The annual shitstorm that is Austin's South by Southwest music conference always offers up some choice imagery, be it dignified record executives puking in the streets, a man in high heels and fishnets running for mayor, or other visions too ticklish to tell. Driving over the South Congress Bridge this year, I nearly crashed into a Toyota Scion that bore four bioluminescent green skulls along its side. Arranged as if Pushead had designed Meet the Beatles, it featured the four members that now make up the Melvins, meaning not just the fleshless craniums of King Buzzo and Dale Crover but also those of bass-and-drums duo Jared Warren and Coady Willis, who also play as Big Business, and who now complement that hallowed group.
Big Business With Middian, Minsk, and I Am the Thorn. El Corazon, 109 Eastlake Ave. E., 381-3094, www.elcorazonseattle.com. $10 adv./$12 DOS. All ages. 9 p.m. Fri., June 8.
Listen to a sample of Big Business' "Grounds For Divorce."
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Giving drummer Willis a buzz as he packs up for a festival date in Spain with the Melvins, I ask if he got to ride in the hybrid car that bore his undead visage, to which he answers with a resounding no. "I was so bummed! I really wanted to jump on it," he shouts excitedly. "We didn't get to keep one, we didn't get to ride in one. Oh, well...skulls!" Regardless of consolation prizes, Willis and Warren are riding high, playing alongside their idols every night.
Willis recounts the night when, as a freshman in high school, he saw the Melvins play down in Salem, Ore. "I had just started playing drums and was into Dave Grohl and John Bonham, heavy drums. I saw Dale play and was like, 'Oooooh, that's how you're supposed to play drums,'" Willis recalls about Crover's technique as well as his stage persona. "He looked really scary. He was in tighty-whiteys, playing in his underwear, which is kinda freaky. But I had never seen anyone hit the drums so hard."
And yet, for all the accolades they now get for being one-half of the Melvins, Willis and Warren retain the autonomy of Big Business. Despite a brutal touring schedule, they found time to hunker down with producer Phil Ek to crank out Here Come the Waterworks, one of the year's most deafening rock albums.
Willis, who drummed for the Murder City Devils and Broadcast Oblivion, gigged around Seattle for 13 years before hooking up with Warren. In the mid-'90s, they would share bills when Warren held down the low end in the legendary Karp, as well as his next band, the cock-rocking Tight Bros from Way Back When. While sharing an orbit in Seattle's hard-rock scene all those years, it was tragedy that brought the two together, when Karp drummer Scott Jernigan died in a boating accident in 2003. "That was a bad year," Willis recalls. "It was about 6–7 months after that. I wasn't doing anything, Jared wasn't doing anything. I just called him up one day. I was really nervous about it, thinking it was too soon, but I figured, even if playing music with him didn't amount to anything, at least it would've gotten him back on the horse again, just playing and having fun, it not being a big deal."
Such woodshedding became a therapy of sorts, out of which arose Big Business. While not one to issue armchair psychology, the band succeeds in exorcising the senseless tragedy of the past. On Waterworks's standout track, "Shields," Jernigan's tragedy comes to the surface. "What can go wrong? I can't count the number of ways," Warren bellows out with his corrosive scream, laundry-listing random accidents before hinting at the possibility that "you could still drown in knee-deep waters."
That's not to say nothing goes right for the duo. On one bitterly cold night in Milwaukee, out on the endless road of touring, Big Business up and decided that after more than a decade in Seattle, they would move to L.A. Willis reveals their reasoning as such: "If we're gonna be bartenders and go on tour all the time, we could do it anywhere in the world. So fuck it, let's just move to L.A. At least it'll be warm. I wanna have an orange tree in my backyard; I wanna barbecue everyday. We made that decision, and then the Melvins thing happened."
As anyone who's caught Willis play in the past knows, there's little doubt how large an influence Crover has been on the drummer. And for those who've had the experience of catching the Melvins/Big Business amalgam, the sight of Crover and Willis throttling their kits alongside each other is uncanny, the dual drums in a synched rhythm that is no doubt psychic, not to mention stereoscopic. Willis can hardly contain his enthusiasm when describing the experience: "There's this certain element to [Crover's] timing, where he waits until the last possible second before he hits the drums. He lays so far back...puts things where they shouldn't go and leaves things out that should go there. I've been familiar with his style of drumming for a really long time, so if I can't duplicate or complement everything he's doing, I can at least know where he's going to land most of the time."
Speaking of timing, I ask Willis about a Bill & Ted–like experience wherein he could go back in time to his teenage self to tell him that one day he, too, would be in the Melvins. "I would probably not believe my future self," he laughs. "I would probably be, 'Fuck you. You're full of shit.'"