by Dan Goldin (@post_trash_)
Depending on who you ask, the Melvins could just be the most important band in the world. With nearly three and a half decades behind them, the creative force of Buzz Osborne (guitar/vocals) and Dale Crover (drums/vocals) has remained focused, impossibly consistent, and eternally creative. Since the earliest days playing Aberdeen, WA's VFW halls to their potentially record setting US tour (playing all 50 states and DC in 51 days) and recent runs with Helms Alee and Le Butcherettes, the Melvins have never slowed down, never looked back, and never did a damn thing they were less than proud of. Swapping musicians in and out of the fold as necessary to survive, the band have avoided the trappings of a "classic line-up," adapting themselves to all those they have welcomed throughout the years.
With a massive catalog that's both abrasively stunning and overwhelmingly influential, the Melvins have never made the same album twice, opting to create their own mangled blend of experimental metal, raw brutal classic rock, burly punk, sludgy and distorted pop, noise, and sonic freakouts. Unafraid to throw the occasional curve ball, the Melvins are the living embodiment of hard work and persistence and they've released a record (or two) nearly every single year of my own 32 years on Earth.
I had a chance to talk to Osborne back in January about Colossus of Destiny: A Melvins Tale (an exceptional and comprehensive documentary), Crystal Fairy (the duo's collaboration with Le Butcherettes' Teri Gender Bender and At The Drive-In's Omar Rodriguez Lopez), the Melvins longevity, and more. In a most un-Melvins way, I'm just now getting around to sharing the interview. The band has since announced a new album, A Walk With Love and Death (their first double album, complete with a film score), a massive set of tour dates, and Dale Crover's first full length solo album... because well, the Melvins cannot be stopped.
Dan Goldin: I recently saw the Colossus of Destiny.
Buzz Osborne: Oh nice!
DG: It was really awesome and very inspirational to me.
DG: Its always been inspiring to me the way you've done things on your own terms for as long as you have. Were you hesitant at all to have everything out there in such a comprehensive documentary?
BO: No, you know, not really. There's nothing bad in it, so... what are they gonna say?
DG: Was there anything during the making of the documentary that surprised you or something you hadn't thought about in a long time?
BO: No, not really. There's a lot of material. The first draft of it was about three hours. It's a lot of time to cover in any kind of comprehensive sense.
D: Were you surprised by any of the people who decided to participate or those who chose not to be featured in the film?
BO: Oh yeah, yeah. We had a couple of ex bass players who decided not to talk for personal issues. Yeah, whatever... yeah, don't because you look like an idiot. Whatever you do, don't tell your side of the story, whatever it is. I know they know that we're friends with Bob [the director] so I would have got the last word, so of course they're not gonna go there. But whatever, I'm not bummed out about any of that. What I'm really ecstatic about is that I don't have to deal with those people anymore. That's the best part. That's all good. I don't just kick people out at random.
[sarcastically] I'm just gonna kick you out of the band, there's no reason, I think you're great. None of that, but some of them didn't want to be involved, whatever. Good.
DG: In regards to the band's line-up shifting as many times as it has over the years, it's amazing how you guys have gone on all this time without any sort of fan-perceived "classic" line-up. A lot of bands don't have that luxury. What do you think it is about the Melvins that has helped escape that issue?
BO: Yeah, one last thing you have to remember though about the ex bass players, I liked playing with all those people. I liked the way they played. I like what they did, I liked their creativity. I thought they were all super talented, that wasn't the problem, so I don't want anyone to think that. I prided myself on constantly through my career playing with people who are super talented. To answer the question you were just talking about, that's part of it. Why is it good? Because I've played with people that are good. That helps me. If you look at one of my all time heroes Pete Townsend, at The Who's height they had a bass player who was second to none and one of the world's greatest drummers to write songs for. It's an amazing combo and that is not lost on me.
DG: Are there any of your previous line ups that you’d be eager to revisit and record another album with? For example, the Big Business duo or Kevin Rutmanis, someone you’d like to work with again.
BO: Well, the Big Business guys aren't out of the band. After we kicked Kevin [Rutmanis] out, Dale and I said we were never gonna have anyone else in the band anymore, ever. We weren't gonna work with anyone, with the idea that we wouldn't have to count on anyone. Because it's too fucking hard to do that. It's too difficult to get caught up in something where your hopes and dreams are inside of that one little thing and all of a sudden it doesn't work. I'm never gonna get in that position again, not after this long. It had been over 20 years at that point and I didn't want to get into that situation ever again. I refuse. So the Big Business guys are by no means kicked out of the band. [J.D.] Pinkus isn't, Steven McDonald isn’t. They're not in but they're not out either. I still feel comfortable with all those people. And I even feel comfortable with Kevin! We have a great relationship now. That's all come full circle, thankfully. I don't feel bad about any of that.
DG: Is there anyone you've never made music with who you hope to work with in the future?
BO: Oh lord, who knows? Nobody obvious. I'm open to just about anything at this point. We're having a really good time playing with Steven McDonald. The documentary didn't even touch on that, that happened after.
DG: Yeah, I got to see you guys with him in Connecticut with Helms Alee. It was awesome.
BO: In Hamden? Yeah, that was great. We've played there a couple times now, I like that place.
DG: I'd never been there before, it's cool. It was a more intimate room than I was expecting.
BO: That's why we like that place. I hope it stays open. It has great vibes, great people. I like it a lot. I'll continue to go back there.
DG: This is actually a good transition to my next question about the live shows. With a catalog as vast as you have at this point, how do you decide what to play? Do you predetermine your set list before the tour?
BO: Oh yeah, completely. I mean sometimes it's tough. Sometimes we adapt certain elements of what we’re doing to certain bass players. We try to think of things that would work really good with two drummers. I think we could make anything work though with the people we play with. It's complicated and tough music but they're all competent players. I have the utmost respect for what they do.
DG: I saw you twice when you played at Santa’s Party House in New York on the Le Butcherette’s tour and I noticed it was the same set. Do you typically play the same set for an entire tour?
BO: Typically we do, with a few changes here and there. It tends to work better that way.
DG: I also noticed that during those sets you guys transitioned seamlessly from song to song with almost no pauses which really helps with the show.
BO: Well it's by design, we plan the sets so it works out that way. Say it's a 70 minute show - I think the entire 70 minutes is important. With the Melvins, I think it's more like performance art than a rock show.
DG: Are you looking forward to touring with Crystal Fairy?
BO: Yes, I can't wait. We're going to start practicing with them soon. I don't know if you've heard the whole record.
DG: I have, it's really great.
BO: Yeah, it came out really good. I'm excited to play with them and I think they are too. I'm looking forward to it, I love the record.
DG: Are you planning on playing the full album or are you going to play songs from the other band’s catalogues as well?
BO: I don't know. I think we're just going to play songs from Dark Side of The Moon by Pink Floyd.
DG: [laughs] Yeah, you could go the Flaming Lips route.
BO: We’ll play Hot Rats by Frank Zappa, in its entirety. No Crystal Fairy songs [laughs]. Yeah, I mean we really only have those songs so I'm not sure how it'll work. We’ll figure it out. I'm going to approach that differently than the Melvins. It's a different kind of thing. I have no idea what they'll want to do.
DG: Are you relieved to not be doing vocals for once?
BO: Well, I didn't in Fantômas either. It'll be nice. I'm such a big fan of Teri [Gender Bender], I'm excited to be on the same stage as her and watch her perform every night. That'll be cool. With The Melvins, we had her come out and play a song with us and we plan on doing more of that. Actually, the night we played New York-did we do a song with her?
DG: Yeah, you did a Bikini Kill cover
BO: The night before that we worked out that song. That actually sparked the Crystal Fairy thing. I was like, this is really cool. I can't wait. I'm really trying to see if we can do some more music with her. It couldn't be better, I'm so excited.
DG: When did Omar Rodriguez-Lopez come into the fold?
BO: He was hanging out during the tour and I got the idea that we could ask both of them. And I'm glad we did, he's an exceptional bass player.
DG: Were you particularly familiar with his music beforehand?
BO: Sure. Not everything, he's got a ton of records but I knew enough about him to know that this would work.
DG: I read somewhere that you guys recorded the whole record in a day?
BO: No, it was about a week. We recorded and wrote it in a week.
DG: Were the four of you in the studio together?
BO: The first bit was just me, Teri, and Dale. On the first day we wrote and recorded "Drugs on the Bus," "Bent Teeth," and "Necklace of Divorce." It didn't take long. We had the guitar, drums, and vocals done after that.
DG: And bass was overdubbed in?
BO: Later, yes. But just on those songs. We did it in a variety of ways. We did another session like that there, then we went to where we put the bass on, and then we went to El Paso. I might be wrong about a few of the details there but the writing and recording of this was extremely quick.
DG: In your collaborations with the various bass players like Pinkus and the 1984 lineup as well, do you have songs already written when you approach these new members or do you come to write together?
BO: Sometimes. Sometimes I record it with Dale with no one playing on it and we figure it out from there. With some stuff I recorded with Steven, I wrote songs I knew he would be playing on but I'm not worried about them doing what they're doing at all.
DG: Going back to the tour the Melvins did playing all 50 states and DC in 51 days, was it something that you're glad you did?
BO: Yeah, was a really good stunt. [laughs]
DG: Did it end up going into the Guinness Book of World Records?
BO: Oh, who knows. I didn't concern myself too much with them. It's the Guinness beer company, how serious could they be?
DG: [Laughs] Were there states on that tour that you had never played before?
BO: Yes. Hawaii, Alaska, New Hampshire... I think that's it. There might've been one more. We've toured extensively in the U.S.
DG: I feel like there's some states that you never really see in a tour routing. Like Delaware.
BO: That's true - Vermont, Maine. I think it actually could've been our first time playing in Delaware.
DG: I saw in the documentary that your booking agents were pretty gung-ho about making it [the 50 state tour] happen.
BO: Well, when I came up with the idea they told me I was insane. Then, they said it would work but we had to get it booked soon because we needed specific dates.
DG: So you did Hawaii and Alaska at both ends of the tour? Were those the only flights required?
BO: Yeah. If I had to do it all over again, I'd do Hawaii first and then Alaska. Then I wouldn't have to worry anymore. I'd get those out of the way first.
DG: They're definitely nice locations to play a show.
BO: Yeah, it was good. By the Hawaii one, though, I was ready to go home.
DG: That's fair. With over 30 albums in the catalogue do you have any favorites or ones that stick out to you, for particular reasons, more than others.
BO: It's hard to say. I liked the ones we did with Big Business a lot. Hostile Ambient Takeover. Stoner Witch. Bullhead. There's a few.
DG: All great choices. Do you have any regrets?
BO: No, I apologize for nothing.
DG: [Laughs] I assumed that would be the answer but I figured I had to ask.
BO: I hold no ill-will towards anything we’ve ever done.
DG: Do you listen back on your records often?
BO: Never. When I'm recording a record, that's when I listen to it. By the time it comes out, I'm done, I've moved on. I usually listen to a record until it hit the streets. Then, it's run its course for me. There's usually a long time between. Like with the Crystal Fairy stuff, that was done more than a year ago. Completely finished. So by the time it comes out- not that I’m sick of it, but I've moved on. As soon as we finished recording that we did the Basses Loaded album and we’re recording a bunch of stuff right now.
DG: Basses Loaded was done after Crystal Fairy?
BO: Yeah, that and Mike and the Melvins. We finished that after Crystal Fairy too. So people have this weird idea that the music is brand new. It is for you but not for me.
DG: Is the delay due to scheduling?
BO: Who knows, it could be because of any number of reasons. You never know. You can't worry about that, you just have to do your work. Once it's done, you can't worry about that. It doesn't really matter when it comes out.
DG: Would you say that you're working on something related to the Melvins on a daily basis?
BO: Almost. 70% of my waking hours is spent on some sort of musical endeavor.
DG: Do you enjoy being involved in the business side of it?
BO: I don't enjoy any aspect of it all the time. The only thing I really enjoy, when I'm really having fun doing it, is playing alone. By myself in my living room. I like having the least amount of pressure on me.
DG: Do you feel pressure as far as the Melvins goes?
BO: It depends on what you're doing. You gotta get a record done, you gotta get ready for a tour, you gotta talk to your booking agent, dealing with your road manager. There's a million things. Accounting. Uncle Sam doesn't make it easy on us. It's a fucking pain in the ass. Anyone who tells you otherwise has got their head up their ass.
DG: Yeah, I've been running a very small DIY label for about five years now so I'm well aware of all the ridiculous shit that goes into it.
BO: Yeah and just tax-wise, anyone who tells you the government is for the little guy, or even the big guy, is crazy. Fucking crazy. If anyone tells you they're happy about paying taxes, just write them off. You can find better friends than that.
DG: I've yet to meet the person who is excited to pay taxes.
BO: Oh you hear it once in awhile. They're either rich and have more money than god or they don't pay taxes. It's a penalty on your life, that's what it is, because it took a part of your life to make that and they want to take it away from you. If you think that's fine- I'm a different kind of person than that. I disagree. Especially when things are taken away from me by force. See how forceful they get if you don't lay your taxes! It's all sunshine until that point. Fuck that.
DG: I've been listening to the Melvins since I was in middle school. I've listened fairly obsessively since and yet I really don't know any lyrics. I was wondering how important lyrics are to you in songwriting?
BO: They're very important. At least as important as everything else.
DG: Are there general themes you tend to write about?
BO: No. Nothing in particular. It makes as much sense as anybody else's lyrics. Sometimes more.
DG: Are they more abstract or narrative?
BO: All of the above. I don't have any set way of doing it. I've written hundreds and hundreds of songs. Literally, hundreds of songs. There's no formula. We're not the Ramones.
DG: I've noticed ever since the very beginning of the band you've had the signature guitar tone- is that something you were conscious of from the beginning?
BO: No, I'm not trying to do that. I've used a massively wide variety of guitars and amplifiers.
DG: Do you exclusively play the Electrical Guitar Company guitars?
BO: Yeah I play Electrical and Travis Bean live. In the studio, it's anyone's guess. I don't have the exact same setup live as in the studio. That kind of thing changes all the time. The studio is vastly different than playing live. I have a massive variety of things I play in the studio.
DG: Do you tour with the same amps each time?
BO: Yes. Live, you're just looking for something that's reliable- that won't break down on you every night- and something that can take a beating. That's the main thing. And to sound good.
DG: Is it something you're always looking to improve upon?
BO: Oh, sure. I've done a lot of that in the past ten years. I'm not a vintage guy, I prefer new equipment and equipment that not everybody is using. I know that when I walk onstage with one of my tan body Travis Beans and my amp set-up I have with the weird speaker setup- there's nobody in the world who's playing that. I'm very happy about that.
DG: I was wondering if you listen to much new music.
BO: As much as I ever did, I'm very picky. If someone can turn me on to something new that I'm into- I'm there.
DG: Do you generally discover new music from friend’s recommendations?
BO: Yeah, that's mostly how it works. There's just not that many good bands, there never were. There never has been! There wasn't a golden era. Some people think a certain time in music was really good and I disagree. There's as many good bands now as there were then. And that just means not very many. They're very few and I'm okay with that.