100% Contemporary: With a Billboard Top 200 Album and a Star-Studded Gig at the Troubadour, the Melvins Are No Oldies Act
Buzz smiles for the camera inside the Melvins' L.A. rehearsal space
Let's get one thing straight -- The Melvins are not an oldies act. Sure, after over 20 years and 18 studio albums the drone-metal kings are still referred to as the Godfathers of Grunge but don't ever expect them to pull any Sha Na Na shit.
Buzz Osborne chuckles. "Although we like Sha Na Na," the Melvins singer and guitarist says, "we're not a 'let's look back at the past' type of band. I very much believe in 'what have you done lately?' It has been important for us to remain 100% contemporary."
(And by contemporary, he's not referring to the Melvins homage of '07 in Diablo Cody's Juno.)
While surveying the crowd during Wednesday night's sold-out gig at the Troubadour, it became more than clear just how many types of fans past and present the band continues to attract and influence. Yeah, in attendance were the flannel shirt dudes -- beards now streaked with gray -- who nursed beers at the back bar, likely reminiscing about smoking weed for the first time in their parents' basement, while they mouthed the words to each Houdini song the Melvins didn't play.
But there was also the young and fierce, ponytailed blonde girl pressed up against the front of the Troubadour stage, slamming one fist on a speaker while pumping her other in the air with every throttle of Dale Crover and Coady Willis' dueling drums. There was the shy guy standing stage-left behind bassist Jared Warren who firmly clutched a newly bought Melvins poster to his chest for the duration of show, as though he might have a chance to snag an autograph in between songs.
There were the wiry teenage boys who knew all the words to Nude with Boots and turned the small mosh-pit into a photographer's worst nightmare; the slim, polka-dot dressed teenage girls draped on the stairwell who nodded their heads slowly to every molasses-thick song segue; the uber-fan who at one point dropped to his knees before Buzz as the singer rose on the tip toes of his combat boots and howled into the mic, a side-stage fan blowing wildly into his already wild hair.
And of course, there was the loyal turnout of L.A. rocker peers like Tool's Adam Jones and Danny Carey, alongside Dave Lombardo of Slayer and Fantomas. This Troubadour gig was, after all, the Melvins' homecoming tour stop in support of their latest album, The Bride Screamed Murder. Released June 1 on Ipecac Recordings, it's also the band's first album to ever crack the Billboard 200 pop charts. (One giant leap for mankind... one small step against Bieber-fever.)
L.A. Weekly caught up with Buzz Osborne prior to the Troubadour gig for a lengthy chat about the Melvins' new album The Bride Screamed Murder, New York's bed bug epidemic, avoiding strip clubs, the greatest philosopher of our time, former Ipecac band Isis' unfortunate break up, and why we're not missing out on all those cocktail parties we don't get invited to.
L.A. Weekly: The Bride Screamed Murder broke the Billboard 200. It's the first time the Melvins have had a record do that, which is great, although I know it's probably something that isn't a life priority or what you gauge the success of your records by.
Buzz Osborne: I wish it was. I'm fine with it, believe me. I don't have any problem with it but it doesn't take up a huge part of my life, like you said. It's kind of a case of where you see where the music industry is headed. It's not that we sold a bunch more records. Our biggest selling record was Houdini and that didn't dent the top 200. No way. It's just that nobody's buying albums now.
[L-R] Buzz Osborne, Jared Warren, Dale Crover and Coady Willis of the Melvins
Did you get a plaque or certificate?
Buzz Osborne: No, we didn't. Maybe we just don't know the right people. [Laughs] Do you know who the rock and roll committee would be that I would talk to?
No, I'm not invited to those cocktail parties.
Buzz Osborne: I'm not either. I'm not invited to any cocktail parties. Mostly because I wouldn't go. A polite "no."
White wine spritzers and small talk? Come on...
Buzz Osborne: Yeah, I might go if I could case the parking lot and see what I could steal out of people's cars.
Who did the artwork for The Bride Screamed Murder?
Buzz Osborne: My wife [Mackie Osborne] did the artwork and has done our graphic design for a long time. I found that picture [used on the CD cover] a long time ago at some thrift store and was like, I have no idea what this is but it's very strange so I gotta use this for something. Eventually it found its way onto a record cover. I love it.
'The Bride Screamed Murder' cover art
Where does your interest lie in collecting vintage photos like the ones used on this album? They are so old most of the people are probably dead and we have no idea what their story is.
Buzz Osborne: Part of it has to do with the fact that it goes along with our peculiar nature, as far as it not lining up with a lot of rock and roll and being more of an art thing. It's not heavy metal artwork or any other thing that we would be associated with musically at all. It doesn't speak that language, and certainly our name doesn't either. So all of it combined makes a well rounded package. The record cover we did before this, Nude with Boots, was a copyright free photograph. You buy those copyright free pictures and can use them for whatever you want. I like that aspect of it, too. We didn't take picture, no, but that doesn't matter. I like the fact that something that was already out there now becomes our record cover. Some other person can buy it and they can do something with it, too. Fine with me! [Laughs]
The picture has a life outside of your CD.
Buzz Osborne: Yeah, it does. It's all over the place. I really think that's cool. Especially with art, in general on record covers, there really are no rules as to what you can do. This is the third record we've done with the Big Business guys and I think it's the best of the three. I think we're really hitting a stride. We basically had to start the whole band over [with Jared and Coady]. When we got them in the band we had to rethink how all of it was going to work. Not just new music, but all of our stuff. I didn't want it to just be, "Oh, we have two drummers." I wanted to make it better. It's not necessarily always easy. We had to really work at it. I know I did. I want them to be part of it. I want them to own part of it. No question. Otherwise I would just hire paid stooges and just tell them what to do. I have no interest in that. Music is communication for everyone, but that communication has to start with the people who are making the music.
I'm glad they've lasted. Glad they haven't...
Buzz Osborne: Imploded? It's all up to them because [laughs] if they choose to go off the deep end there will be nothing I can do. So far, so good. For the record, I've liked playing with every bass player we've ever had. That was never the problem. It was always extracurricular [activities] that were the problem. It was a wide variety of reasons for all of them including substance abuse and just out-and-out insanity, essentially. I never wanted to boot those people out.
It can be really hard to find players that you're compatible with both musically and also personality-wise. It's hard enough to find one, but to find more is quite something. Especially with musicians like you and Dale; you know what you want. And perhaps more importantly, you have a very clear idea of what you do not want.
Buzz Osborne: Yes. Sometimes I know what I want until somebody shows me better. "No, this is better than what you thought you wanted," and I'm like, "Yeah, you're right." I'd like to think that I'm enough of an accidentalist that I wouldn't let those things get run over... the happy accidents. All I want [the Big Business] guys to do is to be comfortable doing what they're doing and surprise me. I love that. That's my favorite thing in the world. Surprise me with something new that I hadn't thought of. That's always exciting, especially musically. Those guys are really good players and if you trust them and their musical vision, trust them to let them do it, then you're usually better off. Almost always.
Jared Warren of the Melvins
Last we talked we discussed the music scene in L.A. and you said that the Melvins didn't move here for the music scene initially, but that if you were starting a band today this is where you'd want to be. Does that still hold up?
Buzz Osborne: Yeah, I think so. I would move here because it'd be somewhere I'd want to live, and now it's gotten better for bands. I don't have any interest in living in New York. It's a fun place to visit but I don't have much interest in living there. I'm much more L.A.
New York now is officially the bed bug capital of the country.
Buzz Osborne: Oh my god. What a bummer. What are they going to do? They almost eradicated bed bugs with the use of DDT but once they banned that, I don't know, I think the bed bugs might even be impervious to DDT at this point.
Mutant bed bugs?
Buzz Osborne: I believe so. They'll have to find something else that will kill them. Burn the house down.
Do you have any cliche rock and roll stories?
Buzz Osborne: Me? I don't have a lot of opportunity for that. Usually I am very nice to anyone that is interested at all and I don't do a whole lot of the stuff that most bands do, you know? I don't do a lot of hanging out. I don't really go to parties. I have no interest in drugs or gateway drugs or drinking. And I don't really like to be around people that are doing those things. Rock and roll excess on a Motley Crue level is not for me.
I don't think Motley Crue is even on the Motley Crue level anymore.
Buzz Osborne: Yeah, well theirs is probably court ordered. Mine is not [laughs]. You know what I mean? They put out that book [The Dirt] about blow jobs and blow, whether it's true or not is anybody's guess, but I don't have a lot of desire or time for that kind of thing.
So if there was a Buzz or Melvins autobiography it wouldn't include stories of waking up in a random hotel room covered in your own pee with a hooker sitting on top of your face while someone throws a TV out a window?
Buzz Osborne: Maybe it should. Throw hookers out a window; that's what I want to do. It'd be great. A work of fiction. Sort of like how all of our instrumentals have really included vocals.
[Laughs] Right. Because why would there ever be music without vocals?
Buzz Osborne: Exactly. The best instrumentals always have vocals. And the best works of journalism are always complete fiction.
Fan fiction, actually. This story is going to actually take place with us sitting at Crazy Girls while we conduct the interview. That's how it's going to start.
Buzz Osborne: Yeah, exactly. The best part is that I've never set foot in any strip club in this town. No way. I'm way too paranoid for that.
Talk about bed bugs... or something similar.
Buzz Osborne: I can't even imagine. I've just never been someone who frequented places of that nature. Never. I might if I actually drank but since I don't drink... I don't really like people who go to bars. Not my thing. I try to have my excesses be in other areas, whatever they may be. Let the wildness come out in the art.
What books have you been reading lately?
Buzz Osborne: My newest obsession is this guy named Thomas Sowell. He's an economist. He's written a ton of books. Intellectuals & Society is his newest one. That one's pretty good. I think he's the greatest living philosopher. Greatest philosopher of our time, certainly.
Any bits of wisdom you can sum up for those who haven't read his work yet?
Buzz Osborne: They should investigate him on their own but they have to understand that this is a guy who says what is going on better than anyone I've ever read. Life in general. How things work. He's by no means an idealist. Very much a realist. He's a numbers man so he lets the numbers speak for themselves. Idealists by and large are like talking to religious extremists; they're both talking about something that doesn't exist. He's my newest obsession, for the last few years anyway. He's 80 years old. Probably got 30 books out. He wrote this book called Economic Facts and Fallacies which is the best description of how economies work.
80 years old? You can't buy that education on the economy.
Buzz Osborne: No. Right now I'm in my mid-40s and I'm at the ultimate age, I think. You're still young but you also have all the wisdom that you've acquired since you were a teenager. It's a really good age to be. I don't want to miss it. I'm very happy and certainly by no means an ageist. I'm glad I'm right where I'm at. I'm certainly not going to be one of these guys that's pining for the good old days.
The good old days of slinging pizza.
Buzz Osborne: Yeah, fuck that. No way. Life is beautiful and the streets are paved with gold. I make noise for a living. It doesn't get any better than that. No regrets and no apologies. I think our new record is a good as anything we've ever done if not better. We tried really hard to make it a musical journey and cover a lot of territory. The military cadence song, "The Water Glass," is probably my favorite song. It's a great song to play live and it came out great. Our live shows are more like performance art than a rock show. We lay it all out before we get to the playing stage and it's all meticulously put together. Let's say we were going to play an hour and 15 minutes; that whole amount of time is important. We do a lot of weird medleys and weird segues between songs. I don't want to be a jukebox.
Dale Crover of the Melvins
How are things going with Ipecac?
Buzz Osborne: Great. I have no reason to leave them. I'm a firm believer in that what's going to work for us is hands-on stuff. What we did recently is a 13 CD box set that's all letter pressed, hyper-limited edition with all new artwork, and it's all handmade. That's where the future is because music is going to be free on the Internet so if you want something cool then it's going to be in limited edition for more money. It's not something manufactured; it's cooler than that. The 13 CD box set is mostly everything that's on Ipecac and then the Electroretard record as well. Limited edition of 300. We sold the first 100 and are making the rest of them. We're in a weird position where we can do all of this stuff in house. The possibilities are endless as long as we keep our eye on the fact that we have to keep it artistic and focus on making something that you cannot get in a download. The music you can. That's going to be there. There's nothing we can do about that. That genie's out of the bottle. The majority of people are going to be okay with just the music and that's fine. The box set is for the people that are going to appreciate it as pure art. Something like this is only special if it's not manufactured. I like that it's hands-on, made by us, that you can't buy in a record store. That's the future for us. We have a lot of ideas for a lot of different things; big monstrous projects that we can do. We're doing something with The Bride Screamed Murder vinyl where various artists are going to be able to print something that they can glue on the cover. It'll be the same basic cover, but a lot of different people contributing to it.
Besides your wife, what artists hold your interest these days? Who would you like to have involved in a project like this?
Buzz Osborne: My wish list? I'd love to have Gary Baseman and Tim Biskup, that'd be great. Dalek, would love to have them. All the people who are in our book, I'd love to have any of those artists. Matthew Barney, I don't think that's going to happen but I'd love to have him. He might be my favorite at the moment. I met him once but I haven't talked to him since. Oh well! Between my wife and Tom Hazelmyer and Adam Jones from Tool, we're in a weird position compared to most bands... There are a lot of things we can do that [take on] a life of their own. That's what we want. I want to think outside the box. For a band like us to survive, I think we have to.
Are you going to miss Isis? You guys played with them on their last series of gigs before they broke up.
Buzz Osborne: Yeah. I personally think it's ridiculous that they broke up. They were doing really well. But that seems to be the oldest story in the book. As hard as it is to get to that position, then to give it up for what I consider to be no reason at all, I don't get it. But I'm not in it, so... they know more about that than I do. I like those guys. We played shows with them when they were first starting. And then we played their last go around of shows as well. I always got along with them really well. They were a really pro-minded serious band and I appreciated that. It's unfortunate but sometimes these things have to happen. Maybe in a little while they'll reevaluate what it is that made them not want to do it anymore and it will change. Until then, I don't know what the next thing is but hopefully it'll work out for them.
Missed the Melvins show at the Troubadour but still need an Ipecac Recordings fix? Check out L.A.-based trio Mini Mansions featuring Michael Shuman from Queens of the Stone Age who play September 19 at Alex's Bar and September 26 at the Viper Room. Mini Mansions' debut album is due November 2 on Rekords Rekords/Ipecac.
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