Melvins Drummer Dale Crover on His Warped, Melodic Solo Debut

Basher talks 'The Fickle Finger of Fate,' the upcoming Melvins LP, playing Tool's San Bernardino fest, and his gigs with Redd Kross and Fantômas

After more than 30 years in the Melvins, Dale Crover will be releasing his first solo album. Credit: Shervin Lainez

After more than 30 years providing the cavernous push-pull drums for art-sludge icons the Melvins (not to mention three songs on Nirvana's Bleach), Dale Crover, one of Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time, is finally releasing his first solo full-length. Titled The Fickle Finger of Fate, the LP, due on Joyful Noise on August 4th, is no traps-bashing chops-feast, instead showcasing a melodic sensibility weaned on Sixties pop and Seventies arena rock, with no shortage of wild effects.

Twelve of the tracks are heavily processed drum sketches from a rapidly sold-out 2016 lathe record, edition of 127, with six spindle holes. The rest showcase his bent pop vision with instrumental and/or co-writing assists from co-producer Toshi Kasai, Altamont bassist Dan Southwick, Melvins/Redd Kross bassist Steve McDonald, and even some violin from his 11-year-old daughter. You can hear the first taste, the pastoral "Little Brother" below.

Rolling Stone caught up with Crover to talk about his solo turn, the noisy half of the upcoming Melvins record, and his gigs filling in for Redd Kross and Fantômas.

Do you actually own a copy of the lathe record?
Yeah, I do! But I think it took 'em, like, 45 minutes, each one, to make. So it just took forever. That's a lot of work. So this one was much easier on them [laughs]. Besides that, I've been thinking about doing some sort of solo thing for a while. It's something I've had in the back of my mind to do. [The Melvins] quit touring right at the beginning of October, and then I knew I had to get in there right away and start doing stuff, because I knew that we'd eventually be recording more Melvins stuff as well. We just worked on it from October through the winter.

The Melvins operation now has a fully functioning studio all their own?
Well, it's Toshi and us. This thing's been going for about three years, maybe?

The Melvins have always been prolific, but this explains why the last two, three years have seen an obscene amount of material coming out of you guys.
Well, certainly, yeah. It's just easy to do now. We're not really on the clock as far as studio time goes. A lot of the studios around here closed up shop. Now we don't have to pay 'em!

If you go back even to the three solo Melvins EPs in 1992, yours was always the most melodic one.
Yeah.

What would you say fuels your more melodic sensibilities?
Oh, gosh, I don't know. Cheap Trick? Beatles? Any of that stuff. Beatles, I suppose. That was probably one of the first bands I was ever into, as cliché as that sounds. I grew up on the Beatles and the Monkees. Obviously, Neil Young has always been a big influence. I think one of the songs came out sounding more like Neil Young than I had planned [laughs]. I dunno, I've always liked melodic music. I don't just listen to Venom and Slayer [laughs]. Though those are influences, too.

For a drummer record, the drumming isn't exactly showy on this.
I guess the main concentration is on the musical parts. How I had to record that stuff ... was guitar first. Or whatever lead instrument first.

Really?
Yeah. And then I went back and recorded the drums and figured out what the parts should be. Certainly on those kind of songs, you don't have to have some complicated drum part. Yeah, it's a weird way of doing it. … I used to make 4-track demos and stuff like that and I would always start with drums first and try to memorize the song, and usually I'd forget something and the song would come out different because I screwed it up. So then somehow I figured out, "Oh, if I record the guitar first, then I have something to play along to." The feeling is a lot better that way, anyway.

Some of the more experimental numbers have an echoey, dubby feel. Do you have a dub-reggae streak in you?
Uh, not necessarily. There's definitely soundtracks and stuff I like. I know I was listening to the Performance soundtrack a bunch when I was recording that, which drove my wife crazy. Even with that stuff too, I wasn’t trying to make it too showy. I think the Joyful Noise guy had a good description which was, uh, it was like Elvin Jones–meets–Throbbing Gristle. I wanted to make those parts musical rather than showy, drum solo. ... Drum solos are much more exciting to watch … than it is to hear them do it on a record, at least if you’re not a drummer [laughs].

I didn’t always use a normal drum set. I've got this cocktail drum kit that Tama makes now – it's a new take on an old version of a standup drum set, basically. But it sounds great! I even set it up in the vocal booth. … Like, "Oh, this will sound really good!" So, we used it that way and did all kinds of crazy stuff on it.

Speaking about processed sounds, the "Love" disc of the upcoming Melvins record, A Walk With Love and Death, is the first noise release you guys have done in 15 years.
Yeah, one disc is all songs, as much as you can call them songs, and the second one is definitely way more experimental. Like a soundtrack, which'll have a movie that goes along with the soundtrack rather than a soundtrack that goes along with the movie.

What toys and effects did you use to get the sounds on that half of the record?
I mean there's stuff on there that's like, well, I won’t tell you what it is exactly, but I recorded with my iPhone. Secret recordings, I would say. … There's certainly all kinds of weird stuff over at that studio, all kinds of keyboards and weird toys and stuff that we use all the time. We've had toys for a long time that just kind of sat around, but now we have a place to play with our toys, they get used. Like once we got the place I realized, like, "Man, I have a shitload of stuff. I might have more amps than anybody in here." Just crap I've collected over the years. I still have boxes of effects and stuff under my house that I need to dig out and bring over there.

The Melvins are opening the big Tool show in San Bernardino next month.
Yeah, it looks like it's gonna be a pretty big show, too. I mean that place holds, like, over 40,000 maybe? I know that they've sold out their seats. That right there is quite a bit. I've only been there once. I went out there and saw some KROQ big thing where the Sex Pistols were headlining. The place is huge. We haven't really done any kind of giant thing like this in a long time, so it'll be fun. I know Steve McDonald's gonna be excited about this show because, from what he says, he was "made for the big stage," and I believe it! He's gonna be all over that!

You're also going to be filling in for Mike Patton's Fantômas at that show. Is it a different type of challenge learning those arrangements?
I mean, it's somewhat difficult stuff, no more difficult than I'm used to. And that record that we’re doing in particular is their more or less straightforward record. ... I'm pretty sure we're doing [2001's] Director’s Cut. I hope so! Otherwise I might have to learn a bunch of songs I don't know. I'll just have to listen to the record a couple times and it should come back to me no problem – look back and see if I have any special notes from Mr. Patton on when to play the maracas and all that stuff. That stuff's really fun to play too – I like that record. And also, I've been playing with Redd Kross. I just got home from tour with those guys.

Is there less worry to miss a cue or a time signature or something when you’re onstage with Redd Kross versus the Melvins or Patton?
Probably a little easier, but that doesn't mean I screw up any less or any more. You know, it happens. Physically, it's not any easier – I think I probably play just as hard. They have [a] kind of swing to some of their drumbeats that's different than what the Melvins would do, and that's been fun. It's been fun to swing with the Redd Kross.

Steve from Redd Kross has brought a good live energy to the Melvins in recent years.
For sure, for sure. I mean, I remember the first time I saw those guys ... in '87. They were great. And everybody that was in a band was there, including the Nirvana guys. I remember running into [Nirvana] while they were playing and they're like, "Why are these guys so happy?" You know, almost like they were turned off by it or something. I'm like, "I don't know, Southern California, good vibes." But then thinking about it later, it's like, "Oh! They're talking about Steve!" But Steve's always really happy to be onstage. All of his moves are total photos. You know?

He's super happy to be up rockin'. I don't mind the positive vibes. I think those guys were just jealous that they were getting their ass kicked by somebody so happy [laughs]. I always loved these guys and I always loved the drumming on those records and I really wanna do a good job with those guys. So I think it's been inspiring for them, too, you know? They haven't done a tour that was this long in years. And hopefully they wanna do more.

Is there anything else we should know about the record?
I'd like to be able to play this stuff live at some point. I actually talked about it with the Joyful Noise guys. We'll see what happens. Either I have to find some players or try to be a one-man-band. I suppose I could go out and play acoustic guitar if I really had to, but it'd be much more fun to have the drums involved and players, you know. I gotta get my daughter up to speed.