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Even if you don’t own any of their records, you have most certainly heard The Melvins because their sound rings clearly in the anthems of  bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Tool. Where those legends hammered the Melvins’ sonic textures into more traditional song structures, selling millions of records in the process, the original purveyors of that sound continue to record music as if each instrument were a stallion and the studio a wide open range—each instrument, each riff, runs freely across the tracks as the band charge forward with wild, reckless abandon. Call their sound experimental, avant garde, metal or punk—nothing will consistently fit, and this is perhaps the secret ingredient to a career that is now approaching their thirtieth year.

While The Melvins recently toured as a four-piece, with original members Buzz Osborne (vocals/guitar) and Dale Crover (drums) joined by Big Business members Coady Willis (drums) and Jared Warren (bass), their latest project sees the unveiling of Melvins Lite, a concurrent version of the band playing as a three-piece, with Osborne and Crover joined by Trevor Dunn on stand-up bass. The collaboration has resulted in their new album Freak Puke, a ten-track spaced-out, sludgy odyssey that reaffirms that throughout the Melvins’ catalog, change is the only constant.

Applying labels is a waste of time when the record boasts liberal doses of a wide range of genres, dominated by thick rhythmic textures and bass-heavy riffage that at times unfold with the speed and mass of a glacier. The album boasts no shortage of high points, but “A Growing Disgust” stands out with slow-rolling grooves, spooky harmonies and blistering, fuzzed-out leads, while their cover of Paul McCartney’s “Let Me Roll It” pushes the melodic majesty of the original through the Melvins’ sonic grinder, with satisfyingly dark results. Freak Puke rewards those who leave their expectations at the door, ideally consumed in one uninterrupted, forty-two minute listen.

2012 has already witnessed the release of The Bulls and the Bees (in their 4-piece identity as The Melvins), an EP they recorded for Scion, who turned around and distributed it for free. In June they released Freak Puke and this month they began a tour of Canada in preparation for their most fantastic endeavor yet—perhaps the most ambitious tour since Columbus set said for the West Indies. Rather than ruin the surprise, we’ll let Buzz tell you about it himself. We caught up with him as the band were finishing rehearsals for summer tour of Canada.

 

The new album is finally out, with a slightly different lineup and somewhat of a new direction. How does it feel?

I think it came out great; I love it. It still sounds like The Melvins but it’s a new kind of twist for us.

 

Was that intentional?

Absolutely. We wanted to be the Melvins Lite as well as the other Melvins, both existing at the same time. That’s our point.

 

So what brought you to the concept of the Melvins Lite?

Well, I thought it would be an interesting thing to do. I saw Trevor Dunn playing with another band, playing stand-up bass, and I thought it would work.

 

When you approached recording with Trevor, were you shooting for a particular sound or did you want to see what would happen when you all got together?

I wanted to see what happened and that’s exactly what we did. It was great. It worked out really well, as far as I’m concerned.

 

What was the songwriting process like?

Well, I had a bunch of ideas, and we took it from there. We were playing with a different instrument (Dunn’s stand-up bass) and I’m the kind of musician who believes that you should let people have their way with what they’re doing, so we really let the stand-up bass do its thing. We’ve also done a lot of albums, so we feel like expanding and doing something crazy is no big feat for us because we’ve done so many other types of things. Why not?

 

You’ve made it clear that you just want to make music that you’re interested in, so what interested you most about the music you made in Melvins Lite?

Well, I wanted to do something different, that would still sound like the Melvins and that would exist as well as the Melvins. That’s what excited me about it.

 

How do you plan on balancing the Melvins with the Melvins Lite?

There’s time for everything. Playing music is what I do and I have all the time in the world to do it. No problem.

 

Well you’ve been doing it for twenty nine years. Do you still have the enthusiasm you did when you started?

Um…yeah, it’s different but it’s similar. I don’t know, I’m much more cynical now. I honestly care less what people think now than ever.

 

In the promotional materials for the new album, there’s a note from you in which you list some of the flattering things people have written about the Melvins, as well as some nastier assessments…

Yeah, people like that kind of stuff.

 

Did you do that because you want to show how little you care about those types of opinions?

I think I put it in there because I thought it was funny, essentially. I mean, I don’t really care what other people think. I think what we’re doing is fine and that’s really all that matters.

 

There’s a tension in music where a lot of artists choose to either make music that they like or make music that might earn them a lot of money. Has that been a challenge for you?

Well, I could try to make music that’s going to make me a lot of money, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to work, you know? Better to just do what you want to do, and if you can make money with it, all the better.

 

Do you think it’s possible to have a commercially-viable career if you’re not chasing trends?

Well, the White Stripes sold millions of records when they first started. I wouldn’t have (guessed that). There it is.  They did it, they’re all the better for it and I salute them. You know, I’m the world’s worst person at picking out that kind of stuff. I’d never make it as an A&R guy. The stuff that sells millions of records I generally think sucks. I think no one’s going to buy this crap, and I’m always wrong.

 

 

That’s an interesting point, because you don’t last twenty-nine years without people being interested in what you’re doing.

We have enough people who are interested, but beyond that, who knows?

 

Have you noticed your audience changing throughout the years?

We lose about twenty percent of our audience with every record we make. We also get new fans as we go along. The audience is probably the same age; we get older.

 

Do you think you attract these new fans because you’re changing things up with each release?

Honestly, I don’t really know. We would have done it anyway, you know? I don’t really care who’s in the audience. I’ve just noted that we lose twenty percent of our audience and gain twenty percent more as time goes on.

 

One of your label mates, Dave Lombardo, said that most bands don’t last more than five years.

That’s probably right.

 

You’ve blown that stat out of the water. What’s the Melvins’ secret to longevity?

Maybe we’re just too stupid to quit. That could be it. I don’t know. I’m a very driven person, if you haven’t noticed. I’m very much a “What have you done lately?”-type of person. We don’t need to make records. We could probably last another ten years without making another album, just touring and doing what we’ve already done, but I like writing songs and I like making music, so that’s what I do.

 

Well let’s dig into the new album. It’s interesting that there’s a Paul McCartney cover on there.

I thought it was a good song and I thought we could do a good job with it. I think it came out amazing. I’m not a big fan of Paul McCartney, but I’m fan of that song. That’s really it. I started playing that riff and went, “Wow, we should play this.” That’s really it. That’s where it came from.

 

The song that really grabbed me was “A Growing Disgust.” It’s heavy, it’s got big riffs…

Yeah, that one came out great. Actually, on the last tour we did as a four-piece, we played that one live. It came out really good.

 

Tell me a little bit about that song. What was the theme?

I don’t know that I could tell you what the theme is on it. I guess it’s about people being in trouble. How’s that?

 

That’ll work.

Yeah, that’s a good one. As far as the way the song goes, I came up with a pretty good running riff that I liked, and a song ending riff, and we just combined it into a verse, break, verse, guitar solo, ending. An odd style for a normal song, and that’s it, really. There’s no overpowering theme. I don’t know how you describe what stuff’s good and what’s bad. I light goes on in your head and you know it’s going to work. Some songs are better than others. That one came out good.

 

You guys did a collaboration with Scion recently. You recorded an album through them and they gave it away for free. Were you surprised that some people gave you guys flack for partnering with a car company?

Why would they give us flack? They got the record for free, so what would they complain about? They get too much free stuff in their life? Maybe that’s it. Would they feel better about it if I put it out on Ipecac and they paid for it? Maybe. I honestly don’t have any idea. If some idiot has a complaint about that kind of thing, I really have no concept of where they’re head’s at. No concept of it. To me, that’s just bullshit teenage political blather and I have no time for it. And they have a short memory, because we were on Atlantic Records, this monstrously huge corporation, and no one had a problem with it. You know what I mean? Our music should be made to sell every kind of product in the whole world. I think Coca Cola should use the Melvins. I think they should pay us millions of dollars to use our music. I think it should be in every corner of the world. I think I should be a multi, multi, multi-millionaire. I should have hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank for what I’m doing. The key word there is “should.” That’s not happening, so, you know? I honestly don’t care. Anybody who would criticize me along those lines, all I see is red. They can kiss my ass. Sideways.

 

Speaking of red, you’ve got an appearance on Fox coming up this week.

Red Eye, yeah. I’ve been on there six or seven times. They’re a nice bunch of people.

 

How did that come about?

Greg Gutfeld‘s a really good guy and he’s a huge music fan. He also likes music that’s good—that’s the reason I’m on there. Hah! (laughing) No, I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t even watch TV. It’s a chance for me to go on TV. I’m a “Howard Beale-ist.” One of my heroes is Howard Beale. He was on TV.

 

So this has been a huge year for the Melvins…

It’s been a benchmark year for the Melvins. We’re getting ready for a tour of Canada, which is why I’m talking to you, and I appreciate that, by the way. Thank you.

 

My pleasure.

Then we’re going to come home and we’re going to gear up for a big tour of the United States, plus D.C. in fifty-one days. That kicks off at the end of September. Canada’s our warm-up to that, see? There’s nothing we won’t do for the Canadians and I’m looking forward to it. We always love playing Canada—it’s a blast.

 

With fifty-one consecutive shows, what can fans expect from the set?

The best thing they can do is expect nothing, and then if we deliver anything at all, they can be pleasantly surprised.

 

Do you see changing the setlist or would it be the same for the whole tour?

Who knows? That’s months away. I’m focusing on Canada right now. And I want to say thanks to everyone who comes out to see us. We really appreciate it. God only knows when we’ll be back, and I hope they’ll enjoy it.

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JOE DALY writes for a number of publications, including the UK's Metal Hammer and Classic Rock magazines, Outburn, Bass Guitar Magazine and several other print and online outlets. He is the music and cultural observer for Chuck Palahniuk's LitReactor site and his works have been published in several languages. When he is not drafting wild-eyed manifestos, Joe enjoys life in San Diego's groovy North County, teaching music journalism, doing yoga, running, playing guitar and spending tireless hours in deep and meaningful conversations with his beloved dogs, Cabo and Lola. You can check out his rants at http://joedaly.net and follow him on Twitter: @JoeD_SanDiego

8 responses to “TNB Music Chats with Melvins Frontman Buzz Osborne”

  1. Jpk says:

    Interesting to read about The Band. Great Piece once agan by Joe. That Guy is quite an ass..et.. 🙂

  2. hank cherry says:

    Go go go Joe Daly. Twenty nine years of Melvins is hard to believe. Buzz is right, too. Too much stuff is free. People expect it. I’m a Buzz Bealist. Thanks for the interview.

    • Joe Daly says:

      Hank, you (and Buzz) are so right. Remember back in the day when we paid for things? Those days were awesome. I want them back. Every single bloody fucking one of them.

  3. seanbeaudoin says:

    Call Me IshBealmeal…..have you ever read Buzz on Courtney Love? Hilarious and right on. Nice work, Joe.

  4. jmblaine says:

    we’re just too stupid to quit.

    That line is pretty much perfect.

    Too Stupid To Quit
    is a great record title.

    I remember going in Tower Records
    as a kid & seeing the four Melvins
    solo records that looked
    like the KISS ones & thinking
    that seemed incredibly cool….

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