Grunge trailblazers Melvins have teamed up with one of the genre’s MVPs, drummer Matt Cameron, for a muscular new cover of Soundgarden’s “Spoonman.” As a member of Soundgarden, Cameron played on the band’s original recording of the song on their Superunknown album; he has since joined Pearl Jam and was also a member of Temple of the Dog.
The track appears on the Melvs’ Lord of the Flies EP, out now. In addition to Cameron, the lineup on “Spoonman” — a song written in the unusual time signature of 7/4 — includes Melvins founders singer-guitarist Buzz Osborne and drummer Dale Crover, and Steven McDonald, a founding member of Redd Kross and Off!, on bass. The group previously covered “Spoonman” at the Chris Cornell tribute concert, I Am the Highway, alongside a few other grunge deep cuts.
Cornell, who died in 2017, wrote the song after Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament wrote five fictional song titles, including “Spoonman,” on a cassette for the movie Singles. He took it as a challenge. “I never would have written that song or the other four songs that were part of that if the titles weren’t compelling,” Cornell told Rolling Stone in 2014. “Many times since then, I’ve thought, ‘Well maybe I should just write down 10 titles, write songs to those titles and make an album.'”
He also explained how he drew inspiration from Artis, the real-life, spoon-rattling busker who inspired Ament’s title, to launch his own solo career. “The only thing I do outside Soundgarden is a one-man acoustic show, and he was a big inspiration for that,” Cornell said. “I remember sitting in a room, with eight or 10 people, and he walked in with this leather satchel that he always carries and took spoons and stuff out of it. And everyone’s jaw dropped. I thought, ‘This guy can walk into a room and get that reaction.’ And I suddenly felt kind of embarrassed and smaller, ’cause I felt like I call myself a singer, a songwriter, a musician — and I’ve sold millions of records and toured the world — but I can’t just walk in a room, pick up an instrument and entertain everyone and their jaws drop. That stuck in the back of my mind, and at some point, I started to pursue that.”
In a separate interview with Rolling Stone, Cameron explained how Artis surprised them in the studio when playing spoons on the original recording of “Spoonman.” “During his day in the studio for tracking the song ‘Spoonman,’ we had the rhythm track pretty much down,” he said. “Most of the music was finished and we were hoping he’d play with the drums, but he ended up just doing this free-jazz, sort of spoon solo. … He would always hit his face with the spoons and kind of all over. He was quite the performance artist.”
In 2019, when Rolling Stone counted down the 50 Greatest Grunge Albums, Superunknown ranked Number Nine. In a separate piece, the Melvins’ Osborne picked his own favorites and included Superunknown on his list. “That’s the one record I’ve listened to most that’s quote-unquote ‘grunge,'” he said. “I think it was a record that I paid little attention to when it came out, but as time went on, I realized it works far better than any other ones. The songs are better, and it has a more sophisticated musicality to it than most of the records by the other bands considered grunge.”