Singer-bassist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis - aka Big Business, aka two-thirds of the Melvins' rhythm section - will bring their thunderous sound to local all-ages hot spot Real Art Tacoma on Saturday. In anticipation, Tacoma Weekly caught up with singer-bassist Jared Warren to get the skinny on “lumber hauling rock,” finding time to record between Melvins tours and raising a newborn, and how not to get invited back to open for Beck. Here is part of that conversation.
Tacoma Weekly: Last time I saw you, you were in Melvins mode at Bumbershoot where you guys sounded amazing. Is that the first time you played the big stage there?
Warren: Yeah, I think it was.
TW: Buzz (Melvins front man Osbourne) was wearing his trademark wizard frock, and I think you were rockin' a fancy turban that day. Is there a story behind those outfits?
Warren: Well, Buzz has been wearing outfits for some time. I think he originally starting wearing moo moos that his wife made for him. Originally, he wanted me to wear one, and I did wear a super frumpy moo moo his wife made the first couple tours. After that, I took initiative to make my own outfit, just for fun, and also I didn't find the moo moo as forgiving in performance as he does. I prefer pants. There's not much of a crazy story or anything. It's just a matter of being goofy.
TW: It definitely adds a layer to the aesthetic. And before we start talking about Big Business I'm gonna float a theory: Part of the reason Buzz wanted you in the band is because you have similar hair.
Warren: Sometimes I do. I haven't had long hair in a while; but yeah, the very first tour I did with 'em, my hair was long. We played every podunk town you can think of (including) lots of places that had never seen the Melvins. So I was often mistaken for Buzz, despite the fact I'm 10 years his junior, and much more handsome. (He laughs.)
TW: You're kind of like time machine Buzz.
Warren: Yeah, exactly.
TW: So how do you know it's time to go into Big Business mode?
Warren: Well, when we're not doing Melvins stuff. (He chuckles.) It depends. Over the years, we've kind of fit it in where we could, which was difficult to do when we started playing with those guys. It would take up so much of our time initially because we had to learn a whole catalog of songs. Big Business was also writing a record at the same time, so it was pretty chaotic. We just kind of fit it in when we could, and these days we're just kind of going for it.
TW: I've noticed from reading interviews that one of your big pet peeves is being called “sludge.” If you were to make up a slick, cynical marketing term for what you do what would it be?
Warren: Huh, that's something I should have. (Pause.) I've had this conversation with music writers and band people, it does seem like that's just kind of this throw-away term that doesn't mean anything. When I hear the word sludge … I think of the mediocre grunge bands that never went anywhere because they were terrible. It implies a slow tempo, too, which doesn't really apply to us necessarily. We have some slower songs, but by and large our tempos are pretty peppy.
I don't know. If I sat down, and it was my job to think of adjectives to describe our music, I think I could come up with something better than sludge. “Slime” and “hammer music.” Those are two just off the top of my head. “Lumber hauling rock.”
TW: Maybe I'll steal one of those for this story.
Warren: “Arson metal.”
TW: That actually has a ring to it - or maybe “torch metal.” With “Command Your Weather” (find it at bigbusiness.bandcamp.com) you went a ways to further dispel the “sludge” label with probably your most eclectic album to date. What can you point to that maybe set the tone for what you ultimately came up with?
Warren: After having played with some guitarists for several years, we no longer had a guitarist and were back to being a two-piece. So we kind of had to figure that out in short order. We were supposed to tour with Mastodon in Europe, and our guitar player couldn't come.
TW: What happened that he couldn't come?
Warren: He had a back injury that was pretty major and he just couldn't physically do it. We had already bought plane tickets and all that, so it wasn't something we could really back out of. So we went and did it as a two-piece, and that worked really well.
So going into our last record, we were kind of starting from scratch in a way, but also (we were) excited and encouraged by our own abilities. It was refreshing to be a two-piece again. I just kind of had to start relying on pedals a little bit more to fill in some of those gaps, and also be more creative with our writing. When you have a guitar player, you can add a lot of flourishes and melodies and things that just aren't there when you're a two-piece.
Coady (drummer Willis) got some new percussion we've been using a lot, like the bells that come up a few times on the record. All those things kind of set the tone, particularly the bells that are really distinct sounding. I guess we were working with what we had; working with less and trying to come up with more.
TW: Have you started working on the follow-up?
Warren: We are just starting to. We recorded a couple of Suicide covers just to keep ourselves busy and to put up on Bandcamp.
TW: Which songs?
Warren: “Sheree” and “Ghost Rider.” So we're just finishing those up. We've been trying to take advantage of recording stuff in our practice space, and just trying to trim the fat wherever we can. Paying people to record you is expensive, and getting stuff mastered is expensive.
But yeah, we have a couple of new songs we're kicking around for the new record. But I've been busy. My wife and I just had our second child in December, so I've been neck-deep in diapers and whatnot for the last couple months.
TW: And not so much sleep.
Warren: Not so much sleep, not so much creative time. (He chuckles.)
TW: As I was doing research for the interview, I was watching clips from the KARP documentary (“Kill All Redneck P-----: KARP Lives 1990-1998,” directed by William Badgley) where we learn your very first tour was with Beck. That seems like it would set a high bar as far as tour experiences go.
Warren: Ehhhh, I don't know. (He laughs.)
TW: Or maybe low bar. What do you remember?
Warren: It was during the “Loser” tour, so it was right when Beck was getting big. ... We were really young; we were 18, 19 years old and just had no idea how to act. We were super unprofessional, and we just didn't know how it worked. Like we didn't understand that our dressing room was for us, and Beck's dressing room was for them, and we weren't supposed to be eating their food; not major stuff, but we were definitely the oddballs on the tour.
It would be like taking your nephew on tour or something, or a bunch of 13-year-olds. We were idiots, we were total idiots. Beck's crew, there were a few of them that were not into us at all. The sound person, she was really not into us. The tour manager was really not into us.
TW: Like who are these guys?
Warren: I mean, don't blame 'em. We were total pains in the ass. We were always loud, always drunk and high and smoking, eating people's food. You know those cigarettes loads? They were little things you'd buy in the back of a comic book back in the day, little explosive things you put in a cigarette and – bang! - it pops. We would do that to people on the tour. We were those f---in' d------ds. But the best part of that tour was the other band was this band, Truman's Water, from Portland by way of San Diego. They were like older brothers, I guess, that put us under their wing. They were super nice, and I'm friends with all those guys still.
TW: You're sharing your bill in Tacoma with Helm's Alee. How did you meet those guys, and what stands out when think of their style?
Warren: I've known Ben (singer-guitarist Verellen) since he was just a youngun'. I just met him through the scene, I guess and just stayed friends with him over the years. When they started Helms Alee, I thought they were great. We played a bunch of shows with them over the years, and then did a tour with them and Red Fang a few years ago. That was a lot of fun.
They're the sweetest people in the world. It makes you want to hang out with them and play with them and want to support them as a band. They're a unique force, for sure; and I can't think of another band that I've watched from their very beginnings transform into such an amazing band over a short period of time. They've always been a great band, but they seem to have really found themselves in a way that most bands never figure out. They're a force, for sure.
8 p.m. Saturday, March 18
Real Art Tacoma, 5412 South Tacoma Way
Tickets are $12; www.realarttacoma.com