Interview - A conversation with Melvins' King Buzzo (Buzz Osborne)

Melvins' Buzz Osborne @ the Warfield - April 16th, 2022 (Photo: Kevin Keating)
Melvins' Buzz Osborne @ the Warfield - April 16th, 2022 (Photo: Kevin Keating)

Melvins are one of the hardest working bands we know. They wrapped a tour with Ministry (link here) back in mid-April, took a month off, and then hit the road again with their 'Electric Roach Tour' that wraps-up in Berkeley at the Cornerstone Bakerey on July 20th. After another short break, they'll be back at it again with what they're calling their 'Five Legged Tour' that launches in San Francisco on September 5th. The trio, made up of Buzz Osborne (vocals & guitar), Dale Crover (drums & backing vocals), and Steve McDonald (bass & backing vocals) will have not only those two Bay Area shows, but a third at the Ritz in San Jose on September 6th. So you really have no excuse not to catch at least ONE of their upcoming shows. Here are the dates and links for tickets:
  • July 20th - Cornerstone Bakery (tix)
  • Sept. 5th - Great American Music Hall (tix)
  • Sept. 6th - The Ritz (tix)
Graciously, King Buzzo carved out some time to speak with us from the road and you can find our full interview below! Hope to see you at one of their upcoming shows!

SFBayAreaConcerts: 31 years ago, I saw Melvins play with Primus at Rutgers. I remember [1993's release] Houdini being exactly what a bunch of us were looking for at the time. It was a breath of fresh air and it still sounds timeless. What does it feel like to you today, looking back?

Buzz Osborne: Well, we're on tour right now and we're playing a few of those songs. It's, I think it's our biggest selling record, I think. But, you know, for me, it's an odd thing because I'm too close to it. So it's hard for me to be a judge along those lines. I think I'm glad people like it -- really glad. But I'm not a good judge of our records. You know, I hear them with different ears than everybody else does. It's sort of like reading your own books or something. Yeah. I'm very happy about it. I'm very appreciative.

SFBAC: It makes sense that you guys wouldn't deliver a traditional acoustic album, thank God. Five Legged Dog is this big, sprawling thing.

Buzz Osborne: Yeah, it's massive.

SFBAC: And it's awesome. The transitions are genius -- that's one of the things I love the most about it. How "Everybody’s Talking" slides into "Revolve". Perfect. How did you approach building this?

Buzz Osborne: Well, what I would do is, we knew we're gonna do something big, but we didn't know at first that we're gonna do a ‘four-albums’ thing.

And so I would go home and figure out -- because we have our own studio in LA -- and figured out maybe we could try this or maybe we could try that one as an acoustic.

Then I would come in the next day with two or three songs, maybe four songs, and we would run through them, figure out a good version of it, and then we would track it. So that's kind of how it went.

And then [Jeff] Pinkus sent us him playing the banjo and singing on "Everybody's Talking" and then we just added the music to it. You know, and then then it just took me, it took me a long time to figure out the track order, and how I wanted it to do. I wanted each album to stand on their own. So there really isn't a beginning and an ending other than each album. You know? Four standalone records really. Like if you just grab one, the listening experience and that one record would be good. That's kind of what I was thinking when I put it together. And, and so nobody's done anything that massive, nobody, not even close. Not like that. We're like, 'A single album?' A double album? maybe? Triple album? If we can do three, why not do four?' That was our thinking.

SFBAC: It's not just a bunch of great Melvin songs but also some really interesting covers. I've heard "Everybody's Talking" dozens of times, but I've never realized how much of a ‘fuck you anthem’ it is until I heard your version. You think about it with Harry Nilsson's beautiful croon you almost forget that. It's just kind of like a pissed off song.

Buzz Osborne: Yeah, it's that and, it's been said that that was written from the perspective of somebody on heroin. You know? It kind of seems like that I think, once I thought about that, Harry Dean Stanton talked about that. It's a dope song. That's what he says. What's his name? Nilsson has the biggest version, but he didn't write it.

SFBAC: Yeah, I think it's Fred Neil, right?

Buzz Osborne: Yeah. But Nielsen is the one that made it famous. And you know, really without that song, Midnight Cowboy is not as good. Even though I think Midnight Cowboy is an absolute masterpiece of a movie. I would say that would be in my top 10 movies. Absolutely. So having that on there was really great. That was really fun. Then all the other covers I mean, I loved having Free on there and the Stones and the Turtles, all those good songs. It's really fun.

SFBAC: You have a tendency to approach things from a different perspective. Some songs stay close to the original and some are just very Melvin's.

Buzz Osborne: Yeah, yeah. That's how it would be. Yeah, absolutely. No question.

SFBAC: You made it very clear on your website that the Five Legged Tour is completely different from Five Legged Dog, obviously. Why did you name the tour that way?

Buzz Osborne: It just seemed like it went along with the record. That's about it. No other real reason. I mean, at some point, we might do an acoustic tour. I'm not sure. It's a lot of fun to do. I'm gonna definitely do some of my own acoustic touring in the new year, next year. Some, I don't know exactly how much but as much as I can.

Buzz Osborne: Next year is our 40th anniversary. So we have to work that in too.

SFBAC: Oh, that's very cool.

Buzz Osborne: Yeah, love it.

SFBAC: Broken Pipe EP is on Joyful Noise -- one of my favorite labels. They do all sorts of cool, weird stuff. They call Melvin's “The greatest band in the history of music.” Pretty high praise.

Buzz Osborne: It is. So it doesn't bother me. I would say if I had to pick a greatest band I would say it was The Who.

SFBAC: Excellent. Who were some of the other bands that inspired you, and is there some new music out right now that's kind of resonating?

Buzz Osborne: Well there's this new band I like called The Bobby Lees, they're pretty good. I like Starcrawler, I think they're pretty interesting. There's two. And older bands? I mean, I love The Who --they're probably one of my favorite bands. But then so many: electric Miles Davis; a million, a million things. I think you can make a list a mile long. Captain Beefheart. Tons of stuff. It's never ending.

SFBAC: I think if you were to take The Who, Miles Davis and Captain Beefheart, you could have somewhat of an approximation of the Melvins sound.

Buzz Osborne: I've always said that we were Captain Beefheart playing heavy metal. But most bands you know, no band of our nature has ever done a four album acoustic record. That sounds the way that it does with those kinds of vocals and all that stuff. I don't know if another band has ever done anything like that. Not to my knowledge.

SFBAC: One thing that's consistent about the Melvins catalog is constantly doing things in a different way, taking a different approach to things.

Buzz Osborne: Yeah, yeah, that's kind of been the mainstay of our entire existence.

SFBAC: The Basses Loaded version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" actually kicked off my fantasy draft playlist this year. Are you a baseball fan, and if so any thoughts on the season so far?

Buzz Osborne: I'm a baseball fan, I'm not a fantasy baseball one. I don't know much about that. But I like baseball. I think it's too early to tell. Things kick into high gear after the All Star break. And we see which teams haven't been devastated by injuries and take it from there. You want guys that are Mr. October not Mr. May.

SFBAC: Exactly. Well, part of my approach this year has been to hold on to some of these guys like Chris Sale and DeGrom that are just still on the DL. Hopefully, as we get deeper into the year, we can still get them fully rehabbed. So we'll see how that works out.

Buzz Osborne: Well, you never know I mean, the injury thing is tough. The pitch count was supposed to slow down injuries and it hasn't made any difference. Not a lick of difference. Bob Gibson talks about pitching over 200, throwing over 200 pitches in a game, nobody accused him of, those guys, of doing something reckless.

So I don't know. I mean, it's a game ultimately. And you play as hard as you can and people pay to see baseball at the highest level. You know, I mean, I play golf sometimes with Jim Brown, the football player. And I've asked him 'What do you think about all the extra, you know, extra protection against football players?' He goes 'At some point, you have to step aside and let the man play.' There you go. He goes, 'If you don't want to do it, nobody's forcing you to do it, because there's 50 guys behind you at least that'll take your job right now. So you gotta make that choice.' I agree.

If I was a pitcher, I would want to pitch. I would figure that my time was limited. But I would want to be a like a meteor. I want to go as hard as I could every single fucking time I pitched, because you never know what's gonna happen. I want to, you know, you've got to use it to your full advantage. It's like, you can try to have a career. But if you're not good, and you're not out there winning, who gives a fuck about your career? You know? You're getting paid to play baseball, not to protect your arm. That's it.

I think the guys that go the hardest. I mean look at Sandy Kofax. Very, very short career. But arguably one of the greatest pitchers, and known as one of the greatest pitchers of all time.

And then you've got somebody like Nolan Ryan who is one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Never won a Cy Young. He's no more famous. He's less famous than Sandy Koufax. Why? You know? I don't know. It's doesn't make any sense. One of the longest careers ever. If you're not helping your team, it really doesn't make any difference.

Who gives a shit?

SFBAC: I feel like there's a metaphor here for the balls-out approach to Melvins.

Buzz Osborne: Yeah, we're not afraid. You shouldn't be afraid. You've got to be a warrior. When you go out there.

SFBAC: Exactly. Attack the stage, leave it all on the stage.

Buzz Osborne: You've got to go out there and give these people a show. You've got to go out there and earn your dough. That's what you've got to do because I guarantee you, if you're kicking ass out there, no coach is gonna pull you out no matter what your fucking pitch count is. Maybe out of their minds. You know? If you, if your team wins, all is forgiven. That's how it goes. Step aside and let the man play. You know? If you don't want to do it, don't do it. Nobody's forcing you to do it.

Probably from all these guys the most money they'll ever make, even in their first year 500 grand, whatever? That's the most money they'll ever make in one year. Then consider yourself lucky and go at it like it's the last time you're ever going to pitch, or ever gonna play. No matter what position you're in. Play like it's your last day on earth. That's the most important thing in the world. If you don't, I don't know why you're doing it.

You know the world doesn't have enough poet warriors. Where are the poet warriors? Where are they? It's disgusting. It's depressing. I mean, highly intellectual people who are killers and are willing to sacrifice everything. Where are these people as role models? I don't know, I don't see 'em.

SFBAC: Well, speaking of warriors, you are going to be kicking a ton of ass throughout the Bay Area with upcoming shows at the Cornerstone Bakery in Berkeley, The Ritz in San Jose, and at the Great American Music Hall - one of the most iconic venues in San Francisco.

Buzz Osborne: It's one of our favorites.

SFBAC: Do you have any particularly interesting stories about your past shows there?

Buzz Osborne: We have been playing there for 30 plus years maybe? Possibly. And it's always, I've always been told that the place was haunted. And when you're downstairs, in the downstairs area. Most people haven't been down there, go there. It certainly seems like it could be, as much as I guess I would agree that that was the case, but I haven't seen anything yet. So maybe, maybe this time it'll happen.

SFBAC: Awesome. We're super fired up to have you guys coming back to the SF Bay Area.

Buzz Osborne: Cannot wait.

SFBAC: Rip it apart. So thank you so much. We're looking forward to seeing you melt some faces soon.

Buzz Osborne: We'll do our best. All right, take it easy!

Once again, ticket can be found for each of the following venues here:
  • July 20th - Cornerstone Bakery (tix)
  • Sept. 5th - Great American Music Hall (tix)
  • Sept. 6th - The Ritz (tix)
Don't miss these shows!

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