The Colossus of Destiny: A Melvins Tale
With their Spinal tap esque line-up changes and fascinating history - singer Buzz Osborne was a schoolmate of Kurt Cobain and an influence on Nirvana - The Melvins were ripe pickings for the documentary treatment. Since their 1987 debut, Gluey Porch Treatments, the band have released almost an album a year, and are still active.
In The Colossus of Destiny: A Melvins Tale, Director Bob Hannam explores a hard rock band who have defied all the rules, for over 33 years and counting. Featuring interviews with everyone from Gene Simmons to Josh Homme, the film tells the story of King Buzzo and Dale Crover via countless peers, collaborators, understudies, admirers, and even haters.
We chat to director Bob Hannam ahead of the film's release on Friday 31 March as part of this year's Doc'n Roll Film Festival.
Q. What is it about The Melvins that compelled you to make the film?
A. Well I was always baffled as to why they had never reached a more widespread appeal as a lot of bands had from the late 80’s/early 90’s ‘alternative’ music scene. From day one, they have constantly kept on making amazing records, and are still one of the best live bands performing to this day, whilst never having split up like most of those other bands did. So I thought that all of these factors would make for a great documentary. It also helped that I was friends with the band members, so my initial idea became a reality when they were supportive of the project, and then I met Ryan Sutherby, the co-producer, in early 2014 and we bounced off ideas and got to work on it.
Q. What do you think other bands can learn from the ethic of The Melvins?
A. The fantasy of being a successful artist in the music industry has always been that you had to get a deal with a major record company, and then they would help sell millions of records and you would become famous and a household name. When the tidle wave of success that happened to a bunch of bands from around Seattle occurred and The Melvins were signed to a major label, it proved that this was not the case at all. They continued doing what they had been doing musically upto then and whilst achieving a slightly higher level of distribution and sales, the label did not know what to do with them.
After making 3 albums with Atlantic they were dropped and they went back to putting music out with their friends who had smaller labels. And to this day have succeeded with that method which goes to prove the big label fantasy is wrong. By being more hands on with making your product and working with like-minded people they prove you can actually make a living from putting out music and performing live.
Q. Your film, not unlike the band has a very DIY style, was this a conscious decision?
A. I guess in some ways it was, because we didn’t have a big budget to work off of. It was basically two people filming footage as a labor of love project, and some of the footage certainly isn’t the best both in picture and sound quality. As first time filmmakers, I think we have both learned a lot of things from looking back at the finished film. But as you said, it does work in parallel that the band has a pretty high DIY work ethic so I believe it works ok.
Q. I liked the lack of narration and how the talking head shots and cartoons told the story, why did you choose this technique?
A. There are so many musicians and artists who have taken some kind of influence from what The Melvins have been doing for the last 35 years. So we felt it was important to show the diverse range of those people saying something about that influence and respect. All the while keeping the main focus of the story be told by the band members and key figures in their career. Plus there are some really off-kilt images behind their album covers that it was fun to hand them over to various animation people to come up with something. If we had more of a budget I think we would have done more of that.
Q. How much input into the production of the film did The Melvins have?
A. From day one, Buzz and Dale were behind us doing the documentary, but they always stressed that it was not their project when asked by people. I think there was a large trust factor from them that we would make a good film. They provided us with all the help we needed in getting in touch with certain people, and sitting down and talking over things, and Dale handed over hours of footage that he had been sent from people that had filmed the band over the years. And after seeing the final product they both really like what we did, which counts as the most important thing in both Ryan and myself estimation.
Q. Do you think that Nirvana’s cult success affected The Melvins and how do you think they would have fared had Nirvana not succeeded?
A. Well the most obvious question would be, would all of those bands at that time have had as much of a spotlight turned on them if Nirvana hadn’t broken through into the mainstream as they did? It certainly helped that the guys in Nirvana were friends of Buzz and Dale and had looked up to The Melvins when they decided to start a band themselves in Aberdeen,WA. And then once the press started to get interested in Nirvana they would champion The Melvins in interviews. But I think they would have still fared ok on the independent label front. One other important thing to note is that The Melvins are not an easy sell in terms of accessible listening. They opened up for countless bands through the 90’s and most of the time did not go down too well with some pretty hostile crowds. And I think they kind of fed off of that too, and in some ways enjoyed it.
Q. The ice cream sequence at the end is fantastic, what was going on there?
A. There is an online off-shoot of the satirical newspaper The Onion called The A.V Club and they asked the band to do a filmed short performance in a park in the suburbs of Chicago. And they positioned the band next to an ice-cream truck that was giving out free ice-cream. A school bus happened to show up and around 30 kids got off and swarmed the truck whilst the band was playing a cover of graveyard by The Butthole Surfers. And I thought the footage was a perfect way to close the film with the credits rolling. It just made so much sense in a twisted Melvins way.
The Colossus of Destiny: A Melvins Tale - with a Sypke Q&A feat. Director Bob Hannam is at FACT on 31 March. Tickets are available here. Watch the trailer below.