Grunge, Golf, and Wedded Bliss: 30 Years of The Melvins
As peerless post-punk mavericks The Melvins ring in their third decade with a daring covers LP, Mudhoney's Mark Arm asks Buzz Osborne the secret to a healthy marriage and whether it's high time they brought in a keyboardist
Mark: Buzz and Dale, the two of you have been together longer than any married couple in our generation that we can think of. How do you keep the flame alive?
Buzz: We have been together longer than most people we know who have been married two or three times. I wish I could say it was as a result of heavy counselling or a clear business plan, but that just ain’t the case. For some reason we work well together. I’ve continued to write songs that seem to keep us progressing a little at a time and we are afraid of nothing. Nothing, that is, except cholesterol and the Teamsters Union.
Mark: After all those years of trying to add a third person to your relationship, you invited a couple. Is it easier or more difficult with Coady and Jared?
Buzz: When we got Coady and Jared we were already fans of Big Business and I’m by no means a traditionalist when it comes to music, so it seemed like a good choice. I mean, why not? Coady’s a great drummer and playing with two drummers is a blast. Jared’s a really great bass player and lead singer so we knew that would be good from the get-go.
Mark: How does it work when it comes to making band decisions? Do they combine to get one vote or are you generous enough to give them three-fifths of a vote each?
Buzz: Now three of us can gang up on the other one! Usually they just let me do my thing. It’s a good working relationship that none of us have to put too much time into when it comes to making decisions.
Mark: If your band was a baseball team, what position would each member play? Feel free to use crew members, collaborators and ex-Melvins to round out your team.
Buzz: Coady's quick so we'd put him in centerfield and Jared would be a power hitting third baseman. We'd have Crover at either first base or behind the plate and I'd be pitching because I'm not afraid to intentionally beat the shit out of guys just to send a message to the opposing bench.
"If I actually had Ray Manzarek’s number I'd call the motherfucker" – Buzz Osborne
Mark: The two of you are obviously committed to each other, but you are also open to experimentation. Have you ever considered becoming a two-piece, adding a different low-end instrument such as tuba, or a keyboard player in the vein of Ray Manzarek to round out the rhythm section and play frilly baroque runs all over your songs?
Buzz: Sure we would. If I actually had Ray Manzarek’s number I’d call the motherfucker. We could do a whole album with him on bass keyboards, just like the Doors! Once Ray got comfortable around me and Crover he’d tell us all kinds of amusing stories about the Lizard King being a total drunken pain in the ass. I’d also get to ask him all sorts of ridiculous questions about Jim being alive and well and hiding in some shithole like Riverside for all these years. Turns out Mr. Mojo Rising now weighs 380 pounds and lives in a low-income apartment complex surviving on half-cold pizza and daily deliveries from a local liquor store. Is hiding out for over 40 years better than going to prison in Florida? I suppose it is.
Mark: Do you have a favourite classical composer? Please elaborate in one sentence or less.
Buzz: My favourite classical composer is Mozart because he was a drunken pain in the ass.
Mark: Buzz, you’re an avid golfer, what’s the oddest foursome you ever found yourself in?
Buzz: I love golf and I spend a lot of time on the course at a very early hour. Believe it or not, I can’t get a lot of my rock’n’roll buddies up for a 5.45am tee time so I end up playing a shitload of golf alone. Golf is a good sport for that, because you don’t need anyone else. However, if you do show up alone, sometimes the course teams you up with people you don’t know and that can end up being a real treat. I’ve golfed a number of times with older Asian couples who never said a word to each other or me for 18 holes. I played a round one Saturday with three drunken hambones in their mid-twenties who showed up bright and early straight from a party. They waited until the second tee box before they started doing hits of blow to “wake up.” After about three more holes they told me to just go on ahead by myself because they thought I was playing too fast.
I’ve played tons of times with guys in their 50s or 60s who openly dry bong weed at 6am only to tell me they have to “cut out early” to head to work. I once played with a single older Asian woman and after about four holes I asked her why she was there all by herself. She told me “I'm not by myself, my husband is playing in the group right ahead of us.” The best part is that her husband was playing with only two other guys and opted to still make his wife play with the weird-looking round-eye behind them. I got teamed up once at a nine hole par three with a huge NFL linebacker from the Cincinnati Bengals who got really mad when I whipped his ass on every hole. I should write a book: My rock’n’roll life on the municipal golf courses of Los Angeles…
Mark: Many rock historians point to that fateful day in 1983 when you wrote Set Me Straight as the birth of grunge. When you wrote that song, did you have any idea so many people in the scene would die?
Buzz: Many rock historians also think ‘musicians’ like Courtney Love are somehow valid when it comes to the history of ‘grunge.’ She’s not dead… Oh hell no… I’m not sure anything could kill her at this point. Set Me Straight was the birth of grunge? I always imagined the U-Men’s first EP as where it all started. The U-Men, or the Sonics, or the Kingsmen. And let’s not forget Jimi Hendrix! Yeah, Hendrix! Jimi! Jimi! Jimi! Jimi…
Mark: If given the opportunity to go back in time, would you un-write Set Me Straight to prevent all those casualties?
Buzz: Sure, why not? I’ll take the blame. I’m nothing if I’m not the grunge version of Mother Theresa. I’m just here to help. Is it possible to care too much?
Mark: Have you ever dabbled in the ‘Dark Arts,’ the Occult, Witchcraft, Blackface? Are your souls spoken for, or can we have them?
Buzz: Of course! I sold my soul to the devil decades ago and look how well it’s worked out! I’m at the pinnacle of success! The highest possible point of the rock’n’roll garbage heap! I love that occult shit. Himmler was deeply involved in all of that teenage black arts crap and it didn’t do him a bit of good. He went from chicken farmer to genocide to suicide in almost no time at all. Perfect. In reality though the best part about all that witchcraft, dark arts nonsense are the Goth chicks! Now you're talking! Listen babe, you can keep the thigh high leather stilettos and the rubber mini skirt but you have to shove that Anton LaVey book up your ass.
Mark: How about the ‘White Arts,’ Scientology, Mormonism, Mayonnaise, Aryan Nations? What would you suggest we do with your souls?
Buzz: Heavy on the Mayonnaise and double butter, please. As for my soul, well, I’m not too worried about any of that. I think it was the Marquis de Sade who said ‘If God was willing to let that happen to his own son, then what do you think he’s going to do to me?’ I couldn’t say it any better.
Mark: Dickinson, Dickens or The Dicks?
Buzz: Dickens and The Dicks. It’s hard to do any wrong when you have a 400 pound communist transvestite as lead singer the way The Dicks did, plus their Kill from the Heart LP might be the best record to come out of Texas. Maybe ever. ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres would run a close second. Dickens’ cruel treatment of children in his novels is always a laugh and believe me I’ve run across many a ‘Fagin’ type character in my 30 years in the rock and roll business. On our ill-fated first tour of the USA in 1986 I saw a whole lot of that, especially in Florida. On a lesser level when we met Maximum Rock’n’Roll’s Tim Yohannan in 1985 I certainly got a punk rock Fagin vibe off of him. He was nice to us, though, which was refreshing. This niceness lasted right up until he actually heard our band.
Mark: When you were a kid, who did you think was the wildest, most out-there rock star?
Buzz: Bowie probably. He was a total freak. When I was a teenager I was never impressed by rock’n’rollers who got written about in places like Cream magazine for smashing up hotel rooms or doing drugs because even then I knew they were simply paying for all of it. So what? Bowie looked pretty insane and his music was certainly like nothing I had ever heard, although I was in hick city USA circa 1976 and I would have thought the same things about the New York Dolls or Roxy Music had I only known about them… In hindsight, the gutter level drug addict that was Johnny Thunders made Keith Richards look like a fucking rich pussy…
Mark: What are your influences? Why? How long have you been together? Why? Do you have a new album? Why? Are you still there? Hello?
Buzz: We are Captain Beefheart playing heavy metal. That’s influence enough. Beefheart rules. If you ever need inspiration for lyrics you need to look no further than the Captain for that. We’ve been playing for about 30 years now… I have no idea why… It’s fun sometimes. We have a ton of new material all the time because more is more. I’m here, enjoying a cup of strong black coffee and thinking about golf. Hello indeed. Have we really been together 30 years? Fuck, I’m old… I think it’s high time I go through my Fagin phase.
Read the second part of this feature, where the tables are turned and Buzz grills Mark on stealing from other bands, how best to use the internet, and how he pictures his own death here.