Melvins' Buzz "King Buzzo” Osborne

Melvins' Buzz "King Buzzo” Osborne

The Melvins have outlasted bands, trends and musical zeitgeists in the ever-tumultuous landscape of the music industry. Just a hair shy of their 25th year of upsetting musical order, their list of accomplishments is beyond reproach. From inspiring the world’s biggest bands (Nirvana) to laying the framework for musical movements (sludge, grunge) to creating one of the most compelling and varied bodies of work, the Melvins have done it all. Exclaim! got ahold of the Melvins’ singer/guitarist, big hair and bigger mouth main-man Buzz "King Buzzo” Osborne to discuss their legacy, their new album and getting fucked over by the producers of Juno.

Are you guys ever coming back to Canada? Why do you hate Canadians?
We’d like to [come back to Canada]. The main problem with going into Canada, which I’m sure is the exact same problem that Canadian bands have in coming to America, is the fucking border; it’s a giant pain in the ass. It’s a colossal waste of time and a massive pain in the ass for anyone who wants to play up there. And I’m sure it’s the same thing for Canadians. That’s why Canadian bands never play here. What is the fucking problem with both of our countries? It’s fucking crazy. An influx of culture is not a bad thing either way. If we could just relax the fucking border we would be able to add at least ten more shows to every tour we do. There’s nothing wrong with Canada. When we’re standing on-stage, we play about the same sized clubs everywhere in the whole world. It doesn’t matter where I’m at, I don’t sit there and go, ‘wow, I’m here in Canada. Wow, this show here in New Zealand is really crazy.’ You’re not thinking about that kind of stuff, you’re thinking about breakfast.

And not forgetting the lyrics.
Yeah, hopefully the other side of your brain will kick in and you don’t have too much brain damage and all that stuff flows out of your mouth. You hope for that to happen. That’s it, that’s the sole and only reason why we don’t play Canada more. We love Canada; it’s great. The thing that we have to do, and it might be easier for bands that are bigger than us, who have more money, but to get to the border, when we go on tour we generally bring all or our merchandise, that’s the problem. Like when we play in Vancouver, we unload it all in a hotel in the American side, go and play the show and drive back and pick it up. Unless we want to ship all our stuff to the East Coast, you can’t drift in and out of Canada at will; it’s a total nightmare. And for us coming back into the U.S. is also a pain in the ass. You get it both ways. We have nothing against Canada or the Canadian music scene; we love the Canadian music scene. We would play more up there but it’s always a nightmare, so we avoid it at all costs. And then, I don’t know if things have changed in that department, but then the Canadian government started taxing us a third off the top, so that sealed the deal. If you’re going to make three grand, now you’re making two thousand, plus the border crossing. Fuck that! It’s just a problem; it’s just a big, massive problem. We are planning on doing something maybe next year but what we’d have to do is turn it into where we do a solely Canadian jaunt where we cross the border once then cross the border again after playing all the Canadian shows. But to do that is a logistical nightmare for a band like us. It might not be for Ozzy Osbourne; he doesn’t give a fuck. But for us, we’d have to arrange to have merchandise made in Canada, which is more expensive and blah, blah, blah, you know? Fucking pain in the ass. It’s hard enough as it is, let alone having those kinds of problems. I just wish that border didn’t exist, we’d both be better off.

How difficult is it to maintain the quality level after almost 25 years and countless records?
We’re 130 records in, a million! Most people don’t even make one good one. I don’t know why that is, it’s very strange. I think most of them are afraid to do something left-of-centre for some unknown reason. I don’t know why that is. I tend to think it has something to do with the fact that they have more rules than anyone else that they have to follow for some unknown reason. It doesn’t always work in our favour, believe me, plenty of people find plenty of fault in what we’re doing.

Bucking trends and doing whatever you wanted have always been keys to the Melvin’s success.
I’m always affected by bad reviews, we get plenty of them, but I’ve never let them have anything to do with what I was doing because I have always had total faith in what I was doing even when no one else did, which has been for the vast majority of our career. Me and Dale [Crover, drums] were talking about that: we get about 20 percent hideously bad reviews for every record we do.

Didn’t Terrorizer just slam you guys for no reason?
No, Terrorizer likes us, you got to look it up, but the guy who did the interview, it was one of the worst interviews I’ve ever done. It was actually an email interview, which is one of my favourite interviews to do, but the guy who was doing it, I think he was trying to be cute but I wasn’t having it. It’s so stupid; a lot of people think it was a set-up. And I’m here to tell you it’s not a set-up, [he’s] just a fucking jackass. And I’m not going to play those games with anyone. Whatever, if that’s what they want to do. And he pretty much refused to talk about our new record, which I thought was weird.

About the new record, where do you see Nude With Boots fitting into your musical canon?
It’s more a canyon, a vast canyon of music. A separation of records, that’s what it is. I think it’s a really good addition to what we’re doing. I’ve been telling people I couldn’t pick out one album of ours for anybody to really give them a good idea of what we’re about ’cause I think we’ve done more than that. I can pick out five and I’d certainly put it on that five. If I had to pick out five to give someone to listen to so that they can understand what it is we’re doing I would give them the Eggnog record, the Stoner Witch record, the Colossus of Destiny record, Pigs of the Roman Empire and the new one, that would cover it, I think. Maybe six; I’d give them The Bootlicker as well, then they’d kind of have an idea about what we’re doing, but I think it would really take that many records. Plus, the fact that most journalists like to pigeonhole us into one genre, which I can’t ever figure out considering how much shit we’ve done. You’d think they being people who supposedly write about music would have more of a concept of what it is they’re writing about. I’ve been calling it ‘Captain Beefheart heavy metal.’ That’s a good description, I think, about as good as it gets for describing us, attitude-wise and everything.”

I just describe it as "the Melvins!”
That’s the point: we try to make records that we would like as fans. As a fan, I would appreciate all that stuff, everything from Colossus to Pigs to Bootlicker, you know? I’m interested in all those kinds of things and I figure people with good taste should be interested in all those kinds of things as well. Why not? There’s room for everything. [People say, ‘there’s no good music’] but you should be able to go through every year of rock music and pick out at least a couple of things and that would you give you a pretty solid collection of music. There’s never been a golden era where everything was great but there’s always some little tiny jewel that pokes through that gives you hope.

This is your second release with Big Business in the band. What do they bring to the Melvins and what have you been able to do with them that you weren’t on your first record with them, (A) Senile Animal?
Hopefully it’s not the last [record with BB]. As much as I liked (A) Senile Animal, and I still think it’s one of our best records, I think this one’s a little better. It’s a little weirder, I like it a little more but I liked (A) Senile Animal a lot. These guys are really good players, that’s one thing, and I think we’ve only really scratched the surface of what we’re capable of doing with this line-up of the band. Essentially there are two lead singers, plus Dale, who’s like a junior lead singer, Coady [Willis, drums], who’s learning how to sing, and two drummers that, I would say, are as good as anyone in the business. And with me and Jared [Warren, bass and vocals], I don’t think there’s very much we couldn’t do essentially.

Well, they do have a bassist in the group and we all know your track record with bassists…
That’s not because of me; it could be. Maybe it is. People lose their minds; I can’t help it. It’s not about playing because I liked playing with all those people. It wasn’t about the way they played music. It was the extracurricular stuff that made it difficult for it to work out, and that stuff doesn’t happen just to musicians, it happens to everyone.

Have Big Business revitalised the Melvins?
They’ve certainly opened up a new chapter but the records we made right before that were the [Jello] Biafra records and the Pigs record; I think Pigs is a really underrated record. Personally it’s one of my favourites we’ve ever done. We did a whole lot of stuff on there we’ve never done before and I think it’s a really fucked-up record from top to bottom. The funny thing about that is we’ve been taken to task a little bit for doing collaborations and some people have had a hard time with the LustMord record because they think LustMord ruined us but if you make them get specific, almost inevitably, or unbearably, they’ve picked out stuff that’s us and not LustMord that they think LustMord ruined. I’m like, "well, sorry, that’s actually just us; he didn’t have anything to do with that song.” And the reason I did that is I didn’t want people to know which was which because they would subconsciously or consciously give that stuff a hard time one way or the other. I saw no profit in doing that; I thought it would cheapen the whole thing. Also, it’s not really a collaboration; it is to some degree but I could have had it easily say ‘the Melvins’ and not put the LustMord thing on there and no one would have been the wiser. I could have done the same thing with these records. I could have put "Melvins with Big Business.” Instead we just put "Melvins” so everyone kind of legitimises it more. I don’t know why, it makes no sense to me. You can hire people to work on your records; it’s not unheard of. So that’s all very strange. The LustMord record is no more of a collaboration than anything we’ve ever done. The Biafra records, those are collaborations though. The LustMord thing, it’s a little bit of writing along with a lot of production, essentially. Those guys [Big Business], they’re good musicians, they’re easy to play with, they can pretty much do whatever we want them to do, they’re a pleasure to be around. They add their thumb print to the whole thing but 99 percent of it still comes from me.

With all the other members coming and going, how have you and Dale managed to stay together for so long?
Well, I think Dale appreciates my musical vision and wants to be a part of it is essentially what that amounts to. So he doesn’t get real strange about any of that stuff. He also understands and likes what I’m doing, and kind of just lets me do what I want. And then, when I come up with these things, sometimes it’s hard to get across exactly what I want to do but usually in the end he sees what I’m talking about and it turns into something even bigger; it’s great. I’m not a drummer but I have a lot of good ideas, then we take that and then it mutates into something else; it’s awesome. One thing he’s never told me is I can’t do that, or why what ideas I have won’t work. Never. There’s always a way to make it work. More is more. Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Anything worth building is worth overbuilding. One is good, three is better. Overdo it. It’s music. We’re not a bunch of old women. Rock music. What it is, essentially.

What’s left for the Melvins to accomplish at this point? What inspires you? Obviously not selling 20 million records but artistically, what are your goals at this point?
Selling 20 million records is actually a big Melvins thing; it’s not a big public thing. I’m absolutely not setting out to not sell records, people are just not buying the records in that volume. But that’s not my fault. People are stupid, there’s not much else to it. Most people are really dumb and have no taste in all in anything good. What can you do about that? Nothing. Goals? I just want to continue to write music that I think is good. Keep crafting my songwriting ability; I’ve written way more songs than most people in music have. I have very few contemporaries in the songwriting department, very few. In terms of how much material I’ve written and how long I’ve done it, I don’t have a lot of brother songwriters out there, as far as that’s concerned. I understand that and I don’t take it lightly; I’m really happy that I’ve been able to utilise so freely and fruitfully my ability to write songs. I play guitar so I can be in a band, I play in a band so I can write songs, that’s what it is, that’s all it is. Essentially that’s what people should do. If they’re going to be a musician, you should always be thinking in terms of songwriting and you should always want to be the guy who is the main person, always. Don’t be a sideman, be the front-man. It’s possible to be all those kinds of things and it’s possible to have that happen, I just don’t think people utilise their creative muscle enough, whatever it may be.

Do you feel you’ve gotten an underserved reputation for being difficult?
Dale was just telling me that someone said we’re really mean to our fans because of the records we put out. That’s one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard. But that’s not unfounded — people say that shit all the time. Weird stuff. It’s like, okay, I don’t even know what you’re talking about. We tour every year. Oh well, you can’t win. I suppose [people have misinterpreted the Melvins] but who have I offended? Who would those people be? Ozzy Osbourne? Those are easy targets. Does anyone care? Am I wrong? Why on Earth? People take me to task for that kind of shit too; I never really understood that either. I always just assumed that people thought the way I did, know what I mean? I don’t think anything I’ve ever said is that outlandish, certainly none of it has been untrue. I don’t need to make stuff up because the truth is weird enough as it is. I don’t know. Especially with music, this is what we do and we take it very seriously. Even stuff we don’t take seriously still, it’s our deal. People want to put out half-assed crap, uninteresting, boring garbage, that’s their problem not mine. Don’t expect me to like it. It’s the same when people come up to you and go, "you’re our biggest influence,” and you hear their stuff and you go, "don’t blame me for your shitty music!” I’m sorry, I’ve never done anything that was that fucking horrible. And what part of our stuff did you listen to and think sounded like this? I don’t know. But that’s how it works. You make music, the best thing you can do is inspire someone to make their own stuff. That’s the best thing that can happen because that’s what happens to me: my favourite music inspires me to make my own music. Mission accomplished. Our other favourite thing is "all of the accolades, none of the cash.” Classic example of that, and this is how it works, is the Juno movie. Academy Award-winning, 100-million-dollar-making movie, mentioning us in very high standards in the movie two times, not on the soundtrack, which sells a million copies. There it is, that’s the classic example: talk about the Melvins in the movie, don’t put them on the soundtrack. There you go, done. The soundtrack sells a million copies. That’s happened time and time again, not that we’ve gotten fucked over but that’s really, really how it works for us. It’s really a classic example of how it’s all fallen together. Get massive accolades from a band like Nirvana, band breaks-up, finished after Cobain is dead, never talk to those guys again, hardly, barely, why? Do shows with them that are strictly a money-losing proposition on every corner. Massive accolades, totally treated like shit by all the management people. That’s just how it works, that’s just life in the big city. So then you just go, "okay, this is just great, I love this, this is really cool, now how do I turn this into something I can have? How do I turn all this shit into something that’s going to be worth anything?” Take accolades and turn them into something you can trade for food down at Safeway’s? Good luck. That’s the trick right there and it’s not as easy as it sounds. You try to capitalise on it as best you can by alienating your fan base; it’s not an easy thing to do. But, once again, we make all the right moves whether anyone understands it at the time or not. Like the Prick record, for instance. That was the classic, perfect, exact move we should have made for our second album on a major. Nobody ever does that and it worked on every level; it was perfect. It brings us back down to square one, it humanises us in a way that people don’t really realise. You’re kissing the goat on a major label but you also put out a record like Prick at the same time just a few months before your next full-length on a major label. Nobody ever does that shit, why? It doesn’t make any sense to me. What can it hurt? It’s just a record. Nobody goes that far; it’s not like you’re spending 100,000 dollars on it. People spend 12 to 14 bucks max. People spend more than that on beer every weekend; I think our records are worth more than someone’s beer money no matter what we put out. And it’s not even that weird of a record. Is it weirder than Throbbing Gristle’s first record? No. And our record came out 20 years after that one. In hindsight, Metal Machine Music by Lou Reed isn’t that weird either. And neither is Yoko Ono — that shit isn’t weird at all. It’s not really weird; it is but not really, not overly. I don’t know what you’d have to do to be weird now: videos of you throwing full-sized pigs into a deep fryer alive? That would be pretty weird. That’s the trouble: you watch too much television. What you have to do is not watch any TV and then you’re not aware of what’s going on. It’s kind of nice. I lost track of TV when I left home well over two decades ago. I don’t spend a lot of time watching normal television. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

With your 25th anniversary approaching, do you guys have anything special planned?
Well, we’re going to do a tour for it and we’re going to utilise our very first drummer, Mike Dillard, before Crover was in the band, from 1983, opening for the Melvins with Dale playing bass. We did that at Jello Biafra’s birthday party with that line-up, it was great, all songs from 1983 and we’re not going to jazz them up. We’re going to play them the way we played them then. We’re going to do that, maybe some kind of recording with him, a time traveller recording. I love that, when you see those Mohican punk rockers walking around, you just want to go, "welcome to the future, time traveller, this is called a cell phone. Everything must be weird for you coming 28 years ahead.” Or a rockabilly guy. "This is called a jet airplane.” It’s pretty funny. Anyway. "Now what grade sandpaper do you want to get those tattoos off your arm?” Good luck. But these things happen. I don’t understand why you’d want to base your whole existence on something that’s already happened. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me but what do I know?

Looking back, what have you accomplished that you’re most proud of and would you do anything differently?
I stand behind everything we’ve ever done; I don’t apologise for anything, as far as that’s concerned. I can’t think of anything I would have done different… maybe shoot Courtney Love in the head. That would be pretty good. There’s a classic example: does anyone really care about her? Would anyone actually defend her? My new song about her is the only reason she’s mad is because someone dropped a house on her sister. You know, these things happen. I wouldn’t change anything, everything’s fine. My biggest accomplishment is surviving this long without turning into a novelty act. I think we’re a contemporary band; it’s futuristic what we’re doing. I think so [that we’re timeless]. We’re not like Sha Na Na was at Woodstock: here’s what was happening in the ’50s. But whatever. I bet those guys were a fun bunch of guys to party with. Bowzer, I bet he was great. They looked like they were having a blast. Nobody ever realises they’re on the soundtrack. They are, they’re in the movie! Everybody forgets that stuff, isn’t that funny? Nobody ever believes me about shit anyway. I could tell you the truth about everything, 90 percent of it nobody would believe. Not a fucking word, nothing. They don’t want to, they’ve already decided. And I don’t have massive success so I don’t have the respect of the people that do. What would I know? I was only there and I survived it. So who wins? People say that to me about Cobain too. It’s like, ‘does it bug you that he made all the money?’ No it doesn’t because he’s fucking dead. No, I win; he’s fucking dead. That seems clearly obvious. ‘You don’t think?’ No, no, I wouldn’t trade places with him, he’s dead. No, no, no, I’m still making records, he’s dead. How fucked up is that? That’s really weird. But people are weird. You can’t win. People are weird and nobody will believe the truth, so what do you do? I just keep moving my feet. I can’t be concerned with that. At this point and time you have to envision things that you can’t download, like live music. You’ll never be able to substitute that on the internet, fortunately. Human involvement, communication; it’s a role of the dice every single time you go out there. That’s the beauty of it. That’s why it works so well.

What are your thoughts on the internet and downloading?
The only things I’ve ever downloaded are things you couldn’t get, like live shows from some band that weren’t available that I really wanted to hear. Other than that, I really don’t understand the mentality of it. The genie is out of the bottle, there’s not much we can do about it. I’m not against internet downloading by any means, as far as that’s concerned, because there’s nothing you can do about it. I would like to think I’ve never done anything as stupid as Metallica. That movie, that’s must viewing and the best part about that is those guys are not in on the joke. It was great, they sold 100 million records, how depressed can they be? They’re just a bunch of redneck geeks and they’ve been surrounded by sycophants and yes men for their entire career, ever since they made a ton of money. They’ve lost focus and a complete grip on reality, that’s it. That usually happens to people who aren’t prepared for fame. The reason that’s never happened to me is because I’ve never been famous; I’ve been famous but not had massive success. I’ll take the money. The thing that I don’t understand, and this is what gets me, whenever your records are leaked to the internet, they’re leaked by people who got the record for free, people who we sent the record to who then take it upon themselves to put it on the internet. That’s not a positive thing for them to do. I don’t understand. To me it’s akin to the geeks that write computer viruses. Why would you write a virus and go, "wow, that must have really screwed up a lot of people.” What type of fucking weirdo does that? That’s just sociopath behaviour that I can’t understand; I don’t get it. I mean, you take a brick, you throw it through a window, cause and effect, you’re there to witness it. You put our record on the internet, what possible reason do you have to do that other than fucking with us? I don’t understand that mentality. They’re not trying to share it; they’re doing something that’s fucked-up and laughing about it. There’s nothing we can do about it. All it means is in the future we’re not going to send out promos. Promos went out on Monday, record was on the internet on Wednesday, so there you go, couldn’t have been anyone else. So then you look at the whole thing and go, "yeah, that’s a weird thing to do.” I personally wouldn’t do it. It’s not about theft. I don’t understand it but what do I know? It’s one thing if you paid for it, I suppose, but if you didn’t pay for it and you’re doing it it’s just kind of weird. But if that’s the weirdest thing I have to deal with I got it pretty fucking good. So what? Ultimately who cares? If what you want is a music collection that consists of bad-sounding MP3s, more power to you. That’s not good enough for me. I’m a collector. I collect all kinds of crap, that’s why we do such weird stuff. We call it the "baseball card collector” mentality and people like that kind of stuff. It’s not like you can curl up with a laptop. Books are something that are very important to me, along with a lot of other things along those lines. People who want to replace their entire collections with MP3s are people who aren’t that interested in music in the first place. MP3s are the cassette tape from the ’70s/’80s. Would I replace my entire collection on cassette because I could do it for free off of someone else’s? No. I wouldn’t do it. I like the Ipod, but I don’t like the way they sound, because I can take my whole collection with me. But would I replace my collection? No fucking way. Now did I replace my record collection with CDs? Oh yeah. I got rid of those boat anchors a long time ago. What soured me was a long time ago I moved and the boxes with my records I hadn’t opened for nine years. I don’t need these fucking things. Records are crap. I traded up. If you talk to anyone who knows anything, other than the Steve Albini-types, who probably don’t know much, about audio recording, they’ll tell you records are the worst medium there is. There’s stuff you can’t get on vinyl that you can get on digital. You can’t get as much low or high end on record as on digital, and I got that straight from the masters — people who know their shit. But vinyl has its own beauty and appeal, and you get the whole package. I fault no one for collecting stuff; I’d never fault someone for collecting records, that’s a cool thing to do. Or Disney stuff, or movie posters. I passionately approve.

Do you ever see a time where there wouldn’t be the Melvins?
I guess if I wasn’t physically able to do it, or if I couldn’t afford it anymore. I’m not going to lose money. Going out on the road and lose a bunch of clams? I can do that doing nothing. I make more than nothing doing nothing; I don’t have to go out on the road to do it. If dollars and sense disabled me to the point where I can’t drive to San Francisco to play a show, I wouldn’t do it. But as long as those ducks are aligned, I don’t see any reason why not. Maybe I’ll change my mind but so far I haven’t done that and I don’t have a lot of alternatives. I got no complaints, not along those lines. Everything is great. I think we’re in the best shape we’ve ever been in. We make better music, are better songwriters. It’s great.

What’s up with Fantômas?
Nothing on the horizon that I know of. Definitely Mike’s [Patton] baby. We haven’t recorded anything since 2003; I don’t know when we will, or if we will. We are going to play All Tomorrow’s Parties, which the Melvins and Mike Patton are curating in December in England. We’re going to be playing The Director’s Cut live, and I think we’re going to do a few more shows after that. Other than that, that’s all we have planned, but I’ll be down for whatever.

How have the Melvins been able to outlast basically all the bands that started around the same time and survive all musical trends?
We’re the last band standing. I’ve always thought I was a stronger person than all those people, you know? Only the strong survive, and they don’t have a gut.

Or the Afro.
Time can take all that away really quickly. I’ve never cared about that. I just wanted to look weird. I don’t give a shit. I don’t have to have a normal job and I want to look like a freak. Mission accomplished.