We’ve talked in the past on this blog about some of the biggest bands in the world and what they did in order to grow their market presence, and eventually become major names. We’ve looked at KISS and ABBA and what lessons we can pull from them. We’ve also looked at GWAR, the masters of branding. But today I want to look at someone a little more out of left field, something you might not be as familiar with but which remains awesome and seminal if you like any sort of underground music, that’s right baby, I’m talking about the Melvins. This is a band who might be the most important group in the last thirty years of music. Not only have they invented multiple genres basically singlehandedly, but they also showed us a way to move forward in the music industry as independent bands who hope to play by our own rules. This is obviously a bit of a tricky thing, but if you attack it right, there is a clear sense of growth that is going to happen.
So for the uninitiated. The Melvins are a grunge/sludge metal band formed in 1983. They rose to fame after Nirvana blew up and Kirk Cobain kept telling the folks at Atlantic that the Melvins were his favorite band. They got a huge record deal, opened for KISS and Rush among countless others, put out a few classic records and then the label realized they were too fucking weird and dropped them. Of course that couldn’t stop the Melvins. They had put out 4 records and 2 EP’s before signing to a major label and they sure as hell weren’t going to stop because they stopped getting a ton of money. To date the Melvins have dropped 21 studio albums, 7 live albums and 6 EP’s. That’’s only scratching the surface too. They have made a name on constant new material, musical experimentation, a refusal to bend the knee, perpetual touring and a general sense of ‘fuck you’. They are the blueprint for any small rock band slugging it out on the road.
So what are the big lessons from the Melvins that we can hope to learn? Well first and foremost is the notion that if you keep on keeping on then you are going to eventually find success. It’s sort of like how in this particular cultural moment all these Soundcloud rappers like Ghostmane are really into bands like Deicide and touring with Code Orange or whatever. This is what people are into, the money came and there is a lot of interesting stuff happening within that. The people who were patient and positioned themselves to succeed ended up blowing up. That’s why you have Post Malone wearing Power Trip shirts. The Melvins understood that if they were an active part of their scene and got the cred with the dudes really into the underground eventually some of them would break through. Some of them did, and that’s where the success started to really happen. They had become underground darlings years before the Nirvana thing, so in some ways it was just a progression.
Of course, The Melvins are not one of those sad bands who had their big cultural moment and then tried to profit off of it forever. Rather they just went back to doing the punk rock thing. That’s in large part because they never really left the punk rock thing. Even their major label records, the ones considered classic like Houdini and Stoner Witch are fucking weird and were way too bizarre even for grunge. The major labels had no clue what to do with them. So the Melvins just cashed in knowing that they had existed for a decade prior to Nirvana blowing up and they would be able to exist for decades after Kurt died. The thing is, rather than try and stay rooted in a sound that made them popular they knew that it was their weirdness that got so many people into them in the first place. So they just continued to experiment, do collaborations and see what happened. Even now, thirty five odd years into their career they do all sorts of weird shit, sometimes performing with two drummers, other times having a bunch of superstar bassists guest on a record, it’s what they are about.
The band understands that at the end of the day they need to constantly bring exciting new ideas to the table and that they also need to constantly be touring in order to ensure no one forgets about them. If you’re not in peoples faces all the time you’re going to fall out of favor. The same thing drove Napalm Death for years, and still does. Both bands are basically the kings and really founders of their respective genres but they keep pushing new boundaries. What the Melvins make sure to do though is to frequently tie it back into known names and this has given them a certain cache in the mainstream culture.
At the end of the day, I think it’s funny that a lot of what the Melvins do comes from the bands mainman King Buzzo’s obsession with KISS. A lot of their moves were inspired by that band, they just did them punk rock style. I’m completely obsessed with the Melvins and have been for years. They had a unique frontman in King Buzzo, unafraid to embrace his inner weirdness, a genius collaborator in Dale Crover and they have a knack for choosing the ideal people to join them in their sonic explorations. This is a unique and once in a generation type band. If you pay attention to what they do you are going to learn how to grow your band and find your own internal greatness.
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