Classic Album: Melvins ‘Houdini’
This interview originally appeared in Rock-A-Rolla issue 46, Oct/Nov 2013
As Melvins’ 1993 classic Houdini turns 20, we sit down with Dale Crover to look back on one of the band’s – and the decade’s – defining albums
Houdini turned 20 in September . How does that make you feel?
“Is it really only 20? No, it doesn’t seem that long, really. It’s funny because the guy who was our sound guy around that time [Billy Anderson] also worked on Houdini and he’s been posting some videos from the tour we did right after we made that record, and both of us were just like, ‘goddamn, we’re old!’ [laughs]. There’s some footage that he posted of us playing with Gene Simmons on that tour – we actually did Going Blind and Gene came down to the show at the Palladium in Hollywood, we were on tour with Primus at the time when that record came out. We recorded Going Blind for Houdini – originally that was supposed to be on Kiss’ own tribute to themselves. I think it was called Kiss My Ass… I can’t remember how they even asked us, they somehow knew that we were Kiss fans, probably because of the solo records that we had done, but anyway we had done Going Blind for a long time before the Houdini record – I think we even did it when we got our first bass player in the band. So we recorded that for the record and they ended up not using it, and the only reason I can remember why was that Dinosaur Jr. had recorded a version of it as well, and those guys probably had to decide between Dinosaur Jr. and the Melvins, and definitely Dino was more popular so I can see why they would do that. Gene heard that, since Kiss didn’t pick our version of the song, we were saying that Kiss didn’t really like us [laughs]. And he was like, ‘no, no that’s not true at all, it was a tough choice and we really like you guys and I know you guys are playing in town soon and I’d like to come down and play the song with you.’ And we were like, ‘sure, that’d be great!’”
So Gene was a fan of Melvins back then?
“He was, we even gave him a Melvins Army t-shirt at that show, and he was like, ‘oh this is great, I’ll wear it when I do my next photo shoot.’ And we just kinda thought, ‘oh yeah, sure you will, it’s nice of you to say that but, whatever, it’s cool…’ And then I actually saw him on the cover of, it wasn’t Kerrang! but it was a similar metal publication, and there he was, wearing the Melvins shirt! He didn’t lie.”
“We played Lysol for Atlantic – I thought they’d freak out more, but they seemed to be okay with it”
It was, of course, your first album on a major label. How much of the material was written before signing with Atlantic?
“Probably two songs I would say: Night Goat, which we already released as a single on AmRep, that’s actually the single that got us signed. And the other song would be Set Me Straight, which was actually written before I was even in the band. And we hadn’t planned on putting that song on the record but it was actually Kurt Cobain who suggested that we do that because he thought that song was one of our best early songs and slightly catchy, slightly poppy, except that it doesn’t really have a bridge or a guitar solo [chuckles]. It has two verses, two choruses and that’s it. That’s what the Melvins used to sound like anyway, when I joined the band there were no guitar solos, so it was kinda Ramones influenced right there. Ramones never had any guitar solos, at least early on. Those were the two songs that were written before we recorded that record. Everything else was pretty fresh, brand new. We did that record in sessions, ‘cause when we signed we didn’t really have any songs – not that we couldn’t write songs easily enough and quick enough – but how we’d do it is we’d write a bunch of songs and go and record them and then go and play shows or do whatever and then write some more songs… So we did that whole record in sessions, there’s at least four or five different sessions for that. We started out at this place in San Francisco called Razor’s Edge, that’s where our old sound guy Billy Anderson worked, the guy I was talking about earlier, he engineered a bunch of that and then eventually we worked at this other place in San Francisco – what was that place called? Anyway, that record was like a puzzle. But for us it was fine, we were used to making records that didn’t have huge budgets – couple of thousand dollars, doing the whole record in four days – so this was kind of a luxury for us to do the record that way.”