In the annals of alt-rock, pretty much nobody can lay claim to a longer, stranger trip than the Melvins. Since 1983, the ambitious, eclectic godfathers of sludge have traversed enough territory both creatively and geographically to buckle the knees of even the most dedicated touring acts. Along the way, they've managed to inspire nearly as much music as they've written, picking up new fans and friends at seemingly every stop.
Next week, the group swings through town on a trek celebrating its 30th year in business, a span that has seen the release of more than 20 studio albums and virtually ceaseless touring through every two-bit burg with a stage. It's been a tad more than drummer Dale Crover bargained for when he joined up with Buzz Osbourne in alternative rock's heady DIY days, but certainly not more than he could handle.
"It's actually only been 29 years for me," says Crover, who joined the Melvins just as they were beginning to gain a modicum of traction in their home state of Washington. "I'd seen the band play in Aberdeen before -- the very small town where we're from. And I thought they were kind of cool; probably one of the only bands in town doing original music.
"We had a mutual friend in Krist Novoselic," he continues. "They were looking for a new drummer and Krist brought those guys over to my house and they asked if I wanted to join the band. Here we are almost 30 years later."
Was there any inkling back then that the Melvins would become his life for the next three decades? It's a question Crover can't help but laugh off.
"Back then, we were more concerned about playing a show," he says. "We thought that would be cool. I knew that I wanted to play music professionally; you know, be in a band, have that be my job, more or less. But there was never any big plan. We never thought, 'Well, 30 years from now, we'll be playing on another six records!'"
OK, so if careful planning wasn't the key to making it through the wild ups and downs of so many years on the road, what exactly has been the magic ingredient keeping the group together through countless lineup changes and shifting trends? Not mainstream success, certainly, although the band is justifiably proud of wringing three albums out of an Atlantic Records deal in the '90s.
But even the Beatles, the most successful group of all time, only made it through ten years. The Melvins have outlasted nearly all of their alt-rock peers, some of whom sold a hell of a lot more records in their day. So what's their secret?
"None of us have gotten any massive heroin habits where somebody has died in the band and given us a reason to break up," says Crover wryly. "I don't know; bands are weird.
"A lot of musicians are lazy, for one thing, and we're definitely not," he says. "We've got a ton of records out, and we're constantly touring and stuff like that. We just really like what we're doing. Musically it's great, and it's worked out well as far as making a living."
Still, perhaps longevity does have its downsides.
"If we would have broken up, we could have cashed in on the big reunion tour," Crover jokes. "Instead, we have to do things like the 30-year anniversary tour. Hey, it beats flipping burgers at McDonalds.
"I feel fortunate, but as far as luck goes, I don't think luck has anything to do with it," he continued. "We've worked really hard to get this far."
All that hard work has payed off handsomely in widespread critical acclaim and musical influence, an impossibly loyal international fanbase and fruitful partnerships with artists from Mike Patton to Yoko Ono.
On its latest full-length, this year's all-covers album Everybody Loves Sausages, the band tabbed a long list of famous friends and collaborators to help produce a record of unmistakably Melvinsy versions of songs by everybody from Queen to Throbbing Gristle.
Asking Jello Biafra into the studio for his take on Roxy Music probably isn't an idea that would occur to most bands -- and even if it did, would it even be an option? Coming from the Melvins, though, recording a Venom cover featuring Neurosis' Scott Kelly barely registers as a surprise. For this group, releasing the weird and unusual and expecting folks to pay for it is simply the norm.
"We've always been very confident and never worried about what people will think or if it would be a mistake doing something," Crover says. "I think if you have confidence, it doesn't really matter. You can do whatever you want."
On this tour, that means trotting out a four-piece lineup with Coady Willis once again joining Crover for a dueling drum apocalypse. Bass duties this time out will be handled by Jeff Pinkus of Butthole Surfers fame. He's filling in for band regular Jared Warren, who's at home awaiting the birth of a new baby. Pinkus' Austin superboogie trio Honky will open the show.
Don't expect to hear the Sausages material this time out, though. The only cover the band is planning to jam on is the Buttholes' "Graveyard."
"Since it's the 30-year anniversary, we've just tried to take songs from as many different records as we could from throughout our career and kind of made a set out of that," Crover explains.
If that prospect somehow doesn't get fans trembling with anticipation, they can at least rest easy knowing that there's no end in sight for the Melvins. The group is planning an Australian tour at the end of the year before returning to the studio once again to map out their next move - or series of moves.
After three decades of steadfastly refusing to slow down or compromise, at this rate it could be another 30 years before the Melvins are through.
"Yeah, let's hope so," the drummer says. "We'll run this thing 'til the wheels fall off!"
Melvins and special guest Honky perform Thursday at Warehouse Live, 813 St Emanuel St. Doors open at 8 p.m.
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