafra, “In Every Dream Home A Heartache” from their second album, For Your Pleasure. It’s on our Everybody Loves Sausages record.
: And then you guys have the Basses Loaded album, which just came out recently and seems to chronicle the succession of bassists who have played with The Melvins in the wake of Kevin’s departure…
Osborne: I’m very proud of that record as well. Two great albums in one year, I’m very, very happy about it. It’s a red letter year for us [laughs].
Crover: For Basses Loaded, we had amassed a bunch of recordings with all these different people and realized we had enough songs for a record but just needed to figure out how to put it together. Some of the stuff was new, like the songs we recorded with Steve McDonald.
: Steve McDonald seems to be a really cool fit for The Melvins.
Osborne: Oh, he’s great. He’s on four songs on Basses Loaded. We had just finished up a Napalm Death tour with him as our bassist, and we’re going to Europe with him and then we’ll be touring all over the U.S. with him starting in August.
Crover: And Melt Banana opened that Napalm Death tour. It went over well and the shows were really fun, now we’re back home for a little while.
: How far do you go back with Redd Kross?
Osborne: I’ve been a big fan of Redd Kross since the mid-’80s.
: How did you guys land him for Basses Loaded?
Osborne: Dale sat in on drums with OFF!, and he came back to me and said, “Steve’s somebody we could definitely play with.” That’s it.
: What was behind the decision to cover The Beatles’ “I Want To Tell You”?
Osborne: That’s a song I wanted to play for a long time. I’ve been jamming that riff forever, so I always wanted to do that song. I’m a big George Harrison fan, and it was such an obvious song to do with Steve.
Crover: Doing the drum track for that song was tricky. Ringo has such a distinct sound. When we started recording, I sat there like, “How am I gonna do this?” [laughs]. I could imagine he worked pretty hard on those drum tracks for Revolver, especially with George Martin sitting there. But he was able to find this perfect balance of being both percussive and melodic.
: McCartney and Ringo don’t get enough credit as a killer rhythm section.
Crover: I think so, too. In fact, Paul McCartney is probably one of my favorite bass players. And playing with Steve McDonald, he definitely has a similar kind of style on how he plays his bass. You can tell he is a big McCartney fan solely based on his bass playing. He’s kind of like the punk rock version of Paul McCartney the bass player [laughs]. And that was the perfect reason to do “I Want To Tell You” with him. I knew that he would be faithful to it, for sure.
: Is Revolver your favorite Beatles album?
Crover: It’s up there for me.
Osborne: That might be my favorite one, I don’t know. That’s a tough call. I think the original Get Back record—if they had put it out the way it was—would have been up there for me, too. But it never made it to the light of day, though it’s heavily bootlegged. But I’m a big fan of almost all their stuff. I don’t trust people who don’t like The Beatles. How could you not like The Beatles? If you think about all the songs they did, if you can’t find one thing you’d like, that just means you haven’t listened to it.
: The cover of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” is quite faithful as well. What team do you follow?
Crover: Since we moved out to L.A., it’s been the Dodgers. Any time the Dodgers would play the Giants, I’d hear from Mike Patton, because he’s a Giants fan, and we’d talk shit to each other about the teams. Adam and Danny from Tool follow the Dodgers, though not as closely as we do. And Dio used to go to Dodgers games as well, we’d see him there sometimes. I actually went to one of the playoff games last year when the Dodgers were playing against the Mets when it was our pitcher Zack Greinke’s last game in Dodger blue. I went with a friend of mine who’s a Mets fan, so he got to enjoy seeing them win the playoffs [laughs]. It was good to see the Dodgers lose again.