Interview By Mike Gaworecki
Dale Crover is known mainly as the drummer for Melvins, a band he’s been in since around 1984. That would be enough to cement his status as rock royalty, but the dude also played with Nirvana for a brief stint and has been in a bunch of other bands as well. It’s no exaggeration to say he’s had a fucking stellar career by any measure.
So, why is he releasing his first solo record in 2017? “I don’t know, it’s something I’ve been thinking about doing for a while,” Crover says. “Certainly, I have written songs and put out records with my band, Altamont, but nobody seems to notice too much about that. I mean, we’re pretty low-key to begin with—we play maybe once every year or two—but we’ve got a bunch of records out. Singing and playing guitar is something I’ve done for a long time, it’s just that nobody’s noticed. So, I figured if I slap my name on the thing, people kind of know me now.”
However, Crover’s new album, The Fickle Finger of Fate—released Aug. 4 on Joyful Noise Recordings—isn’t exactly his first solo release. He’s done a few singles and splits here and there under his own name, and in 2016, he was commissioned by Joyful Noise to make a dozen 30-second songs that were pressed onto a vinyl record with six spindle holes instead of the usual one.
“There was a song where each one of those holes were,” he explains. “Wherever you put that on, there’d be grooves that would go along with it. Most records are cut with a center hole, this one had six. They completely handmade these things themselves; they have their own lathe from the ‘40s, and somehow, they figured out this goofy-looking record that would look warped if you put it on a hole that wasn’t in the center, but then it would still play a regular song. They only made about 100 of them, ‘cause it took hours. Those ended up selling out right away, and there are people that were disappointed that they didn’t get a copy of it.”
Crover describes all the songs on that six-spindle record—entitled Skins—as “weird drum cuts.” Due to the restrictions imposed by the unique format, some of the songs are no longer than 15 seconds. Still, the demand was there, so Crover decided to appease his fans clamoring to hear the sold-out record, and The Fickle Finger of Fate was born.
“What I decided we could do was expand on that, use all those 12 cuts that were on the weird six-spindle-hole record—which was dubbed the most impractical record ever, ‘cause after 15 seconds, you have to pick it up and move it to a different hole. So, I went back into the studio and added a bunch of drum stuff, extended some of the cuts, and then also, I had a bunch of songs that I wanted to record.”
There are 20 songs on The Fickle Finger of Fate, ranging in length from around 15 seconds to close to five minutes. Don’t expect endless drum solos, though—Crover sings and plays guitar, bass, synth, and more in addition to the drums, and he enlisted a number of other musicians to contribute to the album.
Listeners also won’t hear many nods to Melvins or Nirvana or anything else they might expect. “I tried to do something a little different, I suppose,” Crover says. “I didn’t go for a normal drum sound—certainly not with all the little drum pieces. We did all kinds of crazy stuff, effect-ing them certain ways. Recording some of those, what we’d do is we’d set up, and I’d get our engineer, Toshi [Kasai], to hook up something he thought sounded cool effect-wise, then I played along to that stuff. So, hearing those things would influence my playing; I’d kinda play along with the thing and make a song out of it that way.”
Crover and longtime Melvins engineer Kasai coproduced the album in the Melvins’ studio. Recording sessions for The Fickle Finger of Fate overlapped somewhat with sessions for Melvins’ July 7 double album, A Walk with Love & Death, but that didn’t influence the sound on Crover’s solo record.
“We’ve got a lot of toys,” he says. “I wanted to go over and utilize the studio in a way where we can come up with something cool that we hadn’t done before or was a different sound. I didn’t want it to sound like heavy metal or anything like that, but I had no set plan or rules.”
“It came out the way it did, I guess, which is fun,” he adds. “Sometimes, there’re songs that come out completely different from how you think they might; sometimes, it’s a big surprise and can influence a song, the instrumentation of the whole thing.”
A standout for Crover is “Little Brother,” a song that features his daughter, Scarlett. “She plays violin, and I thought it’d be fun to have her come over and mess around in the studio with us,” he shares. “She was a little shy at first, but then after she saw that it was fun and you could stand in front of the microphone and do stupid stuff, she was into it.”
“Little Brother,” as Crover tells it, was one of the songs that turned out very different from how it was originally conceived. “That was one of the songs that I had done a four-track demo for,” he says, “which is great for songwriting, but then, like we’ve always said, you gotta be careful, because you end up falling in love with the demo and how it sounds. The original had way more guitar on it, but Toshi played this really great keyboard line that I thought really helped it and carried it. Somehow—unintentionally, because it certainly didn’t sound like that when I wrote it—it came out sounding kinda Beatles-y.”