Doom With Depth

Coady Willis and Jared Warren take time off from the Melvins to conduct some Big Business

Maybe it's inevitable that drummer Coady Willis and bassist Jared Warren have become more famous for their "other" job than for playing with their brutal stoner/sludge-rock project, Big Business.

When you're recruited to join a legendary outfit like Seattle-area grunge progenitors the Melvins, it's bound to overshadow whatever else you do.

Willis and Warren were invited to join the Melvins in 2006 after a week of jamming "to see if the chemistry would work," Willis said in a recent interview. They teamed up with guitarist Buzz Osborne and drummer Dale Crover, and they continue to perform with that group today, touring frequently and recording albums such as (A) Senile Animal, Nude With Boots, The Bride Screamed Murder and Sugar Daddy Live.

"One of the conditions of our hiring, though, was that we never quit doing Big Business," Willis said.

Which couldn't have suited them more. Currently on tour, Big Business will perform on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at Club Congress.

Warren, formerly of Karp, and Willis, a veteran of the Murder City Devils, formed Big Business in Seattle in 2003, and since then have seen the release of three full-length albums and the new Quadruple Single EP.

When the group formed, it was a two-piece, a low-end extravaganza, with just Willis on drums and Warren singing and playing bass. It wasn't intended to exclude guitars, but that's just how it fell together, and they couldn't initially find a guitarist who fit their sound, Willis said.

"When we wrote our first batch of songs, we always had bigger aspirations for more harmonics filling the blanks, but Jared did a good job of playing in that space, and our limitations seemed to inspire us for a while," Willis said.

The no-guitar arrangements weren't meant to be a slap against the conventional rock lineup, but simply were the result of their circumstances, he said.

"We never really cared what people had to say about us, which was good, because early on, as a two-piece, we got lumped in with a lot of bands that sounded nothing like us, but also just had two players. You can imagine what some of them were."

Soon enough, Big Business had left behind the two-piece setup. Willis and Warren performed with the Melvins on tour in 2006, playing opening sets as Big Business, with David Scott Stone on guitar. Stone would later contribute to the 2007 Big Business album Here Come the Waterworks. When Big Business opened a 2007 tour for Tool, the band included Toshi Kasai, who became an official member in 2008 and played on the 2009 album Mind the Drift.

For a year during 2009 and 2010, the Melvins became so active that Big Business did not play. When they regrouped last October, they added guitarist Scott Martin, who used to play with 400 Blows. This "power quartet" lineup is responsible for Quadruple Single.

Although still a Big Business member, Kasai is not touring with the group at this time, because his duties as a producer have kept him too busy for the road. In addition to Quadruple Single, Kasai produced the last album by Helmet and the last three Melvins records, among other recordings, Willis said.

So when Big Business hits Tucson, it will be as a trio.

Big Business' latest material is its most exciting, adding layers of depth, texture and intensity to the basic thundering-train, Black Sabbath-derived doom metal that the band began playing.

"I'm really proud of this record," Willis said. "We did it every step of the way ourselves, with Toshi recording it. We were really able to focus on the sound we always wanted. On other recordings, we were shooting in the dark, with different producers trying to interpret what we wanted. Jared is such an unconventional bass- player; it's hard to get a handle on his sound if you aren't close to it like Toshi is.

"As we've gone on, we have been able to figure out, production-wise, how to put our sound across in ways that we are accurate to the intentions of how we wrote the songs. It's really fun to work on it with Toshi. He knows us so well that we are able to throw out ideas, even the most inappropriate suggestions, and he knows what we mean by that and what we want."

Willis' propulsive drum attack is reminiscent of the same drummers he has idolized over the years, from The Who's Keith Moon through Blondie's Clem Burke to Dave Grohl in Nirvana. "I was a total fan of (Grohl's) hard-hitting caveman style, but then I went to see the Melvins, who really started that style of music, and it really blew my mind. Dale Crover has always been one of my favorite drummers since then."

So it was especially rewarding to play drums alongside Crover, he said.

"When they asked us, it was one thing, but then to be onstage with them, in this legendary band, it was amazing. I was like, 'Holy shit, I'm in the Melvins!'

"And many fans might not know it, but Dale and Buzz are really very gracious and some of the most generous people I have ever met."

Playing with the Melvins also has improved what Willis and Warren do with Big Business, he said.

"The more I play with different people, I realize I still have so much to learn. I'm not one of those musicians who can read a lot of technical magazines and figure how to play, and I don't really know a lot of the technical jargon.

"I feel like I have always had a cut-and-paste way of learning. You can always pick out at least one thing that another musician does and that's unique and cool, and then you can try to integrate that into what you do. Part of the fun is seeing what comes when you put all the pieces together."