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Back to Bass-ics
Melvins' longtime drummer Dale Crover held down the low end on Tres Cabrones, the band's 19th album. Here, he's rumbling with Buzz's Electrical Guitar Company custom V-style bass.
Melvins’ Drummer Dale Crover Picks up the 4-String for Tres Cabrones
What was it like to see someone else play drums in the spot you’ve held for nearly three decades?
Mike is great. It was a joy to relinquish my seat and get him on our 19th record … we made him wait [laughs]. His snare beats in parts of the album were a trip to watch him record—it’ll be fun trying to figure that out for live shows in the future.
You’ve played in Fecal Matter and guitar in Altamont. How was it recording bass instead of drums?
It was easier. When you play bass, there are a lot less things you have to worry about, like miking and noises leaking into mixes. Bass is pretty straightforward, so I felt like I was a part-time employee. I did end up doing some percussion overdubs, but Mike laid out the backbone of all the drum parts on Tres Cabrones. Plus, I always knew if I sucked too bad, I could just punch my way through a track [laughs].
What gear did you use to record your bass parts?
I used a Mosrite Ventures bass for a lot of the parts. [Nirvana’s] Krist Novoselic came down and jammed with us, and he left one of his Gibson Ripper basses so I used that for a couple songs. The Mosrite has more of a midrange tonal frequency where it can sound like a really heavy guitar, but Krist’s Ripper was a beast. That thing brings the low end like you wouldn’t believe.
For amps, I mainly used a Gallien-Krueger 400RB through a single 15", and for an added dimension I ran my basses through Buzz’s setup with the Sunn Beta Lead heads and cabinets that have 12" and 15" speakers in them. That filled out the G-K’s basic tone frequency with some beefiness. Bass and guitar should never really take a long time to get a good sound. If it does, you’re probably doing something wrong or worrying about the wrong thing—if it doesn’t sound good, keep turning it up!
Were there some things you learned about yourself as a bassist or rediscovered during the sessions?
I play guitar quite a bit at home and I play bass, but I got to remember what it feels like to come up with a fresh, usable, complementary bass line or part. It’s a rush or appreciation that only another musician or artist can comprehend. Plus, I enjoy playing bass because there are only four strings, so it’s easier to tune than a guitar and it’s a hell of a lot easier to set up than drums—three of the bass strings are spares anyways [laughs]. Also, it gave me a fresh perspective and understanding for the musical landscape and where bass fits.
We played some faster, punk-rock-style songs to keep things simple and fun for Mike and me—I can show anyone those bass lines because they’re pretty basic. I reconnected with focusing on the rhythm, staying in the pocket, and not messing up. I just tried to come up with bass lines that didn’t sound like Buzz’s parts and to not sound like a drummer was playing bass.
You speak as if you’re a beginner, but the bass lines on “American Cow” are as good as any in the Melvins catalog. They really intertwine nicely with what Buzz is doing on guitar.
I’m proud of that bass line, because it’s different than what Buzz is doing on guitar and it reminds me of the Laughing Hyenas bassist Kevin Strickland, who almost took over as the lead instrument in the band. It’s my best imitation as a bassist … where I don’t sound like a guitarist trying to play bass. But I think my favorite song on Cabrones is “City Dump,” because it’s rocking and the song is still stuck in my head.
What did you use on the album’s heaviest songs—like “Dogs and Cattle Prods” and “Psycho-Delic Haze”—to get the overdriven bass tones?
For any of the super-overdriven stuff, I used Buzz’s Boss ODB-3. That’s what’s nice about playing in a band with a guy with so much crossover gear like Buzz’s rig with the bass distortion pedal, the 15” speakers, and those heavy Sunn heads. All that distortion on those songs helps covers up my sloppiness.
In recent years, you and Buzz have incorporated drummer Coady Willis and bassist Jared Warren of Big Business for live shows. What’s it like playing with two drummers in an already loud band?
It’s bombastic. It’s brutal. It’s fun. We’d had the idea to do that for a long time, since we played in Fantômas/Melvins Big Band and I drummed alongside Dave Lombardo. I don’t think it would work in a quaint jazz quartet, but for our raucous stuff it fits pretty well.
It’s just like two guitarists in a band, right?
Totally. People seem to think it’s hard to do because it’s two guys keeping time and all we’re doing is completely doubling all the parts, but where it gets interesting and the full power is felt is when we’re both doing different beats and fills but still complementing each other and the song. It’s like Thin Lizzy—about 50 percent of the time we’re playing in sync and the rest of the time one of us is following the other or playing our own parts that fit together, depending on what the song calls for.
You’ve recorded almost 20 albums with the Melvins. What were some of the highlights while working on this one?
I think just bringing Mike into the fold—and it being the first time we recorded officially together—was a blast. We always have fun working as a unit, but this time we did some really funny stuff. I had Mike rhythmically make spitting noises in parts of “Tie My Pecker to a Tree”—I filmed it, too—and having him do a Goofy-like laugh in time was hilarious. Those both were my ideas, and I made him do them like a little brother—I was cracking up and he kept messing up his takes [laughs].