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Members include Lori Black, bass; Dale Crover, drums; Mark Deutron, bass; Matt Lukin, bass; Buzz Osborne, vocals, guitar; Joe Preston, bass; Kevin Rutman, bass. Addresses: Record company--Ipecac Recordings, P.O. Box 1197, Alameda, CA 94501. Website--Melvins Official Website: http://www.melvins.com.
Heavy metal grunge trio the Melvins has been together since the early 1980s, but has never caught on in the mainstream. The group's music is revered by its fans and by a few celebrity musicians and critics, but is considered too eccentric for most fans of popular music. The group spent a brief time at the edges of Nirvana's spotlight in the early 1990s, but returned to underground status when the Seattle-grunge craze died down. Despite playing "some of the heaviest and most idiosyncratic rock ever heard ... despite critical accolades," wrote Chicago Tribune critic Rick Reger, "the Melvins are perennial outsiders. Too savage for the indie rock crowd and too spaced-out for mainstream metal heads, the trio is the proverbial square peg in a round-niched marketplace."
Three high school chums formed the Melvins in 1984, in the quiet Pacific Northwest town of Aberdeen, Washington. Vocalist and guitarist Buzz "King Buzzo" Osborne, drummer Dale Crover, and bassist Matt Lukin formed the group's original lineup. The three were raised on punk and heavy metal; their record collections consisted of releases by Black Sabbath, Black Flag, Kiss, Motörhead, and Ted Nugent. The band named itself after a clerk at the Thriftway grocery store where Osborne worked as a teenager--the name of the most reviled employee in the store. The group has experienced a seemingly endless procession of bassists. The first lineup change occurred when Lukin was replaced by Lori "Lorax" Black, the punk-rock daughter of Shirley Temple. Osborne and Crover have remained in the group since its beginning.
After releasing a debut EP in 1986 and Gluey Porch Treatments in 1987, Osborne and Crover left small-town Aberdeen for San Francisco, where prospects for a punk rock trio were a little bit brighter. Once they'd relocated, the Melvins, with Black, released Ozma. The album, released in 1989, included brief, weird, powerful songs like "Let God Be Your Gardener," "Cranky Messiah," "Creepy Smell," and "Raise a Paw." "The Melvins' wholly radical sound conjures visions of Neanderthal cavemen dragging slaughtered dinosaurs through a flaming tar pit," wrote Tucson Weekly online critic Ron Bally, who added, "Definitely an acquired taste--and not for the faint of heart."
The "San Francisco lineup" of the Melvins, as Osborne, Crover, and Black would later be called, next recorded Bullhead. The album was released in 1990 and would become the watermark for that lineup. Still laced with lots of feedback, the tracks were longer, heavier, slower, and more complicated than before. Their music, according to a critic at All Music Guide online, was described as "just one oozing pile of dark slime." A 1991 concert in Germany was recorded and released as part of the Your Choice Live Series in 1993. On it, the group recorded all of its material to date.
When Nirvana made it big, the Melvins came with them, at least for a while. On the underground music scene in Seattle, Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain was considered a protégé of the Melvins. Cobain idolized Osborne and the group. When Nirvana was between drummers, Crover filled in, and can be heard on Nirvana's Incesticide and Bleach. Cobain returned the favor by producing half the songs on the Melvins' 1993 release Houdini, and playing guitar on one track. After Nirvana proved able to sell millions of albums, the major record labels were eager to launch the next big hit band to emerge from the Seattle area grunge scene. The Melvins therefore became a target for these labels, despite the fact that they had left Washington state years before. "I'm not foolish enough to say it [grunge] hasn't helped us out," Osborne told Metroactive Music online. "But it happened years after we left. It's all been fame by association for us; which is fine, but it's also just dumb luck."
Despite the fact that they were ill-suited for mainstream consumption--and they knew it--the Melvins were only too happy to take advantage of the generous deal they were offered by Atlantic Records in 1992. "No one was more surprised than me that major labels were interested in us," Osborne is quoted as saying at Metroactive Music online. "I took it with a pound of salt. I still do. We're just not commercial enough." The band also enjoyed playing the mainstream festival tours of Lollapalooza and Ozzy Osbourne's Ozzfest in the mid-1990s.
The Melvins released three albums on Atlantic: Houdini, Stoner Witch, and Stag. The Melvins' "ear-splitting jams," as Ira Robbins of Trouser Press called them, were not music to the ears of mainstream radio listeners, and when the group's Atlantic deal came to an end, they returned to their independent status. Honky and Alive At The F***er Club were released on the Amphetamine label, and the group settled in at Ipecac Recordings in 1999. The label is owned by Mike Patton, the onetime Faith No More frontman, with whom Osborne also has two side bands, Tomahawk and Fantomas.
With 18 albums behind them, the Melvins had no trouble maintaining their schizophrenic persona. They tapped former teen idol Leif Garrett to open their 2000 United States tour with his band Godspeed. The tour took place after the release of The Crybaby, the third in an album trilogy that included The Maggot and The Bootlicker. In an ironic twist, Garrett lent his vocals to a Melvins' cover of Nirvana's hit "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on The Crybaby. The album also featured a cover of country legend Hank Williams's song "Ramblin' Man."
The Melvins appear to be an act that will survive in its own world, and maintain an ardent, if modest, fan base. "The Melvins are out of their fuzzy little minds," wrote Chicago Tribune critic Rick Reger, "and their 18-year career is littered with quirky eccentricity, druggy incoherence, and spoofs on rock tradition as much as it is with powerful music."
by Brenna Sanchez
Group formed in Aberdeen, WA, 1984; released debut EP, 1986; relocated to San Francisco, c. 1988; signed to Atlantic Records, 1992; appeared on the Lollapalooza tour, 1996; signed with Ipecac Recordings and released album trilogy, 1999-2000; toured with Leif Garrett, 2000; released Hostile Ambient Takeover, 2002.
- Selected discography
- 10 Songs Volcano, 1986.
- Gluey Porch Treatments Ipecac, 1987.
- Ozma Boner, 1989.
- Bullhead Boner, 1991.
- Melvins Boner, 1991.
- Lysol Boner, 1992.
- Houdini Atlantic, 1993.
- Your Choice Live Series Your Choice, 1994.
- Prick Amphetamine, 1994.
- Stoner Witch East West, 1994.
- Stag Atlantic, 1996.
- Honky Amphetamine, 1997.
- The Maggot Ipecac, 1999.
- The Bootlicker Ipecac, 1999.
- The Crybaby Ipecac, 2000.
- Alive at the F***er Club Amphetamine, 2001.
- Electroretard Man's Ruin, 2001.
- The Colossus of Destiny Ipecac, 2001.
- Hostile Ambient Takeover Ipecac, 2002.
- Chicago Tribune, July 19, 1999, p. 2; July 5, 2002, p. 4; May 17, 2003, p. 31.
- Village Voice, June 4-10, 2003, p. 117.
- Washington Post, April 28, 2000, p. N18; April 20, 2001, p. T7; April 25, 2001, p. C9.
- "About the Melvins," The Melvins, http://www.themelvins.net (January 3, 2004).
- "Melvins," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 3, 2004).
- "Melvins," Trouser Press, http://www.trouserpress.com/entry_90s.php?a=melvins (January 3, 2004).
- "Pell-Melvins," Tuscon Weekly, http://www.weeklywire.com/ww/08-23-99/tw_mus.html (January 3, 2004).
- "Punch and Grind," Metroactive Music, http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/08.01.96/melvins-9631.html (January 3, 2004).
- "The Melvins Tap Leif Garrett for Tour," MTV, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1429350/20000323/story.jhtml (January 3, 2004).
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