Buzz Osborne of the Melvins on how the Beastie Boys were Warlock Pinchers for Dummies
Since 1983, the Melvins have been perfecting their brand of influential rock, inspired in part by punk and in part by the music Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover grew up hearing as kids in the '60s and '70s. With the Melvins, the two have taken that sound to different places with each record that their contemporaries, from whatever decade that might be, never fully explored. It's evident that the musicians are not paying homage to anything or anybody in particular, but rather following their own muse, which has always taken them to strange and consistently fascinating places.
As a result of their exploration and the sheer visceral power of the music, the Melvins proved influential on more than one generation of musicians, including Kurt Cobain, a roadie for the group that Osborne, so the story goes, once taught to play guitar. Melvins Lite is the three-piece version of the band, featuring Osborne, Crover, and former Mr. Bungle bass player Trevor Dunn holding down the low end in lieu of Jared Warren, who otherwise handles those duties.
The latest Melvins Lite release, Freak Puke, showcases the band in fine eclectic form, with songs that recall the contorted melodies of early solo Brian Eno and Jonathan Donohue-era Flaming Lips. We recently spoke with the hilariously irreverent and sharp Osborne about the influence of Black Flag, hating hippies, Warlock Pinchers and the true weirdness of the Who.
Westword: In an interview with Gibson a while back, you mentioned how Black Flag was more of an influence on your guitar work than Black Sabbath. How did you first get exposed to the Flag, and what albums would you say had the most impact on what you do?
Buzz Osborne: I got exposed to them in the early '80s, before Damaged, maybe during Jealous Again. To me, it was an extension of heavy-metal stuff. What I admired most about heavy metal was the drumming. Some people only appreciate guitar players like Steve Vai. That's not my thing; that's not my world. I like things that are weirder than that. I don't really like things that are too pretty. Once in a while, I agree. I generally like guitar players that are more like Jimi Hendrix and a piledriver. Greg Ginn was like nothing I'd ever heard before. I really liked it.
Basically, Black Flag played pop music, just weirder. After that, I got into bands like Gang of Four, Public Image Limited -- Flowers of Romance, Solid Gold, Metal Box. Those records are all very strange. Compared to that, Black Flag was playing the same kind of song Chuck Berry was -- verse, chorus, verse, chorus -- you know.
But there was something about his guitar playing that was exceptionally good. They never seemed to realize what was good about them. It's possible. The whole thing seemed to degenerate into a bunch of evil hippies after that. My mom is always laughing about that, too: "You always hated hippies." [She's] right, I always have. I'm like Cartman on South Park, pretty much.
Alice Cooper was the kind of hippie I liked. Alice Cooper, John Waters, Charles Manson. Blue Cheer. Alice Cooper described it best as driving a stake through the heart of the peace-and-love generation. That never stopped. That's one of the things that attracted me to punk rock, other than the massive intimacy of the whole thing. There was an attitude that spoke to me. I liked all those bands from then, X, TSOL -- all those punk bands were really good. Sex Pistols, the Clash -- all of it has a rebellious air about it.
Which is still what attracts me to heavy metal. At least they're rebels, you know? I would much rather listen to the rebellious nature of music as opposed to bands that are "nerd gets his heart broken." I can't handle that shit. It doesn't do it for me, unless it's really exceptionally good, which almost never happens. To me the story should be, "Nerd gets his heart broken and goes to girlfriend's house and cuts her fucking head off." Now, that's a song! Not this whiny-ass crap.
Is there anybody you've found in that category that you've found exceptionally good?
I think the Cars did a pretty good job of that on the first two records. That's pop music that I can agree with the masses on. Queen, to some degree, did that. Once in a while, I agree with millions and millions of people that something's good. By and large, just because it sold millions and millions of records doesn't mean I'm going to like it.
But I also don't perversely dislike it as a result of them being popular. There's not enough good music for me to be that picky. I want every record to be good. I want to turn on the radio and have every song be something I like. It just doesn't happen. As I've gotten older, I've had less and less tolerance for any of that stuff.
It's not about getting old. I hated children when I was a child. I didn't like teenagers when I was a teenager. I didn't identify with them. "You're older now, and you don't get it now." No, no, I didn't get it then. I still don't get it. I never had a golden age of getting it. I was an uncomfortable weirdo when I was with people my own age or older people. I have no interest in trying to be young. I'm my age, and here's what I offer.
If someone wants to be involved in something where they only believe eighty-year-old blues men or fifteen-year-old pop stars, that's their thing, not mine. If people only want to be into me because I'm too old or too young, I really have no time for it. They're into something that has little or nothing to do with music. I'm very much, "What have you done lately?" Tom Waits -- I think his new album is one of the best records he's ever done. What is he, 62? It's one of the most inventive albums that he's ever made.
He's definitely someone who has pushed himself to do different things across his entire career -- which is, to anyone who has been paying attention, exactly what you've done.
Oh, I couldn't be more happy about a statement like that. That's exactly what I want to do.
Yeah, your catalogue kind of speaks for itself. For example, you did an album with Lustmord.
A lot of that stems from the fact that most people don't -- and you brought that up with the Black Flag over Black Sabbath -- know I liked Black Sabbath okay, but I never cared for them as much as I liked other stuff. I was just as much into Deep Purple as I would have been Black Sabbath, if not more so. People don't see that, though. I don't know. Weird.
Our influences and what we like as musicians is vast. We've been into music for a long time. I'm a fan of music. I'm always interested in music I haven't heard yet. Now I like about the same amount of bands I ever liked. A few new bands make it through, but that's always been the case. If you go back to 1980, it was the same percentage of bands I liked then as new bands now: Very few. Once in a while.
As far as changing, certainly in the last fifteen years, my attitude has been I want to be Captain Beefheart, George Clinton and Tom Waits going through a Mixmaster playing heavy metal. Captain Beefheart sensibilities. We're very serious about all of that. Like a record like Colossus of Destiny -- that's one of my favorites, and that's the one I'd tell people to listen to. It's a live noise album. It's not really a noise album, and it has a meter and flow to it, and it's very much planned out. I like stuff like that, like Throbbing Gristle or whoever. Or Lustmord, who was in SPK. Or Whitehouse and all of that stuff. It's all good.
How did you come to work with Lustmord?
I met him through [a friend], and then I hit upon the idea that what he was doing was really cool and that it could be a good combo. So it truly was a collaboration in that there were things that we gave him that we used that we recorded and gave him to do with whatever he wanted. There were things on there that were just him, and there were things that were just us, and we didn't tell anyone which was which.
It was really amusing to listen to people say, "That was a Lustmord part," and think, "Lustmord wasn't on that part." They're always vastly wrong about everything. I think it was one of our best records. It was universally accessible, but none of our records are. By and large, it got good reviews, though.
For this tour, you're trying to set a record for the fastest tour of the fifty United States plus D.C. Why did you want to set that record?
It's a publicity stunt. That's it. We just wanted to do something weird. I don't care about playing 51 shows in 51 days -- I don't give a shit about that. What I care about doing is something that's strange. It's something to do. It's like in Cool Hand Luke where he says, "I can eat fifty eggs." Plus it's a three piece lineup, and it's not as much gear, and we're more likely to be able to do something like this in that scenario.
This has been a big year for us. We did a five-song EP with Scion with the regular Melvins lineup; we did a full-length with Melvins Lite; and we're also doing a four-song EP for Melvins 1983, which is with the original drummer, Mike Dillard, and Dale playing bass. That's three different releases with three different lineups of the band. I don't think anybody's ever done that, either.
Why are you starting the tour in Anchorage? It's probably safe to assume you're not driving to your next show.
No, because we can get there the day before and play and leave at 2:45 in the morning by plane. The Hawaiian show, it would take a very special kind of car to get all the way there.
You'd have to get the car the Dead Milkmen joked about in "Bitchin' Camaro."
Yeah, yeah, exactly. The rest we're driving. Hopefully nothing will happen. Now we just have to do it. We've done a lot of touring this year already. We did a tour of the U.S. with the regular Melvins lineup. Melvins Lite did a big tour of Canada. We already went to Europe, and this will be a big capper on the whole thing ending the tour in Honolulu. I'm not a big beach guy, so I'm probably just going to come home the next day. I've never been there, so it would nice to go once.
The Warlock Pinchers had that reunion shows a couple of years ago. How did you meet those guys, and do you have any Pinchers stories to share?
We met the Warlock Pinchers a long time ago, in the '80s. They were on Boner Records, as were we. So then we remained friends after that ever since. They were all just in college, and we were all working a shit job at, like, a record store. Now they've moved on in their careers, and that's great. To me, that was some of the smartest punk-rock music. Those guys were really good at that. I still think that record's amazing -- Deadly Kung Fu Action. It's right up my alley. It's funny. It's well-executed. It's great, and it's really good music.
They did something that a band like the Beastie Boys never could. First off, they were a band, and second off, their songs were better. They had a good sense of humor, and they didn't take themselves too seriously. It was perfect. The only thing I'm bummed out about is that they didn't get bigger. Why did the Beastie Boys sell millions of records and not many people cared about the Warlock Pinchers? Because the world's not a right place -- that's the main reason.
To me, the Beastie Boys is super-dumbed-down Warlock Pinchers -- Warlock Pinchers for Dummies. I never bought into that crap. I always thought that stuff was just garbage. "Paul's Boutique is such a great record." No. No, it isn't. It's not a good record. It's good if you're into crap. You can't get famous throwing beer around and being the soundtrack for date rape and all of a sudden be socially conscious. Sorry, you're not passing the background check; I don't believe any of your shit.
Why do you consider the Who one of the weirdest bands ever?
All you have to do is listen to the Sell Out record. You listen to that album and realize it came out in the 1960s. Now imagine doing something with the equivalent weirdness today. What would you have to do to be as weird as they were then? To me, they are one of the greatest bands ever up to By Numbers. Even that has a couple of good songs on it. They were, by far, the best live band from the '60s. No one comes anywhere near close to that. There's a direct correlation between the Who, the Stooges, the Sex Pistols -- it's all in a line. Jerry Lee Lewis, Jim Morrison -- all of it is in a line from the Who.
I love finding out what people are into. When I was a teenager, that's how I got into lots of music. I got into the Sex Pistols in '77 and found out they did a cover of this song "No Fun," by this band the Stooges. Then I found out what the Stooges are. I love that kind of stuff. Fantomas happened to play a big festival with the Stooges.
I met Ron Asheton and asked him what kind of stuff the Stooges were into before the Stooges started. He said the band that influenced him the most and their stuff was the Who. He said he saw the Who in Ann Arbor in the mid-'60s, and he still had a piece of Pete Townshend's broken guitar from the show. So he was obviously front and center.
So if you think in those terms and take '64, '65, '66 and somewhere in there, and you're a kid in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the Who plays there, what could you play the equivalent now that would be that weird? That's what I mean. They're weird along the lines of how Jerry Lee Lewis is a freak. No question.
A lot of the stuff, out of context, sometimes doesn't seem very weird to people who have come along since it happened and benefited from how that music changed what came after. Like if someone thinks a band of the '80s, like Black Flag for instance, or Sonic Youth, is mainstream, it's usually a lack of perspective involved, because that's been around your whole life, and older people have tried to shove it down your throat as something cooler than your generation will ever do.
There are smart young people out there, too. They're always there. Young people are and always have been stupid. Not all of them, but the vast majority of them. That's nothing new. My audience isn't those people. If you want to find the Melvins, you have to go looking for them.
We're not mainstream. We are successful on an underground level despite that kind of stuff. Without any help from those sorts of things. Because there are people who don't enjoy 4/4 beats all the time and things spoonfed to them. Those people all imagine that they're individualists, and they have all this thing going on, but that's one of the oldest theories in the book. "Don't tell me I'm not free," you know? "Millions of people can't be wrong." I disagree.
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