Still brain dead after all these years
Legendary Melvins front man King Buzzo discusses topics from hip-hop to being on a major label
After 18 years together, heavy-metal mothers The Melvins are still on the road, kicking ass with their sonic maelstrom of brain-dead freakdom.
Known to rock historians as Kurt Cobain’s favorite band—a group he tried out for (unsuccessfully) when he was 16 and who introduced him to bassist Krist Novoselic, with whom Cobain spearheaded the ill-fated grunge movement—the Melvins are currently touring behind an eclectic new album of fierce distortion and creeping metal riffage, Hostile Ambient Takeover (Ipecac Records), after being dropped from major label Atlantic several years ago.
Lead singer Buzz Osborne, known to fans as King Buzzo, has proven an inimitable rock figure over the years—and not just because his large, frazzled hairdo resembles Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons. A colorful character, Osborne often enjoys messing with journalists’ heads during interviews, so when I spoke with him recently over the phone, I was ready to be ridiculed.
However, Buzzo was completely professional, friendly and open to any questions—not the type of happy-go-lucky personality one might associate with bludgeoning metal music. Perhaps this is because he was recently domesticated through marriage or maybe it’s something else. “We [Melvins] always appreciate the print media because they’ve never abandoned us,” he said.
Neither have the hardcore Melvins fans out there, many of whom will undoubtedly be in attendance when the band hits the Brick Works next Tuesday with pals Dead Low Tide—ex-members of Murder City Devils, with Mike Kunka from Godheadsilo on bass—in tow.
Ever played Chico before?
We played a show in Chico with Neurosis a long time ago. It was a bar place near campus on this ‘hip” strip where college kids stagger around pissing their parents’ money.
Lots of frat boys and crystal meth shacks here.
That’s good. If you’re going to college you should be drunk or on drugs. … Actually we’re doing all kinds of little places this tour. We’ve always played ‘C” markets; that’s where our fans are. The shows that I care about the least are the ones in the major cities. You play New York, you play L.A., these people have seen everything. But you go someplace like Chico in the middle of nowhere and sometimes those are the best ones. You got people that are really into it, even if it’s only like 100 people. That can work out perfect. That’s the kind of thing that keeps you going. It’s not playing to some jaded crowd in Austin, Texas. It’s playing Vermont, or this club called the Nick, in Birmingham, Ala. It’s like a converted 7-Eleven, but every time we play is a packed, great show.
How was Australia recently?
It’s always great. I actually ate a meal of kangaroo steaks—I shit you not. It was delicious. … I’ve been there like five combined times with Fantomas [his other band with singer Mike Patton] and the Melvins.
Get some hiking in?
[Nope.] I’ve never been into the outback—though I’d love to. There’s a lot of amazing countryside there I wasn’t aware of—especially on the eastern coast, there’s this jungle area that looks really interesting. But even more interesting to me than that is New Zealand, one of the best places I’ve ever been. I could just walk around there forever.
Do you get good turnouts in these countries?
For quite awhile we’ve been able to tour a lot of countries and play the same size venue everywhere we go, which is great. We’re not fabulously popular in any one area. We do well all over Europe, respectably in a place like Japan.
I like playing the U.S. more than anywhere else ‘cause it’s easier, and I just like it more. … You get out in the middle of nowhere, and it’s one of the weirdest places on earth, man. There’s no place or corner of the U.S. I haven’t been, and I’m real happy about that. We could do a tour of 110 shows here without repeating a single city, and that’s what makes this place great to play. This upcoming tour is 50 in six weeks.
Is there a type of fan you’ve noticed over the years?
They’re generally male, through no fault of our own—or actually probably so. Generally male and usually wearing a T-shirt of a band I don’t like [laughs]. … We do a lot of records, and a lot of them sound different, so I get different responses depending on individual tastes.
To your ears, has your new bassist Kevin Rutmanis changed much stylistically since his days with the Cows [a sloppy punk band]?
Well, we’re a different kind of band, certainly. We hired him to be in our band because we liked what he did. I like to think a lot of his stuff has rubbed off. On this record, we utilized his slide stuff, noise making, lots of role reversals with guitar and bass, which I’m really into. Nobody is quite like him, so we’re into it. … We don’t tell Kevin not to do anything. He fits right in with us. Another freak, another brain dead moron to add to the din onstage with two other brain dead morons.
Any opinions on the current state of metal?
Meshuggah is my favorite new metal band. … We’ve known the High on Fire guys since they were teenagers; we’ve always liked and supported what they do … but I’m talking about a genre that’s not the new metal popular with teenagers today. I’m never gonna start playing hacky-sack-oriented, new heavy metal.
What about the hip-hop/metal hybrids?
I think hip-hop is some of the most played-out music there is. It just all sounds the same to me—all of it! It’s just horrible. Nobody I can think of that is good at all. They get a lot of leeway with zero talent. How many times can you listen to that same Public Enemy beat? Who cares? It’s been going on for the last 15 fucking years. Those bands are a dime a dozen.
I like the original idea of hip-hop, but it’s so phony now. It’s such bullshit. I went to a lot of those kinds of shows in the ‘80s, until I realized that they were just playing their CDs and rapping over it, or playing along with tapes. Who cares? I don’t need to see that. That’s one step away from what Britney Spears is doing. Maybe I don’t get it. Maybe I’m not down with the hood. I don’t know. Especially when I see all this white boy hip-hop posturing. It’s like, are you kidding me? What’s next, Amos and Andy? Jesus Christ. It’s disco. ‘I’m a bad ass, .9mm-packing gangster driving a low rider but I listen to disco music"—How does that work, Mr. Tough Prison guy? That music wouldn’t make me wanna do a drive by, I don’t know about you. But I’d put on [Slayer’s] Reign in Blood. I don’t need to listen to [imitates tired beat] ‘doo, bu-deh, doo-doo, bu-deh.” That doesn’t do anything but make me want to shut it off.
What about the possibility of a Melvins Behind the Music special?
Well, we have good stories, but we’ve never made millions. The best stories are the guys that made millions then lost it all, you know?
So what’s the weirdest thing that ever happened backstage at one of your shows?
God, I don’t even know. Well, actually it was recently at a Fantomas gig in France. A girl climbed up on the lighting rig right before we played, wrapped a guitar cable around her neck and tried to hang herself. Fucking amazing. … The guitar cable stretched down to where this roadie grabbed her and held her up until they could cut it.
Are you kidding? How dramatic. If that had to happen, it probably should have been at an MTV award show or something.
Yeah, why can’t somebody crash a jumbo jet into one of those things? Or one of these multi-trillion-dollar video shoots.
So how was the whole major-label experience?
If they had ever asked me do something I didn’t wanna do, I’d have said no. But we never recouped with Atlantic. We owe them tons of money. … They dropped us, so we got out Scot-free. I can’t take those records and put them out anywhere else, but they’ve never gone out of print because they still sell. Those records came out exactly how we wanted them to, and I can still look back on them and be completely happy. We didn’t make some radio-friendly, this-is-our-big-shot-at-becoming-super-stars album. We made the albums we wanted to make—and if millions of people don’t want them, that’s not my fault.
Are you sick of hearing journalists cite the Kurt Cobain angle?
Well, it makes sense to me. He’s a guy who sold tens of millions of albums and is connected to us—that doesn’t surprise me that people are interested in that.
You’d think journalists would be more careful about flaunting the taste of a guy who willfully married a succubus like Courtney Love.
Well, they never accused him of being smart, did they? Obviously. Addicted to heroin, wake up married to Courtney Love, who wouldn’t want to kill themselves?
Would you ever like to do soundtrack work?
I would love to, but nobody’s beating my door down. I went to see Spider-Man last night. Guess who did the music? Danny Elfman. Guess what it sounded like? Every other fucking soundtrack he’s ever done. What a bore. It’s disheartening.
So, 20 years and counting, does anything surprise you anymore?
Well, I’ve heard every question you could possibly think of asking … but I’m always amazed at things around every corner [laughs] when we go on tour. The United States should have a net thrown over it, you know?