What do you do during COVID downtime when you're the 69th best drummer in rock 'n' roll history (according to Rolling Stone) and a member of one of the most widely respected, hard-to-classify bands in the world?
A solo album, of course, and that’s exactly what Dale Crover of the Melvins and Redd Kross has done.
Rat-A-Tat-Tat! (on the uber-cool Joyful Noise Recordings), which came out January 15, began to percolate before the pandemic hit and, according to Crover, was almost finished before things got bad enough to practically shut down the music industry. But the lockdown gave the 53-year-old and bandmate/recording engineer Toshi Kasai ample time over the summer months, when Crover would usually be on tour, to tweak the record to a truly epic level of tuneful weirdness and sludgy fun.
“We've always been noisemakers. I mean, even in the studio, you know, we've got so many things to play with. That's how [The Fickle Finger of Fate, Crover's first solo album] started — with the little weird things — and this one kind of has the same stuff, but I made them a little bit different,” Crover says over the phone.
Diehard Phoenix fans may recall hearing Crover's band play many of the songs off The Fickle Finger of Fate when they opened for Redd Kross at Last Exit Live in December 2018. It seems, though, that revisiting the solo world was a foregone conclusion for the Los Angeles-based drummer.
(Speaking of Redd Kross, Crover was joined on Rat-A-Tat-Tat! by his rhythm section comrade, Steven McDonald — also of Melvins and the Dale Crover Band — who provided many of the bass tracks, so this record is a must for any fan of Crover’s musicianship or a Melvins or Redd Kross fan looking to complete a collector-level discography.)
Rat-A-Tat-Tat! definitely surpasses Fickle Finger of Fate in the noise department, but this time around, the noise is balanced with noticeable maturation in songwriting. On the standout track, “Shark Like Overbite,” for example, Crover busts out a super-catchy guitar riff over a mix of Beatles-esque bass work (which is an example of the signature Steven McDonald swing that Redd Kross fans will notice) and some killer drum work that helps propel the song to hip-shimmying goodness. There's also an underlying '70s bubble gum vibe that gives the song a Partridge Family-on-acid vocal feel.
“Some of the stuff on this record is the poppiest stuff I’ve ever written or at least released. With ['Shark Like Overbite'] in particular, I was kind of thinking that it reminded me of either the Replacements or I had been listening, at the time that I wrote it, to a lot of Graham Parker. Recently, Steve McDonald pointed out, ‘Well, it has Beatles’ chords,’” Crover says.
A track like “Tougher” combines the sensibility (or lack thereof, depending on your taste) of Hostile Ambient Takeover-era Melvins with a hard-edged Southern rock vibe that could put a smile on the face of Melvins fans or Black Oak Arkansas or Butthole Surfers enthusiasts. (In fact, many of Crover’s guitar riffs pay homage to the work of the Surfers' guitar slinger Paul Leary.)
Crover also points out the noticeable influence of icon Neil Young on his song “I Can’t Help You There.”
“I'm definitely big into Neil (Young), and probably that Crazy Horse period of stuff, for sure. The verses are like, yeah, Neil Young Crazy Horse with the Zeppelin-esque bridge. I don't know that it was intentional to try to make it sound retro or anything like that. We definitely did some things that were Beatles tricks. We de-tuned the drums and put tea towels over them. The drums sound big, but I guess kind of dry and that was only because we thought it sounded cool on some songs,” says Crover.
There are few drummers who know how to make drums sound as good as Crover does, and the drums are top-notch on Rat-A-Tat-Tat!. In spite of that, on the next Melvins record, Working With God, which comes out on February 26, Crover will be playing bass, something that happens from time to time.
“It’s the Melvins 1983 where I get to play bass," he says. "Mike Dillard was our original drummer and we occasionally get to get together with him and make records. That’s been happening now for the last 10 years or so. We did a full-length record, I can’t remember how long ago , and I’m blanking on the name right now [Tres Cabrones]. We’ve got too many records,” says Crover.
It’s not surprising that Crover doesn’t immediately recall the name of one of his records — the Melvins have put out 32 studio LPs and EPs, not to mention some excellent bootlegs and a slew of great side projects like Crystal Fairy and some killer work with Jello Biafra along the way.
Crover also appeared on records by Nirvana, the previously mentioned Redd Kross, Shrinebuilder, Altamont, Men of Porn, and Conan Neutron & the Secret Friends so the tally on his personal discography is straight-up ridiculous. As a lifer in the world of rock 'n' roll, the past year has been difficult on Crover and his bandmates to say the least, but things are looking up.
The Melvins released their first episode of Melvins TV on New Year's Eve and are slated to drop the next episode on February 14. The Dale Crover Band will be the opening act for this streaming show, which, if it's anything like the first one, will feature some live Melvins songs, some between-the-music shenanigans, and new music from Crover, Kasai, McDonald, and live drummer Mindee Jorgensen from Rat-A-Tat-Tat!.
“If all goes well, we’ll keep making [more episodes of Melvins TV]. I guess it is something we can do for now. We're waiting to go play live again,” says Crover.