Boon of the bottom-dwellers
Melvins hits the road with two thoroughly known bassists
There’s still no band on Earth quite like the Melvins. Closing in on 40 years, this iconic three-piece from Montesano, Wash. drew influences from sludge metal, loud-and-fast punk and even some heavy experimental grime, heard on their live album Colossus of Destiny, with its near hour-long use of synthesizer and spacey effects-pedals.
Staying prolific as ever, the Melvins recently released two new albums, 2018’s Pinkus Abortion Technician and A Walk With Love & Death last year. The former is why they’re on a nationwide tour with two bass players: longtimer Steven McDonald, and now Jeff Pinkus, known for his work in the experimental rock band the Butthole Surfers.
“They’re both incredibly great players; that makes it fun,” says Buzz Osborne, a.k.a King Buzzo, Melvins’ lead vocalist and guitarist. “There’s not a lot of what you would teach in how they’re doing it, whether it’s with the bass amps, their effects or their technique. They both play very different from each other, which is an attribute, and they complement each other in ways that are not common, which I think is kinda cool.”
Pinkus not only brings fresh sludge to the Melvins’ latest material; he’s also credited with writing four of the album’s originals, including its single, “Don’t Forget to Breathe.”
The song is an amalgam of each bassist’s attributes. It opens with this slow-crawling bass line that gives off a heavy, ominous vibe and keeps a steady pulse on the low-end. That’s Pinkus—while McDonald’s more melodic bass grooves take on the higher octaves of the duel with flashes of erratic effects. It’s a treat for fans of both professionals who bring completely different bass-styles and influences to the album.
The Melvins are known for mixing the lineup on dozens of albums. A long list of well-known musicians are credited on either vocals, drums, bass or guitar, everyone from Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys) to Kurt Cobain and even Gene Simmons, who joined the Melvins onstage for their cover of KISS’ “Going Blind” while they toured with Primus. So, who’s next?
“Judy Garland and Jimi Hendrix are my two big favorites. But that’d be a hard one to pull off,” Osborne says. Garland died in 1969, and Hendrix a year later. “They were both freaks that worked outside the box. Jimi Hendrix did nothing that a guitar teacher would ever teach you when it came to how to play guitar, but he was the best. So, figure that one out. Judy Garland was a weird singer who was a strange personality and had an ungodly, weird voice … Both of those two I think are wildly talented.”
Perhaps a séance is in Osborne’s future—for musical purposes. With 27 full-length albums, Osborne admits that it’s not always easy deciding on a setlist, but the formula they use is to incorporate two-thirds songs from the last 15 years (Pigs of the Roman Empire, Nude with Boots) and one-third older material (Houdini, Stoner Witch, Ozma). Simple enough, right?
“We can’t play too much off any one album because we have too many albums,” Osborne says. “We can’t lose focus on what we did, and we can’t lose focus on what we’re doing. That’s how we put the setlist together. We have a lot to pick from, so we’re fortunate in that.”