by Interviews

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 isn’t your average namby-pamby wah-some-guy’s-dad-didn’t-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, Punknews’ John Gentile spoke to the guitarist about the new album, obscure movies and why wasted Melvins fans tend to be the most knowledgeable.

Buzz, I’ve heard the new album. I have to say, it’s one of the most unique sounding acoustic records that I’ve ever heard. People often say, "The Melvins, they’re a loud band!" or "The Melvins, they’re a weird band!" or "Buzz Osborne, he really likes Kiss!" Is it frustrating to be reduced to just a few attributes that don’t really sum up the entirety of your person?
Generally, that happens with people who haven’t listened intensely to our records. They’ll listen to one album and say, "Oh, they sound like this." That’s typical for most bands, but that’s 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 don’t today. I don’t think they have a kinship with us -- by design. I don’t 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 don’t see yourself with the grunge bands, which I think is pretty clear, 30 years on. Who do you see as your peers?
I’ve never felt like we had any brother bands. None. I’ve always felt that we were contemporary -- what was happening at the moment. We don’t worry about the good old days. I’ve never been a fan of that. I’m happy with what we’re making now. I’m playing better now than I did then, and, frankly, the good old days weren’t always the good old days. We stand on our own. It’s not because we’re perverse, or assholes. I’m just not much of a joiner-oner. I’m 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 doesn’t even sound acoustic to me. The way you play is very percussive. It has a hard, haunting sound, if you ask me.
Yeah, I’d say that is true. If you like the Melvins, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t like this.

I’m 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 they’ve done, and it’s pretty clear what I’m talking about. If you look at somebody like Bob Dylan, who was heavily influenced by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, he’s much more mean spirited. He did what they were thinking, but better. He proved it. That’s more along the lines of what I’m thinking. It wasn’t "This Land is Your Land," it’s "It’s 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 it’s not in people’s minds how big of music fans we really are. We draw from a massive pool of music -- massive. We’re first and foremost music fans.

That Roxy Music cover that you did with Jello Biafra blew my mind. I’m a huge fan now. I went out and got all their albums.
Yeah, yeah! That’s the thing. Once you hear it, you go, "This song’s composition is so good." And then, you also hear Biafra -- he’s 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, "Oooooh…. You’re just ripping off Bryan Ferry!" And he was like, "You caught me!"

So he admits it!
Yeah! He’s 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 -- it’s no big surprise. I didn’t feel like I needed room to spread out. I felt like I could do this as well as everything else that I’m doing , as well as the Melvins.

You’re often hesitant to reveal the meaning behind your songs.
I guess it’s like Captain Beefheart. He didn’t talk about it. I think people kind of get it, even if I don’t take them by the hand. It’s still pretty obvious. I don’t 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 be… you could look at it like somebody in trouble. Or, I don’t know what a good example would be… 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 that’s a wonderfully obtuse explanation to give background on your work. I think that this tour is one of the only times that you’ve 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 I’ve done it all by myself. I’ve done about 20 shows now. So, I’m a lot more comfortable with it now. It’s tough. I don’t have the drummers to hide behind. I’m up for the challenge, for better or for worse. That’s how it has always worked. I just don’t 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. I’m happy with what I do, and I figure, if that’s the case, other people will too.

It’s 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 I’m 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.

What’s 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 don’t 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 don’t want to believe it. I’ve never lied about anyone. What they’ll generally do, is that since I haven’t had massive respect and sold millions of records, people tend to believe them and say that it’s some petty jealously -- which it isn’t. I feel very, very fortunate for the situation that I’m in. I don’t take that lightly. I don’t say "I wish I had that." I go out there and figure out how to do it and then I do it. I’m the kind of guy that likes to know who’s 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, it’s best to just relax before you go out there. I don’t have any extracurricular activities or a party going on backstage. I’m 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 don’t go over the plays?" He said, "No, no. If I don’t have it down by now, I’m never going to have it. I need to get out of it." I thought that was really good. If I don’t have it down by now, I’m never going to have it. Let the chips fall where they may. Life is the roll of the dice. That’s the one thing you can’t get on the Internet -- the human experience.

That’s what we’re trying to transfer to the records themselves. This is a very simple record. It’s 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, that’s 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 what’s 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. I’m just talking about my own experience. Maybe you don’t feel well that night. Maybe you have equipment problems. The audience might not know. The best shows are the ones that you don’t remember. You just blaze right through all of it -- it’s like automatic writing.

What do you do when you’re 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. I’ve never stormed off stage or anything like that. You just soldier through it. That’s the best way to describe it. Try to make it work.

Let’s 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, I’ve noticed an interesting thing at Melvins shows. If you go see AC/DC or the Rolling Stones, the really drunk guys are the one’s shouting out requests for the greatest hits. "Play 'Back in Black!' Play 'Jumpin’ 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, it’s clear that they like underground, weird music. We’re not on the radio. It’s 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. It’s a relatively straightforward song. But, people like it. It’s an alright song. But, I was a lot more proud of other songs that we worked on. You’d think people would like trickier songs that we’ve worked on, songs that I love. Then, you meet famous people, other musicians -- we did a show at Jack White’s Third Man. I’m talking to him, and what does he ask us to play? "Honeybucket."