Buzz Osborne has gone acoustic. His new solo album, This Machine Kills Artists, features just Osborne and a guitar kicking out 17 sparse, stripped down songs.
But, this isnât your average namby-pamby wah-some-guyâs-dad-didnât-spend-time-with-him-waaaaah long player. Instead, Osborne strikes down on the strings with an aggressive force and conjures up hard, haunting, cold chords. On top of that darkness, he sings songs like "Drunken Baby" and "Useless King of the Punks."
To see why Buzz pulled the plug on himself, Punknewsâ John Gentile spoke to the guitarist about the new album, obscure movies and why wasted Melvins fans tend to be the most knowledgeable.
Buzz, Iâve heard the new album. I have to say, itâs one of the most unique sounding acoustic records that Iâve ever heard. People often say, "The Melvins, theyâre a loud band!" or "The Melvins, theyâre a weird band!" or "Buzz Osborne, he really likes Kiss!" Is it frustrating to be reduced to just a few attributes that donât really sum up the entirety of your person?
Generally, that happens with people who havenât listened intensely to our records. Theyâll listen to one album and say, "Oh, they sound like this." Thatâs typical for most bands, but thatâs not typical for us. We have a lot of records. It certainly happened when all the grunge stuff was happening, and I never felt a kinship with those people. I still donât today. I donât think they have a kinship with us -- by design. I donât let it affect me personally. Well, I try not to. I think the proof is in the work. Look at our massive body of work.
You say that you donât see yourself with the grunge bands, which I think is pretty clear, 30 years on. Who do you see as your peers?
Iâve never felt like we had any brother bands. None. Iâve always felt that we were contemporary -- what was happening at the moment. We donât worry about the good old days. Iâve never been a fan of that. Iâm happy with what weâre making now. Iâm playing better now than I did then, and, frankly, the good old days werenât always the good old days. We stand on our own. Itâs not because weâre perverse, or assholes. Iâm just not much of a joiner-oner. Iâm a Groucho Marxist. I would never join any club that would have me as a member. You said that you had never heard an acoustic album like this one. Well, me neither.
You know, it doesnât even sound acoustic to me. The way you play is very percussive. It has a hard, haunting sound, if you ask me.
Yeah, Iâd say that is true. If you like the Melvins, thereâs no reason why you wouldnât like this.
Iâm going to read a quote. "I have no interest in sounding like a crappy version of James Taylor or a half-assed version of James Taylor, which is what happens when almost every rock and roller straps on an acoustic guitar." That quote is you talking about your new album.
Well, without naming any names, all you have to do is think of people of that nature and what theyâve done, and itâs pretty clear what Iâm talking about. If you look at somebody like Bob Dylan, who was heavily influenced by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, heâs much more mean spirited. He did what they were thinking, but better. He proved it. Thatâs more along the lines of what Iâm thinking. It wasnât "This Land is Your Land," itâs "Itâs Alright Mom, I'm Only Bleeding." The difference is right there.
Will we ever hear a Melvins or Buzz Osborne cover of Bob Dylan?
Sure, we can cover anything. We love covers. Last year, we did an album that was all cover songs, Everybody Loves Sausages. The point was to introduce people to music that influenced us that people might not have thought of, like Roxy Music, or Venom, or Queen, or Pop-o-pies or the Fugs. That was the point. We could have covered Dylan. We wanted to leave the obvious ones off, like Sabbath or Black Flag, or Kiss or any of that kind of thing. I wanted people to get introduced to the other side of us, whatever that may be. If you look through that record, the influences are really kind of obvious -- The Scientists, David Bowie. Maybe itâs not in peopleâs minds how big of music fans we really are. We draw from a massive pool of music -- massive. Weâre first and foremost music fans.
That Roxy Music cover that you did with Jello Biafra blew my mind. Iâm a huge fan now. I went out and got all their albums.
Yeah, yeah! Thatâs the thing. Once you hear it, you go, "This songâs composition is so good." And then, you also hear Biafra -- heâs doing Bryan Ferry!
Well, he is. But I sort of think that Ferry is more of a suave character while Biafra is a little bit weirder.
But, his biggest vocal influence is Bryan Ferry and always has been. We realized that while practicing with him. We were like, "Ooooohâ¦. Youâre just ripping off Bryan Ferry!" And he was like, "You caught me!"
So he admits it!
Yeah! Heâs a huuuge music fan. We were kindred spirits in that department.
Often when artists release acoustic albums, they are saying, "This is the true me. This is how I feel." Is that what you are trying to do with your new album?
I guess I never felt I had to do, "This is me!" because the Melvins is my baby anyway. I write all the songs -- itâs no big surprise. I didnât feel like I needed room to spread out. I felt like I could do this as well as everything else that Iâm doing , as well as the Melvins.
Youâre often hesitant to reveal the meaning behind your songs.
I guess itâs like Captain Beefheart. He didnât talk about it. I think people kind of get it, even if I donât take them by the hand. Itâs still pretty obvious. I donât want to be that direct. I have little interest in being that direct.
Can you give us any background behind the new song, "Useless King of the Punks?" I love that song.
Well, I guess it would beâ¦ you could look at it like somebody in trouble. Or, I donât know what a good example would beâ¦ King Rat, if you are familiar with that reference. A big wheel in prison, but nothing outside of prison. That would be a good example.
Well, fair enough. I think thatâs a wonderfully obtuse explanation to give background on your work. I think that this tour is one of the only times that youâve been on stage by yourself.
Yeah. I have been up there by myself in the middle or end of a Melvins show playing guitar quietly, but that was always with a band. This is the first time that Iâve done it all by myself. Iâve done about 20 shows now. So, Iâm a lot more comfortable with it now. Itâs tough. I donât have the drummers to hide behind. Iâm up for the challenge, for better or for worse. Thatâs how it has always worked. I just donât have a lot of faith in my ability to go out and make "this is the kind of music people will like." I just make music that I like and hope people like it, too. Iâm happy with what I do, and I figure, if thatâs the case, other people will too.
Itâs a lot of hurdles to get over. People have a lot of ideas about the world, and music, in general. People get pissed off about some of the things that I say, because Iâm very frank about my opinions in music and things. I may change that in the future, because I may not care about telling people what I think. What I think privately is different than what I say publicly.
Whatâs the last thing that you said publicly that made people mad?
Well, I got a lot of flack for some story I said on tour about Dave Grohl. It was a totally self-deprecating story. But, people just took it as me insulting him. I guess you could take it as me insulting him -- I donât know. People get all hacked off about that kind of thing. I look at it this way. If you want to defend a guy that you never met, and not take my word for it, a guy who actually has experience in that department, then kiss my ass.
We took a lot of shit for what I said about Ozzy Osbourne on OzzFest. But, what no one took into account was that is that I actually met Ozzy. I had conversations and dealings with people around that and I got treated like absolute dog shit. People just donât want to believe it. Iâve never lied about anyone. What theyâll generally do, is that since I havenât had massive respect and sold millions of records, people tend to believe them and say that itâs some petty jealously -- which it isnât. I feel very, very fortunate for the situation that Iâm in. I donât take that lightly. I donât say "I wish I had that." I go out there and figure out how to do it and then I do it. Iâm the kind of guy that likes to know whoâs buying his drinks. I might talk a lot of shit, but I back it up.
Buzz, before you go on stage, do you have a routine or a ritual, or do you just walk on stage?
No, itâs best to just relax before you go out there. I donât have any extracurricular activities or a party going on backstage. Iâm the kind of guy that will go to Chicago and not have anyone on the guest list. I do have close, personal friends, but they are few and far between. But, the ones that are close to me are really close.
I asked this professional hockey player what he did between periods. He said that he took off his uniform and watched TV. I said, "Really? You donât go over the plays?" He said, "No, no. If I donât have it down by now, Iâm never going to have it. I need to get out of it." I thought that was really good. If I donât have it down by now, Iâm never going to have it. Let the chips fall where they may. Life is the roll of the dice. Thatâs the one thing you canât get on the Internet -- the human experience.
Thatâs what weâre trying to transfer to the records themselves. This is a very simple record. Itâs very stripped down, as my live show will be. We do a lot of special packaging. But, the important part is the music. By and large, you can get that for free on the Internet. So, really, thatâs all that matters. You go out there live, you put that across, and you just never know.
A live show can be risky. You never know whatâs going to happen.
I put it down to thirds. A third of our shows are good, a third are really good, and a third are maybe not so good. Iâm just talking about my own experience. Maybe you donât feel well that night. Maybe you have equipment problems. The audience might not know. The best shows are the ones that you donât remember. You just blaze right through all of it -- itâs like automatic writing.
What do you do when youâre halfway through a set and it is not going well. Do you get shaken up? Do you just try to relax and focus?
I try to get centered and bare down. I try to think about what I do that makes me want to do this to begin with. Iâve never stormed off stage or anything like that. You just soldier through it. Thatâs the best way to describe it. Try to make it work.
Letâs squash any rumors before any rumors get started. The Melvins are still and band you will have new releases coming out in the future, correct?
We have a new album coming out in October!
Buzz, what is one of your favorite songs from the new album?
"Dark Brown Teeth." I like that one.
You know, Iâve noticed an interesting thing at Melvins shows. If you go see AC/DC or the Rolling Stones, the really drunk guys are the oneâs shouting out requests for the greatest hits. "Play 'Back in Black!' Play 'Jumpinâ Jack Flash!'" But, if you go to the Melvins, the really drunk guys are always shouting out really obscure song requests. What do you think is the cause of this phenomena?
You know, I have no idea. If they like our band, itâs clear that they like underground, weird music. Weâre not on the radio. Itâs weird. One of our most popular song is "Honeybucket." I think people have screamed that out more than anything. I never really, particularly liked that song. Itâs a relatively straightforward song. But, people like it. Itâs an alright song. But, I was a lot more proud of other songs that we worked on. Youâd think people would like trickier songs that weâve worked on, songs that I love. Then, you meet famous people, other musicians -- we did a show at Jack Whiteâs Third Man. Iâm talking to him, and what does he ask us to play? "Honeybucket."