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WATCH/INTERVIEW: Melvins
The Quietus , August 13th, 2013 05:45

Watch the band cover the Butthole Surfers in front of an ice cream van in Chicago before reading them tell Jamie Thomson about this year's covers album, Everybody Loves Sausages

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It's a Melvins bonanza! First up, have a watch above of this excellent video made by The Onion for their A.V. Undercover series, where the band cover Butthole Surfers' 'The Graveyard', aided by that band's Jeff Pinkus on bass, in front of an ice cream van in Chicago's Humboldt Park, besieged by a group hugely excited kids queuing up for a free dessert.

Secondly, be aware that the band have a new album, Tres Cabrones, due on November 5 on Ipecac Recordings, which notably is the first LP appearance by founding drummer Mike Dillard, who played on the band's earliest recordings, which would get released as Mangled Demos From 1983, before leaving the band in 1984. Says Dillard of his return: "Making the Tres Cabrones record was a real treat indeed. It’s a trip down memory lane complete with debauchery and ultra violence."

Thirdly, in honour of its recent appearance in our reissues, compilations and mixes chart, what better way to celebrate this news than by letting the band talk us through their other album of this year, their excellent covers LP Everybody Loves Sausages, out now on Ipecac. We'll let Quietus scribe Jamie Thomson take it from here...

Cover albums – instant landfill, right? Ageing crooners hoping a bit of Johnny Cash stardust might fall their way, or callow ingenues trying to buy some credibility be pretending to have always really loved Tom Waits and Scott Walker. Except for the Melvins – they've got bigger record collections than your local second-hand shop and have forgotten more about obscure 60s bands than your nerdy message board friends will ever know. With the gloriously eclectic Everybody Loves Sausages, they lovingly repurpose stadium superstars (Queen, David Bowie) and shine a benevolent light on the hopelessly obscure (Tales Of Terror, the Pop-O-Pies), all with the help of a fair amount of whisky and some very talented friends (among others, Mudhoney's Mark Arm, Neurosis' Scott Kelly, and California punk's answer to Bryan Ferry, erm, Jello Biafra.)

The Quietus went through the album with the two constants in the Melvins' constantly fluctuating lineup, guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osbourne and drummer Dale Crover, to get the stories behind the selections:

'Warhead', featuring Scott Kelly of Neurosis, originally recorded by Venom

Dale Crover: Venom were the heavy metal band that all the punk rockers liked. I remember playing with Green River and the bass player, who's now in Pearl Jam, had the Venom guy with the horns stencilled onto his bass case. You wouldn't think that he'd be the type of guy to be into that, even back then. He had the big Mötley Crüe-type pouffy hair, but he was into Venom!

Buzz Osborne: I particularly like this song, it fits right in with us. We've known Scott forever, so we said: "Come down and record some songs with us."

DC: We were going back and forth about what we could do, and Scott suggested Black Flag, and we thought: “Wee-eeell, a lot of people have done Black Flag covers in the past. What about Celtic Frost or Hellhammer?” And then Buzz said, "Aw shit! Venom!" And everyone was like: "Yeah that's perfect!"

BO: Venom are great – they were a natural follow-up to Judas Priest. To me that is a lot better than polished metal like Iron Maiden. I prefer something a little more ridiculous, with all the satanic stuff.

DC: When we were recording it our bass player Jared [Warren] said: “Ah, it sounds too good. It needs to be sloppier.” [laughs]

'Best Friend', featuring Caleb Benjamin of Tweak Bird on vocals, originally recorded by Queen

DC: We thought, "Right, we'll start with Warhead and then we'll hit them with this." We laughed our heads off while doing it – we thought it was really funny, but also really good! It's definitely a headscratcher for a lot of people

BO: That's the point! And if you figure in terms of our influences, and listen to a track like 'Black Bock' off our Stag record, it doesn't sound a lot different from 'Best Friend'. It's a logical conclusion – a connection that no one makes apart from us, it seems. A lot of people think they're stupid, but what can you do? You can take a record like Sheer Heart Attack and it's great from top to bottom! It's everything I like about music!

DC: Our engineer Toshi [Kasai] loves Queen and he made sure that we got every bit – all the harmonies, all the weird little guitar parts – down perfectly.

BO: We didn't want to cheapen it and make it a heavy metal song. The better thing to do is a straight version of that song – good luck, right? - and we put the keyboards on to make it sound like Mario Brothers – even wimpier! People were like, "I didn't like it", or "It was totally not what I was expecting." Have you guys listened to our band? Are you aware about what we do? You think that we're predictable? Well, OK.

DC: We thought: "Who can sing this? Oh, Caleb can do it." He came in, brought a little bottle of whisky, and nailed it.

BO: We knew Caleb could sing it – but it's all of us singing. If you listen to the start, (sings) "Oooh, you make me live" – that's me, Dale and Jared. We're doing backups on the whole thing, just like Queen.

DC: Toshi and I had just started producing bands, and Tweak Bird was one of the first bands that came to us. They found us on MySpace. I checked out a live video and I was like: "Oh my God. This band is fucking awesome!" I instantly fell in love with them. We did a couple of records with them and took them on our big 50 state tour as a result.

BO: They are easily my favourite band in LA if not one of my favourite bands ever in that already heavily-peddled genre. I think they're a wonderful band with vision that's well executed and well played and all that stuff.

'Black Betty' (Trad. Arr.)

DC: We got asked to do a song for a car commercial for the Superbowl, which is a pretty big deal – and they wanted that song in particular. They also had other bands they were considering, but they wouldn't tell us who. So we did this cover, hoping we'd get picked because we knew it would be a big payday. Hey, we gotta eat next week and pay rent! So we didn't get picked, but we found out that the other bands were Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Dinosaur Jr. So we thought: "Hey, let's do an EP of all our songs." Can't remember why Dinosaur Jr didn't do it, but Jon Spencer thought it was a great idea. The 7" was pretty limited, so we put it on here too.

BO: Unfortunately for Ram Jam, that was the best song they ever did. I'm not a huge fan of it. We simply had that song and put it on there.

DC: It's mostly a take on the Ram Jam song – Leadbelly made it famous, but it's probably an old work-farm blues song.

BO: We sound more like the Ram Jam [version] than the original, but we would never cite them as an influence.

'Set It On Fire' (featuring Mark Arm of Mudhoney), originally recorded by The Scientists

BO: We've been huge fans of The Scientists, particularly the second – evil – era. They're from Perth, which is the ends of the earth, but they were clearly influenced by The Stooges, The Rolling Stones, Roxy Music, David Bowie – no one exists in a bubble.

DC: Mark even got in touch with Kim Salmon, the singer/guitarist, to get the lyrics. Once he did, he was like: "That's what he singing? I thought it was something completely different!"

BO: I knew Mark would do a great version of that song. We knew he would understand it exactly.

'Station To Station' (featuring Jim Thirlwell), originally recorded by David Bowie

DC: This was quite an undertaking. We could have probably picked an easier Bowie song. We were really into this live version that Bowie did with Adrian Belew playing guitar, playing all this crazy stuff in a really long intro. And we knew we wanted to do something like that.

BO: We wanted the intro to sound less like a phaser and more like a nightmare. I was into Bowie in the mid-70s, well before I was into punk rock. This song in particular I thought was a wonderful way to start that record, and I've wanted to cover it for a long time. When we decided to do this album, we said, "Oh we should talk to Jim!" We told him: "We have a big list of bands we want to cover. Which one do you want?" And jumped at this: "Oh, I want to do Bowie!" He did all the vocals. It was all him, and he did an amazing job.

DC: With Jim, he's pretty serious about what he does. I know he probably worked really hard on it. He's like that.

'Attitude', featuring Clem Burke of Blondie on drums, originally recorded by The Kinks

DC: This was really exciting. Through a mutual friend, Clem had come to see us a few times, and came over to the studio, which was near his house, when we were recording [2010 album] The Bride Screamed Murder. And Buzz had gone home early that day. The next day, Buzz said: "Clem was here and you didn't get him to play anything?" And I said: "Nah, I was too scared to ask him!" So we asked our friend, and he said: "Oh, I bet he'd totally do it." We quickly decided we wanted to do this Kinks cover. We recorded it without him, and left 15 bars of nothing apart from hi-hat. He came down and listened to it, and said: "OK, what goes here?" We told him: "That's where you're going to play a drum solo." He just laughed and said: "Alright. I'm game!"

BO: Blondie was always one of my favourite bands ever, so it was a pleasure to get him to do that. I was so happy. I knew he would pull it off. He could do it in his sleep.

DC: Clem said: "I'm not that familiar with the song. But Blondie toured with them on that tour, so I must have heard it a hundred times." It was over 30 years ago though, so…

BO: That's the record of theirs I like the most – I don't know anyone who listens to it but me. If you listen to the live version of it, on One For The Road [The Kinks' 1980 live album], it is fucking smoking! I saw them on that tour, and they were really, really great! And they made fun of Van Halen for covering 'You Really Got Me'.

DC: We worked hard to make it sound just right, because there's three drummers on there. Clem said: "You guys already have two drummers, why do you need another one?" Well, we don't have you.

'Female Trouble', originally recorded by Divine

BO: We did this with a stand-up bass. We were going to put guitar on it, but I did the vocals before the guitar was recorded. And I thought it just sounded so cool.

DC: It was my idea to have a lot more than bass, drums and vocals. We were going to try and get horns and all kinds of stuff. But it sounds really good the way it is.

BO: It's the opening song of John Water's Female Trouble movie, which we were always huge fans of.

DC: It's definitely my favourite John Waters film.

BO: His entire style is a big influence on us. I'd love to meet him.

Maybe this will put you on his radar.

BO: Sure! I'll be having lunch with him in two weeks. We'll be staying with him every time we go to Baltimore!

'Carpe Diem', originally recorded by The Fugs

BO: Maaa-jor influence. I think they were biggest influence on our Stag record. They are an amazing band – some of their stuff is a little too hippy, but their black sense of humour and their evil vibe, it's just too much for me not to love. They're the right kind of hippies! Deaths coming in – exactly! It wasn't so much peace and love, but reality. They're one of my all-time heroes - it's in everything we do. They have a great sense of humour, as we want to, too.

DC: The Fugs have recently been playing shows, and they have a Facebook page, so I posted this version on there. I think they liked it. They didn't say they hated it. Hopefully, they understand that we're just really big fans and are spreading the good word. If not, we'll see 'em in court. [laughs]

'Timothy Leary's Dead', originally recorded by the Pop-O-Pies

BO: Once again, another band with a great sense of humour!

DC: This one's pretty weird. We used to listen to this a lot on tour years ago when we took a bunch of cassettes on the road with us. Then we rediscovered it on the most recent tour we did. It was one of the records we'd listen to after we'd done a gig when we were driving some place. We'd always have it cranked at top volume with all of us singing along.

BO: They were this ill-fated band from San Francisco in the 80s. They weren't around for very long, and then imploded, but I think their White EP is one of the finest records to ever come out of California. It's not a case of me introducing them to a wider audience - I just assume, with music, if I like it, everyone likes it, and then I'm surprised when people say they haven't heard of it. I talked to a journalist a while back who had never heard Roxy Music! I was like: "Are you kidding?"

'In Every Dream Home a Heartache', featurng Jello Biafra, originally recorded by Roxy Music

BO: I wish I'd known about them before I'd known about Bowie, but I lived in the middle of nowhere, out in the woods. I was lucky to even hear Bowie. There wasn't even a radio station that played anything other than The Carpenters, so just getting my hands on records was a miracle. So I got into Roxy Music later, in the late 70s.

DC: With Jello, we knew this would be a no-brainer. We'd already done a couple of records with him and we realised – actually, I think I might have been the one – "Ahhh, he likes Bryan Ferry." So one time, I asked him: "Do you like Roxy Music?" and he just starts singing exactly like Ferry: "Oh yeah, I LOVE Roxy Music."

BO: We knew he'd do a great job – above and beyond. When I told him I wanted him to do this song, he started singing it down the phone. He's a giant fan.

DC: We didn't let Jello mix the song, because if we did, we knew we'd still be waiting for it. He just works differently than we do – we just decide what we want there and then, rather than thinking about it too much. I know he kept calling Toshi saying: "Ah, this vocal needs this. And that snare drum needs to be louder." We said: "Toshi, just mix it and then blame us!"

'Romance', originally recorded by Tales Of Terror

BO: Nobody knows about them. They were associated with all that skate rock stuff in the mid-80s, but they were way better than that.

DC: They're like a trashy west coast version of the New York Dolls, almost. I know they came up to Seattle a bunch of times, and they definitely had something to do with influencing a lot of bands up there. Green River used to cover two of their songs. They definitely left a mark on the North West scene.

BO: They were great – dirty rock & roll! That's it – that's really all it is.

'Art School', featuring Tom Hazelmeyer of Halo Of Flies, originally recorded by The Jam

BO: This was me, Dale and Tom and we were like: "How would The Jam sound if they were a skinhead band?" Tom has to be the world's biggest Jam fan.

DC: Tom does his best cockney accent. He does quite a few impressions. He can do a pretty good Russian accent, too. He drank half a bottle of whiskey for this. He's not a big drinker, but when he has to perform, alcohol takes away any fears he has.

BO: At the end Tom starts talking, and we said: "Switch it to a more high-class British accent." He does a pretty good job, talking like Rex Harrison at the end – pretty funny.

DC: I don't know what The Jam would think of it – they might be kind of offended.

'Heathen Earth', originally recorded by Throbbing Gristle

DC: Buzz recorded this while the rest of us were setting up to do a video shoot, but I think he did a good job.

BO: That's just me, just messing around – I love Throbbing Gristle, and I called this 'Heathen Earth' because it's one of my favourite records of theirs. I think they would appreciate a cover that sounds nothing like them. Well, it sounds like them, but nothing on that record.

DC: As Buzz put on the liner notes: BEST. BAND. EVER.

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