Dale Crover has been a very busy man. Best known as the drummer of the Melvins, he has also recently joined Honky and Red Kross, released a solo album (The Fickle Finger of Fate), put out a new double album with the Melvins (A Walk with Love and Death), toured with Red Kross, and is currently on the road with the Melvins. Crover recently took a few minutes to go in-depth about jamming with everyone from Eyehategod to his own daughter, writing 30-second percussion songs, and what to expect from an upcoming Melvins short film.
You’re known for filling in for other drummers and sitting in or collaborating with a wide variety of bands and musicians. The one in particular a lot of New Orleans readers want to hear about is when you sat in with Eyehategod after Joey Lacaze passed away (right after Aaron Hill joined the band). And I know it’s been a while, but we really didn’t hear much press about that. It was at the Housecore Horror Fest. How did that come about, and can you describe the experience of working with those guys?
Well, I’ve known Jimmy Bower since probably either ’89 or early ‘90s. I’ve been friends with him for a long time. Actually, how it started was [Housecore Vice-President] Kate Richardson got ahold of me and said, “Hey, what do you think about this?” I had heard about Joey and all that, and I knew him, too—I knew all those guys—and I thought it was a bummer. I was like, “Sure, I would do it.” “Great!” So, we got together and rehearsed. Jimmy gave me a setlist and I learned all their songs. Melvins was also playing at that thing, and then Honky as well, so we all ended up rehearsing at the same place. Those guys brought all their amps into the rehearsal room and turned up really loud. I was like, “Maybe we should turn down so we can hear these songs and make sure I got everything.” So we did, and it was funny because they’d never practiced like that before. They brought in 2 SVTs and full stacks, and when we did that, they were like, “Oh, this is cool! We can hear each other. This is good! This is a good way to learn stuff.” Yeah, so we just had a couple of rehearsals, went over stuff, and played the show. Pulled it off best I could and it was fun. It was really great to do that. It was really emotional all the way around. And I think it helped those guys to be able to get back to being a band. And yeah, they had Aaron, and I think they maybe already played with him, too. But, I think they wanted to do this as a special thing.
As demonstrated on your new solo album, you’re actually skilled at other instruments, and you can sing. Have you ever collaborated with any other band or musician on an instrument other than drums?
Oh yeah! I’ve had this band, Altamont, for a long time. Hey, we’ve even played in New Orleans! Only once, but we did play there. It’s a band I’ve had since about ’94. We don’t play all that much anymore, but we’ve got a bunch of records out. We had records that came out on Man’s Ruin in the ‘90s, 2000s. Some of those dudes in that band are involved with my new solo record. I play guitar and sing and wrote songs for that one. It’s funny, because people have asked me, “Well, how come all of a sudden you decided to do, like, a solo record?” Well, I kind of have this other band, and I can’t say it was a “solo” thing because those guys were certainly very involved in it. So, I’ve always done that. And I started that band just because I bought a guitar and got an amp and wanted to see what it was like to be in a band and play guitar. I played guitar for a long time, so for me, it was a fun thing to do. We’ve done that for a long time. We did some tours and we still get together occasionally and play. I’ve always played guitar and stuff on Melvins records—guitar parts of some sort on certain songs, depending on what’s going on. And I’ve always sang, certainly, the whole time I’ve been in the Melvins. Always, always. All that stuff’s not really new, I guess.
It just feels like you’re always known for being this powerhouse drummer, and you’re that guy that everyone gets excited about when they hear, “Oh, Dale Crover’s gonna sit in on drums with this band.” So, when fans hear that you’re doing something, they automatically assume you’re playing drums, and that’s where this question came from: do people ever approach you with the attitude, “You know, I just really need Dale on guitar?”
[laughs] Yeah, not too often, I guess! That’s why I usually just stick to drums. I know what my bread-and-butter is!
What were some of your favorite collaborations or times that you’ve sat in with a band, other than Melvins and your side project?
Well, most recently, I’m also the drummer in Red Kross, and that’s been absolutely a fucking blast! It’s all become somewhat incestuous, I guess… I sometimes still play with OFF! as well, whenever Mario [Rubalcaba], their drummer, can’t do stuff. He has a new baby, so there was a gig I played not too long ago because his wife just had the baby or was about to have the baby, and there was no way he could do the show, so…
So, wait: are you actually in Red Kross, now? That’s permanent?
Yeah, I am. And most recently, something I was involved in, something very near and dear to me. My good friends in Raging Slab, Elyse Steinman (who was the guitar player and singer in the band, and who was also married to [Raging Slab cofounder] Greg Strzempka), she passed away from a long battle with lung cancer. You know, she was an amazing person, and when she was going through lung cancer, I would talk with her regularly, you know, check in with her and see how things were going. And I would always hear from her. She was really good about keeping in touch. They were a band I played with a little bit a long time ago. I played a few shows, and did some fun stuff with those guys. But, talking with her toward the end of her life, she knew she was going to die, and she didn’t really want a funeral. She wanted us to have a party. It’s hard to talk to someone when they’re still alive and talk about them not being there anymore or talk about what they want. It’s heavy. But, anyway, she wanted a party and she wanted us to play music, and I got to get together with Greg and also with Alec, who was the bass player of Raging Slab, and I got to play at a memorial for her. I mean, that was awesome. So fun to do, and another totally emotional gig that I’m really happy I was involved in. It was really, really cool. And it was a crazy weekend, because the next day, I ended up playing a gig with Red Kross, and then jumped right into playing with Fantômas, and then also playing with Melvins, then back to playing with Red Kross, then getting ready for this tour, then going on tour, and now, here we are!
I tend to break some drumming rules
Last year, you were asked to record these instrumental drum tracks for this crazy record called “Skins,” with six spindle holes and each record was handmade. How did you become involved in that project and is that where all the short tracks on Fickle Finger came from?
Yes. That’s exactly where they came from. The people who had the idea for that were the label Joyful Noise. I’ve done stuff with them in the past, and they’ve always been into weird, kind of experimental stuff in the past; and also they really like vinyl and doing weird and interesting things with vinyl and seeing how far they can take it… With those guys, that’s been how and why I’ve been able to do this stuff, or at least have somebody be interested in putting it out. [laughs] Otherwise, it’s a lot harder to do, if you do something and no one’s interested.
How did you feel about the resulting product? I mean, it was 6 holes, right? I’m still trying to wrap my brain around that.
Yeah, haha, six holes! They had a couple different ideas they could do with it and they had this clear disc so when you look at it, it just looks unplayable. It was like, wait! How do those grooves work? Simple: it’s all math, an optical illusion. So, wherever you put the spindle hole down, there will be a track that will go along with it. But, being in that format had its limitations, and so the tracks could only be 30 seconds long. Or shorter, you know? They thought we might have to do shorter because with vinyl, once you get closer to the inside of the groove, then sound quality goes down. So, you can’t do it. That was actually kind of a crazy challenge: to try to do 12 songs that were no more than 30 seconds long, that were just drums, and to try to make those musical and make sense. But we had fun doing it.
Dan Southwick, the bassist in Altamont: he came in and played bass on the song “Bad Move,” right?
He did, and he wrote that song. Or, we co-wrote that song together, I should say.
Well, that kind of answers the question, because I was wondering what made you bring him in after you already had [OFF! bassist] Steve McDonald on the other bass tracks. Do you have any plans to do any more with Southwick, maybe bring back Altamont, or are you guys still doing stuff?
Yeah, I hope we’ll do more. We plan on it. Yeah, look, I’d love to. Dan’s one of my songwriting buddies and we’ve been doing stuff a long time.
I noticed your daughter’s on the album. What was it like working with her? Isn’t she really, really young?
She’s almost 12. She’s old enough to be able to play a little bit.
Was it fun working together? Did she get to write her own parts at all?
I just kind of told her what I wanted, idea-wise, what I thought she should do, and I helped her out with it a little. But she plays. She plays at school, so she has a good ear. You know, she’ll mess around with a little drums now and then, and stuff. Cuz we’ve always had drums at the house and instruments laying around and stuff like that. Anyway, I thought she could add violin on this one song and thought it would be cool, and so she came down and we messed around for a little bit and she got into it, and it was cool, and she even added some vocal stuff. That was good cuz she can really yell sometimes. She’s a loud kid sometimes, so I knew it would be just perfect. So, that was fun. A day with dad at the studio.
What were some of your favorite tracks to record on Fickle Finger, and why? What did you like about them?
Certainly “Bad Move,” like we already talked about. I was messing around with different drum tunings. Toshi [Kasai, engineer] and I were talking about some of the ways that they used to record drums in the ‘70s and thought that would be cool. Not necessarily having the song sound like a ‘70s song, but just that kind of vibe. That song has that drum sound. We liked it enough that we ended up using that on a few different things, a few different songs on the record, and even carried it over to the Melvins record and messed around with it a bit. Those songs were fun just because it was something kinda new and exciting and something we hadn’t done before. And that song, I really like because it’s just bass and drums. There’s hardly any guitar in it at all. Bass, drums, keyboards, and vocals. Probably only about half of it has guitar on it. That’s what I liked about it. I like that it’s weird, a kind of minimalistic-sounding, weird, creepy song. That one, and then there’s another one called “Little Brother;” that was fun, too, just because it was a song I had written on acoustic guitar and I knew I wanted to record acoustic guitar on it. We always have a good time in the studio, anyway. It’s always all fun with me.
Another example of you guys constantly innovating things is the Melvins’ new double album, A Walk with Love and Death. One half of it is “Death,” and the other album is entitled “Love.” So, “Love” is actually a soundtrack to an as-of-yet unreleased short film. What on earth inspired you guys to decide, “OK, well now, let’s do a short film”?
Why not? We thought it would be fun to do. We hadn’t done anything quite like that before. We don’t really make videos, you know, not really. We thought it would be something cool. You know, with the Melvins, we always thought the idea of the MTV-style video was kinda dead. I think this is sort of a way we can do something visual that will go along with what we’re doing. It’s very weird and artsy and abstract. Though, I just did a video for “Bad Move” that is like an MTV-style video! Sort of…
Your drum sound is larger-than-life, but your actual drums are, too. Everyone was asking to find out a little bit about the kind of gear you use, what sizes are they because they seem really big, especially the drums and the cymbals themselves. But people were even asking if you’re using garden gloves to drum in or if they’re some sort of special custom gloves. Can you give me a little bit of information about the gear you’re using?
So, my drums have actually shrunk, but no one seems to have noticed. But that’s OK. I use a Tama drum kit and the sizes are actually smaller than what I used to use. It’s a pretty standard kit. I’m actually putting together a new drum set that’s going to be a 24-13-16. Everything’s actually gotten smaller. Even myself. Everything’s completely shrunk! Nobody’s noticed. I guess it’s all just stayed really proportionate. It’s an optical illusion. But yeah, my stuff is actually pretty standard stuff. Some weird percussion stuff that’s metal and clanky. I used to use gardening gloves, but now I actually use drumming gloves. They’re pretty much just like golf gloves. And I tend to break some drumming rules, like using gardening gloves, and China cymbals are, for some reason, very unfashionable. At least at the moment. And I‘ve got, well—most people think it’s the Madonna microphone, but it’s actually the Sammy Hagar microphone because he’s the first guy I saw use it. “The Red Rocker.” And hey, he was in Montrose, at least. So, at least it came from somebody that did something that was cool.
Catch Dale Crover with the Melvins September 13th at One Eyed Jacks. For more information on The Fickle Finger of Fate, check out joyfulnoiserecordings.com
illustration L. STEVE WILLIAMS