Despite its slick vinyl interior, the Cha Cha Lounge in Los Angeles' Silver Lake neighborhood is still a gum-under-the-table kind of joint. Dale Crover, drummer of the Melvins, sits in a corner booth. Guitarist Buzz Osborne appears in the doorway, his signature hair mussed. He was outside taking a phone call. "That was Biafra," he says, meaning Jello Biafra, who is visiting Los Angeles. "He wanted me to ask you guys if there is anything happening tonight."
What's happening is the new Melvins album, Nude with Boots, their first since 2006's (A) Senile Animal and the second with the band's new additions, Jared Warren and Coady Willis of Big Business. "It's a weirder record than our last one. I think it's a better record," Buzz laughs, his gold tooth glinting. "But the next one is going to be intentionally much more of a departure."
The Melvins have called Los Angeles home for more than a decade. Despite the fact they've never actually lived in Seattle, the drone metal kings are still considered the godfathers of Seattle grunge. When many of their punk peers in the mid-1980s were playing as fast as they possibly could, the Melvins had the good sense to slow the pace to a crawl, and many of their Northwest colleagues — including, most famously, Nirvana — took note.
"When we lived up there, we did one album," Buzz says. "That was it. Then we promptly moved to California. We're not even considered an L.A. band! It's very humorous."
Dale nods. "We've lived in California for over half our career." The plucky pair first met in 1984 as teenagers in Washington — Buzz from Montesano, Dale from Aberdeen. But by the time the Seattle scene exploded in the early '90s, the Melvins had already left. Over the years, those Seattle associations have ultimately helped, but the Melvins remain unabashed Angelenos. In fact, Buzz insists that the only way he's leaving Los Angeles is in a box: "I still haven't changed my mind about that. I really love it here."
Nearly 25 years since meeting in "hickville," the Melvins are icons who have proved their staying power. The years since signing with Ipecac in 1999 have proven to be their most prolific. The Maggot, The Bootlicker, and The Crybaby — a commanding trilogy of fevered, cavernous left-of-center arrangements — all came out within a one-year period. The band has since released one or more studio albums, EPs, live recordings, or 7-inches per year. More recently came (A) Senile Animal, which brings us up to date with our current favorite, Nude with Boots, whose brutality is not without melody and, at times, dare I say, catchy.
To an extent, the Melvins' vast discography exists thanks to Buzz' apparent lack of writer's block. That, and the complete creative control with which Ipecac indulges the band, a stark contrast to its previous experience on its first — and only — major label, Atlantic. "They always told us if we would hang out with the radio people here more, we'd get more attention," Buzz recalls. "That's just jive! You mean I have to hang out at some coke party with a bunch of dumbasses in order to get them interested in our band? Wrong guy. Drop us now, please."
To their peers, the Melvins are an extremely influential, overlooked talent — especially live. "They're brutal," Tool guitarist Adam Jones gushes to me later. "Big holes of silence between orchestrated movements. They make your nose bleed but in a really good way."
The Melvins have more than a wealth of accomplishments; they are a legacy. "I've always called myself a person with a genius level of intelligence in their brain, none of which I can use on a daily basis," Buzz says with a laugh. "I've tried to never forget exactly what it was like to work a nine-to-five job, and how much I never want to do that again. I haven't had a nine-to-five job since '89. That, to me, is a major accomplishment."