Modern Fix Magazine Interview with Buzz
- by Erin Broadley from Modern Fix Magazine
Filmmaker Josef von Sternberg once said that the only way to succeed is to make people hate you. Sure, that may be an extremist view on the treacherous climb towards the top but it's an opinion that Melvins guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne would probably agree with…followed by a smirk and a deserved laugh. "I've spent the vast majority of my career having people not like what I do," Osborne explains. "If you're honest with yourself and you're really trying to create some sort of communication, whatever it may be, I think that it translates one way or another."
Los Angeles based Melvins-completed by drummer Dale Crover and bassist Kevin Rutmanis-have endured hordes of naysayers over the course of their 20 year career, simply written off as a noise band by critics with a warm spot in their groin for the Top 40. Yet arguably the band has maintained its position as one of the longest lasting, most respected and challenging bands in hard rock. Basking in their love for moody tones and left-of-center song structure, the Melvins are heavy, loud, and at times dizzyingly avant-garde. To the masses the band may pose complicated and hard to process, but for those yearning for hard rock that consistently delivers and leaves listeners wondering as to what next, the Melvins always come through. They are high beams on the foggy road of today's mediocre metal. They are hated by some, loved by others, successful by their own definition and refuse to apologize for any of it.
I want to first congratulate you guys on your recent 20-year Anniversary. The Melvins have been called one of the hardest working live acts on the planet. How would you describe your career at this point?
Buzz Osborne: It varies from day to day. We don't sit around saying, "Wow, it's great how amazing we are!" (Laughs) Depending on what I'm listening to, especially if I'm listening to a band I don't like, I just realize that nothing's changed. (Laughs) I don't think about it too much. In the general world, we're still an underground band. We walk into Home Depot and nobody gets all freaked out about it.
How does your involvement with Fantomas, Kevin's involvement with Tomahawk and Dale's with Altamont affect the Melvins' recording process? Is there any pressure there?
The pressure is mostly internal. As far as trying to figure out exactly what sorts of things we want to do after doing as many records as we have-that's a bit of a pain in the ass sometimes. But we've left ourselves wide open so that anything goes. We don't have anything that's off limits, musically. We're not afraid to put ourselves on the line. There's a fine line between being rebellious and being stupid. We're not afraid to walk both sides of that line. As far as fitting in everything, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. We manage to get a lot of things out there one way or another, even with our busy schedules. It's what we do. Often times, with bands that take years to put out another record, I wonder what it is they're doing. And then they do finally come out with a record that's taken them years and you go, "Why did that take them so long?" We're farther along in our career now and we're busier than we've ever been. It's the most prolific time in my life that's for sure. Go figure. I think it's great but it's not something you can plan out. It just happens. Fortunately, Jello Biafra likes to describe us as the last band standing. (Laughs) I think that is pretty good. We just finished an album with Biafra called Never Breathe What You Can't See. I wrote the music for half the songs and he did the music for half. Contrary to what his ex-band mates might say, he actually does write songs.
So Jello is still having problems with the Dead Kennedys?
Yeah, it's a bad situation with those guys. Basically I think I can use the word "bullshit" without getting into any trouble. They're full of bullshit. The problem I have with the whole thing is that, Biafra's a strange guy but I don't think people give him credit where credit is due, as far as what the music industry generally owes him, even just from his battles with PMRC and all that stuff. I don't think enough people take that stuff seriously. I've listened to lots of rock stars-even the political ones-say they're going to going to do all sorts of things for Biafra and they do nothing. My point is that most bands, especially politically minded bands, are totally full of shit. When it comes down to the bottom line, they do nothing. He's the only one I've seen. I've watched big name bands that are like, "Oh Jello's great!" But they don't do shit. Nothing. The only band that comes to mind that has done anything for him in anyway to support the cause, as far as any of his problems with his ex-band mates, is Tool. That's it. The rest just leave him in the lurch. You can wave political flags all you want but when the bottom line comes down, working with Jello Biafra doesn't give bands enough PR so they don't do it. Regardless of what the right thing to do is. The world's not a right place. Fortunately, we have gotten to a point where we could collaborate with him and actually have it work out. It's taken a long time but I'm really happy with the results.
Let's talk about the other recent Melvins release, Pigs of the Roman Empire, which came out in August of last year. That album has a lot to absorb on it. How do you see it within the context of the other hard rock out there right now?
With Pigs of the Roman Empire we got to work with a really great guy named Lustmord. It was a really good thing to do. We have a lot of other things in the works as well. Keep your feet moving! Put your money where your mouth is. Go out and do it! I see bands do the same old stuff they've always done and it's depressing but it's not different. That's the way it's always been so it doesn't surprise me in the least. With music, a few things slip through the cracks here and there and fortunately you're blessed with little gems along the way. It doesn't always happen but it gives you hope, one way or another. When we play shows now, most of the people I grew up with coming to our shows are long gone. Long gone! Younger kids are now replacing the mid-thirties people who just don't care about music any more.
Do you think it's important for artists or musicians to have an articulate dialog with their audience?
No, not necessarily. I used to get great joy out of reading Butthole Surfers interviews. They just dumbed everything down to keep it really stupid. Even though they weren't at all. I've always admired that kind of stuff. God forbid you should take yourselves too seriously! We try not to over think it. Sometimes it's good just to make a hideous racket. Sometimes it's good to play things that are very articulate and thought out. I think there's a happy medium there somewhere. I guess it just depends on what mood you're in. I like it stupid and I like it smart-both ways. In the past year we did a book titled "Neither Here Nor There," we did the record with Biafra, we did Pigs of the Roman Empire and I did an album with Fantomas-it's all over the place you know. The book is a big, 300 page, coffee table art book and it was something we really had a good time doing. It kind of encompassed everything we liked about art and writing and music in general. It was a benchmark for us. It was a lot of work and fortunately I'm married to a graphic designer so that helped a lot. (Laughs) It took about a year and a half to do but it was really something else.
Even though you have been living in Los Angeles for over a decade, most people don't think of the Melvins as an LA band. People still can't let go of those Seattle associations.
Exactly. I like LA but I don't have a whole lot to do with the music scene or whatever it may be. I don't want to know about any scene. We tend to operate outside of all that stuff. As far as [the Seattle associations], we've often been linked in with that scene but its not because we wanted to join up. But that's okay. Live and let live. People need to bite on to scenes and things of that nature for some reason but I've never been quite able to figure that out. We're still considered a Seattle band even though I've lived in California for 17 years! I've been in LA 11 years and I love it. I'm not moving anywhere else. The only way I'm leaving LA is in a box. People talk shit about LA but go to New York and live in a closet for 1300 bucks a month. I've done it. I'm over it. I love it here. I'm never living anywhere else. A friend of mine said it best, he said that people come to LA for vacation and this is where we live. I'm like, "Exactly!" I grew up with the rednecks so I have no interest in living out in the country again. Ever. I want to live in the city surrounded by all sorts of things. I'll take LA in all its glory, whatever it may be. I've never understood people shit talking this place. I've never gotten what they're talking about. Having traveled all over the world, I don't see anywhere else I'd rather live.
In certain creative circles it seems to be cool and hip to hate where you're from or wherever you got "stuck" living. I think there is a stereotype people fall into where in order to be a creative person you have to hate your home.
Yeah. Creativity has nothing to do with that sort of thing. You can't throw an environment at someone and make them creative. I'd have to have an incredible scam going to live in New York. I don't like public transport. I don't like people that much. I want to be in my own car, surrounded by metal constantly. The subway, stepping over junkies and puddles of puke just so I can go to work…no thanks! I have no interest in that. None.
Some say it builds character-that strong, survivalist New York mentality.
Yeah well, go live in a redneck town and get the crap kicked out of you and I guess that builds character too. I don't like the human race in general and I certainly don't like the ones that are riding the subway. Eeew, gross! I also don't want to go to the mall. I don't want to do lots of stuff. I travel in and out of the realm of society doing the kind of things I want to without having too much trouble. My biggest fear is sitting in front of a jury you know. My god! Where's the jury of my peers? Where are my people at? It's not going to happen so I just try to stay out of trouble.
Let's finish up by talking more about the Melvins audience these days.
It can vary from day to day, depending on where you're playing. I can't tell you how may times I've played shows in front of dumb drunks. And there's not much you can do. Playing live is a roll of the dice and I consider it part of the whole deal. On one hand you just have to get over the fact that some of these people are just here to party. I try not to let it affect me as long as they don't bother me I generally don't care what the audience is thinking or doing. I don't think it's my concern. If that was the case then I'd be literally an entertainer with a Vegas type of attitude going on. In reality I don't care at all whether they like me or not. If you're honest with yourself and you're really trying to create some sort of communication, whatever it may be, I think that it translates one way or another. And if you're just out there to entertain people or just do something that the masses are going to like, I think eventually you'll get discouraged and be done with the whole thing. Stick by your guns and try to do something somebody's going to think is interesting, whatever it may be. But most of all you need to do is that for yourself. We've always figured that if we like it then there's going to be other people that like it. Because we think we have good taste! [Laughs] I mean, I'm 40 years old and we have a lot of musical history to draw upon. There's a lot of things that we've done and seen and listened to and all kinds of musical experiences that most rock bands that we're playing with haven't had. It's great to have that empty canvas that you can do whatever you want with, especially after this long. I feel very fortunate. We still like getting together and playing!
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