Dale Crover reflects while always looking forward

Dale Crover interview with Northern Transmissions
Dale Crover photo by Buzz Osborne

Dale Crover needs no introduction. The legendary musician and drummer has performed with many artists over the years including OFF!, Nirvana, and Fantomas, and currently plays with Red Kross alongside his longtime position in the Melvins. He will release his new solo album Rat-A-Tat-Tat January 15th on Joyful Noise Recordings and follow that up with a new Melvins album Working With God, February 26th on Ipecac Recordings.

NT: Hi Dale! How are you?

DC: Getting by as best as can be expected considering I can’t do much but stay home.

NT: Did this album come about because of that or was it always the plan to work on a solo album this year?

DC: No, it was pretty much done when this whole thing went down. It was going to originally come out in the summer and I was hoping to do a headlining tour which was kinda the goal. I had a record that came out a few years ago called Fickle Finger of Fate and when I put that record out I hadn’t really thought about playing it live so after it came out I thought I should put together a band. So I did and we played a little bit live but having another record out was also to help have some more songs so we could do some headlining shows. That was the goal, I was working up to try to make it sustainable in a live situation where we could maybe even make a little money. I already had this record pretty much done. I’d been working on it for the last few years when I had the time. I’m in multiple bands now so whenever I have the time to do it I do it.

NT: It’s a good thing in this day and age as a musician to be busy as possible and fortunate you have more than one project you can take out on the road and make a living with.

DC: Yes, I wouldn’t do it if we weren’t able to make money doing it but that’s my goal. Eventually be able to play where we can comfortably tour (with my solo band) and have everybody be happy, but now I don’t know. It’s gonna be a while for sure. Like this whole year (2020) was gonna be mostly about Red Kross who I’ve been playing drums with for the past few years. Steven McDonald who’s the bass player from Red Kross, he and I are in multiple bands. He also plays in my solo band as well as the Melvins. We’ve done other things as well, we played together in the band OFF! that he was a part of. We were gonna be doing a Red Kross European tour and a US one as well. We had a record come out in 2019 called Beyond the Door and we were hoping to continue touring off of that record.

NT: That’s a bummer that those tours weren’t able to happen but it’s fantastic that at least you’ve had time to also make a new Melvins record.

DC: Yeah, Melvins 1983 which is the version of the band where I play bass and the original drummer Mike Dillard plays drums. That one we were starting to work on right when this pandemic was becoming a real thing and things were about to get locked down. Mike lives in Montesano Washington where the band pretty much originates from and he was gonna be down for about a week to work on tracks and we realized things might get shut down and he might not be able to make it home so we worked extra hard to get his drum tracks done and sent him home. Eventually things seemed to mellow out a bit, we worked more in the studio wearing masks and social distancing just being really careful and creating our own little bubble. We finished that record and managed to work on some other stuff too that I can’t talk about yet. So we’ve been busy.

NT: With your solo material, there are a few tracks that really focus on your drums and you have such a unique sound as a drummer. I was wondering if you approach songwriting with drums in mind first?

DC: Sometimes, some of the stuff on my solo record is definitely like that because some of it is songs that are written on drums. Those are the more experimental ones. The more song-oriented ones were definitely started on guitar or bass. Like we did with the last record, there was a crazy lathe-cut little experimental thing that came out. Joyful Noise, the label I’m on, likes to do stuff like that. Karl, the head of Joyful Noise is a fan of my drumming and he’s into weird experimental stuff. They wanted me to do little 30-second drum things and the way I did it I would go in and have Toshi (Kasai) our engineer come up with some cool effects I could play along to and that would influence what I was playing. So there’s some stuff like that on the new record for sure.

NT: Do you approach songwriting for your solo material differently than when you’re writing for a Melvins record?

DC: There are no real rules as far as what would constitute a Melvins song I think so anything I came up with that I brought to the Melvins we could work on it and make it a Melvins thing. I kind of started doing the solo thing because of Joyful Noise and their offers for things and it was something I wanted to do for sure. As far as approaching it the only thing that would really be different is more of the recording process because it’s just me. When I record I’ll usually start with guitar and have something to play drums along to. I used to make 4-track demos all the time and in the beginning I would come up with a song and play drums first thinking it would be easier to play guitar along to a drumbeat but I discovered that trying to memorize the song sometimes I’d skip a part so I started doing guitar first and found it was easier to play drums to. So that’s how I record stuff now.

NT: Do you find working with Joyful Noise to be much different than working with AmRep, Ipecac, or even Atlantic?

DC: I think they follow the same model. They’re really fair to the artist. I think with those labels you mentioned, AmRep, Ipecac, and Joyful, we have a close working relationship with all of them and I talk to them all the time. Our experience with Atlantic was positive. We felt like we didn’t get ripped off by them. They let us do our own thing. One of the reasons we signed with them too is they realized we were already kind of established and I think they also felt it would make them look cool and more bands would be interested in signing to a major label. There was definitely a thing where it was like if you do that you’re selling out or these guys are gonna rip you off or whatever but that never happened. They never told us what to do, left us alone, and it worked out somewhat.

NT: Is Boner Records still around?

DC: They’re not putting out anything new but they still have the back catalogue. Once we moved to San Francisco in the late 80s we were looking for a label and had a hard time finding anybody to put out Melvins stuff. We met Tom from Boner Records and he was interested in the band and paid us fairly all these years. So even though they’re not active as a label anymore if he’s still putting out the back catalogue there’s no reason to take it away from him.

NT: Do you have a favourite format? Do you buy and collect records still?

DC: Not so much just because I don’t have any room and I do like the convenience of iTunes. Sound quality-wise though, CD. I don’t buy a lot of them but I do think they sound the best. There’s the argument between analog and digital and the sound but I was convinced once our very first record Gluey Porch Treatments got mastered to CD. I could hear things on the CD that I couldn’t hear on the vinyl. They were mastered by the same person and sounds I could hear in the studio were on the CD and not on the vinyl and that’s just science really. You can’t get all the frequencies on the vinyl that you can on the CD.

NT: Are you feeling optimistic at all about getting back on the road now that we’re into 2021?

DC: It’s a day by day thing really. I think in the best-case scenario things will start to happen in the fall but I still think we have a long way to go. Economy wise it’s gonna be a rough comeback for everybody and my biggest worry is the clubs and how they’re gonna survive being closed for this long. Who’s gonna be able to reopen and who’s gonna have to shut their doors. There’s already a bunch of venues that are closing. It’s really sad. I’m an optimistic person but we’re not done suffering yet unfortunately.

NT: You have such a massive catalogue with the Melvins. Is there a record you’ve made that you feel defines the band?

DC: That’s a tough one. Either Stag or Stoner Witch I think would probably be a good representation of everything we do but now when I go back and listen to them it does seem so long ago though and I feel like we’ve done things now that have evolved and changed. I would say, I really like the album A Walk With Love & Death that we put out a few years ago. We made that whole record with Steve McDonald on bass and I think that one’s really good.

Dale Crover releases his sophomore full-length, Rat-A-Tat-Tat!, on Jan. 15 (pre-order here)