Take me out to the Mohawk: A Conversation with Buzz Osborne of the Melvins

Illustration by P. Tyson Midkiff. Photo source, Jerry Milton Photography.

Don’t open with baseball.

This was the note I wrote at the top of my interview prep sheet.

The Melvins were touring in support of their 2018 release, “Pinkus Abortion Technician” and I had weaseled my way into an interview before their April 30th show. The afternoon of the show I drank two margaritas and nervously ignored some enchiladas at El Caribé as I ran through the interview prep with Jeff Chan, a colleague and a fellow Melvins fan. I thought a lot about the questions I’d ask, only to get more than a little star struck for the first time in my professional life and lose the questions… so when I sat down with Buzz Osborne, I opened with baseball.

P. Tyson Midkiff: So, I’ll jump right in, two records a year, at least as many side projects…

Buzz Osborne: We do a lot of stuff 80–120 shows a year… more some years…

PTM: So, I’m a baseball fan…

Buzz: Oh, me too!

PTM: Yeah, and it seems like you maintain the schedule of a professional ballplayer.

Buzz: Yeah, they’re a little more five-star than we are…

PTM: In all that, where do you find time for the things like Disney, baseball, or the other things that inform your view of the world?

Buzz: When I’m on tour… I’m pretty much… this is what I do. You’re pretty focused on what you’re doing and what’s in front of you. At least I am. I never forget why I’m here.

PTM: And why is that?

Buzz: To play music. And that’s it. You know? I’m not here for any other reason. So for people that view it… The problem for other musicians is that they view touring as something other than that. [They think] ‘I’m supposed to be having fun, I’m supposed to not be bored ever.’ That’s just crazy, it’s not gonna happen.

PTM: So you don’t do what I did when I used to travel for work, which was to sneak off to every ballpark I could…

Buzz: We do that if we can… but the main focus is what’s in front of me. If I can do that [sneak off to a baseball game] I will, I mean, but there’s not always time for extra-curricular activities.

PTM: I’d like to talk a little about what you consider musically interesting. Do you inherently know what Melvins fans consider interesting? Do you think about what other people may like about what you do as a creator? Or is just making the thing the more important aspect of what you do?

Buzz: I have no idea what people want. I have no idea what they’ll like, I can’t even begin to imagine…

A squeaking, hurdy-gurdy sound interrupts Buzzo, and we both pause to look around the green room.

Buzz: I spent the majority of my life not being in tune with what the world is into, I don’t know why. Once in a while… once in a while I agree with the general public. Like, ‘yes, this record is amazing, millions of other people like it.’ Yeah, once in a while that happens. I’m not perversely trying to not be into it. I’m not going, ‘everybody is into this, so I’m gonna not be into it.

I mean I just felt that the things that interest me don’t always mean the general public liked it. I mean some will. Probably won’t be millions but I just figured. A long time ago, when the band was starting, and after it went a year or two, I just said, ‘I don’t like where this is going so I’m going to do this instead.

And that’s it. It was my big gamble. And it worked. As far as that’s concerned… but it took a long time.

PTM: Is that what kept your band together? I mean I was talking to friends, about like, when Sonic Youth broke up, when that happened a friend of mine and I were like, ‘Shit, it feels like mom and dad are breaking up. Again…’ and out of that conversation later I was able to say, ‘at least the Melvins are still together…’

Buzz: Yeah, yeah.

PTM: It’s amazing how long you’ve been together. Is part of your experiment… or flexibility, or the invitational aspect… is that what keeps you together?

Buzz: That’s part of it I guess. I’ve never really thought about it really…

PTM: Yeah, fair. Let’s talk about covers. I mean in the Last Ten years you’ve gone from “Dies Irae,” on what was that? “The Bride Screamed Murder?”

Buzz: Yeah… wait…

PTM: No, it was “Nude with…”

Buzz: Finishing… “Nude with Boots.”

PTM: Right. Then I’m listening to this record “Pinkus Abortion Technician”and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” comes up. Is that because, you know, ‘Of course the fuckin’ Melvins are gonna cover “I Want to Hold Your Hand” now?’ Or is it because you have McDonald and Pinkus on this record, and now’s the time to record that song? Just like “Dies Irae” came from having Willis and Warren?

Buzz nods at this, before shrugging.

PTM: I guess, does the iteration of the Melvins inform the music, or do you build the group and then let the music come? I guess which comes first, the Pinkus or the egg?

Buzz: In the set we’re doing, we’re doing songs from all.. all the eras. He pauses. We just… He crosses his arms… And I’m very much into the idea… I trust these guys as players, so you’re better off letting them do their job than you are telling them what to do.

I do a little of that, but generally speaking their instincts are really good and they’ve been around the block. Both of them.

PTM: And we’re talking about…

Buzz: Jeff and Steven.

PTM: Boy have they.

Buzz: Yeah, they have… what am I going to tell them? He uncrosses his arms. Just let ‘em go.

PTM: For me as a fan, that’s the most exciting thing to hear. Off of what you said about being around the block. To me the sound of this record is just… it’s the 90s. It takes me back to hiding Butthole Surfer’s records from my mom. Speaking of, you released the easiest record to hide from a mom ever in “Bullhead,” just a fruit basket on blue.

Buzz: Laughing, right…

PTM: What are the reasons this came to be? Why this sound, right now, again?

Buzz: I hadn’t really thought about it like that… uh, there’s not a like strange over-thought game-plan or anything. We work really hard on what we’re doing, but I don’t go, ‘uh… well you know what will, um what will people think?’ I don’t know. I don’t worry about it.

I also don’t perversely make shit that I think people won’t like. If I like it, that’s all that matters. And since I like it [and] I have good taste, other people will like it.

When people read this stuff into all that, no… it’s not that difficult to see what it is we’re doing. Believe me, the people coming to the show tonight? They weren’t here 15 years ago. It’s all new people. They have no idea. Those people [from 15 years ago] have all moved on in their lives.

PTM: I don’t know how to interpret the fact that I haven’t moved on…
Buzz laughs, accompanied by laughter from the room, loud enough to be picked up by the mic.

PTM: I’m kidding. [I wasn’t kidding…]

Buzz: Ninety-percent would not have seen us back in ’95.

So, I don’t know that you’ll like it. I know I’ll like it. Some people don’t like it. I don’t know why. I have no idea. I have no idea… I can’t even begin.

Off mic, Scott Smith a.k.a. Bunny, begins to ask a question. Bunny is a friend of mine there to photograph the interview who also writes for R&R. I invite him to speak into the mic.

Bunny: [Tyson] was talking earlier about the players making the music or the music making the player and knowing what sound you’re after ahead of time. Your answer to that makes me really happy… to know you’re just making music.

You’re only caught up in making music and that the music makes you successful. But a fan like me or Tyson will always come back and pick up a new record just to see what you’re doing.

Buzz: Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s great. But what’s funny is when people … it’s hard for them to perceive what the mindset was. It’s hard for me to think about even… when we were doing our first record… What they don’t understand is that it was not accepted at all. It was wildly hated. Vilely hated. I’m talking about “Gluey Porch Treatments.”

When we did that record, there was no one caring about that record. We did not do shows were people had any interest in what we were doing. So, to soldier through all of this stuff. It’s like. It’s funny. It toughens you up.

But, it’s funny when you hear people that criticize anything that we’re doing now, and we’re like, ‘You don’t understand, we already walked through the worst experience you can have with that and it didn’t affect us.’ So yeah, there’s nothing [a critic] can tell me now… that isn’t anything I haven’t heard.

PTM: As a fan of the Melvins, and a fan of music in general it’s great to see that you’re still together still making music after all this time. Looking back at whatever has fallen apart in music, be it Rock and Roll or Hip Hop or whatever it is, very little survived the 80s and 90s unscathed. Looking back at all of that, it’s very easy for me to tell people my favorite band is the Melvins. It’s also very easy for me to tell them, ‘If you don’t like them, just don’t tell me.’

Buzz: Yeah!

PTM: I’ve got friends, long lasting friends that [I formed connections with] over the Melvins. Once, back when I was working at Apple, I was going through a hard time… and my new buddy said, ‘hey you’re going through some shit. Whenever I go through shit, I listen to this record…’ And he sent me a link to Bullhead.

Buzz: Wow, funny.

PTM: Anyway, I made this about me for a minute, sorry. Here in Austin, your crowds are always huge.

Buzz: Yeah… but we play in Tuscon on a Tuesday night… Imagine what that’s going to be like? But we already know that. I’m very realistic about what we’re capable of doing.

PTM: You do OK here.

Buzz: We do good. We’re very happy in Austin.

PTM: So with these crowds you are introducing yourself to new audience members?

Buzz: I’m very optimistic about that. Here, we get older, but our audience stays the same age.* That’s fine with me.

PTM: I’ve only ever seen you guys in California…

Buzz: That’s where we live.

PTM: …and in Austin

Buzz: Jeff lives here.

Scattered laughter from the room…

Buzz: We play Austin every year, at least once a year.

PTM: Thanks for that. The one thing. I want to end on, this record is incredibly interesting: It’s called “Pinkus Abortion Technician,”

Buzz: Yeah.

PTM: An homage to a Butthole Surfers record, and the opening track is a mashup of a Surfers song he didn’t play on.

Buzz: That’s how they work.

PTM: Mashups, like Sweet Loaf?

He nods.

PTM: Yeah…

Great to talk to you,

Buzz: My pleasure.

While wrapping up I think to myself, “don’t close with baseball.”

I close with baseball.

PTM: Who do you think for the world series this year?

Buzz: Too early to tell.

PTM: How about the Dodgers’ robbery last year? You’re a Dodgers fan.

Buzz: I was happy they made it to the World Series, that was cool. Seven games! It was a good series. We were in Europe, so… but I bought the whole series on DVD.

PTM: Oh man, how long have you been a Dodgers fan? Your whole baseball… [unintelligible].

Buzz: Well I moved to LA in ’93, then started going to a lot of baseball really around 2003–2004 and watching a lot of the Dodgers, and I like National League baseball better…

PTM: I’m a Texas Rangers, fan but I agree…

Buzz: I think pitchers should have to bat.

PTM: Pitchers should have to bat.

Buzz: I don’t like the Playoffs, at all… the playoffs are stupid. I hate the World Series, it should be the two teams from both leagues who won the most games…

PTM: No other sport in the world plays this many games, then disregards success the way that MLB does.

Buzz: No!

PTM: Actually we should just reset, then do this interview about baseball.

Buzz: I’d like to see that. We should get rid of the designated hitter.

PTM: I’d like to see them get rid of leagues while we’re at it, just have all the teams play each other.

Buzz: Yeah, just get rid of the whole thing. But whatever, they know what they’re doing I guess…

At the time of the interview the Melvins are Dale Crover, Buzz Osborne, Steven Shane McDonald, and Jeff Pinkus.

The latest Record is “Pinkus Abortion Technician.”

The Melvins live in L.A., California. Jeff Pinkus lives in Austin, TX.

Talk about baseball with your heroes.

*Yes, Buzzo did accidentally quote Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dazed and Confused.

Photo by O

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