In Advance of Next Week's Show at the Grog Shop, Melvins Drummer and Redd Kross Bassist Talk About Touring Together

click to enlarge Melvins - CHRIS MORTENSON
Chris Mortenson
Grunge icons who formed in the early 1980s in the Seattle area, the Melvins continue to nurture their own particular brand of doom metal. On last year's Pinkus Abortion Technician, the band teams up with bassist Steven McDonald (Redd Kross) and bassist Jeff Pinkus (Butthole Surfers), both of whom play on all of the songs. In turn, Redd Kross recruited Melvins drummer Dale Crover to play on their new album, Beyond the Door, a terrific collection of power-pop tunes.

The connection between the Melvins and Redd Kross doesn't stop there. The two bands just kicked off a 10-week fall tour, which includes a Wednesday, Oct. 2, stop at the Grog Shop.

Crover and McDonald are playing double duty that night, and they act as the rhythm section for both bands. In a recent conference call, the two talked about how they first met and what it’s like to play in each other’s bands.

How do the two of you know each other?
Dale just recently told me how we first met. I didn’t remember it.
Crover: There’s no way you would have remembered it. It was a show that Redd Kross played in Seattle in 1987. It was at this bar called the Central Tavern. I was underage and had a fake ID. We used to play the place all the time with the Melvins. We would play and then have to leave because we were underage. Steve was on his way out the door because he couldn’t stay in the club. I was pretty drunk because at the bar, you didn’t just get a glass of beer. You’d get a pitcher for yourself. I said something to Steve about the Patridge Family comic books and he responded. I have no idea why I did that but I think the pitcher of beer had something to do with it. We officially met in about 1992 or 1993 at [the now defunct club] Jabberjaw in Los Angeles. Do you remember that, Steve?
McDonald: I do, but I also remember when you jammed with Yoko Ono. That was around the same time. That’s an early memory for me.

How’d you come to the realization that you guys could be the rhythm section for both Redd Kross and the Melvins?
Well, it started for me filling for Mario [Rubalcaba] on an Off! tour. Steve and I hit it off pretty good. We’d be the ones going out to dinner or hanging out together on the tour. I liked playing with Steve and had been a big fan of his bass playing for a long time. Since the Melvins had trouble with one of our bass players and the past problems we’ve had, we would play with whomever we wanted to play with. I thought Steve would be really great. After that Off tour, we tried to start something and were jamming with Ty Seagall. We got a little ways but it fizzled out for whatever reason. There was one day when Steve and I were supposed to play with Ty, and I was supposed to play with [Melvins singer-guitarist] Buzz [Osborne] later. Ty couldn’t make it for whatever reason, so I invited Steve over to jam with us. It just grew from there
McDonald: We can thank Ty Seagal for being so flaky.

Can you each talk about your musical influences.
Well, I think Dale and both have Kiss in common, that’s for sure, and '70s arena rock is foundational for both us.
Crover: I learned how to play drums from listening to Kiss albums. I saw later Kiss when they were doing disco, and Steve saw them on the Kiss Alive! tour.
McDonald: I remind everyone of that. I can’t take credit. It’s only because I had a cool older brother. I was tiny when I went to the show. My parents weren’t neglectful drug addicts or anything, but they let an 8-year old go to a Kiss concert without parental supervision.
Crover: And this was before they had a much younger audience.
McDonald: And I can say we both have punk rock in common. That’s for sure.
Crover: I didn’t get any of that until I joined the Melvins. We lived in a really isolated area, and there was nothing like that around there. To get those records, you had to send away for them. As a kid with no money, I wasn’t going to do that. I got a lot of punk rock from the Melvins guys. Beatles were an obvious one for me too. I liked a lot of heavy metal and when I first heard Judas Priest, I thought it was the loudest and craziest music I had ever heard up to that point. It was super loud and fast. That was like discovering punk rock for me. Heavy metal drummers were always really good too, so that appealed to me.

Redd Kross formed in Hawthorne, CA in 1978 and the Melvins formed in Montesano, WA in 1983. Talk about what those music scenes were like back then.
There was no scene. We didn’t know of any scene in our neighborhood. Our stories are different because Dale was in such an isolated area. I felt isolated also just being the in suburbs of Los Angeles. There might have been stuff happening in Hollywood but that was miles away, and there was no staking a bus there. We randomly discovered Black Flag early on. My brother and I were very tenacious. We used to cold call bands through information. We would find their names and call them and try to get shows. We did that with Black Flag, and they embraced us around 1979, and we were lucky to have that. No one knew them then. They were just some Hesher dudes from a beat-down beach town. We intersected with them right when they started booking shows in Hollywood and downtown L.A. and they invited us to play their first batch of show, and that’s how we got our start.
Crover: By the time I joined the Melvins, they were pretty well established and already playing shows in Seattle and Olympia. The scene was fairly small unless there was a bigger band in town. I thought it was cool that all the bands were different before the grunge explosion. Soundgarden was Zeppelin-influenced and Malfunction were the punk rock KISS. There were all these different styles that fit together. It wasn’t like that in the rest of the country. We attempted to do a tour in 1986, and we were completely unknown, and no one was having our long-haired bullshit at all. It was like everywhere was behind the times. They wanted to hear million miles an hour hardcore and weren’t having our slow sludge-y stuff
McDonald: Redd Kross had a similar experience on our first tour. It’s funny to hear that Dale that you were in your own little world.
Crover: A lot of bands didn’t come up because it was so far away. Between San Francisco, there’s nothing until Portland. When we lived up in the Seattle area, we couldn’t even get a gig there.

Each band had its major label experience. What was that like?
We were both on Atlantic. Redd Kross were there before us.
McDonald: It didn’t work out quite as well for us as it did for the Melvins. We were on and off the label in about a year.
Crover: They only had one record. We had three. We outlasted everyone at the label, both employees and bands. I think the third record we made for Atlantic was one of our favorites. We thought we really did it and didn’t see how people couldn’t like it. But they didn’t. It was fine. We got to make good records in studios we wouldn’t have been able to record in. Getting dropped off the label can deter many bands, but we always knew it was weird we were getting offered the opportunity. We took advantage of it. We knew we could just go back to doing things the way we used to. We were making money by touring. We were on an independent label that was making us money, which was really rare.
McDonald: The Melvins had the right idea going into the major label world. They had this attitude that was like, “Fine, if you think we’ll be the next Nirvana.” It’s like, “We’ll do this for a while and if it goes away, we’ll go back to doing what we were doing before.” Most bands buy into the thing that it needs to constantly be going upward and they usually break up afterwards. Working with them is like a master class in independent band sustainability.
Crover: We’ve always tried to be realistic about those kinds of things. Even when we got signed to Atlantic, their vision seemed right. For them, it was also about credibility. They wanted independent bands who were afraid of getting eaten up in the big machine. We signed our whole deal without a manager. We signed it with some lawyers we knew.

Redd Kross just released Beyond the Door, and the Melvins just issued Pinkus Abortion Technician. Talk about your respective new albums. Did you try to do anything differently?
Last year, we released Pinkus, and we don’t have a new full-length out now, but we have a split with Redd Kross. It’s Melvins with Steve covering a Redd Kross song and a Redd Kross song on the other side. We did something with the band Flipper and released an EP with a couple of songs, one of which is a new song called “Hot Fish” that came out good. We did some Sabbath covers with Al [Cisneros] from Sleep too. All collaborations this year. I don’t know why.

Your respective bands have withstood the test of time. What’s been the key to keeping things going for such a long time?
Dale truly understands this question. I’m going to listen to him.
Crover: Not giving up is the key. Knowing what we do is right and the people who think it’s not right are wrong. And having the passion to do it.
McDonald: Does that philosophy apply for all young people?
Crover: I don’t know. Sure, but it would be hard to start a new band and try to make it work now. We don’t take it for granted that we can continue doing this and have it still work after so many years.
McDonald: I think the Melvins have a fearlessness about creativity and there’s always a freshness. It never gets stale. It’s some kind of life’s blood. It’s like how a shark needs to keep swimming to keep oxygen in their gills. If they stop swimming, they die. They’re like a musical shark.
Crover: We have to make it work. We don’t have a backup plan.
McDonald: It’s been really inspiring. Redd Kross has taken hiatuses here and there, but we’ve still managed to be somewhat prolific. Our newest album is our eighth album, so it’s not a total loss. But I learned about longevity and sustainability from the Melvins.

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About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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