Buzz Osborne of the Melvins on how the band chose covers for Everybody Loves Sausages
Melvins have been an influence on some of the most sonically forward-thinking rock bands and other musical experimentalists of the last three decades. Impossible to consistently pigeonhole as simply punk, or metal, or even rock, Melvins have set a high bar for integrity, both as a live band and as artists in general. Last year Melvins Lite did a tour of all fifty United States plus the District of Columbia in fifty-one days -- a feat unmatched by any other band.
The Melvins also released three distinctly, musically different records. This year, the group released Everybody Loves Sausages, an album of covers with collaborators including Mudhoney's Mark Arm, Scott Kelly of Neurosis and James Thirwell, better known to many as Foetus. We recently had a chance to speak with the always entertaining, opinionated and engaging Buzz Osborne about the new record, John Waters and that massive tour.
Westword: Last year you did that tour of fifty states plus D.C. in fifty-one days?
Buzz Osborne: Yes we did. No one can take that away from us.
What was the most unusual place you played?
Probably Cheyenne, Wyoming, at a community center. It was actually a great show. There were a lot more people than I expected -- a very appreciative and fun audience. Jackson, Mississippi, was interesting, too. A couple hundred people, and it was in this place they said was haunted. But I think everything is haunted so...
Nobody plays Jackson, Mississippi. There's really nothing there. It's a big city. When you go there, it's not in the middle of a cow field. It's a metropolis like any other city of that size. The downtown looks basically the same as Cincinnati or anywhere else. They just don't have a rock scene, or a scene of any kind, unless you're a shed band playing an amphitheater or that kind of crap.
For a band like us, there's just nothing there. Probably because there's not a club that can stay open for any amount of time or has stayed open. If clubs can stay open for a long period of time that generally means a rock scene grew up around it. It's sort of like with Houston, Texas. Houston, Texas, has way more people than Austin, Texas, but the scene is smaller for a band like us. The scene in Austin is way more thriving, oddly enough.
Houston has a bizarre but interesting scene from an outsider's perspective. Indian Jewelry came out of that. Houston is one of the largest cities in America, geographically speaking, so you would think there would be more going on.
Bizarre is a good way of putting it. Everything about Houston is bizarre. And it's not as thriving a music scene as Austin, which is way smaller. You could walk across it. I wouldn't want to walk limit to limit in Houston. It's no different than a truck stop outside of Denver. You drive an hour outside of New York City, what do you think the people are like?
Yeah, some people seem to be under the impression that everyone in New York is enlightened. Nope.
Oh yeah, in California? There's no rednecks here. Take a trip to Bakersfield. Drive outside of town twenty minutes out of town what do you think you've got? Small town America is small town America. That's where I grew up, and I'm from it, far from it. That's the way I want it. No interest. I want to be surrounded by an urban environment in it and leave it at that. I have zero interest just living with the hicks. I don't like the hipsters, either, but it's easier to hide yourself in a big city. Hide in plain sight, as they say.
You can look however you like and no one is going to say much about it.
Here? No. You'd have to be on fire before anybody would look twice. Thankfully.
You recently put out that covers album, Everybody Loves Sausages. You've done covers in the past, obviously. Why do you like doing covers?
We're big music fans from the beginning, that's the main thing. It's always fun to play a song you like. I was never in a cover band. "We're gonna play covers at the high school dance" -- that was never my thing. I've never had that experience. Usually when bands do that, they never get out of it, and get stuck doing it forever. I was never able to do it. Playing Steely Dan covers, or some bullshit, it just wasn't my thing.
Have you ever done a Steely Dan cover?
Nor would I.
Why did you want to do a covers album this time out?
Well, take it into context with everything we did in the last year. We did a full length album with the Melvins Lite; we did a five-song EP with the regular Melvins; and we did a four-song EP with the Melvins 1983. All that, and this covers record has come about in a year. Taking that into consideration, it all makes sense. It's like when we did the trilogy back in the late '90s: The Maggot, The Bootlicker and The Crybaby, which were all completely different records.
And the next thing we put out was Colossus of Destiny. I just assumed people would think it was the logical next step. It all fits together nicely. People were like, "Why did you put out this bullshit album?" What are you fuckin' talkin' about? It's not bullshit in conjunction with everything else we do. There it is. It's four things that are totally, sonically, completely different, yet you still have a problem with it? You can't win, no matter what you do.
We have a new album. We're taking the songs from that Melvins 1983 EP and did more songs, and we're putting it out as an album in the fall with Ipecac. It's our original drummer, Dale [Crover] playing bass, and me playing guitar. It's called Tres Cabrones. "Tres Hombres" means "Three Men," but this is "Tres Cabrones" which basically means "Three Dumbasses." The funny thing about this tour is that we're doing this tour, and our bass player is on paternity leave, and luckily we got Jeff Pinkus from the Butthole Surfers to play bass for us.
Oh yeah, his band Honky is on this tour.
Yes, so it all makes perfect sense. Dale is going to be playing with Honky, actually. It's all good. Jeff is a great bass player, so we're excited about that. We couldn't have picked anybody better.
You do that cover of that song by the Scientists, "Set It On Fire." Unfortunately, not nearly enough people have heard of that great Australian band.
That's the thing. My wife always tells me, "One of your big problems is your failure to see the weaknesses in others. You assume you think everybody thinks the same things you do." That's certainly not the case. I assume everybody knows who the Scientists are. Then I thought about it and [realized they were pretty obscure]. Mark [Arm] certainly knew who they were. I always thought Mudhoney had a lot in common with the Scientists. The one that was really funny to me is that in interviews the number of journalists that have never heard of Roxy Music.
Are you kidding?
I have talked to at least three people in interviews who said they had to go check out Roxy Music after that. Of course I assume everyone knows who the Fugs are, but the two I figured nobody would know would be Pop-O-Pies and Tales of Terror because none of that stuff ever came out on CD. I just happened to be a fan of that stuff when it came out in the mid-to-early '80s.
The Tales of Terror stuff, I think that's one of the best punk rock records that ever came out of California, and it never came out on CD. What the fuck are these people thinking? The Pop-O-Pies' White EP is one of the best records to have ever come out of San Francisco and it never came out on CD. That's fucking crazy. But whatever. The way we picked out this stuff is that we wanted things that influenced us that wouldn't necessarily be obvious.
The one that stands out in that regard is Throbbing Gristle.
Yeah. And if you think about the influence of Throbbing Gristle on us, it makes perfect sense, if you think about all the stuff we put out. The funny thing about the Throbbing Gristle song is that "Heathen Earth" isn't a Throbbing Gristle song. It's the name of a Throbbing Gristle album. There's no song called "Heathen Earth." The thing I did on there is just me, and it's not even patterned after a Throbbing Gristle song. I just wrote something that I thought sounded like Throbbing Gristle.
And it does!
Classic Throbbing Gristle attitude. They'd think that was funny. It's an original song that I said was theirs. I can't tell you how many people have said, journalists especially, "That's my favorite Throbbing Gristle song." "Really? Honest? Wow! You're clearly a huge fan."
It's my favorite Throbbing Gristle album, but that song has nothing to do with Throbbing Gristle, other than I wrote it with the idea that I was trying to write a Throbbing Gristle song that would sound like something maybe they would have done.
It totally does. All those influences are there in us, and they always have been. Some newer than others. Out stuff is as influenced by David Bowie, especially that song, we have a lot of that kind of stuff in our music.
"Station to Station" is also one of Bowie's weirder songs. Which is saying something.
Oh yeah! I love that record. I always loved that record and I thought that was a great song for him to start an album with. It's so weird. On the Stage album, the live record that he does with Adrian Belew, that's stunning. It's so great. That was that whole point of that record.
That 1983 record is a great one, too. It was a lot of fun to do, and we wrote songs that our original drummer could play. My wife said, "This has a completely different flavor from what you normally do." I'm very happy about that.
We recorded enough stuff with the covers record that we're putting out EPs. The Scientists' song has another on the other side of the 7-inch, and we're doing that with all of them. The Fugs and Female Trouble song were already on vinyl, so that won't come out again. Pop-O-Pies and Tales of Terror will be on one. Roxy Music will come out as a one-sided 7-inch. The Throbbing Gristle will have three more songs where I kind of did covers of their songs like "Subhuman." That will probably be the last one we do. Maybe a double 7-inch.
On that Kinks cover you got Clem Burke to play drums.
Amazing. Fucking amazing. That was really great. I've always loved that stuff. I always thought Blondie was one of the best pop bands ever -- modernizing AM radio music in a way that I still think was great. I wish I could turn on the radio and hear stuff of that caliber all the time, but it just doesn't happen, so I don't turn on the radio.
Clem, I have always thought was one of the best drummers. I've been very fortunate in my music career to only play with drummers that were insanely good -- or the vast majority of it. So playing with someone like him, who I think is so amazing, was really fun. He's a friend of a friend. He's come to a few of our shows, and he's a super nice guy. It was like a dream come true.
Dale and Cody were ecstatic to be playing with him. Keith Moon style. I've had this happen quite a few times where people, especially other drummers, will say, "Keith Moon, I just never understood what was good about him." "That's right, you don't understand."
How do they not understand?
I don't know. "He's too sloppy." No, no, no. He's everything you're not. He's got heart. You don't. Pete Townsend wrote songs, and he had two geniuses playing on them. Jesus Christ, how much difference do you think that made? The Who is one of my favorite bands ever. Townsend was in a position where he had an insanely genius drummer and an insanely genius bass player that he could write songs for.
That is fucking amazing. Talk about the luck of the draw! You listen to Townsend's demos, and the songs are there, but those guys could amplify it beyond belief. That's heaven for a songwriter. Give them the idea and go for it.
Did you ever get to see The Who when Keith was still alive?
No, god no. I was in about seventh grade when he died. I saw them later in about '80. It was alright. To this day I remain a huge fan, and always have been. I never tire of that stuff. I tell people this, and they look at you like you're crazy. The Who Sell Out is a really weird record. It would be weird now. No one puts out a record that's that insanely cool. It's such a great idea and they pulled it off.
You got Jim Thrilwell to do vocals on that Bowie song?
I've always been a big fan of Jim. And we've been friends for a better part of twenty years. I stand behind Jim, and he's heavily un-credited with developing a type of music made popular by people like Nine Inch Nails and Ministry. I think they owe him a great deal. I think Jim's musical sensibilities are amazing.
I asked him if he wanted to do this record. I asked him if he wanted to do the Rolling Stones and he said no. So I asked if he wanted to do Bowie. "Yeah, I want to do Bowie." So me and Crover recorded that, and sent it to him. He did another song that I won't spoil, that will be on the EP. He did his magic on it and it came out great.
How did you find out about Jim's music as Foetus?
Back in the mid '80s, long before I moved to California, I think I found out about him from Mark Arm in '85 or '86 [when he was in Green River]. He was playing that stuff, and I thought it was great. I can't remember which record it was. The first thing he did for Homestead, I thought, "My god, this guy scares me." I'm friends with Jim on a level beyond music, too, which I feel fortunate about. Jim's a great guy.
Did you ever get to see the Fugs when they were still operating as a band?
No. The other singer's dead so...I have no idea what Ed's thinking. The book he put out a couple of years ago is amazing. I'm a huge fan of the Fugs. They're the kind of hippies I can actually like. The thing is that that stuff came out in the '60s, and it's gutsy and smart and funny, and that's a really deadly combination. Them and Captain Beefheart are probably my favorite '60s artists.
What were the first things you heard from him?
Clear Spot and The Spotlight Kid. I'm the reverse of everybody else. I'm not a big fan of Trout Mask Replica. I think it's good but I like Clear Spot and The Spotlight Kid the best. The stuff after that I'm not as big a fan of but Safe As Milk is great. I love all that stuff. There's a great YouTube documentary about him narrated by John Peel in four or five parts.
My favorite record of his isn't a record of his, it's the [Bongo Fury] live record by Zappa where he's the lead singer. Him and Terry Bozzio are in that band, and it's fucking amazing. I'm not the biggest Zappa fan, but that record is great. I saw Zappa in 1981 or 1982, and that was good.
The live show is great, but the records are hit or miss with me. "Willie The Pimp" is great too -- Beefheart is on that, too. I think he was the best singer Zappa ever had. Where would Tom Waits be without him? Where would Beefheart be without Howling Wolf? I all comes full circle.
You do that Venom song "Warhead." Did you ever get to see them?
Never. They never played in Seattle to my knowledge, certainly not back then. I would have went. [We reached out] when we curated ATP in 2008, but I don't think they even responded. That's my favorite song of theirs.
Scott Kelly played on that?
He sings on that. Me and him play guitar, and me and Dale play bass on it. The other song we did for the 7-inch is "In League With Satan." I thought they wrote the most punishing riffs -- certainly like that song. That's as big an influence on our riffage along those lines, certainly more than Sabbath by far. I like most Sabbath stuff, but if I was going to listen to a Sabbath album it would be the Heaven and Hell record to hear Dio sing. I prefer that.
I am certainly not going to bother to listen to the Rick Rubin-produced new one. If I accidentally heard it, maybe I would. He's really going out on a limb with all these artists he's working with now. What's next? He's going to do a Pink Floyd record? "I'm going to do a record with Johnny Cash. With Metallica." Does he work with anything new? That whole world of stuff doesn't even exist for me. I'm probably not going to have to worry about any of the songs he's producing taking up space on my iPod. If I went through everything he's ever done there might be a few songs.
Going back to Roxy Music, out of their entire catalog of songs you did "In Every Dreamhouse a Heartache."
That's my favorite song of theirs. No question. The first few records you can't go wrong. I don't like every song on those records, but that is the best song. It's completely creepy. That's it. If you go on YouTube you can find really good live versions of that song doing it back then. It's really weird. In one, I don't think [Bryan] Ferry blinked.
The main thing we wanted to do with that one was get Jello Biafra to do it because we realized he was just ripping off Bryan Ferry when he sings. He was like, "Oh, you caught me. Nobody's ever put two and two together [with that]." Now when you think about it, that's exactly what he's doing. He's a huge Bryan Ferry fan. So when he sang it to me on the phone when I brought it up, he was in. He did maybe two passes of it and he was in.
That Divine song?
It's on the Female Trouble soundtrack in the opening credits. I always loved that song and wanted to cover it at least as far back as ten or fifteen years ago. This time we did it with a stand-up bass player, and I knew Trevor Dunn could do a good job. I had planned on putting guitar on it and some other instrumentation. But when I did the vocals and listened to it we realized it was good as it is.
Why do you think Female Trouble is John Waters' best movie?
It's the best written, the best acted, the best story. Nothing even comes close, not in his movies. They're all weird but he's never bettered that one. The best lines: "For fourteen, you don't look so good. That's because you've been such a brat for your whole life. Now all that bratty-ness is coming out in your face. The face of a retarded rat."
I actually have an autographed picture of Taffy Davenport, from Mink Stole in that outfit. I'm not kidding. You can buy them from her on line. She'll sign them. Anything you want. Another good one, "I wouldn't suck your lousy dick if I was suffocating and there was oxygen in your balls."
I have a collection of weird people like that. C-level actors and actresses that I try to get to sign pictures. I got a picture of Barnabas Collins, Jonathan Frid right before he died, signed to me. Signed as Barnabas to me. It has to be a picture of them in character.
I got one of Batgirl; that was harder. I got one of Veruca Salt, the real one, not the band. A picture of her a as little girl. The one I want is Linda Blair in The Exorcist make-up. That would be good. I don't want a picture of the actor. Fuck that. I want a picture of the character. It has to be weirder. It has to be Veruca Salt level, not William Shatner or Spock.
You did a cover of "Black Betty" of all things?
We did that for a Super Bowl contest, actually. It was the one song that wasn't an influence. A company got a hold of us, and they did it with a whole bunch of other bands. They wanted to do fast, short versions of the song.
They paid us to do it, and if we didn't win, we could do whatever we wanted to with the song. If we did win, they'd give us a lot of money, and it would be in the Super Bowl commercial. The band that did was John Spencer Blues Explosion.