“It’s my sophomore effort for solo records, which I guess means I should be in a sophomore slump,” laughs Dale Crover as we discuss his new solo album, Rat-A-Tat-Tat! His second full-album release for Joyful Noise Recordings (following 2017’s The Fickle Finger of Fate) is a dichotomy of straight-up rock songs and experimental tracks that provide a wonderfully weird context for their counterparts. “It’s been great working with [Joyful Noise] because they always want to do stuff and they are very encouraging and come up with wacky ideas about different kinds of projects,” he tells us over the phone from his southern California home.
For most readers, Crover is best known as the drummer for the Melvins. Since 1984, Crover and guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne have been the only constant members of the band often credited as the progenitor of sludge metal and grunge. Of course, Crover and Osborne are likely the first to tell you that’s either not true or that they hate those monikers. The band has a new album on the way next month (their 24th LP – not counting collaborations, live albums, etc), but our call with Crover is focused on his new solo album that was released earlier this month. Of course, you can’t stray too far from the Melvins when talking about Rat-A-Tat-Tat! Considering bassist Steven McDonald (who has played on the last three Melvins albums and toured extensively with the band over the last few years) plays on the new album, as well as studio engineer Toshi Kasai (who has been twisting the knobs for the band since the early 2000’s). What’s more, Mackie Osborne (Buzz’s wife) did the album cover art.
Considering his long tenure with the Melvins, it was obvious to ask how Crover approached writing solo material. “Well, I mean, for Melvins, Buzz is like the main guy, for sure. So, he does the majority of the songwriting. This is just extracurricular activity for me. But, I’ll just compile riffs and stuff on my phone, through the music app, which has taken the place of like a handheld tape recorder or whatever. I’m sitting around playing guitar…I come up with something I like, I’ll record that riff then and there, and maybe play it for a little bit and come back to it later,” he describes the process. While some of the material was written on the road, some songs have a longer history. “One of them I know for sure is super old, like something that I was playing back in probably the early ’90s and it came back around and I turned it into a song.”
Perhaps one of the most striking aspects to Rat-A-Tat-Tat! is the decidedly pop-y nature of some of the songs. Going back to Steven McDonald, whose band Redd Kross has always put melody at the forefront, it was safe to assume that might have had an influence on Crover’s approach. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that rubbed off a little bit, for sure. I think probably the poppiest song on this record is the one called ‘Shark Like Overbite.’ When I wrote that I was listening to a lot of Graham Parker. And then also, I don’t know, the riff kind of reminded me a little bit of like The Replacements, sort of. Some of their jangly pop stuff or whatever,” Crover says.
Juxtaposed with those songs are the experimental tracks. Rather than coming across as self-indulgent, these songs have a peculiar focus that sets the mood for the entire outing. “Toshi is really good to work with on that kind of stuff. He’s got, in the control room, this whole crazy setup. He’s got a ton of effects pedals and all kinds of different things that are ready to go, that you can just patch in. I’ll make him patch in a sound and use that for recording. And that’ll sometimes influence my plan.”
Beyond our discussion of his new album, we were curious how he was dealing with the pandemic. Considering how extensive the Melvins regularly tour, it seemed safe to assume he may be feeling a bit restless during these strange times. “It’s been fine for me being home. I mean, I like hanging out at home, I like being around my family and all that stuff.” While many artists are adapting to a world where they’re unable to tour regularly and generate income, Crover seems to have an eye on the bigger picture. Particularly, the trickle-down effects faced by the venues who host touring bands. “We’re not through this yet. It’s going to be hard for clubs to survive. I really worry about places. And there’s tons of clubs like that throughout the country that we’ve had long, long standing relationships with. One thing about the Melvins is we’re loyal to people. We’ve got a lot of long relationships, like with Ipecac Records, certain clubs, we’ve had the same booking agent for years, we’ve worked with the same engineer for years, too. So, I hope we can all get through this,” Crover says.
Rat-A-Tat-Tat! is available now via Joyful Noise for physical copies and Bandcamp for digital downloads. It’s an album that’s equal parts complex and direct. Obviously, it doesn’t have the huge guitar sound of the Melvins, but it offers plenty of fuzzed-out rock n’ roll and strange meanderings to keep you engaged. The album isn’t necessarily a huge departure from his other non-Melvin’s projects, like Altamont, but certainly capable of standing on it’s own as something purely Dale Crover.