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Interview: The Founder of the Melvins Talks About Life in L.A., New Bass Players and Reactionary Fans

Tuesday, Aug. 8 at the Broadberry

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If in a more than 30-year career your band has managed to become known as legendary weirdos within the heavy metal genre, that's saying something.

Honorary godfathers of both sludge metal and grunge — the latter thanks to a formative influence on high school friend Kurt Cobain — the Melvins stormed out of Montesano, Washington in the early '80s only to leave the Northwest by the middle of that decade, well before the ill-fated grunge phenomenon took hold nationally.

Led by founder Buzz Osborne on guitar and vocals, drummer Dale Crover and most recent bassist, Steven McDonald, a founder of Red Kross, the group had a brief major label deal on Atlantic, but mostly it's known for being staunchly independent and leaning toward the experimental side of metal.

Last month saw the release of the band's first double album, "A Walk with Love and Death," on Ipecac Recordings. It's a moody, almost psychedelic affair that pairs a more traditional slab of bludgeoning Melvins rock with noise snippets and bizarre found effects that function as a score for a short film directed by Jesse Nieminen. At concerts, where Osborne rocks a cosmic-looking muumuu, the band has been tossing in covers of Flipper, David Bowie and the Beatles' "I Wanna Hold Your Hand."

Style spoke with Osborne, or King Buzzo as he's known, a genial and outspoken frontman who probably holds the record for most critics attempting to describe his mushroom cloud explosion of gray hair — it usually draws comparisons to Sideshow Bob, a character on "The Simpsons." This interview has been condensed and edited from an hour-plus conversation that veered way too much into politics.

Style: What up Buzz, long time no talk. I think the last time I interviewed you was about 16 or 17 years ago in Northern California.

Buzz Osborne: I told you I never wanted to talk to you again.

[Laughs] It's been awhile since you guys have played Richmond.

Yeah, it's been quite awhile, not that we haven't tried. I think the city founders didn't want us.

They're long dead. I remember asking before if you had ever noticed a typical Melvins' fan over the years, and your reply was hilarious: "Generally male and usually wearing a T-shirt of a band I don't like."

[Chuckles] There you go. It's funny because it's true.

You've lived in Los Angeles for decades now, but for some reason I can't help but still think of the Melvins as a Northwest band.

Everybody does. I've been in California for more than 30 years. We lived there [in Washington], made one album out of 27 albums. That was it. I left in '86. Needed to get somewhere else to restart the whole thing. To run.

In what ways has L.A. affected the Melvins' sound over the years?

I don't know that I draw a whole lot from my outside environment. [But] a lot from my inside environment, where I live, who I'm around. What I like about a place like L.A. is its massiveness, the gigantic nature of the beast. I lived in San Francisco for seven years before I moved down here. There it's essentially still a small town, like Richmond. You see everyone you know every time you go out of the house.

People still think I live in Washington state, that's how anonymous you can be in L.A. I have a whole life here that does not include hipsters. People don't know where I am, what I do, and it's all by design — not because I hate them. But if I don't want to be around that stuff, I don't have to be. I'm very happy about that. I'm not a joiner-in-er. If you don't want to go to the Hollywood party, it's easy to say no. Just don't go around it, duh! You wanna go to the Grammy party, Oscar party? No, I'm not going. A party that includes a bunch of artists, musicians? No. I don't want to be around those people. It's like being in high school.

I'm on my own with the people I like, the few close friends I have in a massive environment where if you so desire and you have the money, you can buy steak and eggs, a Cadillac or Maserati, a stack of 1,000 DVDs, or plywood at four in the morning [laughs]. You decide. That is remarkably livable. And the weather could not be better. I love it. It's grown into my bones, as weird as that sounds.

Why did you decide to release these two very different albums together as the Melvins' first double album?

Well, it's a weird way to do it, which attracted me. Not a traditional double album. It has a true feeling of separatism [between] those records. It's a totally different experience between "A Walk with Love and Death." Believe it or not, love and death are hugely different. Though with Ted Bundy's case, it was pretty much the same thing.

The people who would have a problem with the soundtrack record just prove they have no understanding of us at all. My main problem is I think we're all on the same page: I think everybody likes Throbbing Gristle or industrial noise stuff. Or the sound of a car crash — of course you do! When you step back and realize how conservative people really are, it's sad.

People want the new “Zodiac.”

Yeah, well that’s a good song, you know? But it was a hybrid of what came before. That record was recorded in ‘89 or ’90, I can’t remember. That was 27 years ago. People today who say they want that may not have been born yet. They had no idea what the world was like, what I was thinking, what was happening musically. Nor do I. That was a lifetime ago.

I prepared for this interview partly by watching "Wise Blood" and "Treasure of Sierra Madre" last night. John Huston double feature.

Oh yeah? "Treasure of Sierra Madre" is the greatest film ever made. "A Walk With Love and Death" — I stole that title from one of Huston's movies. I think it was the first one his daughter Angelica was ever in. There was another, "Reflections in a Golden Eye," that we could've easily called the record as well. Maybe we will [use it] …

I moved out of my parents' house in the early '80s and lost track of all television. I'm not on Facebook or Twitter or anything. Twitter reminds me of something: oh yeah, a waste of time. I don't give a rat's ass. Sorry, I don't have time to sit and fuck with that. I got heads to cut off. I love photography, I take a lot of pictures, but I rarely feel the need to post them online.

Drummer Dale Crover, bassist Steven McDonald and guitarist Buzz Osborne recently released the Melvins’ first double album in 34 years, “A Walk with Love and Death” on Ipecac Records.
  • Drummer Dale Crover, bassist Steven McDonald and guitarist Buzz Osborne recently released the Melvins’ first double album in 34 years, “A Walk with Love and Death” on Ipecac Records.

You've had a bunch of great bass players in the band. Why is that the hot seat?

Oh, I don't know, it's not by design. Lately it has been to some degree. We went through what we went through with Kevin Rutmanis [former Cows bassist] which was he went off the deep end in a lot of areas in his life. It was difficult for me to deal with — not a happy time. I just said, "I can't handle this mentally, having this sort of thing happen again." We'd been through a lot and all my eggs are in one basket. Fortunately now, we have a good relationship with Kevin. He's a good guy, and he told us had we not done that, he would've been dead.

It's not like I'm sitting there going, "I want to kick out a bass player." Other journalists have called it a "revolving door of bassists" — not you — but I find that a real disservice to the guys we've played with. None of these people are just anybody. They're all incredible musicians, every single one has contributed something I'm not gonna get from someone else. I can't get anyone to replace Rutmanis, or the Big Business guys, or Steve McDonald, or Trevor Dunn [Mr. Bungle] or Jeff Pinkus [Butthole Surfers]. It's an honor and a privilege. Steve's arguably the best we've ever played with — I'd take the Pepsi challenge with him and any other bass player on any level — phenomenal musician.

It’s good to hear Kevin is doing better – maybe the Cows will get back together. I would’ve thought Shannon would be the one to go off the deep end in that band.

Well, you wouldn’t be wrong [laughs].

How have you made it work financially all this time?

We're very careful. I had a journalist, and this is weird to me, too, who said that we usually put out records that don't make money. I said, "Wait a minute, man, I don't put out records that don't make money." All my records make money. I have to, I'm not independently wealthy. This is not some hobby. These aren't hits, but they have to work in my world. If it pleases me, it will please other people who like what I do. I see to it that all our records make everybody involved some amount of money. How many records do you think I'd make that lose me money? Less than two.

Would you guys ever attempt the 51 shows in 51 states in 51 days tour again? That was impressive.

Oh, I’m not against it. It’s funny people were like, you just did that for publicity – well, duh! Why else would you do it? There was a guy who had done same thing on acoustic guitar, maybe, and George Thorogood claimed he did it once, but we always heard that he had quit like 30 shows in. But we actually did it. It’s well documented.

If I had it to do over again, I would’ve done Hawaii and Alaska as the first two shows. We did Alaska first and then Hawaii last. Then you’re just in the states driving. I don’t like coordinating shit like that around a plane flight.

Do you think there are too many bands these days? It’s so hard to wade through the deluge of releases, much less find something that sounds unique or original. On bad days, it feels like maybe 85 percent of them should be doing something else.

I think it’s more like 95 percent should be doing something else. That’s always been the case. There was never a golden age of music where everything was good. I find out about bands from word of mouth, or I happen to see it. Same as it always was. In the early 80s, without social media, how did I find out about Really Red or the Buttholes? Somehow I did. But I like social media, we should embrace technology. I don’t want to be involved in it, but Trump can say whatever crazy shit he wants.

Did you see Kathy Griffin's lawyer cite Gwar and Municipal Waste in defense of her severed Trump head photo?

Look, Kathy Griffin never would've held up a severed head of Obama. So it's not comedy. Gwar would've held up a severed head of Obama and Trump and George Bush, that's the difference. She's full of shit. I don't give a rat's ass what she does — she can rape a fake corpse of Trump for all I care. It doesn't offend me. Trump is divisive, he's a hothead, a billionaire, what did you expect him to do?

I'm no supporter of Republicans or Democrats. You can have your own opinions, but you can't have your own facts. I don't get why people [in California] would want to secede because of Trump, yet they were OK with Bill Clinton. I don't get it.

More recently, the Dickies frontman got in hot water for vulgarly shouting down a female attendee who held a sign referring to "gross old men" and saying "punk should not be predatory."

I don't know the details of the Dickies thing, but if you want to come to a concert and basically blame me and call me a predatory rapist, all bets are off. Then I can call you names, too. I would fully expect Nagasaki. I thought we were all equal here? Are we Sir Walter Raleigh? It doesn't make sense. The PMRC [Parents Music Resource Center] could not be happier, Tipper Gore is having her job done for her now. What about NWA? They said things a thousand times worse and Ice Cube is making Disney movies now. Fucking chill out, people. Reactionary hotheads don't make sense to me. Pointless.

If you look back through history, right now we have people who want to go back and change things. Morals change over time, that's how it works.

There's an ongoing debate here about our Confederate statues. Some people want them torn down, others want more context or more diverse statues put up.

I think you should tear them all down and put up 90-foot high statues of Malcolm X. and Ice Cube. I'm totally fine with that. I'm in. Or a hologram of Tupac that's constantly turned on.

The Melvins perform with Spotlights at the Broadberry on Tuesday, Aug. 8 at 8 p.m. The show is sold out.

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