Melvins' King Buzzo Is a King of Grunge

Bob Hannam
Melvins have kept grunge alive for nearly forty years.
When people think of grunge music, images of a rainy Seattle and flannel shirts may come to mind, as bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden made the city synonymous with the genre. But the seeds of what eventually would become one of the biggest musical movements ever were planted closer to the Washington coast in a little town called Montesano, where a band named Melvins formed in 1983.
Led by the now-iconic Buzz Osborne, who has earned the moniker King Buzzo with his crown of curly hair, Melvins is the best grunge band you may have never heard of over the past forty years, if not the first grunge band.

As a godfather of grunge and sludge, Osborne takes a certain amount of pride in serving as inspiration for grunge mega acts (Kurt Cobain and Chris Cornell both named Melvins as an influence throughout their careers) and making music that has resonated with so many people, but he doesn’t have time to reminisce. The band recently released a four-record acoustic album, Five Legged Dog, that reads more like a menu of greatest hits from its 25 albums. Melvins are also currently touring with Ministry and Corrosion of Conformity, and the bands roll through Denver Sunday, April 10, at the Mission Ballroom at 6 p.m. If you call yourself a grunge diehard, you need to be there or burn all your flannels and ripped jeans.

Osborne and Melvins just don’t stop, which makes Osborne a land-dwelling shark of sorts — always moving forward. “I have a lot of plans. I have plans upon plans of things I can do. Plans within plans. I’m a shark with feet,” he says after completing a soundcheck during an earlier tour date. “We never stopped through the whole thing. Most of those (grunge) bands quit. Other than Mudhoney — [and] even Mudhoney had long breaks. We never, ever stopped for one minute.”

The band has released some type of new material nearly every year since 1986, including dropping two albums in one year a couple of times. “It just never ends,” Osborne says of the band’s output and his creative impulses, which include photography.

When asked about his place in the grunge pantheon, he doesn’t mince words. Osborne is happy with his role within the musical universe and the fact that he can still create music he’d enjoy listening to as a fan, but it’s still somewhat of a mystery to him, too.

“It’s nice to know that I wasn’t wrong. My instincts were correct. What I thought was a big hole in music, where there was something missing. But beyond that I’m more of a 'What have you done lately?' guy. 'What are you doing now?'” he says nonchalantly, before getting more philosophical. “ … I like doing what I’m doing. I like to make records, and I like to play shows live. I want to do lots of stuff. … I’m just tapping into a primal instinct that’s always been there for humans. What makes whales jump in the air? Why do wolves howl at the moon? Why? A lot of it is probably because it makes them feel good. It makes me feel good.”

It sounds good, too. Five Legged Dog, a 36-song acoustic album, may not scream grunge, but it certainly shouts Melvins. The band, named after one of Osborne’s former milquetoast grocery store managers, plays what it wants when it wants. But don’t worry: Melvins won't be playing an acoustic set during the upcoming tour.

“Instead of doing acoustic, we’re just ready to play some loud rock,” Osborne says, giving kudos to bandmates Dale Crover and Steven Shane McDonald for handling everything thrown their way.

But King Buzzo doesn't necessarily dismiss a separate, all-acoustic tour at some point.

“There’s no end to it,” he concludes. “You quit when you don’t want to do it or no one cares.”

Melvins play Mission Ballroom, 4242 Wynkoop Street, Sunday, April 10, at 6 p.m. Tickets are $45-$48.