This comes from the Feb of 95 issue of guitar world, this interview was transcribed by GENE, thanks much!

The Father the Son and the Holy Grunge

Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil prostrates himself at the altar of the Melvins’ Buzz Osbourne, The Primeval God of Grunge

Throughout history, there have been many celebrated instances of the master/disciple relationship. In Ancient Greece, Socrates and Plato. On the desert planet of Tatooine, Obi-Wan Kenobi and  Luke Skywalker. And in Seattle, The Melvins and Soundgarden.
The Melvins? The fact is, the band from Aberdeen, Washington, and their guitarist, Buzz Osbourne, have heavily influence every Northwest-based band to record since 1985. Nirvana, Mudhoney, Alice In Chains, The Screaming Trees, Pearl Jam-all have readily credited Osbourne and the Melvins with creating the volcanic sludge that came to be tagged grunge.
Osbourne’s detuned, creepy-crawly guitar playing has spawned thousands of imitators, some of whom have become rich and famous. Some of whom have made important music. And some of whom still haven’t figured out that you can’t play Black Sabbath songs in regular tuning.
We enlisted grunge guru Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, who has built a platinum retirement plan on gargantuan, Melvinian chording, to interview Osbourne. Our goal? To unearth the real origins of grunge and the fabled alternative tunings that have come to characterize heavy guitar rock in the Nineties.
Osbourne enters the room looking eerily like The Simpsons’ Sideshow Bob, with his “bird nest on steroids” hair, billowy pants, goofy grin and penchant for dishing out quick jokes. Hardly what you’d expect from the man who may well have laid the cornerstone upon which the music of Nirvana, Soundgarden et al was built.
Thayil sits reverentially nearby, eager to talk about guitars, amps, the Stooges, Kiss, van gigs, and the Melvins’ latest album, Stoner Witch (Atlantic). Armed with a mere half case of Budweiser, a large pepperoni pizza and a tape recorder loaded with pink bunny Energizers, Guitar World played host to this Grunge Summit, exploring the genesis of the hairiest of all guitar sounds.

Guitar World: Kim, do ;you remember the first time you saw the Melvins?
Kim Thayil: I think it was in 1984. The bill was the U-Men and the Melvins, and it was at the Mountaineers. [a Seattle mountain club auditorium used for weekend concerts]
Buzz Osbourne: That was the first relatively sizable show we played in Seattle, actually.
KIM: Everyone kept yelling, “Kim, did you hear that?” It was like, “The fuckin’ Melvins are slow as hell!” I was blown away-the Melvins went from being the fastest band in town to the slowest band in town. It was a pretty amazing and courageous move. Everyone was trying to be punk rock, a kind of art-damage thing, and the Melvins decided to be the heaviest band in the world.
BUZZ: It was the Black Flag thing.
KIM: That was right around the time Green River [Stone Gossard’s pre-Pearl Jam band] and Soundgarden first started getting together. Mark Arm [Mudhoney] and Ben Sheppard [Soundgarden bassist, but at the time in a punk band called March of Crimes] and I would always have conversations about the Stooges. We were talking about the “feel,” that sort of MC5 stuff when it was a slow, depressing, trippy, heavy thing. We talked about that a lot. But the Melvins went and did it.
BUZZ: At the time it seemed like all the bands in Seattle wanted to sound like Aerosmith.
KIM: Who? Green River? Not us!
GW: [laughs] Kim, what for you was cool about the Melvins?
KIM: I though it was a courageous step for them to go from being really fast to being really slow. That was a big deal to all the punk rock guys, who thought fast meant powerful. Part of the reason that excite me may have been that it appealed to a guilty pleasure of mine, because I’ve always liked slow, heavy music, so I thought they were doing heavy metal the way metal should be done. People said, “Well, slow is metal”; if you slow down, it’s not punk.” And metal was frowned upon. But the Melvins’ music didn’t have the operatic vocals and self-indulgent, never-ending guitar solos. Or the boots! [laughs] Those heavy metal boots.
GW: St. Vitus was another band to really slow things down-they were like the slowest band in the world-at about the same time. Buzz, did the Melvins come before or after St. Vitus?
BUZZ: They put out their first album before we did.
KIM: Your first recorded stuff appeared in 1985 on Deep Six, [a seminal Seattle sound compilation on C/Z records], which was the first recorded documentation of the Seattle scene.
BUZZ: Yeah, although when Deep Six came out, nobody gave a shit about it; nobody bought that album.

GW: Buzz, you guys moved to San Francisco shortly before the “Seattle sound” exploded. Why did you leave Seattle?
BUZZ: At the time we’d played as much as we could and nothing was really happening. In moving, we weren’t really leaving much behind. At the time we left Seattle, the most money we’d ever made there was $160; it took us until about the end of ’88 to finally break the $200 barrier.
GW: Do you regret having left before everything started kicking in?
BUZZ: No. Most of the records we’ve ever made have come since we moved. I don’t think our career suffered at all. I don’t know what we would have accomplished here that we didn’t eventually end up doing anyway.
GW: What’s amazing is that the records you made after you were gone still continue to influence bands like Soundgarden and Nirvana.
KIM: That’s right. I think everyone up here still considers the Melvins a Seattle band. Your just kind of displaced.
GW: Even though they’ve been credited with pioneering the use of the dropped-D tuning in hard rock, Soundgarden have always maintained that I was the Melvins who came up with it. Kim, do you recall when Buzz first showed you that tuning technique?
KIM: I remember Buzz and I going to see St. Vitus in around 1986, after which we went back to Mark Arm’s apartment. We were spinning records and talking about how Kiss tuned everything to E-flat. Mark and I planned to just drop everything down a half-step, but Buzz said that all you had to do was just drop the E-string down to D. It was like, “Really?” At that point, I played everything in regular tuning I didn’t bother with different tunings because I was having a hard enough time figuring out the regular one. I mean, barre chords were my staple. And when we D-tuned and started experimenting. We’ve never stopped.
BUZZ: It opens up all kinds of new doors.
KIM: It was a big change for us, because I suddenly had all these ideas I brought to the band and said, “Look at this! See what Buzz is saying about how to do this? We wouldn’t have been able to come up with a riff like that in regular tuning!” We first used in on “Nothing To Say” [Screaming Life, Sub Pop, 1987] and “Flower” [Flower EP, SST, 1988]
GW: Buzz, how did you start using the dropped-D?
BUZZ: I learned it from some guy-a metal kid, actually-in Aberdeen. Since I found that out, I’ve done all different kinds of tunings.
KIM: People don’t understand that you don’t tune to make things more difficult for yourself. Using different tunings isn’t to challenge yourself and make you this virtuoso…
BUZZ: What amazes me, and I’m sure this happens to you too, Kim, is when I go into some guitar store, those kids in there can play circles around me.

KIM: Sure, and they’re 15.
BUZZ: And those guys will probably never do anything.
KIM: They’ll probably work on the other end of the counter at Guitar Center selling guitars and giving lessons, They spend too much time seeing how fast they can play. Maybe they’ll end up being a studio guy, because those guys don’t like songs; they’re into the athleticism of it.
BUZZ: That’s it. We’re not Steve Vai-type guitar players, nothing like that. But we’ve certainly contributed a lot more musically than all these kids that can play fuckin’ “Eruption.” I can go into music stores and can e the biggest guitar dummy in there-and the only one who has a record contract. It’s insane.
KIM: It is, because you’re more of an influence on bands than the people who’ve mastered all the electronics.
BUZZ: Take somebody like Kurt Cobain. He was a good songwriter, but he wasn't a guitar virtuoso. He was an average player, but that’s not what it’s about. There were 13-year-old metal kids who could play circles around him. Just because you’re in a successful band, they automatically assume that you’re some guitar virtuoso. A lot of kids come up to me and say, “Can you play this?” And I say, “No.”
KIM: I used to listen to Sgt. Pepper and think that the Beatle played all the instruments on the record-the French horn, the trumpet, the strings. I said, “Man, I really want to be a rock star, but learning guitar will only be the beginning, because I’ll also have to learn french horns, trumpets, piano-and how to write music! Do I have to learn how to write music first before I can even play an instrument?” It was way beyond me, I set this really weird, high standard for myself that intimidated me for years, and as a result I never picked up a guitar. I’d look at chord charts: C, C7, G7, B# and go, “What’s a sharp? It’s one of those numbers they don’t have in math but they have in music.” [laughs]
GW: Kurt Cobain was a loyal disciple of the Melvins.
KIM: You were a big influence on Kurt and Nirvana, you influenced us and you had the same influence on Green River, even though they had a hard enough time playing in standard tuning, let alone bothering with dropped-D. They were trying to be like Aerosmith, no reason to sorry about trying to be like Sabbath.
BUZZ: It was haircuts. Just haircuts.
KIM: Nirvana and Soundgarden are probably the two biggest bands directly influence by you. Then other bands were influenced by us. Even Urge Overkill has dropped-D tuned songs now. But it’s not just that it’s dropped-D, it’s the style of playing slower than slow.
GW: Buzz, which is more important to you, the song or the riff? Because dropped-D tunings can help you get amazing riff sounds.
BUZZ: I don’t know-both, actually. A lot of my favorite songs have no riffs to speak of-they just have drums, bass and vocals. It’s hard to say which is more important, the riff or the song, because the riff can become the song; it depends on how good the riff is.
KIM: A riff is just another way of describing dynamics. Soundgarden was kind of riff-oriented when we started. The idea was to write really mean riffs, then blow it by adding really pretty parts. We’d think, “Oh, that’s killer; run over the bird’s next with a lawn mower!”
GW: Early Soundgarden was all riff.
KIM: Earliest recorded Soundgarden. There’s a good 30 songs that have never been release that we played live all the time. They were riffy, but not Metallica punk riffy. They had a little bit more of a childlike, Pere Ubu meets Charlie Brown meets Black Sabbath thing.
Buzz, you guys all release solo records (Dale, King Buzzo, Joe, all Boner Records, 1992) that spoofed the Kiss solo albums. Is Kiss still one of your favorite bands?

BUZZ: I don’t listen to Kiss as much as I used to. My favorite band right now is ZZ Top. I really like their new record. I still enjoy to a lot of that Kiss stuff when I hear it, though.
GW: I was surprise to see that the Melvins weren’t included on the Kiss My Ass tribute album.
BUZZ: Redd Kross isn’t on there either, and those guys are the ultimate Kiss tribute band. I don’t really know what Gene Simmons’ motivation was in putting that together. I guess he was trying to get as many people who have sold records on there as he could so he could sell some records.
GW: I know Gene was impressed with your solo album spoofs. Did he also like your version of “Goin’ Blind” [Houdini]?
BUZZ: I’m not quite sure what he thought of it. We told Gene that Kurt Cobain sang on it, which was a lie. Gene’s ears perked up more about that song after he heard that.
KIM: Is Hotter Than Hell still your favorite Kiss album?
BUZZ: I would have to say yes.
KIM: How do you feel about the success of the bands you’ve influenced? To have been around so long and see them have a certain amount of success…I mean the guys in Nirvana were practically your little brothers for a little while.
BUZZ: I’m not walking around bitter about that stuff, if that’s what you mean. Nirvana and Soundgarden are far more commercial-sounding that we are. We’re a much harder band to sell, so it doesn’t surprise me. It’s not like I’m going, “God, I was trying to write ‘Teen Spirit’ and it just didn’t work for me.” I’ve know all the people in both bands for years and I’m really glad that bands who have achieved success say they were influence by me. It makes me feel like the stuff we were doing actually mattered to somebody.
GW: Has there been any fallout as a result of all this? Any perks?
BUZZ: I’d have to be a fool to say that the success of these bands hasn’t helped us. It’s totally helped us. We’ve continued, at a slow rate, to sell more records every time we put an album out. When I thing about were I was when this band started and what my goals were for us, which was literally to play somewhere cool like the Motropolis [a legendary Seattle punk club], as compared to what has actually happened, I certainly have to say that I’ve surpassed my early goals.
KIM: The kind of success we’re having is a little bit more that the standard that any reasonable person set for themselves when they start out-and it’s more that you can expect. I used to say, “Well, I’d like to have a gold record,” but what does that mean? Nothing. There’s no standard to measure that by. Maybe it’s a milestone, but does it mean our TV’s get bigger? Do we get more beer?
BUZZ: Yes, actually. [laughs]
KIM: Oh, yeah.
GW: One fallout of success is having products named after you. Buzz, weren’t you a consultant on a foot pedal design that used your name?
KIM: It wasn’t the DOD Grunge Pedal, was it? Have you seen that? The inside of the accompanying booklet says: “How to get the Melvins sound; how to get the Accused sound.” I bought the thing, not to use it, but simply as a souvenir.
GW: I remember you saying, “Great, I just bought a pedal to make me sound like me.”
ALL: [laugh]
BUZZ: It’s called the Buzz Box, and it is put out by DOD. I had nothing to do with it. I mean, does my guitar really sound that bad? [laughs] The guys at DOD are kind of crazy; I have to give them credit for that. A guy there was always bugging me at shows about how we got the sound on the Eggnog record. I used this thin called a Blue Box, an octave divider from the early Seventies. So this guy says, “I want to design a pedal; we’ll call it the Buzz Box and get that sound out of it.” But it wasn’t so much that he wanted to do an endorsement or anything. I think he just likes the sound of it. So he came to one of our shows an looked inside the Blue Box. He kind of duplicated it and combine it with the Grunge Pedal in a new pedal. I have to admire DOD for putting out something that insane. Yes, the Buzz Box is totally worthless. It sounds like a vacuum cleaner. [laughs]
I ended up using it on a few noise things on Stoner Witch, but the record that we used it on most was one that came out before Stoner Witch called Prick, a total noise crap record we did strictly for the weirdness factor. Complete and utter nonsense, at total joke. We’ve taken a lot of shit for it, too. It came out in August. I would say it has no redeeming social value whatsoever and is easily the stupidest record we’ve ever done. There’s something to be said for that.
KIM: How many albums have you released?
BUZZ: There’s Gluey Porch Treatments [Alchemy Records, 1987]; Ozma [Boner Records, 1989]; Bullhead [Boner, 1990]; Eggnog [ten-inch EP, Boner, 1986 ]; the solo albums [Dale, King Buzzo, Joe, all Boner Records 1992], and then one called Lysol, which we changed to Self-Titled [Boner, 1992]. C/Z records reissued our first 7-inch single [untitled, 1986] album length with extra songs on it. Then Houdini [Atlantic Records, 1993], a German Live Melvins [import, label unknown ], Prick [released under the name Snivlem, Amphetamine Reptile, 1994] and Stoner Witch [Atlantic, 1994].
KIM: Is Prick comparable to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music?
BUZZ: It’s not that serious; it’s far stupider. It was the perfect record to put out between two major label releases. Atlantic Records freaked out before they heard the record. “You guys wanna do what? Put out a record on an independent? That’s bullshit! You guys have a contract with us!” We said, “Why don’t you guys just listen to it, ‘cause you’re not going to be interested.” The European division of the label freaked out too, and they hadn’t heard it either. Finally, we didn’t hear a word about it, and they let us put it out. Prick sold about 10,000 copies or something. I would have been happy if it had sold two. Then thousand? My heart almost stopped. We’re taking the money we made from it and applying it to the advance we got for our new album.
KIM: Would you describe your fans as coming from more of a metal camp that a punk rock camp?
BUZZ: It’s varied.
KIM: What do you top out at, sales-wise?
BUZZ: About seventy thousand. The most we could do on an independent was twenty-five thousand.
KIM: Kurt Cobain produced Houdini. Are you happy with the way that came out?
BUZZ: I wish we could have done more. The guy that we just worked with, GGGarth Richardson [Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against The Machine, L7], was great. That’s the first time we’ve really worked with at producer in the classical sense.

GW: How was it different than working with Kurt?
BUZZ: The difference is Kurt wasn’t a producer. What I was looking fro from Kurt was musical input, not knob-twiddling input. I was burnt-out at the time, and though another creative collaborator would help out. But it didn’t really happen. Dale [Crover, Melvins drummer] and I did most of that album ourselves.
GW: Stoner Witch is less accessible that Houdini…
BUZZ: I think it’s more accessible.
GW: I’m referring particularly to side two. Side one reinterprets the metal/punk/grunge thing and has some really cool songs and riffs. On side two, however, you seem to be taking chances with all that free-form guitar jizz. Did the label offer any kind of resistance to that?
BUZZ: The reason side two is stacked up with weird tunes is because we wanted people to make it through the stuff they might be able to latch onto, and ease them into the weird part of the record.
KIM: You make records pretty quickly; this one was done in 19 days. Do you think if you spent more time making a record, you might get more out of it?
BUZZ: Maybe. I don’t know. This was the longest time we ever stayed in one studio, actually. The only real problem with Houdini for me is we weren’t really a whole band, and I think it kind of sounded like that. We’ve got the strongest live lineup we’ve ever had now. The band sounds good. It doesn’t sound like it did in ’86.
GW: When you guys opened up for Soundgarden at the Paramount here in Seattle at the end of their Badmotorfinger tour, you made what I considered a pretty ballsy move: coming out after a booming introduction-“Ladies and gentlemen…the Melvins!”-and just playing one note as slowly as humanly possible.
BUZZ: That was because the review of the show the night before said that we basically just played one note the whole night.
GW: And you did, for about 15 minutes. A lot of the jocks in the crowd didn’t get it.
KIM: Speaking of those jocks, some of our friends were riding us. They said, “You guys used to be cool, but now look at your audience-a bunch of goobers.”
GW: That wasn’t your audience, it was MTV’s
BUZZ: It doesn’t matter. I mean, I just went and say ZZ Top, and it was on of the most white trash, scary audiences I’ve ever seen, and those guys played an amazing show, nevertheless. That’s their job.
GW: Would you like to tour with ZZ Top?
BUZZ: I would not like to tour for their audience, but I would like to tour with them. It would be great, but their audience is very, very scary. If you could stack up all the warrants that were due in the crowd…Jesus!
GW: Are you happy with the way things are going for the Melvins?
BUZZ: I don’t really know. I mean, I’ve been doing this for 10 years. Most bands don’t even make it for 10 months. Hopefully, this is the last lineup we’re going to have. We have no intention of stopping of quitting. I don’t know what else I’d do. I don’t even know if we’ve made our best record yet. •
~ © Guitar World February 1995

Return to the writings page