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Punch and Grind

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More Metal Than Metal: The Melvins fill the air with rock thunder during their second-stage sets at Lollapalooza.

Forget that 'godfathers of grunge' label, the Melvins outduel the metal bands at Lollapalooza

By Gina Arnold

THE FIRST year of Lollapalooza, tour organizer Ted Gardner speculated that the traveling musical circus would be a success when it could bear the presence of a band "as radical as the Melvins." It's taken six years, but the Melvins are finally on the road with Lollapalooza. The three-piece band plays on the second stage around 5pm, between Satchel and Sponge.

Why the delay? "We don't party with Perry Farrell," says the Melvins' Buzz Osborne, referring to Lollapalooza's high-profile co-owner and co-founder. "And guess who's not in the picture this year?" he adds knowingly. Osborne is referring to the fact that Farrell, though still financially involved in Lollapalooza, had no input in booking this year's tour.

Lollapalooza--which also features Metallica, Soundgarden, Rancid, the Ramones, the Screaming Trees, Devo, Psychotica and a number of other smaller bands--will play at San Jose State University Spartan Stadium Friday (Aug. 2); see story on page 41.

It is, Osborne thinks, a great tour this time around. "If I was 16 or 17, I would have been stoked to see it. We didn't have anything like it when I was in high school. I was too late for those hippiefests and too early for Lollapalooza. I'm really happy to be involved with this circus, but I would have rather been on the main stage."

The question is, would the main-stage audience have been glad to see him? After all, although this year's bill has been dubbed "metalpalooza" because of its preponderance of hard-rock acts, few bands are harder or heavier then the Melvins, whose seriously sludgy music makes that of headliner Metallica look downright popsy.

"Heavy metal is in bad shape right now," Osborne comments. "There's only Aerosmith--and Sepultura is a great band. Heavy metal is aggressive; it's not dumb college rock, like the revenge-of-the-nerds thing that's going on right now. Whenever I see Weezer on TV, I think Slayer should pop up and cut their throats. I think rock needs to be more aggressive right now. Where's Black Flag when we need them?"

Formed in Aberdeen, Wash., in the early '80s, the Melvins were one of the first bands to blend the unrelenting punch of hardcore punk with the slow grind of bands like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. The resulting sound--dubbed "grunge"--was later made more palatable by a fellow native of Aberdeen who became the Melvins' roadie.

The Melvins are often referred to as "the godfathers of grunge," an epithet that causes Osborne to yelp, "Hey, don't blame me! The bands the press talks about as grunge--like Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains--are squeaky-clean rock. I mean, if that's grunge, what are we? Antisocial garbage is what. I have never felt like a part of that situation."

Although Nirvana never ceased to say it modeled itself on the Melvins, Osborne now likes to disassociate himself from the movement his band inspired, in part because the Melvins left Washington state in 1987, settling in San Francisco even before Nirvana had recorded.

"I'm not foolish enough to say it [grunge] hasn't helped us out," he adds, "but it happened years after we left. It's all been fame by association for us; which is fine, but it's also just dumb luck."

AS OSBORNE SAYS, the Melvins benefitted greatly by Nirvana's success, thanks to the constant references made by Kurt Cobain in the press. Despite rampant uncommerciality, they were hotly pursued and signed to a major label (Atlantic) as early as 1992.

"No one was more surprised than me that major labels were interested in us," Osborne says now. "I took it with a pound of salt. I still do. We're just not commercial enough. ... I'd love to sell as many records as possible, but at the end of the day, I have to please myself. People always ask me if it bugs me--the amount of money and fame other bands have gotten--when it's like we started it, and the answer is, 'Well, yes, but ...' I don't do things like that. I can totally understand why Nirvana and Soundgarden are popular and we're not."

Osborne knows that "it's a long road to independent wealth the way we're doing it, but it's a challenge I'm willing to meet."

Right now, the Melvins have a new album out, titled Stag, and though it's actually somewhat lighter than their earlier beefy fare, it's still a far cry from anything normally heard on the radio.

In fact, when heard blaring out of the second-stage area, not that far from sets by the Ramones and Devo, the Melvins manage better than any other band on the bill to fill the sky with thunder. Their set, which sounds like a skyscraper falling on the compound, tends to stop the crowd dead.

It's not your average radio fare, but Osborne thinks it should be: "Who says they play it on the radio? Kids accept what they accept, because that's what they are given. But I'm not doing a Melvins '96 cover of [the Thin Lizzy tune] 'Jailbreak' to get popular."

Warming to his rant, Osborne continues, "There's nothing worse than a band that tries to sell out, and it doesn't work, and then you're left with nothing. I need to push the limits of this stuff. We've been lucky in that we haven't alienated our fan base or killed the horse we rode in on. I plan on making a lot more records, and if Atlantic won't put them out, that's okay, because there will always be someone else out there who will."

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From the August 1-7, 1996 issue of Metro

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