By Austin Kaus
“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” – Groucho Marx
Buzz Osborne aka King Buzzo has led various incarnations of legendary Kiss-on-ludes band The Melvins since 1983. For the first time in his career, he’s releasing a full-length acoustic album that strips away the sonic power sludge and presents an intimate and haunting collection of original music. His full-length album “This Machine Kills Artists” comes out on June 3, but Buzzo sat down with Austin Kaus during his acoustic mini-tour in March to discuss music, the inefficiency of vinyl records, and why he’s never had time for nostalgia.
AK: Are there challenges playing acoustic instead of electric guitar?
KB: The thing that’s hard about the acoustic is when you get one of those giant acoustic guitars, they’re hard to reach around. I said “reach around.”
AK: That’ll be the opening quote right there. “Buzzo loves reach-arounds.”
KB: Who doesn’t? Is that so wrong?
AK: This is a judgment-free green room. Tell me about the acoustic thing. This is a new direction for you. How did this come about?
KB: I’ve always played the acoustic guitar. A guitar is a guitar as far as I’m concerned. I’ve written a lot of our songs on an acoustic and just translated it to an electric. It’s not really that different.
AK: Was there a difference in writing something knowing it’s going to end up acoustic?
KB: What I would probably do is if I wrote these songs for the band, I would probably adapt them and put different kind of breaks in them, add drums or other vocals or guitar solos. You just don’t do that with this. With this, you just pound through it without worrying about that stuff.
AK: So, most Melvins stuff starts off on an acoustic guitar?
KB: It can. It has. I’ve played an acoustic guitar forever. The one song that’s online doesn’t sound like James Taylor. I’m not going through my (Bob Dylan’s) “Nashville Skyline” phase. That’s not going to happen, not at this point. I wanted to do something that would translate well to fans of what we like already but be different, not alienate every single person that’s every liked us. I’m sure there are people out there that won’t like it. People don’t like a lot of stuff.
AK: Have you heard any backlash?
KB: No. Not really. I think people are a little surprised about it as far as how it sounds. Not to put myself into that class, but people like Bob Dylan and Neil Young have played back and forth without any trouble. Neil Young could play any song in his catalog with his acoustic guitar and be fine. Bob Dylan could do the same thing. I’ve kind of just approached it like that. To me, what I’m doing on stage tonight is not unlike what I do at home in my living room. All I have to do is play like I’m at home in my living room. This is what I do. I practice on acoustic guitar walking around except I don’t have a couch to sit on and no dogs to pet. (laughs)
AK: Do you think if a song can be written on acoustic and translated to electric that that’s more of a testament to the power of a song as opposed to someone who plugs in a wah-wah pedal and writes a song based on that?
KB: The focus on what I’m doing is vocals and not the guitar on this stuff. The vocals are carrying this. Without that, it doesn’t’ work. It has to be a combo of those two things. There are some songs that work great on their own with an acoustic guitar that, for whatever reason, aren’t as good on their own. I don’t’ know why. As far as it being a stronger song, honestly, I don’t know. Some songs aren’t as good as other songs. I’m not afraid or sorry or apologetic for anything I’ve ever written, but I do like some stuff more than others. Every rock and roller that picks up an acoustic guitar either sounds like a bad version of James Taylor or a bad version of Woody Guthrie. I don’t want to do that.
King Buzzo performs at Grumpy’s in Minneapolis on March 25/ Photo by Jim McFarlane
AK: Do you have Melvins stuff coming out this year too?
KB: Yeah, There’s a new album in the fall. It’s almost done. I can’t really let the cat out of the bag because it’s a little weird for us. It’s going to be a head-scratcher for a lot of people. Not musically, but people will be “That was out of nowhere.”
AK: Did people scratch their heads when you had some covers on (2013’s) “Tres Cabrones”?
KB: Yeah, some people were like “Oh, what’s with all the filler?” The songs we’re talking about were about a minute each. We worked really hard on that stuff. “Too much filler.” No, there’s not. There’s not enough filler. We should do an entire album like that. What are you talking about? It always amazes me when people say stuff like that. What are you listening to that you’re so completely satisfied with? What would it be? What bands do you think are amazing?
AK: Was it weird doing all covers on (2013’s) “Everybody Loves Sausages”?
KB: No. We made a covers record that was bands that were a big influence on us that maybe people haven’t thought of.
AK: As a guy that grew up on Neurosis, it was good to hear Scott Kelly. Have you ever worked with him before?
KB: We’ve known Scott since about ’86. We’ve never worked with him, but we’ve been friends with him for a long time. All those guys we grew up with long before Neurosis was a band.
AK: Neurosis is one of those bands that evokes some pretty nostalgic feelings in me personally. How do you feel about nostalgia? It seems that it can be sort of crippling at some points. Is that something you’ve experienced? Something you’ve dealt with?
KB: I’ve never had much use for that personally in my own career. The good old days weren’t so good, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think there was a golden era of music ever. When?
AK: Was there some golden bliss to when The Melvins were first forming and playing tiny shows?
KB: No. It was horrible.
AK: So, there’s no romanticism about it?
KB: Not in the least. Not at all. I’m very much about “What have you done lately?” but, having said that, I’m also a musicologist as far as loving to listen to music from every era. I want to know where all this stuff came from. Why were The Stooges thinking what they were thinking? What were they into? What was Jerry Lee Lewis into? What did he like? Where does it come from?
AK: What was the first record that kicked your ass?
KB: I don’t know. Aerosmith, something like that.
AK: Do you have any memories of a song hitting you?
KB: Maybe CCR (Creedence Clearwater Revival).
AK: Any specific song?
KB: “Up Around the Bend.” That’s what I can come up with right now. I’m super not into rockabilly. I like rockabilly but … why would you want to look and ape some other thing? Why would you want to do that? “I’m going to do this with the same tattoos and the same guitars and the same hairstyles.” That’s always been to be a mystery to me. Wouldn’t you want to do something along with that? Something else?
AK: Playing devil’s advocate, there’s probably a comfort in that. “Well, we’re doing this like our idols.”
KB: Yeah. Someone else has done all the decision making. You take someone else’s crap and do it. People have this weird idea about how things were. It’s insane. If you want to have a Mohawk and look like something from the early 80s, then it’s similar to what Sha Na Na did at Woodstock. “This is what was happening 10 or 15 years ago.” O.K. Why don’t you get your own music movement? I never wanted to be part of any other club. I’m way too much of a Groucho Marxist. (The Melvins) have no brother band. We’re not part of anything. I never said I was a part of any of that stuff. That’s all somebody else’s trip. I’m very picky when it comes to that kind of stuff. There’s no organization or club or music scene that I want to be involved with except for punk rock, whatever that means, and, to me, that doesn’t mean the Warped Tour. (laughs)
AK: Have you always been like that?
KB: Always. I don’t like people that much. I’m just not a “joiner inner.” “I can’t wait to be one of the crowd.” That’s just never been me. Never. I’m not a “9-to-5-er.” Fortunately, I’m in a position where I haven’t had to have a job for a long time. It doesn’t mean it was always easy, but working 9 to 5’s not easy either.
AK: Even in your hardest moments, did you think “Well, this is a hell of a lot better than delivering pizzas.”
KB: Definitely. I mean, if somebody wants to live and know what they’re going to be doing from 9 a.m. to 5 every Monday through Friday and it’s all laid out for them and that’s what they want to do, who am I to say that they’re wrong? It’s just not for me. I want to be my own boss.
Photo by Jim McFarlane
AK: You guys have been doing a lot of vinyl stuff. Some vinyl nerds might complain that they’re too expensive and hard to get. Do you have a thought process behind how you handle the vinyl?
KB: Yes. I don’t care about it. That’s number one. But the most important thing is the music. The music is basically fee online.
AK: So you’re not a vinyl nerd by any means?
KB: I collect music. The vinyl’s cool to make and some amount of people will like it. We’re not making expensive vinyl for people who can’t afford it. We’re making it for people who can afford it. Let’s say I have a website where you can … get all our stuff for nothing but, if you want something in your hand, you’re going to pay for it. There will be a certain amount of people who will not be satisfied with something they can download off the internet. Nothing against the internet. The internet’s amazing, but everything’s changing. It’s different. To look at (vinyl) like it’s too expensive … O.K., compared to what? Gasoline is $4 a gallon. You can’t take you and your wife to dinner and a movie for the price of one of our albums. You cannot do that. If you want it, then you should buy it. When the day comes that we can’t sell what we make, then we’re charging too much for it and we’re making too many of them. We’re not having that problem now. People want to think that it’s not fair. Well, life isn’t fair. They’re lucky we’re not charging more for it. That’s what we’re charging for it when it comes out of our hands. We’re selling it for cheaper than anyone.
AK: So, will you ever be releasing your older, out-of-print albums like “Stoner Witch”?
KB: That stuff’s all available. There’s not vinyl available but I’m not concerned, really. We’ll probably put out the vinyl for that but, really, what are we talking about? When (bands) did a single in the early 90s, you could make 20,000 singles and sell them all. I’d have to have f-cking rocks in my head to make 20,000 of anything now. It’s a different world now. Now, everybody can hear music. I just gave a song away for nothing. Nothing. Take it. There. It’s yours. And then someone can bitch that something else costs more money? I just fucking gave you this for free. It’s like, what are you fucking talking about? So, I just don’t’ argue with them. O.K. Don’t buy it. If you think it’s too expensive, then you should buy things that you don’t think are too expensive, whatever they may be.
AK: So, if I want a vinyl copy of “Stoner Witch” – which was selling for over $130 online the last time I looked – you feel no obligation to give an updated version that someone can afford?
KB: No. None at all. Vinyl is the worst recorded medium there is. If people want vinyl, then they’re certainly not interested in what music sounds like. That’s for sure. Ultimately, I don’t care what form they listen to their music on. That to me is a secondary thing. The most important thing is the music. Music is easier to listen to right now than it’s ever been. So, if the most important thing is already covered, the rest of this is just details. Things change. That’s how it works. Deal with it or die like the dinosaur. If people want to say ‘I’m going to sell my records for $12,” then what they’re basically saying is “It’s 1980 and my stuff is worthless.” We’re making vinyl that’s really cool, really hard to make with crazy covers and weird shit. You can’t get it from the internet. You can’t download it of Amazon.It’s not possible to do. There will be some people that want that and some that don’t. We’re not getting rich off this stuff. It’s a f—ing pain in the ass.
No one said it would be easy.