On September 5, 2002, Melvins Lite—guitarist Buzz Osborne, bassist Trevor Dunn, and drummer Dale Crover—embarked on a fifty-one-day rock ‘n’ roll journey that even other road warriors would consider insane. Here, Crover tells the tale.
Hello, fellow drummers! Dale Crover here from Melvins Lite, the “Lite” part differentiating between the two lineups of our band we currently have going. For the past six years we’ve been playing with Jared Warren and Coady Willis, the rhythm section of Big Business. While they’ve been busy with their own band, we decided that we would do something completely different and add a stand-up bass player. Enter one Trevor Dunn, who has played with Mr. Bungle and Fantomas, as well as with avant-garde composer John Zorn.
We did a test-run Melvins Lite tour with Trevor a little over a year ago to see if playing with a stand-up bass would even work. We decided that it was indeed something cool and that we should record a new album with Trevor and do a record-setting tour of the USA—all fifty states plus Washington, D.C., in fifty-one days. If we could accomplish this, we’d hold the Guinness world record for fastest tour of the U.S. and D.C. by a band!
The tour would take us to states we’d never played before. After a warm-up gig in Sacramento (because you have to warm up before playing fifty-one shows in a row), we flew into Anchorage, Alaska, for show number one. There was a seventy-five-mile-an-hour windstorm when we flew in. After a shaky landing we were happy to be on the ground. This was one of two fly-in gigs, the other being Hawaii. I’ll bring the basics for shows like this—sticks, pedals, and cymbals. I’ve gotten used to dealing with whatever drumkit is available and making it work for me, but I was happy to get a nice set of Tama Starclassics. Great gig for our first time playing here. One down, fifty to go!
We flew back to Seattle for show number two. From here until Hawaii we would be driving ourselves in a van. In Boise we met up with the band Tweak Bird, who would be joining us for most of the rest of the tour. I sold their drummer, Ashton Leech, my old John Bonham–size Ludwig kit a few years back. I used those drums on our early records. It’s nice to be able to hear them every night! We would’ve had Tweak Bird on all the shows, but they would have beat us to the record if we did that. Still, they played forty-seven shows in a row, which is pretty impressive.
I wasn’t too worried that we could play this many shows consecutively. We’ve certainly done longer tours, like three-month stretches a few times. This tour was a little over seven weeks long. That’s a fairly normal length for a U.S. tour. Our personal record for shows in a row was thirty-something. When you’re on tour you don’t really have a day off anyhow. A day off for us means we have a 600-mile drive to the next gig. Normally we’ll book a day off if we have a monster drive like that.
There were going to be some long hauls on this trip—that was unavoidable. We carefully planned the routing that made the most sense. I guess our biggest worry was making it to the gig without breaking down or, God forbid, getting into an accident. We did have two flat tires in one day near the end of the tour. We used up the spare on the first flat. Thankfully we weren’t too far out of town, and Tweak Bird came to the rescue in their van.
The first few weeks on tour are always the hardest. I have kids at home, which means I’m up early and usually in bed by 11 P.M. That’s about the normal time we would be playing, so I had to get used to staying up late and playing, but I’m used to the lack of sleep. Then, of course, there’s the physical aspect of playing. Playing live is always more intense than when you’re practicing your set for the tour. You’re more amped up than normal. I’m always a bit more sore and tired at the beginning of a tour. The beginning of this trip seemed to be going slow. But by the time we were in the Midwest we were in full swing, and it really started to pick up. The band was playing like a well-oiled machine. We joked how it was starting to feel like the movie Groundhog Day! Get up, drive, set up, play, load the van, drive, sleep….
I’ve been playing with brushes on a few of the songs from last year’s Melvins Lite record, Freak Puke. I’ve played with Regal Tip Blasticks in the past, but never with traditional wire brushes. The first song on the new record, “Mr. Rip Off,” which has a bouncy swing to it, was recorded with wire brushes. Live, I added some sweeping technique in a few sections where it’s mostly ambient bass noises. I was playing harder live compared to the recorded version, and the brushes weren’t taking it so well. I experimented with a few different styles and found that Regal Tip Whiskers—nylon brushes with aluminum handles—held up the best. I also used Regal Tip Flares on a few songs. I used the same pair for the whole tour, and after a while they became frayed and flowery looking, which gave them a unique sound.
We always play the same set every night. I think it works out better that way. I’ve never felt that it was stale, or that I was bored playing the same songs every night. Parts in the songs develop and change throughout the tour, keeping it interesting. And a lot of thought goes into the song order. We always view it as one big performance and not just individual songs. Like a play or a film.
All in all this was one of my favorite tours we’ve ever done. Everything ran relatively smoothly, and no one lost their sanity. Our next plans? Fifty-two shows in fifty-two weeks—one show a week! Wish me luck!
Until next time,
DALE’S “LITE” RIG
I normally play pretty big drums, but for this lineup and tour I wanted something smaller in size. I needed a kit that was suitable for rock, as well as the brushwork I’ve been doing on some of the new songs. I’ve been endorsing Tama for a long time now, and I called them up to see if they could help out with a new kit. I already knew by researching their website that I wanted Silverstars. I was able to get a sky blue sparkle kit—18×22 bass drum, 10×13 rack tom, 14×16 floor tom, and 5×14 snare drum. For heads on this kit I used Aquarian Response 2s on the toms, a Force 1 on the bass drum, and a Hi-Impact on the snare. I went down in size on cymbals and sticks as well. I used Paiste Alphas—22″ Rock ride, 20″ and 18″ Rock crashes, 18″ Rock China, 15″ Rock hi-hats, 13″ Mega Cup Chime, 12″ Flanger Bell, and a 14″ and 18″ Trash set. For sticks I switched from Regal Tip Quantum 3000s to the Death-Ex model with a custom 51/51 tour logo. For brushes I used Regal Tip Whiskers and Flares. The mics on the kit were all Shure, and I use a Shure headset mic for vocals.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE 51/51 TOUR
This show had the venue move a few times. Never a good sign. We ended up at a Grange Hall type of place called Forum 619. It had the feel of a DIY punk rock show from the early ’80s. Except now people know who we are and like us. We like shows where the audience is right up against you!
MORGANTOWN, WEST VIRGINIA. We only played this state once before, in 1994. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Crazy show and crowd at 123 Pleasant Street!
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA. This show was at the Masonic Lodge at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Lots of famous folks buried here: Peter Lorre, Mel Blanc, and both Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone. Our first time playing at a cemetery!
HONOLULU, HAWAII. Our first gig in Hawaii and the last show of the tour, at the Republik. Great last show with an enthusiastic crowd. I would like to have stayed for a few days of relaxing. I did get a chance to jump in the ocean and stare at Diamond Head. Vacations for us mean being at home!