All photos courtesy of Mackie Osborne, Ipecac Records
Buzz Osborne never stops. Whether he’s piloting his legendary freak-metal outfit The Melvins into yet another semi-annual album release and tour, collaborating with other musical mayhem makers on side projects, or expounding on the overall hilarious state of human insanity, the 53-year-old sludge wizard always goes full force.
Emerging from the dankest, weightiest ooze of the Pacific Northwest in 1983, Osborne initially formed The Melvins with a couple of high school pals, playing hugely hard and ferociously fast. Unlike other typical hardcore combos of the day, though, The Melvins mixed in covers of slowed-down, tripped-out classics by monolithic proto-metal and acid rock gurus on the order of Black Sabbath, Kiss, and Pink Floyd. That aesthetic made all the difference.
The teenage Buzz Osborne, then, largely invented the template for what would become grunge. For a spell, the entirety of the mainstream alternative music followed with him. No small factor in The Melvins’ impact was Buzz’s elemental influence on another of his high school buddies, Kurt Cobain. As Nirvana conquered the world, Cobain promoted The Melvins whenever possible.
Alas, even during the bizarre pop culture moment when the Meat Puppets and the Butthole Surfers could — and did — score Top 10 radio hits, Osborne and longtime drummer Dale Crover’s singular weirdness proved too exotic for the masses.
Since then, the Melvins have won new adventurous armies of devotees among two particularly pot-powered genres: the stoner rock scene (e.g., Kyuss, Sleep) and the extreme metal category, “doom” (e.g. Pentagram, Saint Vitus).
And they continue to confound and inspire. Case in point: the new double-album A Walk With Love and Death, out now on Ipecac Records. The first disc (“Death”) contains an onslaught of songs exploding with the Melvins’ signature molten riffs and mushrooming solos. Disc 2 (“Love”) is a simultaneously terrifying and intoxicating sound pastiche, like the Beatles’ “Revolution No. 9” and the background racket of Eraserhead filtered through one-of-a-kind Melvins fury. The latter comparison is particularly apt, as A Walk With Love and Death is the soundtrack LP for a film of the same name presently in production.
In the midst of The Melvins’ mammoth summer trek around North America, and just ahead of the release of their double-disc, Buzz caught up with MERRY JANE over the phone and the iconic frontman let loose on an array of his favorite topics.
MERRY JANE: The Melvins have always defied easy categorization. For a long time now, though, the band has definitely been embraced by the “stoner rock” community and perceived as part of that scene. How do you feel about that?
Buzz Osborne: We used to smoke pot before it was medicine, back when it was just “bad for you.” It was more fun when you weren’t supposed to do it. Then, I guess we moved on to huffing paint. Actually, we did that before pot.
Anyway, I only ever smoked pot to get high. And people say, “Well, it has all these medicinal properties,” but so does the opium poppy. And they say, “It’s natural,” but so is the bubonic plague, you know? Still, if you want to do it, I don’t care. Do what you want! I don’t care at all!
Are you over 18?
The Melvins are also definitively psychedelic and that type of music is directly rooted in drug culture. Does that resonate with you at all?
I’m surrounded by people doing drugs all the time. And I don’t care. It’s none of my business. In fact, I’m for the legalization of drugs, of all drugs. Not just drugs to get you high, but drugs for your eyes, for everything. You should be able to decide what you put in your body. That’s your deal, not the government’s. Your deal. Not mine. Not anybody else’s.
At the same time, I don’t think the government should have to come help you if you burn down your whole life by taking drugs. I don’t think the government should be locking anybody up who does drugs either. But a lot of legalization people also want the government to get involved with treating addiction, and I’m not for that, either. I think that’s something you should have the people around you, the people in your life, deal with.
I’m all about freedom. I want you to give you all this freedom to do whatever you want. But then don’t come crying to me and Joe Taxpayer and take my money at gunpoint through taxation and tell me we have to pay for you to get better. That’s what taxation is. It’s always theft at gunpoint. The government takes your money by force without asking you about it, before you even get it, and they use it how they decide to use it. I’d much rather have that money back in people’s pockets and being used for other things.
Are you over 18?
One of those things the government spends all that money on is the War on Drugs.
If the government didn’t use so much money for the War on Drugs, people would be more inclined to donate to charities, and we could deal with addiction that way. As it is, you can’t give to charity when all your money goes to taxes — you just don’t have it.
I also view all drugs as the same. People say, “Well, this is worse than this….” Not to me. I don’t think weed is any different from anything else. Legalize it all.
Musically, in 2017, you’re at the center of a Venn diagram that includes the Melvins, Crystal Fairy, Fantomas, Redd Kross, Les Butcherettes, and With Our Arms to the Sun. Besides you — and being great — what do all these bands share in common?
Ha! Nothing! Well, [Melvins drummer] Dale Crover. He’s played with all of them except With Our Arms to the Sun.
What annoys you the most about contemporary music?
Nothing more than at any time in the past. I’m annoyed by all the same things. Nothing’s changed. I’m not in tune with what the minions out there want musically. I also can’t predict it. I heard the Green Day Dookie album before it came out and said, “Well, this is fucking shit; this will never sell.” And then it sold like 35 million copies. But that’s good only if you’re judging something based on how much money it makes. If that’s the case, then Grease is the greatest movie of all time, as opposed to just horrible tripe.
Are you over 18?
Speaking of movies, you are an outspoken film fanatic. How does cinema work into your writing and playing?
I love movies. It’s a big part of my life. It’s a big part of who I am. And I go to all of them. It doesn’t matter if it’s some kind of weird little art movie or a blockbuster that’s got Spider-Man in it. I can always find something to like about. I could even find something to like about Grease if I tried really hard.
One thing I don’t like is crime movies with happy endings. It’s just not realistic, and that can make me hate the whole movie. Crime doesn’t pay. One way or another, it doesn’t pay. You go to jail or you get killed or you’re just never free. Even if the movie ends with this drug kingpin getting away with everything, he’s going to spend the whole life looking over his shoulder, waiting to get killed or go to jail. That’s the real ending.
Did you see Baby Driver?
I did. And I was okay with that ending because he does go to jail. He does his time! He pays his debt to society and then he can move on.
It’s like Michael Vick, the NFL player who got busted for dogfighting. I’m not okay with what he did, but I’m definitely OK that he paid his debt to society and so now he’s free to move on. He never said dogfighting was good, he paid all his fines, he didn’t bitch about it, he took his punishment like a man, and he’s free now to go back and live his life. I’m not OK with what he did, but I’m definitely OK with what he did after he got caught.
Are you over 18?
Have you seen any movies you especially liked in the past few years?
Oh, yeah. Lots of them. Nocturnal Animals was great. If you didn’t see that, see it. The Witch was good. I really liked that happy ending!
Have you ever thought about acting?
No. No way! In my experience, actors are the worst people on earth.
You must have a lot of first-hand knowledge living in Los Angeles.
LA is really big, so I’m not involved in that part of it. That’s one thing I love about living in LA — it’s really easy to hide. I also love cars, and I like driving, so all the things people say they hate about LA, that’s what I love. They’re like, “The traffic sucks,” and I say, “I’m sitting in my own car, listening to my own music, which I’d much rather do than be crammed together inside a subway.”
For a long time, we lived in San Francisco. San Francisco is a small town. You can go to the doctor and the next day somebody will say, “I saw you leaving the doctor’s, what’s wrong?” It’s like, “Hey, saw you on like at the methadone clinic, what’s up there?”
New York is also really small. That’s why they can have a subway system. If LA was just the size of Hollywood, the subway would be great. As it is, though, it’s like pissing in the Grand Coulee Dam.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
You always wear very distinctive t-shirts. They seem to be pieces of the “Buzz puzzle,” letting us know what you think and where you stand. Is there a method to your fashion madness?
Wow! Nobody’s ever noticed that! It’s definitely very important to me. The shirt has to be a statement. It’s a big deal. My favorite t-shirt recently is really funny, it says, “JFK: Our Next President.” I also love this [former Arizona Senator] Barry Goldwater shirt I have. The shirt spells out his name with the periodic table of elements: AUH2O. A lot of people don’t get it, but then it’s funny when they do.
Are you over 18?
I’m a big fan of Barry Goldwater. I read, I think in Bob Dylan’s book, that Bob Dylan’s favorite politician in the ’60s was Barry Goldwater, and they asked him why and he said, “I like the way he wears his cowboy hat.” So here you’d think Bob Dylan was just this left-wing guy — but actually Barry Goldwater was very left wing, too. If you look at what he did for Native Americans alone, particularly in Arizona, but nobody reads about that. They just think they know what they know.
Are there any Barry Goldwaters in politics now?
No. None. There are no Barry Goldwaters. Politics now is just a shit trench of money. It’s hilarious. I’m not a supporter of Trump. At all. But all these people against him made this big deal about his saying he was going to grab a woman’s pussy, and yet they supported the wife of the guy who actually did it in the White House. That’s funny to me. I can think of a million reasons to be against Trump, but saying something like that as opposed to doing it isn’t one of them. Not even close. No way. The world now… it’s a weird world.
We’re glad you’re here to provide the soundtrack.
I try my best!
The Melvins' new double LP "A Walk with Love & Death" is out now — order it here
Follow Mike McPadden on Twitter