BUZZ OSBORNE: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW (PART ONE)
Interviewing Buzz Osborne was, without a doubt, one of the best experiences of my lucrative career in music journalism. Sometimes, interviewing can be a real drag, me trying to pull meaningful answers out of disinterested people. What a bummer it is when you realize that someone whose music you dig turns out to be a jerk or worse–a bore. Thankfully, the frizzy-haired Melvins frontman and Fantomas guitarist proved to be a funny, engaging, and opinionated interviewee, turning what could have been a straightforward Q&A session into an hour-long phone conversation. For your sake, I’ve broken this dialogue up into two parts, the first of which appears below.
The Bride Screamed Murder, the imminent new full-length Melvins album, is the strongest work of the current Big Business-infused lineup and quite possibly the best damn record the band’s put out since the classic Houdini. Read on to learn King Buzzo’s thoughts on the new record, black metal, military cadence, and why U2 are “a bunch of pussies.”
This is Gary Suarez calling from MetalSucks.
MetalSucks! Isn’t that like shooting fish in a barrel? [laughs] No, I’m kidding.
You know, you never run out of content.
Yeah, yeah exactly. It’s easy. Who’s on your site these days?
Anything related to, you know, really cheesy black metal bands tends to be talked about at least in some way, shape or form. They’re the easiest…
The first thing about those guys is that they’re just a bunch of nerds.
They’re the easiest of targets.
Yeah, a bunch of nerds.
Like, I mean, all you have to do is post a promotional pic from them and that’s it. Just like, this is their picture. Go at it, people.
Yeah, none of it’s very interesting either, musically. I wish it was a little more interesting.
There’s a lot of talk about it, but in the end it’s just pretty boring stuff.
And what I like about that is they’re black metal, so [it’s] some type of demonology type of thing. So it’s like oh, okay, in other words they buy into this whole Christian thing.
Yeah. I’d say you guys are way more demonic.
[laughs] I’d like to think. Look, if the Devil has nothing to do other than hang around with people like that, then we really have nothing to worry about with him, do we? If that’s the people he’s hanging out with, ya know, then the Devil is not much of a threat, you know?
The Devil’s a nerd.
[laughs] A nerd. Totally. Black metal guys are a bunch of nerds in black metal costumes. At least that’s the way it’s always appeared to me. I suppose maybe if I melted down all of their music, I might be able to come up with a couple songs I thought were okay.
Probably, but who has the time?
I couldn’t be bothered. I mean, I liked a lot of that stuff, like, as early predecessors to those kinds of things, like Hellhammer I thought was okay. They had a few things I thought were good, but that was twenty five years ago.
A lot is supposed to have happened since then, you’d think.
You’d like to think, you know? And they really were doing something that was different, maybe like Venom, something like that? I mean after Venom, you had Slayer, coming straight out of Venom. Which is a nice hybrid. They listened to Metallica and listened to Venom and made a hybrid, which is kinda cool, but this black metal stuff, it’s like, why don’t they find their own youth movement? I think Tom Hazelmyer said that about guys with Mohawks. Like the whole Sha Na Na type of thing at Woodstock, you know? But actually the Sha Na Na people are probably more fun to hang around with than the black metallers.
They probably smell better too.
And you don’t have to listen to a lot of crappy music. Who would you rather go to Vegas with, Bowzer or a black metal guy?
Answer is pretty obvious. The black metal guys would be spending too much time on their makeup.
When I was in–well I still am–but when Fantômas did some tours, we did some shows with a few of those bands. I think Dark Funeral was one of them. They cut into their stage time, cuz it was some festival, they cut into their stage time and they told them, “Look, you guys are gonna lose some stage time”, because they didn’t have their makeup ready. So they literally wasted, I think, 10 or 15 minutes of time that would have been of their 45 minutes, because their makeup wasn’t quite right yet, with 40,000 people there.
Yeah, but that also means 10 more minutes that people don’t have to listen to them.
I was there. I didn’t really listen to them anyway. I walked away and later I had a run in with the guitar player, from Dark Funeral, where somebody was offering him marijuana and he goes, “I don’t smoke nothing but I do drink a shit load of beer.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.
It’s like, that’s very good to explain what your tastes are, sir.
One of my main problems with black metal is that the drumming is horrible. Bunch of guys sittin’ there, playing, it’s like a typewriter. (mouths blast beat) They don’t even break a sweat, you know? I don’t like drummers that don’t break a sweat.
But they’re not allowed to break a sweat because then it’s gonna smear all that stuff.
I guess so, but the drumming is just awful. Have these bands never seen what a drummer like Keith Moon could do? Apparently not. Or like, even like heavy metal. That’s one of the main things I liked about heavy metal to begin with. Like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and all that stuff way back when, was the drumming was always good. And I always thought that that is what we wanted in our band, was a heavy metal drummer. And that’s where we got [Melvins drummer Dale] Crover.
And yeah, you’ve got it, I mean–
Here is a guy that understood what was good about a band like Iron Maiden, you know? As far as like that kind of element. Granted, 99% of their stuff I don’t like either, but I certainly like the drumming. I always thought that was great. And a guy like Dave Lombardo, what does he have over these black metal guys? He actually can play drums.
I’ve seen Fantômas shows before. I mean, there’s no doubt, the four of you guys up there, it’s incredible to watch. I think the first time I saw you guys was one of your, I think it might have been one of your first New York shows. You played out at the old Knitting Factory.
Yeah, we did two shows a night.
[Lombardo] just went on and on at one point because of the crowd, was just like shouting out Faith No More songs.
And Slayer. Now they’re both back in those bands, so…. Faith No More and Slayer. So, the worm has turned.
Yeah, but you guys keep chuggin on though, you know?
No, we do, and we have no interest in stopping.
And why should you?
Have you actually heard our new record [The Bride Screamed Murder]?
I have and I’ve gotta say, I think it’s the best of the three records you’ve done with the Big Business infused lineup.
I think so too. I actually think it’s one of our best records.
I know you’re kinda critical of your stuff…
Yeah. Hyper-critical. I feel it’s like one of our best records as far as how happy I am with it, but, what you have to remember is, this is usually how it works with me. Especially after umpteen albums and this many years. I can usually enjoy the records usually until about the time when they come out. I move on ya know. Then it becomes the public’s album. And that’s fine with me too. Then it becomes something else. I have to move on to something else and not concern myself with that anymore.
Do you think playing those songs live has an effect on that?
No, because when you’re playing it you’re in the middle of doing it. And so, I don’t have to listen to it; I’m playing it. You know what I mean? I guess the closest thing is with you, as a journalist, if all you did was read your own stuff…
Yeah, I don’t wanna read my own stuff.
[laughs] I mean, you will read it, but once you turn the article in, you don’t go back and read it again. No, you move on to the next thing. It’s the same exact thing, but, having said that, with you, if you want to be a good writer, then you have to reeeaaad. Read a lot of writers. You have to go out and be a fan of writing and all that kind of stuff. Same thing with music. If I wanna be good at doing what I’m doing and make interesting music, I have to be a fan of music. I have to love music. I have to go out and ya know, work on it 40 hours a week. The same as everybody else does in their normal job.
I think that makes sense, especially with some of the diversity that you hear on Melvins’ albums, I mean, you’ve got those jazzy bits on “Hospital Up”, and you’ve got, I love the Marine style call-and-response on “The Water Glass”. Where did you guys come up with that?
Something that I thought would be good, quite a while ago actually, and I was like we gotta work that into a song. Then I got really into those things and started listening to a lot of ‘em, here and there. And then realized, tried to figure out where these things come from, which I can’t figure out. Exactly what the history of military cadences are, which is what they’re called believe it or not. When I really started looking into it a few years ago, the closest thing I could come to is that it was from, uh, it’s almost like spiritual sounding like gospel music. If you listen to the way the guy delivers ‘em, I would imagine that they go back to like slave times, ya know? Or maybe even Roman. I don’t even know. But God they’re so good. They’re so good. I just thought that was such a powerful thing.
It works well in the context of what you guys do to. So it’s just like you’re doing this call-and-response and it’s, ya know, you got these two drummers going… It’s so Melvins.
I knew when I wanted to do something like that, what I was gonna have to do [was] figure out a way for it to work in a song first off. And so then what I came up with was the idea of having it be heavy metal drum choir, military cadence. [laughs] And that’s the key to making this thing work. So then we worked very hard on making it a song that would work on its own, and not be a novelty. So the heavy metal beginning, it doesn’t repeat. I didn’t want it to be a novelty thing. I wanted it to be a real musical thing. Be serious and have it be the first thing on the record. That’s where it belongs. That really sets the table for the whole record, I think.
And then you get to that really weird ending on the last song.
It’s one of the creepiest endings we’ve ever done. That whole last song was inspired by… I don’t know if you ever saw this movie “The Proposition.”
Oh yeah, I’ve seen that.
That kid, one of the robbers sings that song, acapella. And it wasn’t on the soundtrack. It’s in the movie and so I bought the soundtrack hoping that song was on it and it wasn’t on it. I thought that was one of the most incredible things I had seen, certainly in cinema, him singing that song with his brother being whipped. I just thought that was such a great thing. I mean, Nick Cave man. I couldn’t believe how good that movie was. Nick Cave wrote the screenplay. He did such a great job on that. I was really surprised. That was one of my favorite parts in the movie, so I was like, well we gotta record that. And that’s like the old standard. It’s been around for a hundred years probably. So we did our own take on it. I don’t wanna do, certainly the same thing over and over. That’s for sure. I’ve said this before, and I can’t stress it enough, but we make music we would like as fans. I don’t listen to my own records, but I appreciate bands doing things like this. I always have.
That kind of diversity makes a Melvins album a bit more of an event for the fans. We know that it’s not going to be, oh this sounds like the last record. It’s not gonna be like that.
No. I wouldn’t be happy with that. And I wouldn’t be happy as a music fan if other bands did that. I never am. Sort of like with The Ramones. Like you could go through and pick out one albums worth of material from all of their albums and it all sounds the same to me. Not to take anything away from them, but I don’t wanna do that. That was their trip. I have no interest in that. I’m a fan of that, but I don’t wanna make records like that. We don’t have a script that we abide by and we don’t have any brother bands. None! I don’t feel comfortable in any of those genres. I like heavy metal and I like the fact that its rebel music, but I certainly don’t like all of it. I like punk rock, the stance, the musical ethic stance that they have, and the do-your-own-thing attitude, but I certainly don’t like all of it. I like 70s rock, but I certainly don’t like all of it, you know? Just have to pick out what’s good and the stuff that speaks to you and it could be from anyone. If Motley Crue put out an album next week and it had all those elements to it that I thought was amazing, I’d be the first one in line to buy it, cuz there is not enough good music out there for me to be that picky. If a band does something good, I don’t care who it is. I don’t care if it’s fuckin’ Justin Timberlake. I’m gonna buy it. I don’t play those type of games and never have. I’ve no interest in that. Even when we like started listening to punk rock music, we were those type of guys that would go to a Van Halen concert and a Black Flag concert in the same week and have equally as good a time.
Although, at the same time, the arena-level music is what drove me to punk rock because I realized what I was more interested in was things that were a little more intimate. And I just don’t think you get that at a place designed for sporting events. Personally, that’s not my thing. What inspired me to play music was the punk rock shows. In the early 80s, that’s what made me wanna play music, seeing that kinda stuff. That had a bigger impact on me than any arena rock show I had seen up to that point, by far. Whether I like all of it or not. So I love all those kinds of things. Huge bands like U2, they should do a 500 capacity tour of the United States and 75 shows so they can go back and remember what it was like to be a band. They’ll never do things like that, regardless of how much money they have in the bank. They’ll never do anything that surprises you. The easiest thing in the world to do is to set up a giant arena rock show. The hardest thing for them to do is to strip it down to nothing and take it to the Troubadour. Take it to Irving Plaza with nothing, with the house lights on. Now prove it to me. You’re not gonna see any of these people doing that stuff. No way. Why is that? The only thing I can think of is it’s because they’re a bunch of pussies. Why do any of these bands that have sold millions and millions of records and literally have more money than God, why can’t they give it back in a musical form that would teach people what its like to be a real band? If I want that kind of experience I will go to a movie, with visuals and sound effects and storylines. I don’t need that in my music. My favorite shows are the much more intimate shows. A band like Who in their heyday, I would have paid three times the amount of money to see them at Irving Plaza than where the fuckin’ Mets play. There is just no comparison. People that think that there is no difference in those type of things; they speak a different language than I. I don’t get it. I mean we don’t have enough money to retire on by any means, so we’ll do shows if they’re ever offered, like festival shows cuz I need the money. But if I didn’t need the money, I’d be shootin’ my mouth off about whatever I wanted and I would only do shows that I would want to see as a fan, you know?
I think its still nice though, I mean you are still playing shows… you’re playing of course to support this album, but then I also notice you’re playing the Amphetamine Reptile event in Minneapolis this summer.
Absolutely. We’re big fans of Tom Hazelmyer and he’s one of my closest friends and we’ve done lots and lots of shows with them.
What kind of set are you guys planning for that? Anything special?
Oh God. I have no idea.
Are you gonna play Prick from start to finish?
Yeah, we should. All of the songs we’ve ever done for “Am Rep”. No, I don’t know. I have no idea. That’s not til August. We’re gonna do this tour, we’ll probably figure out what we’re gonna do. It also depends. It’s a lot of bands. I don’t know how much time we’re actually going to have. Let’s be realistic about the whole thing. But even that’s not a big festival, like maybe 1000 people. When we go out on tour, in the US especially, we play everywhere. And I have no problem playing in every town that will have us. I don’t care where it is. Sometimes those are the best shows. New York is a great place to play. We have amazing shows there. We have fans who are really appreciative and I love playing there. But I also love playing Albuquerque. You know what I mean? Sometimes those are the best shows. I don’t know why, it just is. Sometimes you can have the worst circumstances and play the best shows. I don’t know why. I always chop it into three parts. One part you play the show. One third of the shows are unbelievable. They’re amazing. You can’t even believe how great it is. Just everything clicks and it’s awesome. That’s totally why you do it. Then another third is shows that are good. That you don’t really have a problem with. You had a good time playing and it was fun. And then the last third is just abysmal. For whatever reason, just nothing goes right and maybe you’re not feeling well or who knows what. There are a million things that can happen. But that’s pretty much how it works.
Those three kinds of shows are spread out over a whole course of a tour and you never know where they’re gonna be. Just cuz you’re in Chicago and the place is packed doesn’t mean you’re gonna play good. You never know. You could be in Champaign, Illinois the next night and play the best show you’ve ever played. It’s not so much from the audience reaction, it’s all of it combined. It’s not because the place is packed either, it’s something else. Music is magic. It’s magical. I don’t know what it is about it. Comes from the other side of our brain and then it turns into something else. It’s not speech, it’s communication but it’s not speech, you know? The best music has always inspired me to make music. It’s always inspired me. That’s what I’ve always strived to do. We’re very serious about we’re doing. We’re very serious about playing as well as we can. All those kinds of things. And doing something that meets up to our high standards. We’re fuckin’ picky bastards when it comes to that stuff. Especially with our own stuff. Pretty high standards of all that. I’ve never put out an album I didn’t like. There might be things on it I didn’t like, but I’ve always liked it when they’re done pretty much. Even if I cant listen to it like that.
Well you like it up to the point until after it’s released.
It’s new and fresh and it’s fun to listen to. But then, when you hit the road with it, and even [though] we finished this record in February, its not gonna come out til June. So that’s months that I’ve lived with the record. That’s enough, ya know? I don’t wanna go back and listen to Gluey Porch Treatments. Fuck that.
No. Why would you? I mean you’ve done that already. Although it is still cool. You did those Houdini shows.
BO: Yea I had to go back and listen to them again.
And you did the Mangled Demos From 1983 shows.
We had to relearn all that stuff.
How did that even come about?
We always remained friends with Mike [Dillard], who was the drummer and one of my dearest friends for a long time. We just thought maybe it would be fun. Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles had put out the vinyl version of the Mangled Demos. And so, when he was having his 50th birthday party a couple years ago, we said well maybe we could play. We were gonna play with Biafra. And I was like what if we put together a thing where Dale played bass and we had Mike play drums. Biafra said we can, so we’ll open both shows. [Dillard’s] a family man with three kids and he’s an upper union machinist, so you know, he had scheduling to do. Then we have to schedule like vacation time around that time. He came down one weekend to figure out if we could do it or not. It seemed like it was cool and then we did those shows and then we went to England with him when we were the curators of ATP. That was great and then last May we did the 25th anniversary shows where we did Houdini. The other guys in our band–the Big Business guys–were on tour so we did that with Trevor [Dunn] and Mike. We did a thing where we played with him and we didn’t try to jazz it up. We tried to play the songs as close to as we played ‘em at the time. [laughs] Which is a lot of fun, you know? And then me and Dale did a thing where we played by ourselves and then we brought Trevor out and did the Houdini record and a few other songs. That was great. I had a great time doing that. So our U.S. touring on that tour consisted of New York, Boston, Chicago, Austin, Texas, and Seattle and Portland. (laughs)
Didn’t you guys play with Green River also?
Yes, we did two shows with Green River in Seattle. It was a blast! I love that kind of stuff. We had really successful shows there and the audience was great. Playing Seattle is always a treat, ya know? It’s always fun. It’s a blast. All… the whole northwest area is a blast. It has been for years, you know? No question about it.
Stay tuned for Part Two!!!
The Melvins’ new album The Bride Screamed Murder will be out June 1 on Ipecac Records.