A Grunge History Lesson with The Melvins’ King Buzzo

Cited as the godfathers of both grunge and sludge metal — the former thanks to late friend, Kurt Cobain — The Melvins burst out of Montesano, Washington in the early 1980s. However, their stay was to be short-lived, leaving for greener pastures of California, well before grunge exploded and cloaked the 1990s in flannel and Doc Martens.

Led by founder Buzz Osborne, drummer Dale Crover, and most recent dueling bassists, Steven McDonald and Jeff Pinkus (of Redd Kross and the Butthole Surfers, respectively), April saw the release of the band’s latest album, Pinkus Abortion Technician. It’s a loud, boisterous affair, bursting with covers (I Want to Hold Your Hand, Graveyard), mash-ups (Stop Moving to Florida), and heavy originals (Prenup Butter), making it the perfect companion for their current live engagements

Addicted Magazine contributor, Myles Herod caught up with Buzz Osborne during their Toronto show to talk about The Melvins latest record, their storied history, and what it takes to maintain a band that’s lasted over 30 years.

 


 

M: How has it been in Toronto so far?

B: Great! I’ve been here lots of times. Funny enough, I couldn’t tell you anything about our first visit. Everything is jumbled together. It was around 1989. I remember weird, strange incidences. People will say, “I saw you open for this band.” I’ll go, “No, that was with some other band.” People tend to remember things their own way. There’s a really good line in the film Lost Highway

 

M: You mean, the David Lynch film?

B: Yes. I always remember the main character, played by Bill Pullman, saying he doesn’t like video cameras because he prefers to remember things his own way. It always stuck with me. I thought it was a cool line.

 

M: Are you a fan of Lynch’s work?

B: Oh ya.

 

M: Eraserhead?

B: Love Eraserhead. With David Lynch, he’s given me so much, I’m not critical of him. I’ll let him do what he wants. It’s like correcting the master. You don’t correct the master. With a pedigree like his, you don’t tell them what to do.

 

M: Let’s talk about your new 27thstudio album, Pinkus Abortion Technician. What was it like making it?

B: It was when we were recording our last record, A Walk With Love & Death, that we got the idea to ask Steven McDonald to play with us. He, Jeff Pinkus and Dale Crover are great players. I feel blessed to be able to play with them. I would never have guessed 35 years ago that I would have Steven and Jeff as part of The Melvins. I was pretty honoured.

 

M: Were you fans of their previous bands, Redd Kross and Butthole Surfers?

B: Oh ya. I love their stuff. I saw the Butthole Surfers back in 1983 when they first started. As for Redd Kross, I saw them in 1985, but I had been a fan of there’s long before that.

 

M: With Jeff and Steven now part of the band, is this the best Melvins line-up yet?

B: I don’t want to say it’s better. Personality wise, maybe. I have had the great fortune of being with people who always could play well. The only exception was our original bass player. With that said, there’s no era of The Melvins that didn’t do well live. Playing wise, I was always into everything we ever did.

 

M: Who were your musical heroes growing up?

B: David Bowie and The Who. Those were the two big ones. The Low, Lodger, “Heroes”, and Scary Monsters albums were an excellent era for Bowie. Although, I was really into Hunky Dory, too. I’m still the same. I like all the bands I did then, plus a lot more.

 

M: What do The Melvins have that no other band has?

B: I don’t think there’s any band out there that’s doing what we’re doing. I don’t think there ever has been. We’re not part of any genre. We don’t look like normal rock n’ rollers. We make weird, interesting records.

 

M: Let’s go way back. You grew up in Washington state. Montesano to be exact. What were your earliest forays into making music?

B: I didn’t start playing guitar until I was nearly out of high school. I didn’t play music as a kid.

 

M: Was it a nice place to grow up?

B: No, it was horrendous. I hated it. I hated everything about it. I still hate it. I hate the people that are there.

 

M: What made it so awful?

B: It was a horribly oppressive atmosphere. Intolerant assholes.

 

M: How do you think it shaped you?

B: It created in me varying levels of high anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Getting out of there was the greatest thing I could have done for my creativity. See, I look at the same things as everybody else does and I still manage to write a different kind of song. Why? I see things differently. The best musicians I’ve ever played with are weirdos.

 

M: Where did the name The Melvins originate from?

B: We wanted a name that didn’t sound like a heavy metal band. We thought it was funny. Kinda sounded like The Ramones. People tend to think we’re some nerd band.

 

M: The story goes that when Kurt Cobain moved to Montesano, Washington as a youth, you met him early on and made him a mix-tape that introduced him to punk music…

B: That would have been much later. I knew Kurt when he was much younger than that, like 11 or 12. Biographers tend to not want to believe any of that, they tend to want to underplay our significant role in the whole Nirvana situation. I know why, it’s because biographers don’t like the music we make. They never saw how we could be an influence on him. Kurt’s stuff is very easy to like. What that shows you is that they have no intimate understanding of the man at all. See, the whole thing is a difficult story because it ended so horribly. There’s no happy memories for me in any of that.

 

M: Take me back to the Seattle grunge scene nearly 30 years ago. What comes to mind?

B: We actually moved to California around 1986, 1987. We went back up to Seattle to play shows, but I was of the mind to get out of there and start over, which is what we did. I wasn’t scared of it. It took a lot of moxie to do that. Once we arrived, it worked really quickly. Much quicker than when we lived in Seattle.

 

M: Why are The Melvins lumped into the 90’s grunge explosion, when in fact, you had already moved to California years beforehand?

B: Because people always talked about us. Nirvana, Soundgarden, all those people. We started up there, before all those bands. It didn’t make much difference to me. I never disavowed it. I never felt that we had any brother bands at all. We were never part of anything.

 

M: You could say The Melvins were an influence…

B: Yes. We were our own thing. It’s not perverse. I’m not trying to do something weird. I’m just doing what I do. We were making a living before that stuff took off and by 1988 we had quit working our 9 to 5 jobs. We would have been fine had none of the grunge stuff happened.

 

M: 1993 saw your major label debut, Houdini, on Atlantic records, followed by two subsequent records. How does being on a major label compare with being on an indie label?

B: I think our new record sounds better than those records. We know more about what we’re doing. Those records in the ‘90s weren’t terrifically well received at the time. See, people tend to believe things that aren’t really true. Those records were up against stuff like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Nirvana. They expected us to be like that. When it wasn’t, the musical press was offended by it. People tend to think of that time as some golden era. It really wasn’t.

 

M: Buzz, what do you know for sure?

B: It’s best to dumb down your happiest moments and realize that it’s not going to get any better than that. Be satisfied with most things that are simple. That doesn’t mean that you can’t complicate your life.

I just know I’m not going to be any happier than I am at home with my wife and dogs. I understand exactly what I’m doing. Exactly what my place is. Where I’m suppose to be at.

I’m certainly not worried about what people think

 

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Myles Herod

Traveller, image maker, pop-culture seeker, storyteller, a guy you want around when things go south. Tastes range from Kubrick to Krautrock, Wu-Tang to Wiseau. Currently resides in Toronto, Canada.

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