The Melvins’ Buzz Osborne’s Secret to Success
By Kyle Eustice
Before Nirvana, there were the Melvins. Lead singer/guitarist Buzz Osborne has been at the helm since its 1983 inception. The story is not only did the Melvins inspire Kurt Cobain and Nirvana’s first album, Bleach, but apparently Osborne is responsible for their very existence. Born in Montesano, Washington, Osborne grew up 10 miles away from Cobain’s hometown of Aberdeen. It was only a matter of time before their strong love of music and desire to escape their hometowns put them in each other’s paths. In fact, they eventually attended school together and Osborne played bass in Cobain’s first band, Fecal Matter. Osborne, along with the rest of the Melvins, knew all of the members of Nirvana. When Dave Grohl’s first band, Scream, fell apart, he asked Osborne for advice. In response, Osborne introduced Grohl to Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic. While Nirvana went on to their own thing (we know how that story ends), the Melvins continued churning out albums. Beginning with 1987’s Gluey Porch Treatments and culminating with 2014’s Hold It In, they’ve released over 20 albums. To say Buzz Osborne is a legend, would be an understatement. He’s been in the headlines recently because of his scathing review of the Nirvana documentary, Montage of Heck. In this candid interview, Osborne discusses his feelings on the documentary, producing the Cows last album and fried chicken.
Most bands don’t attain the kind of longevity the Melvins has. What do you think is the key to your staying power?
Buzz Osborne: Lots of fried chicken.
The key to your success…
Sure! That sounds good.
Does it give you the power to play?
It gives me the power to do everything. There’s nothing I can’t do with fried chicken.
Making music in the ‘80s and ‘90s was obviously much different then it is today. What do you think it’s changed?
We’re just happy to be able to do anything at all. That’s all good.
Well, obviously back then we didn’t have the internet or the ability to slap a video on YouTube and get a million ‘likes.’
At this point though, it’s probably a million fake likes. They figured that out real quick. They’ll put an end to it. That will be the end of that and no one will care. People think there’s all this money you can make on there. Let’s see how much money you can make with fake likes. Give it a shot. They’ll catch on to that and that will be the end. I literally have no faith in things like that saving the industry.
I sometimes wish it would go back to the way it was.
I’m not a good ol’ days kind of guy. I think we should roll with the punches, whatever they may be. Maybe if you start looking at in a way that has nothing to do with the good old days.
I just bought a record player because I do miss record shopping. There’s something nostalgic about it I’ll always love.
People like bands like Sha Na Na, too [laughs]. I can’t explain it.
I’m glad you brought that up. I read an interview where you’re talking about critics and you were like, ‘What are they listening to that’s so great?’ And you said, ‘Oh yeah, you like crap.’
Yeah, you like crap. Exactly. They mostly like hipster crap; whatever the hipsters are listening to. Honestly, I don’t think there’s ever a golden egg. Once in awhile, we get people that like us, by in large, we have to wait for that sort of thing to happen. I don’t have a lot of faith in that. Pitchfork? Enjoy it while it lasts. They’ll probably be gone and something will replace then. Believe me, we’ve outlasted most people. All we have to do is wait.
I like that one of your favorite albums is Run-DMC’s Raising Hell.
That and Straight Outta Compton [laughs].
You have a vast interest in so many types of music, not just like Alice Cooper.
We like Alice, too.
Oh I know that. What have you been listening to lately?
On the drive today, we listened to The Humans, Miles Davis, Tom Waits, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.
Nice list. We can get along. I read you also said Bob Dylan was kind of like anti-folk and he was basically saying fuck you to everyone.
I would say that’s true. Yes, he’s mean spirited. That’s what makes him good.
Are you mean spirited at times [laughs]?
I suppose it could be said that. I don’t know if it’s exclusive.
My friend who is a huge fan of yours told me you’re tough in interviews. But I said if I can handle Morrissey, J. Mascis and Bryan Ferry, I think I’ll be ok.
Well, I’ve never heard of any of those people [laughs].
I have a slight inclination to believe you’re lying [laughs].
Are those people musicians?
In fact, they are. Maybe you’ve heard of The Smiths.
[Laughs] No. Did he get that out of the phone book?
He just opened it up randomly and landed on it.
There you go.
Pretty amazing. Your wife does a lot of your artwork. How has it been working together over the years?
We’ve been married about 20 years. That’s a long time. It’s a long time to do anything. I like to think that we are married to each other because no one else will have us.
How did you initially meet?
She didn’t really know anything about our band, which in hindsight, I kind of found attractive. That was good. I didn’t think about it too much. We met through mutual friends so she wasn’t a fan to begin with. She didn’t have that working against her. I just thought she was smart and really beautiful. It was good. Nice combo.
Having a creative relationship with your partner is always a good thing.
I realized pretty quickly women that are willing to put up with me and what I do for a living don’t grow on trees.
[Laughs] I’ve heard that many times from a lot of different artists. Glad you found a good one.
So far, so good.
I also read you’re very into film. Have you ever scored a film and would that be something you’re interested in doing?
I’m not super interested in it. Under the right circumstances I would. I don’t know how much I could handle a ‘work-for-order’ kind of thing, someone telling you what to do. Some director like Tarantino going, ‘I want you make it sound more like the theme for Borat.’
Hey, that was a pretty good impression.
Not bad. We have more than 20 albums with material out there and a person can’t find one thing for their movie, I’m not going to write more music. [In his Quentin Tarantino voice] ‘I know you’ve written over 200 songs, but I was wondering if you could write me another song.’
Maybe 10 more.
[Still in Tarantino mode] ‘Yeah, maybe another song or two for the soundtrack to my stupid movie. I’d really love it. No, I didn’t like that song.’
[Laughs] Do it again.
[In Tarantino’s voice] ‘Do it again because we’re paying you and I don’t care.’ I just can’t see it. If they don’t to use it, fine with me, I’m not going to pursue it.
I saw the Butthole Surfers in ’93 and Flaming Lips opened for them. What do you think of them these days?
I don’t know much about what they’re doing. I know they’ve certainly taken a lot from the Butthole Surfers’ catalog. I don’t know them personally.
I met Wayne a couple years ago. He was wearing a blue boa and had blue glitter all over his face. I was surprised how different he was since their early days .
Honestly, I would have no idea what goes through the mind of somebody like Wayne. No idea. I couldn’t tell you what their records sound like. They seem like a band that just does all they can to be famous, a little more than that.
I saw him on a Virgin Mobile commercial once.
That’s what they want. We do art for all of us to share in the art and the profits. I think he does that kind of stuff to be a celebrity. There’s a big difference.
How did you meet Mike Patton and how did you end up on his label?
I met him through working with Mr. Bungle. I never played with Faith No More. I don’t know too much about Faith No More, honestly. The Melvins would play shows with Mr. Bungle. The whole thing went from there.
You’ve collaborated with so many people.
Is anyone on your radar now?
We’ve asked lots of people who will remain nameless who didn’t want to do it. I don’t want to queer the deal…
By saying anything prematurely?
Who have been some of your favorites?
Jim Thrilwell off the top of my head. That was great. Mark [Arm] from Mudhoney.
I saw Mudhoney in ’94. I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. What do you think of Omaha?
Never heard of it.
I don’t know where it is.
Nobody does [laughs].
That’s in Nebraska, huh?
At least you didn’t say Oklahoma.
Oklanebraska. The tornado belt.
More like the tornado and Bible belt. Do you see an end to tour touring life and if so, where do you see that road ending?
If The Rolling Stones can tote their sorry asses on stage, why can’t I?
Enough said. [Singing] ‘When he’s 74.’
I think it goes when he’s 64 Buzz.
No, [singing] when he’s 74. He’s already passed 64. I’m way ahead of you.
My Dad used to sing that to me all the time.
Did you have familial influences growing up in terms of music?
I am the oldest kid and my parents had no interest in music. I knew nobody that was cool to show me anything so everything I found was on my own. Where I grew up was detrimental and horrible. There’s not one redeeming social value about it that I could even ever get behind. I’m here by the grace of my own ability to search out things that were cool. Other than that, my town did me no good and I’m surprised I got out of there alive. Omaha would have been a veritable paradise compared to where I grew up. It would have been a ‘shangri la’ compared to it. I’ve been out of there for a long time. I’ve been living in California since ’86.
I am going to see you in Denver because the night you are playing Fort Collins is the same night I’m seeing Morrissey, you know, what’s his name.
I’d rather take a bullet to the head than see that show [laughs].
I’m getting paid lifestyle so I figured why not?
I would go if I got paid.
You produced the Cows last album. How was it to be behind the scenes this time?
It was really good. They are one of my favorite bands. That record was really, really great to do and they were all fun to work with. I got them to do things they never tried before. I don’t get a lot of offers for that kind of thing so it was nice to be able to do that. Most people are too afraid to turn me loose on their music.
I have one more question.
Oh wait, if you’re going to see Morrissey, there’s this band called the Warlock Pinchers. Look up the song they have about him. That will clear it up for you.
How sick of hearing about Nirvana are you?
I understand it. The thing that gets tiresome is they don’t really want to hear my answers.
I do. I loved the review that you wrote about the documentary. I see nothing wrong with it. Were you shocked they didn’t approach you?
No, I’m never shocked by anything that happens with the Nirvana camp. That’s part of the problem I have with all of it. It would be shocking if they wanted to include me.
Basically, they wanted to do what they wanted to do without checking the facts? They kind of talked about what they thought they knew?
I would say that’s exactly what they wanted to do. If people want to watch a documentary about mostly things based on fiction, that’s what they get.
(the) Melvins, July 14, at The Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St., 9 p.m. Tickets are $15/ADV and $17/DOS. Visit www.onepercentproductions.com for more information.
*Interview originally done for BandWagon Magazine