While grunge’s ubiquitous success in the early ’90s was a surprise, what happened next was not. After the explosive rise of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden, an army of A&R executives has scrambled en masse across the Pacific Northwest with express orders to find the next flannel-clad superstars who could deliver a It does not matter Where Dirtmedium-sized blockbuster.
One of the most unlikely bands to get caught in the nets of big brand trawlers was Melvins. Between 1993 and 1996, these irreverent musical iconoclasts from the backwaters of Washington State released three albums on Atlantic Records, home of Skid Row, Dream Theater and AC / DC. The first of them, Houdini, housed Bucket of honey, the song that would give them the closest thing to a breakthrough hit – although, typically contrary, its uptempo but complex metallic hardcore cross-pollination with thick, vicious riffs and weird time signatures didn’t sound like it. whether their old underground contemporaries were producing.
“If Captain Beefheart were a metal band, it would sound like this,” says lead singer and guitarist Buzz Osborne of both Bucket of honey and his band’s production in general, referring to the gravel-throated visionary behind the avant-garde masterpiece of the late 1960s Trout Mask Replica. “Bucket of honey is one of our most popular songs. I would never have guessed when writing it. I thought it was cool, but I didn’t think it was going to be what it was going to be.
Melvins had released four full indie albums before Atlantic’s call, featuring a pre-grunge doom / stoner / sludge hybrid with secondary controls of everything from offbeat classic rock to sunny ’60s pop. They weren’t. not above a little mischief either: the years 1992 Lysol album resulted in a cease and desist order from the cleaning company from which it takes its name.
Superficially, it’s not hard to see what Atlantic saw in Melvins. Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain regularly featured them as one of his favorite bands, partly because of their maverick musical approach and partly because they had proven that it was possible to escape. from the claustrophobic surroundings of the small town in the Northwest. The unofficial sponsorship of the most talked about rock star was a plus for the label. Melvins’ geographic connection to the new center of the musical universe didn’t hurt either.
“At that point, the center-left groups were signed because Nirvana and Soundgarden were selling tons of records,” says Buzz. “The labels didn’t know what was going to work – five minutes ago they were doing hair metal – but because they are aiming to make money, they signed 15 to 20 bands and hoped that some- a few of them have sold millions of records. We did it, but the difference was that we didn’t expect to sell millions of records. We figured it was business as usual, that we would make a record with Atlantic and carry on. “
The deal with a major didn’t make Buzz and drummer Dale Crover millionaires overnight, but it did give them a break. Rather than just locking themselves in a cramped studio for a week and coming out with a record, that meant they could spend a little more time working on their debut album for their new payers and generally mixing it up.
Houdini was recorded over 20 Princely Days, in four different studios, with an array of guest producers, engineers and musicians. Regular bassist Lori ‘Lorax’ Black – daughter of 1930s child star Shirley Temple, no less – was largely out of action due to drug addiction issues that made her position in the group precarious, so Buzz and Dale played most of the bass on the album themselves, with Blessing The Hogs guitarist / vocalist Billy Anderson on a few tracks.
“Lori Black played on a few songs, but I can’t remember which ones,” Buzz says. “Billy did a few, but no matter what the credits say, it was mostly me or Dale playing bass. Houdinicredit is questionable at best; there is certainly some fiction in there.
The most important piece of fiction in HoudiniThe album’s credit list relates to the involvement of their friend Kurt Cobain, who is listed as one of the producers of the album. Kurt was initially brought on board to listen to the songs – most of which were written long before the band signed to Atlantic – and usually donates an extra pair of ears when it comes to arrangements. Things started off pretty well, but it quickly escalated into an unproductive mess as the Nirvana singer’s drug use began to get in the way, scratching the nerves of teetotal Buzz. The Melvins frontman found himself in the position of having to pull one of the world’s most famous musicians out of the project.
“The last part of his time there he was a mess, drug wise,” says Buzz. “I went to Atlantic and said I couldn’t make it work with him. I had no interest in publicly revealing Kurt’s issues – I didn’t think it was anyone’s business. I just wanted him to quit the project and that’s when we got [Rage Against The Machine producer] GGGarth Richardson.
Even in the midst of monolithic riffs and musical excursions flouting the conventions that make up Houdini, Bucket of honey stands. In just three minutes and a second, he manages to unite the worlds of thrash, twisted punk and even high energy blues rock. Typically, it also ditched the straight verse-chorus-verse structure for two separate sections – the first part of the song is an explosion of cinderblock noise and weird time signatures, while the second part relies on a more unlikely source.
“The second riff is something I’ve always loved: a riffage with an almost funky backbeat, what ZZ Top looks like at their best: always having an impenetrable groove that has more swing, is undeniably good and extremely sexy, ”says Buzz. “This second riff is what sells it. This riff is so good, one of the best I have ever written.
Exactly what Bucket of honey is on anyone’s guess, however. Flow of words of consciousness such as’Eight times I ran into an enemy fi / Like covered and clean / I must smell the motor wheel / Real fashion skin‘are as much of a conundrum today as they were then, and Buzz remains elusive on the subject.
Perhaps it was missing the lyrical rallying cry and hymn of Smells like Teen Spirit Where Pose of jesus christ, but that didn’t stop Atlantic from coming out Bucket of honey as the first single from the album. This attempt to introduce Melvins to the mainstream was accompanied by a video that highlighted the group’s absurd leanings, as Buzz, a Speedos-clad, cowboy-booted Dale Crover and new bassist Mark Deutrom performed in a farm in front of a captive audience of goats, sheep, cowgirls wielding the lasso and a guy in a police uniform.
“It was a friend of ours who is now dead, Bill Bartell, who also played lead guitar on the cover of Kiss’s. Become blind [also on Houdini], says Buzz. “He said, ‘Hey, I have a mounted police suit!’ And it was like, ‘Great!’ The cowgirls were friends of my wife who owned horses, so they brought them over. The director chose the farm and it was a very cheap video to make. I never believed in videos. They didn’t interest me because that wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it was fun.
It’s an exaggeration to say that Bucket of honey turned Melvins into stars the size of Nirvana, but it helped put this eccentric trio on the edge of the mainstream radar, reaching No.29 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart and helping Houdini move 100,000 copies out of the gate. Echoes of his furious, choppy energy can be heard in the jagged, jarring roar of the early Mastodons and High On Fire, two groups who cited Melvins as an influence. Dillinger Escape Plan and Lamb Of God went further by recording covers of Bucket of honey (The version of Lamb Of God appeared on 2018 Legion: XX, under their original name Burn The Priest).
The success of Bucket of honey and Houdini unexpectedly helped extend Melvins’ stay on Atlantic much longer than expected, with the label releasing two more studio albums, the 1994s Witch Stoner and 1996 Stag. “No one was more surprised than us that we did three albums on a major label,” Buzz says with a laugh.
Today, the track remains one of the band’s best-known songs, appearing on various Essential Sludge and Best Grunge playlists. Where other bands might see their biggest hits as unwanted baggage, Melvins has no such issues. Bucket of honey is still a staple at their gigs – they even recorded an unplugged version for the next acoustic album Five-legged dog.
“I don’t know what it is compared to our other songs, but we played it live for a long time and then we didn’t, but we kept getting requests,” says Buzz. “Now we’re just going to play it and we’ll play it from now on. It’s a good song and we’re not going to deny its popularity just to be jerks.
the new Melvins album, Five-legged dog, is now available via Ipecac