Psych-sludge metal legends The Melvins are back at it again. This time they've released their first-ever double-album and are out on tour to support it. The record is called, A Walk With Love and Death. We called Melvins' frontman Buzz Osborne at his house in LA to talk about their new record, his record collection, the internet, his influence on 90s culture, arena rock, the Melvins' recording process, Ayn Rand, and Nirvana. Always entertaining and a true individual, Buzz gave one of our favorite interviews yet. Enjoy.
Fuzz: I have to say, I'm a 90s kid. The first time I heard you was on "Bar-X The Rocking M" in 8th grade.
Buzz: In 8th grade? It was downhill from there.
We've been following since then, and the first thing we wanted to ask is, what are you listening to these days? Are there any bands we should be checking out? What's your music-listening diet?
Well as far as new bands go, I like about as many new bands now as I ever have, which means not many. There was never a time when I liked everything. I've always been really picky. I've said this before, but my record collection has only gotten larger because time has passed. It's not heavy in one era or another, you know? As time goes on, I tend to be less and less interested in highly-derivative bands. If I go, "Oh yeah, yeah, I like all the bands you're ripping off," that usually points me in a different direction unless they're super-good at it.
What's an example of one of those bands?
Oh God, nothing comes to mind at the moment.
Okay, I won't make you call anybody out.
No I don't care. I don't know what would be an example of a new band I really like. Nothing comes to mind, but that doesn't mean it's not true.
Do you think the internet has made it easier or harder to sort through and find good stuff?
I like the internet. I think it's great. I remember when there was no internet and it was a much darker time. It makes it possible for you to check things out quickly and easily. I think the exchange of information is really great. But, with that comes something that's bad, so it's a give-and-take. But would I want to go backwards? No. I'm not that kind of a guy.
Has there been any change in how you approach making records because of the internet?
Oh yeah. We used to play songs live a whole bunch before we recorded them. But those days are over because it will immediately be on the internet—new songs—and then you kinda set yourself up for people to be critical of it before it's even on a record. So we don't play new songs live anymore, unless we've recorded them.
So does that make the songwriting process harder? Do you have a different way of working them out now?
It makes it weirder. You don't have a chance to try it in front of a live audience, but it's not the end of the world. There were lots of songs that we recorded that we didn't play live first. But you know, it makes it so that on our upcoming tour we can't throw in new songs. The stuff on our newest record, that's it. I'm not gonna do it. We tried that, it's not a good idea.
Yeah that's a bummer.
Well, like I said, with every good thing comes something bad. The technology is such that I would not ever want to go back to the way it was. I like it way more now and it's only gonna get better. Now, that doesn't mean that it's gonna be the same as it always was, it won't be, but good. Change.
What was the process for this new record? Did it start with the idea for the film? The album? How did that happen?
We always thought our stuff was tailor-made for soundtracks. Filmmakers would hear it and want to use our stuff or have us do something along those lines, but that never really materialized. So we just decided we would do a double album with one side that's more a regular type of record and the other side something that we would consider a good soundtrack. Then we decided to make a movie. That's how it worked. The movie's not done yet, but it will be. And the whole entire thing is a called A Walk With Love and Death. Which people have a—I don't know, it's weird it's strange—even before anyone had even heard the record they were like, "I don't understand why you would have an album and a soundtrack together." It's like, "Geez, settle down." You know, The Beatles already did a double album a long time ago. Maybe you could just relax and accept something that might be a little different for you. But, maybe you can't do that. Your open-mindedness is so obtuse it's not even funny.
Do you feel like you have fans that have been with you the whole time, that just want you to stay the way you were in the late 80s?
No. Those people left a long time ago. What happens is your audience tends to stay the same age. You get older. But there's very few people that were there—a few here-and-there, which we would probably be friends with. There's probably some, but by the time people hit 35, 40 they're kinda done with all that stuff. They've moved on with their lives. They maybe go to a few live shows here-and-there, but they maybe have kids or they're career-oriented, or they're just sick of it.
Do you still go to live shows?
No. I hardly ever. I don't have fun at live shows. I get a long—especially in the last ten years—a long stream of people that wanna take their picture with me. It makes it a little uncomfortable. I'm not a big center-of-attention guy, so that's one aspect of it, which is not a big deal. If people are nice, I don't have a problem with it. But, it makes it difficult to enjoy yourself, which is not a big deal. I'm not complaining, I just prefer to look to other sources for entertainment. I'm in musical-type situations more than a hundred times a year, so it's not like I'm not ever doing it. I'm constantly surrounded by live music. It's not lacking in my life by any means. I would love to be able to do that to some degree, but once again, there's just very few of those situations that I would do. I don't go to arena shows or anything like that. I'm not really interested in a "big show." If I go to a place that's designed for hockey, I wanna see a hockey match.
Yeah I agree. I still go see shows, but always a smaller venue.
Yeah if I can, with a few exceptions. If it was the only way I could possibly see Tom Waits, I would do it. Beyond that, Roger Waters just played here in LA five nights at the Staples Center. I really couldn't have cared less. As big a fan as I am of that stuff, and have never seen it, I just can't see putting myself through that. I don't really care about the show aspect of it at all. If I was sixteen and on acid maybe it would be great, but nobody who's sixteen years old is probably going to that show. Especially since the cheapest ticket is a hundred bucks. Who goes to these things? It's amazing.
Well, on this new record did you guys take any new approaches to recording? Did you try anything different? What's your recording process?
We don't have any one way of doing it. On the new record, every single song has a different drum setup. Completely different. Different drum sets or different configurations of drums. No one will even notice. People don't pay attention to things of that nature, usually. We used a wide variety of guitars, but that's nothing new. Strange tunings. Quite a few strange tunings, which I like a lot.
Do you have a set process, or is it something where you try and do something new on every album to unlock new ideas? How does that work?
Well the idea that we used five different drum sets is clearly not a set way we do things. We have the exact way of recording with five different drum sets, but we record them the exact same way every time. [Laughs.] We're accidentalists in a lot of ways, and we're also not afraid of anything.
Do you have the songs pretty much mapped-out before you go in to record, or do you let them evolve during the recording process? Or is it always different?
All of the above. Mapped out. Not mapped out. Recorded quickly. Worried over. No one notices any of that sort of thing. We've done close to thirty albums, and you could have a song that you've worried over for weeks, where you're meticulous about every single part of it, and it was a total pain-in-the-ass, and you do that song. Next is a song that you wrote that day, and that you recorded in the first or second take, and no one says, "This one sounds like you really worried over it, and this one doesn't." Nobody notices any of that crap. Never, ever, ever have I had that happen. I've never had anyone point out that sort of thing, which I find completely fascinating because our stuff is all over the map and it's very, very adventurous. I don't know that the general public really cares about that. Especially when you listen to the tripe that they normally think is amazing. Usually I don't agree with the general public. Once in a while I'll agree and go, "Yes I completely see why millions of people bought this. It's totally great." It's not out of perversity. I would love to be able to love every record that comes out, but that's not how it works.
So what's one of those records? One of those records where you agree with the general public?
Oh who knows? Like Queen or Pink Floyd, stuff like that. Not all the Queen records, but some of 'em I'm like, "Yeah I see why they sold five million records." Cream. Hendrix. I don't know, that's just off the top of my head.
You can walk around proclaiming that you're an individual, but the second you start to really be one, there will be plenty of people there that will want to hammer you into the ground like a tent stake.
What was it like growing up in that scene that just sort of blew up in the 90s? Did it feel like something was happening there, or were you just kinda hanging out with your friends playing in bands? Did it feel like there was something in the water at the time?
No. No one cared about any of that stuff that was going on then, especially up there. Nobody cared. It was well after the fact. The best thing we could have done for our popularity in the Northwest was to move away. As soon as we moved away and then came back and played, there were lots of people at the shows. Where were you people when everybody was playing every weekend and nobody gave a shit? I really left nothing when I left there. I left in '86, '87. I really had no interest in being involved in any kind of scene, and there wasn't really one there. I mean, I knew all those people. We were friends with them, and I liked their bands, but beyond that it seemed pretty hopeless. I was really looking forward to a thing where I could go and get out of there, not because I hated that area—I mean I hated where I lived, but I didn't hate the music scene in Seattle or anything like that—but, I wanted to move away and be completely away from all of that and start over. That's what I wanted—to start my life over in a new way. That's exactly what happened.
We moved to San Francisco and started the band over, and by about 1988, me and Dale were able to quit our jobs—our shitty jobs we had—and just concentrate on music. So, that was well before any of that Northwest explosion-stuff happened. We had nothing to do with it, actually. We were doing okay on our own. You know, when we lived in Seattle, or up in that area, labels like Sub Pop or K Records never offered to do a record with us. Never. They had no interest. As soon as we moved to San Francisco, we had an offer from Boner Records immediately. Where were the Seattle people? What did I leave? Nothing. We immediately did a record with them in San Francisco. The record did well enough for us to be able to quit our jobs and go on tour and make money playing music. And that's what we did. It had nothing at all to do with the Northwest. It has everything to do with what is in me. I'm very much an individualist. I think Ayn Rand said it, "The individual is the biggest minority of all." Which, you know, you can walk around proclaiming that you're an individual, but the second you start to really be one there will be plenty of people there that will want to hammer you into the ground like a tent stake. And that is how it goes. You have to be willing to take those lumps and just move forward because you know what you're doing is right. The reason you know what you're doing is right is because you know you have good taste, and if you do things that you enjoy, and it's not perverse, than other people will enjoy it. I knew it wouldn't be millions, but I knew it would be enough. That's it.
That attitude carried itself over into other bands like Soundgarden, Nirvana. They saw what we were doing and were interested in all of those aspects and got it to a point where ideas that we germinated, exploded and influenced music on a completely global scale. Without us, the music scene up there is not the same. Our influence is so—people can say whatever they want to and most of the history revisionists want to get us, including a lot of the people that are in those bands, want to get us out of there because they don't like what we do. Or, they don't like our attitudes. You can have your opinion about all of it, but you can't have your own facts. You can't, no matter what. You're gonna have to live with this. Those were my ideas. I don't expect money for it. I'm not that kind of person. I believe you're a master of your own destiny.
We influenced people who were much more commercial-sounding than we were, and that changed music to this day. So it's nice to know I wasn't wrong about what I thought, but you know, we're working-class dudes. I wouldn't know bourgeoisie if you showed it to me.
Did any of those bands, like Black Flag, open up that idea to you, or did you come to that on your own?
Oh yeah, sure. Black Flag. Flipper. A million bands. I knew these people. I knew the people in Soundgarden, Nirvana. I knew all of those people. No one influenced me the way I influenced them. Nobody. I didn't grow up with people who were showing me amazing music. I didn't grow up with people who taught me anything. I found all that stuff on my own. It's a hard row to hoe, as they say. Not a happy time for me.
If I'm in some way responsible, in any way, for influencing him in a position to put him to a spot where he pushed himself closer to his own death, then how exactly do I deal with that? Had I not done that, he may very well, and there's every reason to believe, he'd still be alive.
The whole thing, all of it, if you look at it, the whole Nirvana experience, there's no good thoughts or happy memories of any of that stuff. It ended so horrendously that I don't have a good-time-Charlie type of attitude about it. I would have much rather had Kurt Cobain be massively unsuccessful...and alive. We were all friends. It's the worst possible thing. If I'm in some way responsible, in any way, for influencing him in a position to put him to a spot where he pushed himself closer to his own death, then how exactly do I deal with that? Had I not done that, he may very well, and there's every reason to believe, he'd still be alive.
Some people blow that kinda stuff off, "Well, you shouldn't be worried about that." Well, you know what, I'm in charge of what I should worry about. [Laughs.]
This might be revisionist history too, but I always thought—just kinda looking back, not being old enough to know what was going on—that the Reagan administration and the political landscape of that time influenced and created a fertile ground for a lot those bands, including you, to spring out of. Is that true, or is that another instance of revisionist history? Are there any similarities with that time and now?
Well, I'm not sure what you're getting at. What do you mean?
Is the political landscape and the culture of the early 80s actually this fertile ground for this hardcore punk scene that came out of that time, or is that something that people latch onto? Is that a fiction or was that really influencing things at the time?
Well, let's think about that. I'm imagining you're pointing at Reagan as a right-winger. Is that what you mean, that his right-wing philosophies are what fueled the punk rock of America in the 80s? How would you explain the punk rock of the 70s with Jimmy Carter in office? Or the crazy music of bands like Blue Tear in the 60s when it was primarily dominated by Democrats?
So, that's pretty much a pointless question?
People have this idea, and I'm not sure where it comes from. They have this idea that, politically, there are gonna be massive changes depending on who's in office. This is wrong. It's wrong. Do you honestly believe that if there were people that came down here from another planet, and they looked at the Democrats and the Republicans, that they would see any difference?
No I don't.
None. That's like picking gnat shit out of pepper. That's just playing straight into their hand. Now you have this idea in your head that you're gonna walk into the voting booth and make a difference. That is total bullshit.
So, do you vote?
I've been involved in the political system since I turned eighteen, but my ideas have pretty much been the same the entire time. Voting, or not voting, makes no difference. People can think that. It's crazy, I'm not a fan of either party, at all. I am a person who is pro-legalizing drugs, pro-abortion, pro-death penalty. Now, which party would speak for me? You tell me. I'm pro-gun. Pro-legalization of drugs, pro-death penalty, pro-abortion, pro-everything. Now which side do I sign up with? 'Cause I ain't seeing it, you know? I'm for liberty, whatever means that is. I'm not for people telling me what to do, or anyone dictating every aspect of my life, at all. Now you tell me which party's gonna do that best for me.
The idea that we can possibly think that someone like Donald Trump, an idiot like that, is gonna come in here and actually make things worse. How could it be worse? What's gonna happen? That's fucking crazy. That means you've missed the point entirely. There's no difference. Would you really be happy if Bill Clinton was back in the White House as First Lady? Here's the guy who actually was inappropriate with women in the White House. That's different than a crazy tweet. Matter of fact, it's way worse. And people are okay with that? I'm confused. I don't get it. He actually did these things to women. Proven. And people, for some reason these progressives, blow that off like it's no big deal—including his wife. What sort of a message does that send to America? That that's okay to do? I'm sorry, I'm not on board.
It's all smoke and mirrors in my opinion.
I'm not on board. I'm not stupid enough to sit there and go, "Well Donald Trump's gonna do this and Donald Trump's gonna…" Yes, yes I'm sure, but let's look at it from another perspective as well. I'm not a fan of either one. I'm happy the Clinton's are gone. Am I happy that Donald Trump is President? No. But, I'm very happy the Clinton's are finished. Very happy about that. They are a menace. Two people with absolutely zero principles. That's not me. That is not me. I'm not interested in any of that. I'm not interested in any of that bullshit. I don't go along with any of it. Then people say, "Well you're a Trump supporter." I didn't say I was a Trump supporter. I said I wasn't a Trump supporter. But the second you start talking shit about their guy, or girl, then you're the enemy. That's not how my brain works. That's someone else painting you with that brush. Not only is it not true, it's not even remotely true. But there it is, so I just cannot be involved in anything that fucking stupid. I can't do it.
I think that's the general consensus across the the nation, at least among my peers.
Well it is, but I'm not gonna jump on that "let's hate Trump" train. That's you just playing into their game. We are not better off either way. You're not gonna be better off. I don't know why people think that. It doesn't make any sense to me. People get really weird, and they get really incensed if you say stuff like that. It's amazing to me. I could sit there and say all kinds of things like, "I'm totally pro-legalizing drugs, but I'm not for paying for people to go to rehab."
"Well then you're…" No, no, no, you didn't hear what I just said. I'm for legalizing everything. Not just drugs. Antibiotics, anything. Why should I have to have a fucking prescription for that? It doesn't make any sense. If you want drugs to be cheaper, then put them on the open market.
But we should decriminalize drugs, right. I'm not thinking about heroin. I'm thinking about eye medicine. Which is gonna be a bigger boon to society and America? Legalizing good drugs, not shit drugs. Cocaine and heroin, who cares about that? Sure you wanna make it legal? I don't care about that. Sure, you wanna destroy your life shooting heroin? I could not give a fucking shit less.
Don't expect me to pick up the pieces when you destroy your life.
But when you cross the line and start saying that now I'm responsible for you to become a non-junkie, that's where you are not okay. That is not your right to be able to come and tell me that I have to now pay for that as well. No, I gave you every freedom in the world, I gave you everything you wanted, and you fucked it up.
Yeah, it's really arbitrary.
That is on you. It's not on me. Don't expect me to pick up the pieces when you destroy your life. And then people just go crazy. They go crazy with that. Didn't you hear what I said? I don't know. They want Big Daddy government to control everything, which means they're just gonna be reaching deeper into your pocket. I'm sorry, I'm not amused by any of it. I'm not a part of it. I don't go along with it.
So, I have a question about your upcoming tour. Are you excited about it?
Yeah, sure. It'll be great.
How are you preparing for twelve weeks on the road?
Preparing for tour?
Oh you do the same things you always do. You re-pack and pack your bag about fifty times.
And then we do a lot of rehearsals. Get all that stuff in line. We're just about to announce our European and Australian end of the tour, so that'll be good. You just try and do it as straight-forward and efficiently as possible. We kinda know what we're up for. We plan the tours out exactly how we want 'em with short drives and all those sorts of things. I don't wanna be on a bus. I can't stand those kinds of things, so we stay in hotels and do short drives that are absolutely doable during the day. I can't sleep on the bus. I always feel like the bus is gonna crash. I don't know, it's not logical. Plus, I'd rather have a hotel every night with a shower and a bathroom. Most bands don't do that kinda thing because they wanna just pour all the members onto the bus, hammered, at the end of the night, and then the road manager doesn't have to worry about anything else. Doesn't have to worry about checking into hotels or lobby calls or any of that stuff. But we're grown adults. We can handle an early lobby call.
We won't take up too much more of your time, but we wanna do one last thing. We've got this new oral history project we're working on where we ask artists to talk about other artists.
Okay. Oh by the way, you don't have to put all that political stuff in there. I'm generally not a political guy, and as you can see, I didn't really say anything.
Oh if you want us to leave that out, we can. I thought it was really interesting. We weren't trying to get you going too much, but if you don't mind.
I don't mind talking about it. Some people take that wrong. I'm sure you can see what I mean. Okay, do you want me to comment on other artists?
We are just gonna throw out some artists rapid-fire. Just give your brief initial reaction to that artist.
Multi-faceted. Mostly good.
[Laughs.] Sonic Youth.
Heavily influenced by the Velvet Underground.
Not so much interested in what he did with The Eagles. Very interested in what he did with James Gang.
I agree. Okay, Ween.
Not familiar. Although, I have heard they've turned into like a jam, hippie, jam-band now, which means I'm probably going to remain unfamiliar.
[Laughs.] The Beach Boys
Genius in the sense that they influenced things without even being aware of it. And, it's a totally psychotic trip that I am happy to be a fan of.
It's because of him that the highways are jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive. We can blame him for the bad traffic in Jersey.
Unfamiliar. I may know his hits. But, I wouldn't know. I think it's like, he makes Steve Miller Band sound like a heavy-metal band.
[Laughs.] Alright, last one. Butthole Surfers.
Oh yeah. Genius. They're a massive influence on us. We even did a whole record with those two guys, two of the guys in the band. Hold It In was Paul Leary and Jeff Pinkus, and we couldn't have been happier. It's one of my dreams come true. Paul Leary is one of my favorite guitarists ever. Strange dude, but what a surprise. [Laughs.] It doesn't surprise me, but we are huge fans of that stuff. I have been probably since '83. Before you were in 8th grade.
That's when I was born.
So imagine, you're born, and you're shitting in a diaper, and I'm seeing The Butthole Surfers play. It's a pretty odd trip.
What was one of your favorite bands to see back then when no one gave a shit, and you were seeing them in small clubs?
Well, The Butthole Surfers did pretty good from the get-go. They did okay. And, they were really good. They were one of my favorites. The Ramones were always good then. They were really good. Iggy Pop was almost always good solo, when I saw him back then. It was fucking amazing. Really, really fun. There's a band from Seattle called The U-Men that nobody really cared about. They were really good. They put out a record. Their first 12" is still one of the best records that Seattle ever put out.
We'll have to check that out. I've never heard of that.
Yeah there's a 12" they did that's amazing. I still listen to it quite a bit actually. Flipper were good, but they were hit and miss. It could be a fiasco or it could be really good. They had great songs though. I still listen to that stuff too.
Well cool. That's all we've got. We really appreciate your time.
No problem. Thank you guys for the interest.
Thank you Buzz Osborne for letting us talk with you. It was the highlight of our day. We'll see you when you come to Nashville.