The Melvins' Buzz Osborne: "I Could Care Less About Legacy"
Since 1983, the Melvins have influenced countless bands and carved out a path that is all their own. They constantly explore unexpected paths, even relative to their own work -- with every album they wind up even further away from what people have finally pegged as a their "sound."
Over the past three decades, the Melvins have sifted through all sorts of music, including Beefheart-induced sludge, dark ambient noise, moody jazz-rock, avant-garde electro-acoustic, and punk country. And that's just a handful of the band's 25-plus albums in their 25+ catalog. Now in 2013 to mark their 30th anniversary, The Melvins are embarking on an extensive summer tour to celebrate, kicking it off in Phoenix this Friday at Crescent Ballroom.
Up on the Sun talked with frontman Buzz Osborne about the band's biggest accomplishments, his five favorite albums, why he doesn't care about legacy, and the new guitar that is his current obsession.
Their newest album, April's Everybody Loves Sausage, fits them well in that sense. It's an album of covers, pairing acts that founder/frontman/guitarist Buzz Osborne says were chosen because "they are acts that people wouldn't think our band was influenced by." Think David Bowie and Venom, with The Jam and Queen.
On top of that, there's no doubt that the Melvins' sound and direction of frontman/guitarist Buzz Osborne influenced dozens of bands, many of which people couldn't imagine missing from the industry today.
Take Nirvana, for example. The Melvins influenced a lot of Nirvana's slow tempos and sludgy sound, that came to define the '90s. The same goes for Soundgarden -- ironic, since it's these same sounds that are in the midst of an uprising. In fact, when Dave Grohl's first band Scream broke up, he approached Osborne for advice. Osborne introduced him to Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic, and the classic lineup of Nirvana was formed. In fact, Cobain not only idolized the Melvins; he auditioned for them. But their influence has also branched out to metal as well, like acts such as Tool, Mastodon, and Eyehategod.
Usually the band performs as a trio, but in 2006 brought on Coady Willis from Big Business as a second drummer to provide a drumming "mirror effect." In 2012, The Melvins Lite (a lineup consisting of Osborne, Dale Crover, and Trevor Dunn) completed a record-breaking tour, having performed every night for 51 straight days, once in each of the 50 United States and once in the District of Columbia.
Are you guys coming in early to watch Black Flag on Thursday before you kick off the tour on Friday?
Are they playing there?
Yes, at this venue called Club Red.
I didn't know that! Now that I know that I may come in early . . . I'll take it under your advisement.
What do you feel has been The Melvins' biggest accomplishment in the band's 30-year history, besides the fact that you guys are still touring and bringing great music to the masses?
Well, survival. Still putting out interesting work, like you said -- that's probably the main thing. I never understood the concept of writer's block; I've never had that happen, you know? I have no idea what that would be. Um, and that we're physically able to do what we're doing. And I think one of our biggest accomplishments was the tour we did last year, Melvins 51, when we did 51 shows in 51 days, plus D.C.
At our age, that's a major accomplishment, you know? It was great!
Well, you're also lucky you don't encounter writer's block ever.
I guess so. I mean, I just feel like bands are using that excuse to put out a few good records and then that's the end of it. I don't know what it is -- drugs, alcohol, who knows?
The Melvins catalog is pretty incredible. Can you name me three albums that are either your favorites or just stick out in your mind for some reason?
I could pick five.
Go for it.
There's been a massive amount of material. I guess if I had to give a well-rounded view of what we're doing, I'd say the Colossus of Destiny (2001), Freak Puke (2012), Stoner Witch (1994), that's three. Um, The Bride Screamed Murder (2010). And Nude in Boots (2008).
That does cover the entire span of your style.
I think so, I might have left something out. A ton of records. I certainly can't remember all of them, or the order of the songs. No way.
How did you guys go about choosing the covers that you did on Everybody Loves Sausages?
What we did was, we picked out songs that we thought would be good to cover that were at least slightly an influence on us but that no one would've thought was an influence on us. You know, David Bowie, Venom -- bands that people wouldn't automatically think we were into.
I was interested in the cover of The Jam's "Art School." In Spin magazine earlier this year, you said that they sound "how Green Day thinks they sound like."
That hasn't changed. You know, I don't know what bands like that think. It's on the other side of the world.
Are your main guitars still Les Paul Customs? You've said you think they are the best guitars in the world. What is it about Les Paul that has always drawn you in personally?
You know, I love Les Paul. But I actually stopped playing those about three years ago. I've been playing guitars from this company called the Electrical Guitar Company, and they are made completely out of aluminum and acrylic. They are unbelievable. I still love Les Paul, but haven't played them live in a while, although I still use them in the studio occasionally. As I've gotten older, I've realized the guitar is most important and that the amps have less to do with things.
What is it that drew you to the Electrical Guitar Company after using Les Paul for so long?
Well, the necks are really cool, and I was able to have one built for me that was really cool [the King Buzzo Standard]. They might be more suited to what I'm doing right now. There's a combination of things that make them amazing. I will never find another guy who builds stuff like this, so I feel privileged to use them at all.
I know you're not a big fan of the newer music out there right now. What are three noteworthy or influential bands that have emerged in the 2000s, in your opinion, that you see influencing future music?
You know, I'm not good at picking out what's going to influence music in the future. I'm terrible at that. I'm always thinking nobody is going to like this crap, and then they end up selling millions. [laughs] I'm not good at that. One band I really like right now is this band Tweak Bird; they played some shows on that big tour we did last year. They are probably my favorite newer band.
Who are a few of your favorite vocalists and guitarists?
You know, I don't like a lot of newer bands, but I also don't like a lot of older bands, either. [laughs] As time goes on, you find new ones that you like, you know, as you get older? You find more and more bands that actually work for you. But guitar playing, I would have to say Jimi Hendrix, Dave Shepherd, the guitar player from Weedeater, and Andy Gill from Gang of Four. That's a pretty good list.
Weedeater was playing here this past week. They always put on a good show.
I like the guitar player. He's one of my favorites going on right now. Certainly.
Tool's Adam Jones listed you as one of his top 10 favorite guitarists of all time . . .
That's very nice of him.
Well, he also said that most people most likely won't recognize the importance of The Melvins until the band is dead and gone. If there was one thing you would want to leave as a legacy, whether it's influencing future music or helping develop other musicians, what would that be?
Well, I don't have much interest in a legacy, really. Once I'm gone, I don't really care what happens. I'm dead.
As far as our music living into infinity, it's about what's happening now, more than anything else. You know, I've influenced bands from Nirvana and Soundgarden, and a lot of lesser bands, but I don't care what people think about that now. It's not the kind of things that worries me too much.
I make music that I would like as a fan, and I operate in a band like how I would like other bands to operate. That's all I do. No preconceived ideas. Let the chips fall where they may.
Legacy-wise, I just can't concern myself with it. John Huston was my favorite director of all time, and he had this thing where he said once he would watch the finished copy in the editing booth and it was done, he would walk away from it and go to the next thing. He would be done with it. I think that's exactly what I'm doing. Just moving on. That's it, really.
I'm thinking in terms of how The Melvins fans are such a tight-knit group; very dedicated fans. And while there may be a lot of crap music in the mainstream, it's interesting to see how some of that legendary music -- like you guys being around for 30 years -- may influence the younger generations.
Well, I hope we could in a positive way, but if it doesn't and nobody cares that's fine, too. Let it have a life of its own.
And you've pushed yourself to do different things throughout your career.
Do you think there a direction you feel you have yet to explore?
Oh, who knows? I have all types of crazy ideas for stuff. But none that have come to fruition yet. You never know what the future holds with us. We've had a whole lot of fun playing with Big Business. This time, our bass player couldn't come with us because he's on paternity leave, so we have the bass player from the Metal Strippers with us. The main thing is moving forward and we're happy. And our first show will be in Phoenix! It will be awesome. I can't wait.
Just one more questions for you: What instrument do you wish you could play?
I would love to be an amazing drummer. I can play the drums to some degree, but I wish I was awesome at it.