top of page

Accidentalism at it’s best! The Melvins roll on...

A conversation the band's own Buzz Osborne and longtime producer Toshi Kasai in celebration of their latest, "Tarantula Heart".

the melvins, toshi kasai, tarantula heart.
Photograph by Ekaterina Gorbacheva

Text by Rohan (@manvsplaylist), Photographs by Ekaterina Gorbacheva (@ekaterinagorbacheva.art) at Sound of Sirens Studio in Sun Valley, CA:


With the imminent arrival of a new album from The Melvins, the Heaviest of Art crew were lucky enough to chat with both Buzz Osborne and long-time recording collaborator of the band, Toshi Kasai. While visiting the studio (Sound of Sirens Studio) where the audio assaults were captured, we got to learn more about the accidental way this new album, titled Tarantula Heart (available now via Ipecac Recordings), was “Frankenstein-ed” into existence and how the band and engineer have formed such a cohesive bond over the years.

 

The Melvins and Toshi have worked together since 2006’s “A Senile Animal”, so we thought we’d start by diving into why you guys have worked so consistently and so well together over the years?


Buzz: Well, we found him a long time ago, I guess in the early 2000s, and it just clicked. He gets what we're doing. He liked us immediately because we met him and he was an engineer at a studio that we've booked. He said we're the only band that didn't bring in other people's records and say, “This is what we want to sound like.” We walked in and he goes, "Who's the producer here?" We go, "Well, you know how to run everything here, right? Yeah. Well, then let's start recording!" That's how it worked. Then, we started doing some recordings on his little outboard gear at our rehearsal place years and years ago. From there, we started doing it in his own space, I don't know how long ago, eight years ago, maybe? It was a while ago. Then, it just ballooned from there, but that's where we do it. That's where we've done a lot of albums. Honestly, I'm not really in a position to spend massive amounts of money on a record. I think it's silly, especially at this point, considering what you can do. And good, what is a good recording?

the melvins, toshi kasai, tarantula heart.
Photograph by Ekaterina Gorbacheva

Toshi: I don't know what they're thinking! I'm not the best engineer in the world or anything like that, but I do know what's going on, one. I don't like the same things, and they don't either. So one time, they collaborated with Jello, and I knew that was going to be different. Take "Basses Loaded" for instance – that’s different. I also never freak out, and I think that's the reason. Buzz always has great ideas. I do weird things sometimes, too, and then Buzz knows I never freak out, so I can be flexible with his work style, I guess. I'm whatever about recording in some small place versus a bigger place. I think when I joined Big Business, they saw on the tour that I didn't freak out. I was just okay and whatever, very comfortable. I assume that's the reason, but I don't know.



Let’s turn our focus to the new album Tarantula Heart: When did this concept materialize for you about how you were going to make these songs? How did this come about?


Buzz: Well, we did a tour about two years ago with Ministry. On that tour, Roy, who's playing second drums on this record, he's Ministry's drummer. He would come out and play two songs with us every night, so It was really fun to have him do it. Then, I started talking, "Oh, we should do some recording." Sometimes he's like, "I'd love to do it. It'd be great." We got done with that tour, and a couple of months later, I go, "Why don't you come to our space? We already have a drum set in there. It’s all mic’d up, they're ready to go. You don't need to bring a totally traditional drum set. If you want to have weird drums or anything you want to bring, do that." So, we brought that bass drum and some other strange stuff. He also brought a big ARP synthesizer, an old one. Then we set up and I had no idea what we were going to do. I had some basic riffs. I was like, "Let's just get some cool drumming down. Let's see what we can do." I would have a basic riff and I'd describe it to him, and then we would go and record all of it for about 15, 20 minutes.


What I would do is that we'd have the bass and the guitar isolated in the back room, behind the control room. There was no bleed from that. I believe... and then the drums were not isolated, so there's bleed from the drums into each other, but that didn't really matter. So, since it was totally isolated. I didn't have to worry about having to stick with those guitars, the same ones. We did that for two days. We recorded probably eight, seven or eight sessions or jams, but they're more than jams. I was looking for good drum parts. I was thinking, "Let's see if we can get some good drum stuff." Who knows what we're doing. Then, I took rough mixes of all that stuff, and I just sat with them for hours and hours and hours listening to them, trying to figure out what I could do with it. Then, it occurred to me that there were sections in each of them that were like, "Oh, here's a four-minute section out of this 20-minute thing where they really lock up really great. It sounds really cool. I like this dynamic through here." I think the first one I did it on was “Allergic to Food”.



That one, there was no discernible pattern. One time, they do this certain part one time. The next time, it's twice, and it's twice again, and then one. There's no set way how it works out. I sat down and figured out that there's a section I could do something with. Then, I wrote new music to go along with that, with their drum parts, totally different from what we had recorded. Then, I added vocals and I figured out, "Okay, here's where our little guitar solos could go and all this crap like that", and then put vocals on it, and then had Steven come in and do some bass, redo the bass on it, and then send it to those guys. Roy, and even Steven, was like, once I had the guitars on, he goes, "What is this?? I don't remember this at all!!" It was totally different. Roy especially was just like, "How did you get this out of what we recorded??? "Then, when I explained and played it to him, he said, "Well, that's really cool, and I can't believe that that worked!"


It's not digitally edited. It's not like a chopped drum part. I just found sections that would work and then put all this work into it. What ended up happening, accidentally, was we got drum parts, two songs that they wouldn't have played like that if I played the music ended up being on it. So, they're accenting and doing strange stuff in weird spots that you don't really notice, because I don't think anyone would have noticed if that's how I recorded this, if I hadn't said anything about it. Not at all, but the accents are all weird. When you listen to it with that in mind, it's like, "Oh, yeah, the drums are different than they would be if we went in and then took those sessions and had them relearn it, they'd play it different." I did that and I go – "Wow! This is a cool concept." I started working on it. The vast majority of time was just me trying to figure out what would work.

the melvins, toshi kasai, tarantula heart.
Photograph by Ekaterina Gorbacheva

So for you Toshi, when the band and Roy showed up in the studio and there wasn't a sketch of all the songs that were either partially done or mostly done, did that surprise you?


Toshi: In all these years working with them, I’m never surprised by them anymore! I was like, that's something different. But I know it's going to be challenging for sure because how they play. It's going to be challenging. But it was fresh to me. That's why I love working with those guys. In a way, it is a surprise, but more like, Okay, so this, not style, but this structure, we can do this and this. We're figuring out with the process. Then since we got a studio, we record a little bit and we sleep on it. Then come back, and then Buzz asks me, Hey, why don't we edit this part? Why don't we edit this part? Just to cut it in a half, put it together. Or this song and this song is going to be together. The first song is a long song. That's the three different parts. That was a pretty interesting, almost like a puzzle!


When Dale and Roy first came in here, as far as you understand, had they had sessions themselves in their own space, or was the first time that they played and set up here together? So everything was brand new and fresh in here?


T0shi: Yeah, they didn't practice. Roy lives not far from here, so he just drove a few minutes, and then he didn't bring much either. They told him, "Don't bring anything." So, we have three kits in here.


Once everything was tracked, describe the process from that point of how you worked with Buzz to then do all the chopping and splicing as you as you were talking about to come up with the final arrangements.


Toshi: We had a couple of songs that seemed done, pretty much as is, but we wanted to make it shorter. It was too long. Two songs, we Frankensteined just the drums. The longest song is three different takes, and then one is actually from maybe four, five years ago. I don't know which session, before the pandemic I think. That was Buzz’s idea. We recorded and we didn't use it. I had made the mistake to make a rock mix. I gave him the CD, I bound the CD, and the Buzzer says, "Hey, Tosh, do you remember this song? You gave it to me." I didn't ask, but it's like, "Okay, but we're going to use it, great." That song is the very fast part, then we add the noise stuff. The Roy plays synthesizer up at 2600. He brought it and it was gigantic. And then, on another song, he didn't… This is a song he didn't play drums, he instead played synthesizer.

the melvins, toshi kasai, tarantula heart.
Photograph by Ekaterina Gorbacheva

Buzz, Toshi just used the term “Frankensteining” as a good way to put it. How long did you spend Frankensteining these cuts?


Buzz: Most of it was me just listening and listening and listening until I found stuff that would work. I'd go, "Okay, Tosh, from this spot here, like minute 3:56 to 11:40. This section works. Now, cut that out, then send me a mix of that, just the drums." Then, I would take that part and then write music to it without having any idea what I was going to do. Then I go, "Oh, here's a section of drums at work. Here's another of drums at work." I just did it all like that. It came up great! It came up really weird. I don't know that it would be another record like that because if the drummers would have known the concept, they'd be going to play totally different!

the melvins, toshi kasai, tarantula heart.
Photograph by Ekaterina Gorbacheva

Right. That to me is the really interesting part! This is just born out of just the creative happenstance…


Buzz: You know what it is – it’s accidentalism – at it’s best, and I'm not afraid of that. I played it for a fairly prominent musician that's in a very successful band, and he was like, "Well, maybe they should be the demos and then have the drummers relearn it." I'm like, "That would ruin everything!!" Now, when we go to play these songs live, we're going to have to play them like they're cover songs because we've never rehearsed any of this. We've never, ever played these songs!


One other thing I’ll add is that I've always been very interested in lots and lots of wide variety music. This album, "Tarantula Heart", was certainly influenced by electric Miles Davis albums and the way those guys recorded and all that stuff is live in the studio, and then they do all kinds of things to it. I'm very, very, very interested in all that. It's been a huge influence on us for years and years and years, especially with the drums. I really can't say enough about it, especially records like "On the Corner", "Big Fun", "Bitches Brew", obviously. Just those three are enough, and especially the box sets of "Bitches Brew" and "On the Corner" are fucking awesome. With those albums, and with our new record too, It's like, how do you decide what you're going to use?? They have so much stuff. I don't know that I would record like that again, but it was definitely fun to do and certainly influenced by how they were not…


Miles Davis was not worried about a 20-minute song. He was capable of listening to long, drawn-out stuff and not losing interest in it. That's something I'm very interested in as well. That thing does not scare me. After all, I'm not writing bright and breezy pop tunes. Neither is he. When you get in there, you realize what you're capable of doing and what's okay and how much you can stand. What is it that I can deal with? What bothers me and doesn't bother me? Well, the normal pop rock, the verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus, it's not really an interest in mine. It hasn't been for decade after decade after decade.


It's like, I don't need to write a standard pop song. I just don't. There's enough of that crap out there. People should not look to us to be a normal band. This is just once you realize that freedom, then doing an album like this isn't really that difficult to comprehend, but so many people have so many roadblocks in front of them. We have to do this, we have to do that. I don't have to do shit, and the same going back to one of your earlier questions in working with Toshi - he's really open-minded, and he's really easy to work with, and he has good ideas, and he likes working with us. I think he told me that this is the best stuff he's ever done, working with us.

the melvins, toshi kasai, tarantula heart.
Photograph by Ekaterina Gorbacheva

Toshi, recording dual drum tracks with the Melvins is something you’re very accustomed to obviously in the material that was done together with Big Business, so was there any difference in how you approached this recording of dual drums compared to previous ones? Were you mixing them the same way that you did with the big business setup?


Toshi: No, because my studio here now is a little limited. The input is a little smaller, so I have to combine some stuff, which was another challenge for this album because if I go to a bigger studio, they have like 48 inputs where as here I can only put 30. For the Big Business, just for the drums myself, I used like a 30 microphones! This time around, on these sessions, it’s much more limited. Combined there's like a toms overhead. I don't think I have a hi-hat in ride. It’s all taken from mostly overhead mics, so it's closer, but it's not super detailed. Sometimes, I can hear the ride, but if it hits weak and if you have the right microphone, you can just bring it up a bit. This time, there's no choice. With two great drummers, I don't need to worry about too much!



The album artwork, again, is all Macky's output. When it comes to her creative input into The Melvins, what direction, if any, do you or the band provide her? Or is she just given free reign? How iterative is that process? If you could talk a little bit about the generation of the visual aspect of your work there.


Buzz: I've been doing records with her for as long as we've been together, which is over 30 years. It'll be 31 years in May that we've been together and we've been married for 30. We've been working together artistically for that entire time. With this record, the exact direction I gave her was that I'd like it to be a storybook, which there is within it, and I think it should be really gossipy. That was it. I knew that she'd be able to do it. With people like her, it's best to just let them do their job. If you trust the artist, it'd be like hiring someone to paint a picture of your wife and then standing over their shoulder telling them what to do. Do you like this artist or not? It's like, I have been surprised so many times by stuff she's done and that it's better to let her do it, like T-shirt designs and all kinds of things. She comes up with things where I'm like,"Oh, that is so fucking funny", and, "That is really cool." I'm in. It doesn't change a thing. I'll see the process as she does it because we obviously live together. I'll see how it's moving, what's happening, but I don't go in there and start changing stuff. Almost never. I'd say 99% of the time, she just does it how she wants to.


I'm not sure if you caught this, I guess, milestone, but Ipecac just turned 25. What's it meant to you to be involved in the label since its inception?


Buzz: Yeah, that's great! Well, for one - I thought of the name! When Greg (Werckman, Ipecac co-founder and long-time Mike Patton manager) was looking for a vehicle for Fantomas and it was really going nowhere, people weren't interested! What we were told by a fairly prominent underground, well, fairly prominent metal label was that we were “passed our prime”, everybody involved. Me, Dave Lombardo, Mike Patton, Trevor Dunn: passed our prime. This was 25 years ago! The label person said: “We don't really work with bands that are this far along in their careers, and we think this is just going to go downhill from here”, and on and on. Greg was just like, “This is fucking bullshit! I think I'll just start a label myself to put this out!” I said, "Well, if you do that, well I’ll happily do a record with you guys." That was all it took. Then, he immediately found a manufacturing distribution deal and put it out. That same label person, that guy came back a year later and said, “That was the stupidest move I have ever made!” It's like, yeah, if you are looking at music as an ageist type of thing, you're a fucking idiot. And so, here we are, 25 years later and our career is going absolutely fine. If Fantomas was to do a tour right now, it would be fucking massive!


You've just given me a perfect segue. I mean, you've all (the collective members of Fantomas) been together on the road now for several months with the Geek Show tour. Is there any chatter about re-establishing Fantomas as a live band again and doing shows, or is just the concept of that just too much like just being zoo animals?


Buzz: I'm open to be anything. I'm open minded to do anything. Putting it together might be difficult, but I'm certainly not against it by any means. I mean, I'm always looking at Fantomas like this: I'll do it when it's there, but I have to continue as my own thing because I can't wait for it. It doesn't hurt me to do it.


Well, we’re grateful for your time today, Buzz. What can you leave us with about your upcoming shows beginning in August?


Buzz: Well, I recorded an album called “Gift of Sacrifice” with Trevor Dunn that came out in 2020, and we had a big tour planned, and that all got shit-canned because of the pandemic. So now, me and Trevor are finally going to do that same tour in August. We're going to repackage the "Gift of Sacrifice" record and my first solo record, "This Machine Kills Artists", in a double album with a flexi disk of a new song, thrown into it.


And Toshi, for you, I know you’ve got a lot on your plate here in the studio, but you’ve also recently launched your own label. Do you want to share that?


Toshi: Yeah, it’s called Sympatry Records and we just released an album from a band called Satyasena, which is with Pej Mon from Secret Chiefs Three. That guy takes his music really serious, which I appreciate. He wants to go somewhere. He wants to do more in the front and it’s got Jeff Matz (High on Fire) on bass also. Then, he was looking for the label, and then I said, "Hey, my friend Jeff and I, we just started a label", so we put it out.

 

Tarantula Heart is available now via Ipecac Recordings (Listen).

the melvins, toshi kasai, tarantula heart.
Cover Artwork by Mackie Osborne

留言


bottom of page