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Episode 35

Stoner Witch

Melvins

The futility of describing the Melvins has stretched critics in the direction of absurd words like “Dadaist” for nearly 40 years now. They’ve belligerently flogged any attempt to pinpoint their essence simply by being themselves, but Stoner Witch remains a reliable mall directory for the Melvins’ vast and wild discography. Grab yourself some pretzel bites.

Transcript

Note: our transcripts are mostly AI-generated for now. 

Cliff: Today we’re talking about Stoner Witch by Melvins.

So, in the words of the bassist of Sleep, Al- whose last name, I’m always afraid to pronounce out loud-

Kyle: Cisneros.

Cliff: I loved it. I loved your confidence. He said, “The Melvins are a band that’ll either clear the room or change your life.” I think we’ve seen them enough times to where that feels probably fairly accurate.

Kyle: The first thought I had as I was listening to this record a bunch- ’cause I haven’t previously; I think my favorite Melvins records are not this one- I was fully prepared to lead with “I hate this band,” but I know objectively, the data will reveal that that’s not true. Because you and I… just you and I together, we’ve seen this band 15, maybe 20 times.

Cliff: Yeah.

Kyle: And you don’t do…

Cliff: I’ve regretted it once.

Kyle: I’ve not regretted it once. You don’t do that with a band you hate. And credit to them that they’ve been a band since ’83, and they’re still touring enough that, in the aughts, that we could see them, you know- in the past 15 years- 20 times in Atlanta, Georgia, on the opposite end of the country from where they live.

Cliff: Yeah. And Athens, at least once.

Kyle: Oh, yeah. I feel like a couple of times at the 40 Watt, actually, which is a great place to see ’em. My favorite still is probably 2009 with Down and Weedeater at Center Stage, because they sounded so good in that venue with proper mixing. And I think sonic quality is something we’ll get into talking about this record specifically.

Cliff: If not that for Melvins, then I don’t know that there’s a lot else to talk about. I was glad that you brought up how long of a career they’ve already had, because I think Melvins actually gives an interesting opportunity we don’t usually have with some of the artists that we talk about. Y’know, either we’re talking about y’know, an artist who’s obviously no longer touring or active, or on the other end of it is, you know, a band that we’ve loved, but they’ve either had a short time span, they’re a newer band, something like that. Having a band that’s stretched this long and not only 37 or so years as one whole unit, but also from the fact that the exact positioning in time of this band puts them in this really weird scenario that you would rarely hear any other band be in, where you can still read the early internet reviews of Melvins from this time. And so you, you have the things on record. You don’t have to go magazine diving or library diving to find stuff. But it’s just old enough, it’s just pre- “real internet” enough to where like all of their references are totally off. And we’ll talk about it some, I’m sure, but like, reading reviews in the nineties, all they talked about was like, “this band apes classic rock and acid rock.” And it’s like, neither one of those are terms I would use in the last 15 years to describe Melvins.

Kyle: Well, you already hit on a thing that’s important to touch on, is like: there’s no vocabulary  for this band ’cause they’re so singular. They’re so their own thing. And I know we’ve touched on different flavors of that, where artists kind of arrive at their own sound or whatever. Melvins exist in an ecosystem unto themselves, and that is kind of the first layer of appeal with them. The second layer is that they don’t give a s**t whether you’re there or not with them. And that’s especially true– it’s not performative– because the deeper you dig, you see that they do very much care about what they’re doing. And I think their level of output and their consistency would suggest that they care very much about what they’re doing and they’re doing it strictly for the love. But they also don’t have any time to entertain anybody who doesn’t get it, like they don’t stop to try to explain it ever, but they don’t necessarily try to make alienating people their thing, which they reveal the harder you study them. They reveal that to be such a posture and not the real thing. Again, I wanna hate it because I’m using signifiers from things that are not them that I don’t understand, and there… there’s just nothing about comparisons that really apply on any level: their vibe, their ethos, certainly their sound… that they’re such a thing unto themselves. I think for a long time, for me, I didn’t get it because there was so much stuff that sounded like them or had some aspect of them embedded in it. I don’t think I really realized quite how much came from the Melvins until we started really digging in. And we’re what I would consider fans of this band! I think we know this band decently well, and yet, in studying this album in particular, I, I feel like I knew nothing.

Cliff: Yeah. I think if there’s a thing worth discussing generally about Melvins, especially that you touched on, that’s really hard to describe to people in those sort of short conversations you can have when you talk about music, it’s like, okay. Usually the axes for a “troll band” are like: the less of a shit you give about anything or the appearance of it, the more of a Neanderthal you are, and you’re really yelling and beating your chest about everything all the time. Whereas…

Kyle: Yeah, you got to let people know that it’s different. You have to announce that in some way. Yeah. This band does not.

Cliff: No! And in fact, like, what’s surprising about it- it almost sounds really condescending to say out loud- but it’s like you hear the types of things that they say about themselves and other bands and other people, but then within the same interview or the same album that you’re listening to, they do really smart stuff. They’re not lacking in intelligence. They just really have this… it almost makes me laugh even more… because Buzz… I hate ageism and putting people in little buckets, but Buzz sits specifically on the line between Boomers and Gen X, like right in the mid-sixties. And I feel like there’s maybe never been a better description of how he kind of comes across, because it’s got this kind of “nothing matters” attitude, but at the same time, again, like you said, specific things do matter. If nothing mattered, then they also wouldn’t care that other bands sold out on purpose and that they didn’t.

Kyle: He does have, at once, an old “crew cut Boomer” work ethic thing. Like “you’ve got to get out there and work your ass off.” And, you know, they did the “a show in all 50 states in 51 days” thing. Like they talk a lot about their work ethic. They sound like our dads when they do that. But he also has that like Gen X slacker posture: “but nothing really matters so I’m just going to play music.” I think the thing is that, that you touched on: it’s hard to have a short conversation about the Melvins, ’cause there’s so much contradiction in terms and there’s so much that’s like not quite one thing and not quite the other. They’re just perpetually in this third place. And to me,  y’know, based on our little bit of pre conversation, I think that third place, the “not really anything else” thing is kind of the thing worth talking about.

Cliff: Yeah, and we could only have so many podcast episodes without talking about Melvins anyway, because everything eventually comes through here …

Kyle: Yeah, that’s true.

Cliff: … in the nineties.

Kyle: For us, for sure. I mean, there’s a lot of touchpoints in previous episodes that it’s like, “Recommended If You Like” with previous stuff, “Well, you should just go ahead and listen to the Melvins.”

Cliff: Yeah. And even watching Melvins get placed within music history by way of streaming algorithms and stuff now,  you see “Revolve” is on Spotify’s “Essential Grunge” playlist,

Kyle: Oh, no.

Cliff: And strangely enough it fits when you’re listening to it. And that’s fine, right? But it’s like, first of all, if someone doesn’t know Melvins, I guess that’s an okay way to get exposed, but as we’re going to probably keep talking about a little bit, like, if it interests you at all to go further into, like, “what’s this band, that’s a little bit different?” The rabbit hole goes real deep and never loops back in this direction. And it’s one of the reasons I actually like talking about Stoner Witch in general, because out of the trio of Atlantic releases that they did, which kind of stemmed from their most popular time, I think Stoner Witch gives us a better opportunity to look at them doing things really well, kind of at the apex of executing on a major label set of albums at a time where they were able to kind of ride the grunge thing, specifically because, yeah, Kurt Cobain did pretty much straight up get them a record deal, uh, based purely on the fact that this was his favorite band. But if you only see Melvins as a story, as “Kurt Cobain likes this little band. Kurt Cobain gets this little band a record deal. Little band is a bunch of pricks. Little band makes a couple of decent records and then manages to never die again. And they play sludge.” You get this really messed up story of Melvins and you get absolutely nothing out of basically four decades’ worth of music.

Kyle: And that doesn’t even speak- that doesn’t even speak the power dynamic. I know I was a much bigger Nirvana fan than you were growing up, but if you read about it, it wasn’t just that Kurt was a Melvins fan. The Melvins were the first big Pacific Northwest band of the eighties and were the godfathers, the same way that we talked about Yawning Man being the desert rock godfathers that never really got their due. The Melvins were like the big guys, and Buzz was like a cult figure, and they loved the Melvins as a whole band, but Kurt specifically loved Buzz and emulated Buzz as a guitar player. And as kind of, you know, like adopting his posture a little bit and beg to drum tech for them, they got Dale Crover to play on songs that would appear on Bleach and Insecticide. Kurt loved the shit out of this band. It wasn’t just that he was like, okay, “I want to give some other band a chance” and made an introduction to get them signed. They were like his favorite band. For real, for real.

Cliff: And to avoid going to the very familiar place that you know me to go, uh, where I talk too much about Kurt Cobain’s guitar playing, Buzz is an actual good example to me though, of: You know how to play guitar. You also know how to be in a rock band. You know how to be a front man. You know how to not give a shit. How do you put the right combination of things together to make for a decent touring and album life? Like how do you write great songs and go on the road and do a great job and still maintain that posture. And for me, at least as you know, Kurt cared too little to me at times because I thought he was actually a more talented musician than he led on. And maybe he would have shown us that later. But, it’s hard to express, but it’s almost like I don’t want to sell this band short by connecting them too strongly or directly to that one particular moment in time, unless we’re saying for sure- which is objectively true- that like that entire scene kind of came up and through them, and Melvins has survived the entire grunge scene and then everything that came after that. They’re just still a legitimate band.

Kyle: Which is incredible, that they outlived every one of those bands physically, and I think is a testament to how many of those guys didn’t really didn’t really get the core Melvins thing… but speaks to the importance of this band for sure. It’s incredible that they’ve been around as long as they have and are arguably their most powerful now. They’re a freight train that’s continued to pick up steam, and that in and of itself is, is such a rare narrative in music, especially punk rock music that’s so physical. There are very few, if any, other examples where the other ninety-five out of a hundred bands like them, especially with the pace that they’ve kept, would be a tribute band by this point. And they’re still innovating. They’re still pushing boundaries and, you know, still doing whatever they want. So there’s a lot to admire there, even if their particular way of going about it irks the shit out of me sometimes.

Cliff: The other weird thing, because they’ve been around so long: instead of them at any point now, y’know, if we look back on it, it’s 2020, we’re looking back on late eighties and early nineties. You would describe bands of that time, if Melvins had had a normal five or ten-year run, you know, you would maybe say what they were “genre-defining” or “genre-subverting” or whatever. By the very nature of sticking around for nearly 40 years after being genre-defying, they lived long enough to see all the sub genres that would pick up exactly what they were doing and then become legitimate genres in and of themselves. It’s wild to be able to tie together Soundgarden and Sleep and He Is Legend and all bands in this thread. Yeah. In all these bands that go across decades entirely, like totally different spans of music. And Melvins was literally there for all of it.

Kyle: Yeah. You always call Converge the “ultimate cred band”, but perhaps it really is Melvins after all. So let’s, let’s go back to the start, because this is a band with a 37 year arc. I think we had a very difficult time nailing down which record we were going to pick, ’cause they have soooo damn many, this is the seventh studio album. It’s their second of three recorded for Atlantic Records, with “GGGarth” Richardson who also did the Rage self-titled, which we’ve covered, and Joe Barresi, who’s done a lot of my favorite records, including the Queens of the Stone Age debut. So this was ’94 after ’93’s Houdini, which, my favorite Cliff Seal music story, or one of them, is that you always go to Zeitgeist when you’re in San Francisco and play, is it “Hooch”? On the jukebox? What song?

Cliff: Yeah.

Kyle: And like, that’s such a Cliff move that you pick this like great, weird, riffy song.

So Houdini ’93, this record Stoner Witch in ’94, and then Stag in ’96, which I became aware of because of Mastodon, who do a great cover of “The Bit”, kind of a long time live staple for them.

  This is really the sweet spot of those three records, and I think, largely, the consensus that we both read seems to agree: this is not only the best distillation of them during that time, sonically and from a songwriting perspective, but kind of in the arc of the whole catalog, this is a really good entry point in general.

Cliff: Yeah. And rare enough, not only is this a good entry point into a catalog, but this is actually a pretty good album just to listen to by itself. its on face you, yeah. Even if you go to other albums and you don’t get it, which is an entirely feasible scenario.

Kyle: Highly likely, in fact.

Cliff: Yeah, also, also because a, a non-zero percentage of their releases are just open antagonism towards whoever’s listening to them. You know, so there’s a non zero chance you land on a joke record. Uh, like the one that came out the same year as this one. But I think it also even kind of chunks up inside the album, which we’ll talk about some, I think. The album chunks itself up into kind of different levels of accessibility, and on top of it, the accessible songs are kind of right at the beginning. So really, this is Melvins, an essentially unacceptable, inaccessible band, kind of organizing themselves in a way that makes them accessible or as accessible as you could hope, all at once. But I also think like linearly, Houdini feels, when I listened to Stoner Witch a bunch, Houdini feels more like, honestly kind of like a demo tape of songs that are 80% of the way there, that they then come back and re-record for Stoner Witch, a little bit.

Kyle: That’s fair.

Cliff: It’s tough because people love that record and it’s great. for what it’s worth it. So

Kyle: It’s just muddier, is like the main thing. Once you’ve heard Stoner Witch you’re like, “Oh, I can get the same stuff, but clearer and nicer.” It’s the new model car.

Cliff: The one exception I’ll give is “Hag Me” off Houdini feels like a song that belongs on this record and could have easily replaced one of the songs that’s on it.

Kyle: And, you know, I want to spend a minute later talking about how good they are at freaking out and going weird places, and “Spread Eagle Beagle”, the last track of Houdini, was one of the first openly antagonistic, weird psychedelic freak out songs. I was like, ” what’s Electric Ladyland, but scary?” And I don’t remember what I Googled to get me there in late high school or early college, but it led me to “Spread Eagle Beagle”, just kind of absent of Houdini. And it was as advertised. It was terrifying and asphyxiating.

Cliff: And then Stag, which was the record that comes after Stoner Witch… I mean, it’s good, right? I don’t think that they regressed or went backwards or anything…

Kyle: They got the dude from Fishbone on saxophone on that one. That was the… I remember jumping into that one way too early, just being like, “What the fuck are they doing? What is going on here?”

Cliff: That is a nice little meta example of exactly why I don’t want to talk about Stag because to me, it pretty quickly goes into the like, I have a feeling that I can’t describe, but it looks in my brain like Maynard from Tool with his stupid mohawk and standing shirtless, just like making a weird butt joke in the early nineties. And something about that is just like, like a weird, cheap Judas Priest lookin’, feelin’ thing. It’s very hard to describe, but there’s like a point in the nineties that all feels and looks that way to me, and Stag sounds that way to me.

Kyle: It’s a bit like a Jonah Hill and 22 Jump Street doing the random slam poetry thing, but like, but if he jumped on stage with the Circle Jerks instead, and you’re just like, “Oh my God. I got a bad batch. I don’t need to be in public tonight. What, what’s going on?”

Cliff: Perfect.

Kyle: But yeah, Stoner Witch of the three, as much as you can “come back to center,” air quotes, with the Melvins, this is kind of a nice halfway point between those two things.

Cliff: Plus, a couple of interesting things happened here. So, even though it was their second Atlantic record, it was the first one, apparently that they recorded in like a larger studio. So you see them here having the advantage of a better space to record in, more instruments, like more access to things, which I think probably helped with the sound on this record, but at no point did they really go… we just talked about Stag, like, that whole record opens up with what? Like, some weird sitar or something like that?

Kyle: Yeah, “Bit”. Yeah.

Cliff: Yeah, so we don’t do anything weird on Stoner Witch to that level, but you can tell that there’s enough variance and instruments to make it really sound good. The production in this particular album still stands up today in a way that even some of these other records that they did, don’t.

Kyle: I thought the Decibel retrospective said that really effectively. Nick Green was the writer; he said, “The trio relish the opportunity to cycle through a ton of gear, tinker with tunings, and explore the dramatic effect that an acoustically perfect space had on a series of very ugly sounding compositions. So it was “pretty ugly” or ugly comma pretty.

Cliff: And the other thing about this record, which I think puts it in better context, too: it was all recorded tracked, mastered, everything… all in one continuous session that lasted a total of 19 days.

Kyle: Luxurious by their standards.

Cliff: Right. We tend to pick up on albums like this. Now I have officially noticed it as of covering this record. but we tend to gravitate more towards the

Kyle: The Otis Blue… the “Otis Blue effect.” Yeah.

Cliff: Yep. Like they were all holding it in and then they went into the studio and released all at once in, like, an atom bomb fashion, and everything gets recorded and done in this big kind of like all at once, like capture the energy fashion. So this is another one that’s like that.

Kyle: Yeah, that’s a thing that makes a record undeniable, is when you, you have the combination of the energy and the well honed expression. Ahhh, sounds easy in theory, but really hard to do in actuality and speaks to how tight a unit the Melvins are and the almost psychic thing that Buzz and Dale seem to have. Those two dudes still being friends after 37 years, and their sense of humor seems to be so on the same wavelength, but they’re also so different when you get them apart. I think that’s kind of a key component  of that whole dynamic in general.

Cliff: For sure. So, I think it would actually be helpful to kind of go in chunks through this record, maybe, and talk a little bit about what we see in some of these different songs. Does that work?

Kyle: Yeah, that’s probably the only thing that makes sense. Ha ha.

Cliff: Yeah, no, one’s signing up to wax poetic about Melvins, without Melvins here, for an hour.

Kyle: Right.

Cliff: So the album kicks off with a cover of “Mississippi Queen”, which they call “Skweetis”.  Ha ha. But these first four tracks, really, I think… so “Skweetis”, “Queen”, Sweet Willy Rollbar”, and “Revolve” are a nice little chunk, like it’s almost like a nice live sampler EP you could take, I think, for Melvins. Even though this might not represent the breadth of things they cover in a live show, the energy is there, and the other thing that’s kind of hard to describe, that really you and I only talk about in the context of bands like Torche, maybe: they surprise you with melody. You don’t really come expecting this band to be able to occasionally break into something that kind of does sound catchy, and Melvins will shock you with that, within, you know, at least the first handful of songs anytime you see ’em.

Kyle: And a lot of that  “classic rock meets acid rock” or “classic rock meets punk” thing comes from that song craft, tune craft. Something about it evokes the feel of classic rock and when you talk about this band or… I always mentally want to compare this band to Kyuss cause they were both so singular and different and very nineties, but Kyuss had like a blues rock thing run through the filter of Black Flag. This band is definitely run through the filter of My War and the Wipers and Flipper and the Butthole Surfers. Weird, slow, angular, tuneless type, no-wave-y almost, punk. But it is so… you have to acknowledge the impact of Alice Cooper, and especially of KISS, to this band. This band earnestly loves KISS to the point that those three solo records that came a little bit before this in ’92, the covers are in the style of the KISS solo albums. And that’s a totally earnest thing. There’s not a hint of irony in how much they love KISS, which, your boy can’t relate, but that’s fine. You love what you love. I mean, we just, waxed poetic a ton about the Allman Brothers, and that may not be everybody’s thing. But there are like some little moves that I really, really like, if I can zoom in on a handful of moments…. because this first block of four, this rock block, like really flies by. Uh, “Skweetis” is like a minute and a half. Uh, “Sweet Willy Rollbar” is like a minute and a half. So those are super punky, in and out. And then I think “Queen” and “Revolve” are three and a half, maybe four apiece. So you’re in and out of this thing in 10 or 12 minutes. I want to point out the majesty of Dale Crover, and we can, we can hone in on that in a minute, but this intro of the very first song starts with drums. Not like a four count in, but like the dude starts jamming kind of immediately. And it’s got that blown out drum sound. The Melvins are a drummer’s band, and Dale Crover is a drummer’s drummer. Then “Queen” is probably the… I know “Revolve” was like the “lead single,” big air quotes around that, but it had a music video and everything. But I think “Queen” is the most single-y, classic rock-y type of thing. And it’s got it’s got a, bad-ass memorable riff, that “dow-now, dow-now-now”. And then “Sweet Willy Rollbar”, right at a minute or a minute ten’s got a weird little two-bar break. And I remember Josh Homme one time saying about the Misfits, of the song “She”, he was like, it’s the best chorus of all time ’cause they only do it once. And doing a thing not quite enough is a really cool kind of pro move and music that I love a lot. And then in “Revolve”, which apparently is like an all time fan favorite Melvins song, which I didn’t really know, but it is in their top five on Spotify and it gets cited a lot. Uh, at 2:20, there’s like a, a mosh part, but it’s like mosh, quiet, mosh. Normally in the middle of a song or the end of the song, a band would bring that up is kind of the standard move, but they do the mosh part and then they bring it way down and then they bring it way back up. Kind of a classic rock or almost funk… again, super live type of move… inversion, just great dynamic control. There’s a lot to love, but I think the first 20 times through of listening to the record, I missed a lot of those moments and I just got the general sense that I loved that little block kind of as a whole before it starts spreading out some, but I wanted to be really precise in like, that’s maybe a little moment or a little move that can make you love the Melvins.

Cliff: And a couple of things that stood out to me in that block, too. And I also agree; I feel like  “Queen” is probably the overlooked single of the record, actually. It’s maybe the best song. That’s real hard to say. But a couple of things that stood out to me were, thinking about that classic rock thing because it came up so often in the nineties and I started trying to listen to… this is exactly the type of shit I love to do in my life… I would like to imagine what it would be like to be a person in the nineties, thinking about classic rock during the nineties, trying to listen to Stoner Witch through that lens and pick it out. And so there were definitely some places where I got a little bit more of it. but on “Revolve” specifically, the tone of the solo is just like straight out of “American Woman”… that filtered, kind of sustain-y, almost The Who type sound. And I think people being familiar with Melvins’ beginnings as like a Cream and Hendrix cover band who also liked playing Black Flag songs probably created that kind of like over-indexing on it in the nineties where they were not, at that point, a band who had been around for 40 years. So like, I think people drew those things out, whereas now you listen to it… if you haven’t heard this band before, like all this stuff kind of sneaks by you. The other thing I just like, can’t not mention to you specifically on earth is like “Sweet Willy Rollbar” is like a Suck Out the Poison era He is Legend song to a T. It’s like a template. Oh man, you can hear it.

Kyle: I wonder if any of those guys are actually fans of the Melvins or if it’s like a second, third degree thing for them at that point. I’d be really curious about that.

Cliff: I’d be curious, too. Cause like I, sometimes I hear the similarities between Buzz and Adam actually, uh, in the way that they play. But especially in that song, and it just kinda like blew me away hearing it that way.

Kyle: You made that point about Buzz’s solo tone. First of all, incredible guitar tone live. It doesn’t necessarily always translate on record. It is cool sounding on record, but live it’s like incredible punk guitar. Like he and Kurt Ballou are two of my favorite guitarists to go see live just purely for the sound and intonation of the vibrations. Doesn’t really matter what else happens; I just want to stand near their amps. But he’s got the low kind of chugga tone. And I think a lot of the like “let’s call them sludge” comes from that chug move that he does, the real , super downstroke-y thing. But then when he solos and goes three quarters of the way up the neck, he does that kind of Billy Gibbons bent note blues thing, but it’s not like really quite a ZZ Top thing. I think the “American Woman” thing is right on the money, but my all time favorite Melvins song is “A History of Bad Men”, and he’s doing that all over that song. So that’s kind of a key component. Like maybe it’s an Ace Frehley thing, actually sort of… that combination of like really chunky down stroking and bent note, really simple, like one-two type [emulating guitar noises], is… yeah, I know. I always… every time I make a sound effect noise to try to emulate a music sound, I immediately regret it. And I’m like, “I hope we can cut that and replace it with a real clip.” And then you never do.

Cliff: I like watching you regret it.

Kyle: Cause you can see it in my face, even, even virtually right now. But he does have a, he’s a guitar antihero. And I started thinking about… their sort of, like, classic rock earnest through the lens of Harvey Milk from Athens, Georgia, who, Joe Preston, who played bass in the band for a little while and went on to do a solo project called Thrones, and is like a super prolific and weird, heavy and experimental music dude, played bass on my favorite Harvey Milk record, and one of my favorite records of all time, period: Life… The Best Game in Town.

So there’s so many connections to like weird “one-of-one” music that we love that extends there. Uh, but Creston Spiers, who’s the Buzz Osborne of Harvey Milk, has a similar thing where they also love KISS and, adopt a similar posture. Harvey Milk is arguably just kind of like a Southern Melvins when they’re at their best, but they did a whole record called The Pleaser that was all just really distilled classic rock, bar rock type shit, and was the trap door through which I learned that these bands were not ashamed to be big fans of their older brother’s or uncle’s “T-top Camaro” type music tastes, which is cool, ’cause why would you not dig that? It’s guitar music, the same way that punk shit is; you just got to learn to actually play your instrument well.

Cliff: It’s true. We’re exactly one generation too far removed to understand the KISS thing earnestly, but they’re not the only band to love it that way.

Kyle: I think we just never smoked dirt, weed and drank punch, punch top beers in a, in a parking lot. We were probably one of those nights and a date with a cheerleader away, uh, from being like, “Yeah, KISS rules, dude!” But hopefully not.

Cliff: Sorry. I’m, uh, currently reconciling the Melvins being a cheerleader date away from loving KISS. So I’m trying to like put all this stuff together in my brain.

Kyle: I would have loved to take a date to see the Melvins. Talk about a litmus test, my God. Never has it occurred to me to take even my beautiful weirdo wife to see the Melvins, who might actually be marginally into it. But God, I can’t… that’s a scene that I want to see in a Netflix show.

Cliff: Taking dates to Melvin shows. Man! We’ve gone through the rock block at the top, which is like uncharacteristically 96 Rock about this band already. And then you hit “Goose Freight Train”, which, kind of depending on what side of the bed you wake up on is like, basically just like Tom Waits aping now,  we’ve literally gone from weird kind of punky grunge stuff, one of which might be a single, into whatever this is. And now the rest of the record gets more Melvins than… well, it gets Melvins, I guess is the way to put it. Whereas you kind of get dropped into the middle of it in a lot of other albums that they do, this one really warms you up, but by the time you get here, like there’s no returning,

like it,

Kyle: the

Cliff: does not come

Kyle: The first four songs were a trailer for a movie that is very loosely related to the action in the trailer. But I’m a sucker for “Goose Freight Train” because it’s like a 6/8 blues shuffle, but it is like a weird Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Birthday Party type of thing. It’s beatnik blues. It’s acid blues. It’s real like gonzo-y. It’s strange. It has the posture and a little bit of the sound of the blues, but it’s not trying to be the blues at all. It’s some cool… it’s some cool, weird stuff.

Cliff: But especially if this is your first time checking out this record, don’t bail yet. Uh, don’t bail here. “Roadbull” is also a little bit of like, uh, you’ve kind of left whatever station you were originally in with this band, but it doesn’t go too far out. You’ve got to get to “At the Stake”…

Kyle: I don’t want to gloss over “Roadbull”, though, ’cause that’s my favorite song on the record. And I wanted to ask you what your favorite song on the record is because I think I can guess? “Roadbull” is the best loud, quiet, loud moment. I know I talked about the mosh, quiet, mosh in “Revolve”, but it’s got the coolest dynamics. It’s got those weird hair metal drums. Like they, they do an intro, then bail on the structure of whatever that was entirely, after Buzz yells out. And it’s got the best gnarly bass tone, super distorted, great, gritty, low end. This is also specifically the one I could see being a Kyuss song, like a weird kind of acid-y, and… “Roadbull” is the one with the whistle part at the end, right? It all sort of, it starts to blend together for me a little bit, but if that is also the one with the whistle part at the end, it’s for sure my favorite song on the record and it sits kind of at the start of the proper second act, you know, about 40% of the way into the record. And then you get into “At the Stake”.

Cliff: Well, you mentioned the drumming, too. You can bring it up kind of throughout this whole deal, but I think the Kyuss comparisons are fair. Like, it’s hard to find another band other than… I hate myself a little bit for it, ’cause it’s so easy to go back to, but like… Led Zeppelin where you’ve got like the drummer is driving and almost mathy without feeling technical. You don’t get confused, but you’re also never bored. The drums never recede too far into the background. And if they do recede, the way that they recede backwards, they might play something simple, but they’re loud as hell. Like they’re an important part of whatever’s being played, or he pulls totally back into kind of like a psych interlude or…

Kyle: He, he plays so hard live. I think the Bonzo comparison is apt. It’s not apt for most people, but it is for Dale Crover, because he is capable of being very technical, but he doesn’t try too hard to be in like a, you know, see a guy do a demo at NAMM type of way. It is very loose and it’s very feel-based, but it is very punk and that he… he bashes the shit out of that kit the whole time. And the whole mix is kind of predicated around that, even though the Melvins is ostensibly like a guitar band… they’re really a drum band. Rhythm, drumming drives so much of this band. And he has such interesting fills and also like Bonzo, you kind of don’t know what he’s going to do, measure to measure. Like he very often does not do the same thing in the same refrains. So he always keeps it interesting in that way.

Cliff: Another notch in the column of arguing that a guitar riff band’s actual most important member is the drummer every single time. Well, I hadn’t really thought of a favorite song, but I think the “At the Stake” and “Magic Pig Detective” combo is one of my favorite things from Melvins, period. Because once you’ve gotten here in the record, and again, you know, we’re, we’re big on trying to listen through linearly at least as one form of listening through an album. So getting to the point of “At the Stake” has already taken me through some interesting territory, but then it’s worth getting there specifically because they start to kind of do, to me, more of a tour of the rest of their music for the next 20 years starting here, because now you’re getting…

Kyle: Now you’re in the Melvins museum, so to speak.

Cliff: Yup. And you know, you, you mentioned sludge earlier and like, they said in an interview that, you know, “sludge is how people describe you when they’ve never listened to your band.” But, like specifically here, you start to draw out some of that kind of doomy type stuff that would have seemed out of place, innovative, interesting, whatever, at the time. Right. Like, yeah. And, and, you know, you mentioned the influence on Sunn. Uh, you know, we could definitely say bands like Earth and all that as well. You don’t get any of that scene that we love so much without some bands, like Melvins kind of doing the connection between Black Sabbath and then whatever was happening in the Pacific Northwest. And so to me, like, this is just a nice little microcosm of what it started to mean to have like sludge and stoner and doom and punk and all this stuff kind of coalesce into a good band like Melvins, who would then create again, 50 sub-genres down the road.

Kyle: It goes back to, I know I’ve cited this on the podcast before, and I can’t remember when… maybe Chelsea Wolfe… ASG from Wilmington had on their MySpace bio, their “Sounds Like” was “shit that sounds fucking good, like Cat Power and Slayer. That’s so Melvins! That ethos comes from the Melvins entirely. Uh it’s like, I don’t care what it is. It’s just gotta be cool and sound great. I figured “At the Stake” would be your favorite song because, to me, now, in 2021, it sounds like post metal, like this is where the ISIS, Sumac, Aaron Turner, Pelican sort of stuff could branch off from.

I think “At the Stake” is worth pointing a finger toward, because classic Melvins, their sweet spot- kind of the first half of the record- is very hard to emulate. You can’t play it unless you’re those guys. It’s the stuff that they can do with their eyes closed, but then anytime the Melvins diverge from the sweet spot, entire bands could be born from a single Melvins song on “repeat one.” So ” At the Stake” is specifically one that if you like, or you might be inclined to like, a band like ISIS or Pelican or Mono or even Earth or Sunn. Sunn specifically said they kind of are a band because of the first 15 minutes of Lysol, from 1992, which is just drone tones. So a combination of that and the band Earth, whose early stuff is very similar in the vein of Lysol; the stuff that Dylan Carlson was doing back then. And so that’s the centerpiece of the record in a lot of ways. And it’s not a part of the record that people tend to talk about from anything that I read, but I, think it’s absolutely pivotal to understanding the Melvins in general.

Cliff: Yep, totally agree. And then even right on the next song, “Magic Pig Detective”… This is basically Mars Volta level trolling, again, hiding the song three minutes and 30 seconds into a track.

Kyle: Such a Melvins move.

Cliff: Just pure noise. Yeah. But like, another reason that this is such a good kind of quintessential record is for the same reason that it was strange that they had a rock block at the beginning. Well, here they are downstream, so to speak, on the record, like really pulling it out wide. You don’t end up getting an album full of bangers or hits or whatever, with a couple of interludes, like nah, they’re kind of like reaching up and now they’re like really stretching the putty out real far towards the bottom.

Kyle: Yeah, we.

Cliff: getting weird.

Kyle: We talked about “emotional landscapes” with Björk and Homogenic being a world. I wrote the note that after “Roadbull”, you start pushing to the edge of the map if this is an open-world environment. You really start trying to find the outer limits of what they’re doing. I also said for “Magic Pig Detective”, if you dig the actual song part that starts at three and a half minutes, then you should go check out the band Flipper. Cause it’s a real Flipper-y like skater punk, Dogtown and Z boys type of jam. And if you dig the noise stuff, which they’re so good at… they’re so good at… If you dig that you should check out Colossus of Destiny, which is their live record from ’01 and Buzz cites… every time they talk about their discography, and they’ve been asked a number of times, ” Where do I start with the Melvins? Cause you’ve put out so much stuff and it’s so different.” He always cites that at or near the top. And it’s like a really kind of inaccessible, weird noise, knob twisting record for an hour. It’s like one hour long noise soundscape thing, but it is one of the tightest Melvins records. And I don’t think I could’ve gotten into it any earlier than a couple of years ago after slogging through thousands and thousands of bands and kind of like honing in on my taste, but it’s a super rad thing to put on. And so you start to see inklings of electronic experimentation with the first half of “Magic Pig Detective”.

Cliff: I’m glad you pointed that out because at this point, like, hopefully we’ve gotten a few people to listen to this record for the first time ever. Great. Maybe you don’t want to go any further. That’s fine. I…

Kyle: We appreciate you trying.

Cliff: Well, personally, I’m still gonna say you’re listening to the best grunge band that existed. and you’ll probably disagree with me, but not too hard. So like that’s an okay place for you to start anyway and stop if you want to. But going out and doing the adventurous catalog surfing is dangerous work in the Melvins catalog. Uh, and like, so you mentioned a little bit of it, it’s even worth noting here. Like don’t even go chronologically, because released

Kyle: that that’ll break your heart. Yeah.

Cliff: Yup. Released in the same year was an album called Prick, which they released on Amphetamine Reptile records, which was like their, you know, pre Atlantic thing.

Kyle: Yeah, which is, you know, Jesus Lizard and the AmRep label had a sound for kind of like aggressive counterculture, noise rock type of music.

Cliff: Yup. And so instead of a few important things. First of all, it was described directly by Buzz as quote, “A total noise crap record that we did strictly for the weirdness factor. Complete and utter nonsense. A total joke.”  You know, we, we try to figure out how to put these episodes together and tell a little bit of a story that you might not hear otherwise. And like, it was important to talk some, at least, about the semi unique way that they are antagonistic before you start hearing stuff like this. Because it is of a different type entirely than someone who’s literally putting out a record that they don’t care about. That’s not really what he’s saying. He’s telling you directly what he thinks you’re going to experience it as, which is complete and utter nonsense. But on top of it, like, because everything goes so deep, do you happen to know, Kyle, like why they named it Prick?

Kyle: I don’t. I’d love for you to enlighten me, ’cause I’m sure there’s a great story that’ll make me roll my eyes.

Cliff: Do you really not know?

Kyle: I really don’t know.

Cliff: Okay. so the original title of that record was Kurt Cobain. And because he died, they did not want to name it Kurt Cobain anymore because they thought people would assume it was a tribute record. So they named it Prick because Kurt was a prick for dying and making them change the name of the record.

Kyle: That pretty well sums up the Buzz Osborne school of comedy.

Cliff: it’s hard to express how much I loved reading that back to you.

Kyle: He talks a lot about… he goes to that place a lot as a comedic device. Uh, was it that Ernie Ball podcast you sent me where it’s like,  “What about the state of the rock and roll or the punk rock industry should change?” And he was like, I think everybody in it should kill themselves.

Cliff: Yeah, we’ll play the clip. They said, uh, he said, “if you had a magic wand and you could change one thing about the music industry, absolutely anything you want, what would you do?” And he said, “I would make a button that would kill everyone at the same time.” Okay. And then Steve, you know, Steven, the bassist, uh, who’s like in the interview with them, you can, you can just kind of hear him like take a deep breath. I’m like, all right, I’ll get it from here, I

Kyle: Aw, Buzz.

Cliff: But even, even that interview is actually really good example. And we talked about it a little bit together. Like it’s a nice little microcosm of like, kind of bounce the trolling off of each other a little bit. And they ended up having a really, honestly, really clear-eyed conversation about the state of the music industry, uh, about streaming revenues… Another unique aspect of a band that’s been around this long in this specific timeframe that they were in, is they’ve seen the entire music industry digitize, while they were still a band. So they have this like shockingly normal and calm attitude about the whole thing where like, even in that, you know, that interview on the Ernie Ball podcast, we were mentioning like, he’s just passively making jokes. Like “when was this time where bands were getting paid by labels for anything, in any format,” you know? And so like they ended up even kind of talking through like, actually not that much has changed. Uh, labels are still finding a way to take as much money as they possibly can out of the deal, no matter how much of the pie is divided up, however it’s divided, and effectively, which I really enjoyed in that interview, like they kind of come to the conclusion of like, “Oh, actually the music industry is an untenable, unscalable ball of economy that we can’t really do anything about.”

Kyle: And they always arrive at a place that is hard to hear on the surface. Right. They have these pretty nuanced, thoughtful perspectives about things; you just have to get through the sort of, what seems like a Reddit troll thing. But it always, at the core translates to, we only care about the music and nothing else. And, you know, we’ve ridden every economic and trend wave and stayed right in front of the tsunami the whole time. Nothing’s killed us yet. So, y’know, shrug, who cares. We’ll just be over here doing our thing while you guys worry about all that shit. We’ll find a way to figure it out. And it’s hard not to admire a perspective like that, that, for all of the bands and people and things, and artists and politicians and personalities, and everybody in the world who say they don’t care and go out of their way to make you believe they don’t care… like these guys really don’t. And it’s great!… It’s not always great. But I respect it.

Cliff: It is great at a rate that is normal for any human being occasionally doing things that they care about. Every now and then it does work out really well. But yeah, I feel like no matter what, even inside the little microcosm of this podcast episode, we’re still going to have that thing where it’s like, if you’ve ever talked to anyone about Melvins, it’s not like you come to any conclusion. Or like finish the conversation. You’re just kinda like, “Yeah, they’re weird, man.” If you haven’t checked them out, you should. If you have checked them out, then we’re already on the same page about this. And there’s not really that much that we can say other than kind of like bringing up random tidbits that made us feel good as we experienced Melvins. And now we just kind of like quietly devolve.

Kyle: it’s a question without an answer, for sure. There is like a “chi of Melvins.” We started… when we were texting, I sent you that video where he’s doing an acoustic in-store and he’s talking shit about Dave Grohl and how they’re not really friends anymore cause Dave’s so famous and Dave won’t text him.

Cliff: Yeah.

Kyle: Yeah. And it’s like really, really cringy. But then for every one thing like that, there’s like somebody wrote a retrospective of their career and this guy talked about Prick and he was like, “I think it says a lot about a guy”… talking about Buzz… “when the only time he shows off his exceptional guitar ability is on an obscure album on an obscure label.” Just only really worried about the pure stuff. He said in that same podcast episode, I think, that he’s a Groucho Marxist, that he doesn’t want to be accepted by any club that’ll have him as a member, and that’s probably a good way to sum up the whole deal. So you can get through all of that stuff, all of the signifiers that help you understand and sort of like algorithmically go through in your mind whether or not you’re going to like a band. But they’re a rabbit hole with no bottom, if for no other reason than I was going through and seeing all the bands they’ve covered on these EPs and like one-off splits and stuff like that. And I’ve not heard of any of the bands they’ve ever covered. So they have this weird rabbit hole in guitar music where they’ve covered sixties psych pop bands, like the Fugs, who I’ve never heard of, and a band called the Pop-O-Pies, who did a song called “Fascists Eat Donuts” And everything like that just shows an encyclopedic, record store clerk knowledge that you could only amass if you were too busy studying that and devoting all your time and energy, at an almost unconscious drive level. Any time spent worrying about what other people think about it, or like having to stop down from what you’re doing to explain it to people… all of that is a waste of time activity. And I respect the purity of just how much they really do love music and kind of nothing else.

Cliff: I have an idea to close since you brought up Groucho Marxism. And I thought that that line was so good from Buzz. And also just kind of coming back to that, sitting right there on that edge of Boomer and Gen X, maybe Melvins are just dad jokes for nihilists. Yeah. Even if they’re not, I’ll still go to the very next show I can possibly attend. Cause I don’t miss a Melvins show if I’m around.

Kyle: …and this is where we cue ” Lividity”, and, like the Melvins, try to end on the weirdest note possible.

Cliff: We didn’t care about this episode anyway.

Kyle: That’s our show, everybody. We’re uh,  we’re all gonna die. See ya.

Cliff: I’m fine with that ending. Do you want to do another one?

Kyle: No, I don’t. Mmm-mmm Truly, truly: fuck you and everyone who was ever born. Time is flat. Nothing matters. I’m done trying to explain the Melvins. You either get it or you don’t. If you want some positivity, go back to the Dolly Parton episode, you fucking dipshit. Have a great night.

Original "Bitches Brew" Art

To celebrate the endless creativity of Bitches Brew—and especially its famous album artwork—TuneDig partnered with two incredible Atlanta-based artists to create one-of-a-kind, handpainted gatefolds.

With the spirit of the original art in mind, each artist brought their own vision to life. These pieces will spark conversation for any jazz fan.

Each piece includes a new vinyl copy of Bitches Brew. 100% of the purchase price goes directly to the artist, so take this opportunity to support the arts in the raddest possible way.

Seriously. There’s literally only one of each. Make it yours. 😎

SEASON 5 EPISODES

TuneDig Episode 41: Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew”

Let’s be clear: "Bitches Brew" is a challenging record, even to some of the best musicians in the world — but all of them say it’s worth the investment. It’s the kind of trip that, even if we *could* draw a map, it wouldn’t take you there. Let go of the need for meaning and enjoy the ride with us. We can promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised where you end up.

Read More

TuneDig Episode 40: Fiona Apple’s “Tidal”

On the heels of one of 2020's most acclaimed albums — Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters — we revisited Apple’s debut Tidal and wound up working to extract ourselves from the mostly male gazes that made its reception … much different. We arrive at a question much like writer Jenn Pelly had: “People would constantly prod Fiona on how an 18-year-old could write songs as mature as these ... Why did they not ask instead how she became a genius?”

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TuneDig Episode 39: Death Grips’s “The Money Store”

The modern world is accelerating beyond our control, shaping our reality in ways we can’t yet perceive or understand. Enter Death Grips, an art project capturing the chaotic energy and illustrating the absurdity of our hubris in trying to harmonize the surreal and extremely real — never more perfectly than on 2012’s prescient "The Money Store".

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TuneDig Episode 38: Augustus Pablo’s “King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown”

Reggae music is easy to take for granted, but its impact is underappreciated and massive — in the case of dub in particular, everyone from Radiohead to Johnny Rotten to Run-DMC owes it a debt. Augustus Pablo and King Tubby together created what’s regarded as “one of the finest examples of dub ever recorded.” Join us as we dive into the culture, history, and unique engineering experiments that made it possible.

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TuneDig Episode 37: Rihanna’s “ANTI”

By every measure — sales, awards, chart-toppers, global name recognition — Rihanna is objectively as big as the Beatles ever were. In fact, ANTI is so big it’s still on the charts, a record five full years later. Take a closer look with us at “the record you make when you don’t need to sell records”, and get a taste of the true freedom that comes from focusing on your inner voice when faced with insurmountable expectations.

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TuneDig Episode 36: Son House’s “Father of Folk Blues”

All American music traces back to the blues, and deep at the root sits Son House. That the recordings on "Father of Folk Blues" even exist is something of a gray area that cuts to the heart of the great American myth, but wherever you land after hearing these stories, you’ll find that what matters most is what the great Muddy Waters once said of House: “That man was the king.”

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TuneDig Episode 35: Melvins’s “Stoner Witch”

The futility of describing the Melvins has stretched critics in the direction of absurd words like “Dadaist” for nearly 40 years now. They’ve belligerently flogged any attempt to pinpoint their essence simply by being themselves, but "Stoner Witch" remains a reliable mall directory for the Melvins’ vast and wild discography. Grab yourself some pretzel bites.

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TuneDig Episode 34: Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”

We should talk about Dolly the way we talk about Prince. Her extraordinary kindness and unique kitsch both make her universally loved, but what gets left out of the conversation is the very thing that made her famous: the music. Join in as we focus attention on the sonics and songwriting of the low-key masterpiece "Jolene".

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RADIO EPISODES

SEASON 4 EPISODES

SEASON 3 EPISODES

SEASON 2 EPISODES

SEASON 1 EPISODES

BONUS TRACK EPISODES

Kyle and Cliff

BONUS TRACK: How We Got Here

We got a bunch of interesting listener feedback in our off-season, and it encouraged us to shed some light on why we do things the way we do ‘em. Also, we reflect on our first writeup, which was ... interesting.

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ABOUT US

We're Cliff (left) and Kyle (right). We’re two dudes born and raised in ATL with day jobs in tech and entertainment, respectively.

We met in middle school, and in one way or another, music’s been the thing that’s kept us close for the two decades since — whether it’s sharing and talking about new music (like this podcast, except in our texts or over beers), going to shows, or working with our favorite record stores to help them survive and thrive.

We started TuneDig as a little art project that connects us more deeply ourselves and to the world through the infinite gift of music. We hope you’ll join us for the conversations, let us know what you think, and share discoveries of your own.

More About TuneDig

TuneDig began as a little something called MusicGrid.me, which we created after realizing there was no place online to directly exchange music recommendations with your friends. Our aim was simple: to make rating albums simple, useful, and social. We got some love from places like MashableWiredEvolver.fm, and Hypebot. We managed to foster conversation between music lovers, get thousands of reviews, and meet great people.

Along the way, we realized that record stores were an essential part of the music lovers’ community. After many a conversation about how we could helpfully connect them to the people who loved them, we began helping them leverage technology to create new revenue streams and embrace streaming services without giving up what’s unique to them: expertise and curation. (Long live the counter clerk who knows exactly which record will be the right introduction to jazz fusion!)

TuneDig is our vision to connect music lovers with the music they love, because no matter how much has changed in the way we discover and enjoy music, recommendations from people you trust and respect will always be the best way to find new music you’ll dig. With this podcast, we’re channeling the spirit of trusted curation pioneered by record stores, and bringing you something to take you deeper into music you can love.