Folk Off – An Interview with Buzz Osborne of Melvins (Penthouse)

(Originally appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of Penthouse Magazine)

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More than 30 years ago, in the small city of Montesano, Washington – onetime residence of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain – three pals with a shared love of punk, hardcore, and metal had an idea for a band. They would take the hallmarks of those genres and slow down the tempos – to produce a thick, sludgy sound.

The guitar-playing member of the trio, Buzz Osbourne, worked at a local Thriftway, where he had a hated boss named Melvin. Osborne suggested naming the band after his buffoonish supervisor, his pals agreed, and thus was born Melvins, foremost practitioners of a heavy style of music some have labeled “sludge” metal. Cobain, their fellow Montesasnan cited Melvins as a major influence. They’ve had a rotating cast of musicians, especially on bass, but OSborne, on vocals as well as guitar and Dale Crover, on drums, have been the two mainstays of the group.

After producing 23 studio albums with Melvins, Osborne, also known as King Buzzo, released his first solo acoustic record in June. In a twisted nod to Woody Guthrie’s famous anti-fascist slogan, it’s called This Machine Kills Artists, and Osborne is touring hte United States behind it this July.

We caught up with him to hear about why his band departed the Pacific Northwest back in the day, his love of golf, and the challenges of playing solo acoustic.

What drew you to San Francisco all those years ago?

A girl, actually. A girl I met playing [music]. It was an opportunity to move there, and I was like, Okay, I’m going to take it. That didn’t end up working out, and we broke up in ’92, and I got married in ’94 to the girl who I’m married to now, and we have moved to L.A. because that’s where she lived. You always got to follow the women; it seems appropriate for Penthouse magazine.

Women have guided you to good places.

I’m a big fan of women [laughs]. There’s nothing more natural than that. The thing that’s cool about women is, they’re not like men. I don’t want them to be more like men; that’s just horrible to me. I want them to be women, however that is.

And women are amazing.

And they’re amazing. I’m very happy with that setup. We’ve been married for almost 20 years, and what’s cool about it is you realize as time goes on how little you really know about women.

I hear you like to play golf.

Golf is amazing. you can go by yourself. It’s a sport, and I love playing sports, but I generally hate people who play sports, so it’s a hard situation to be in.

So do you hate yourself while doing something you love?

No, I mean other people – jocks in general, or whatever. Golf is a solitary sport: You’re in the tee box together and then you’re at the green together, but the rest of the time you’re on your own. I go do it on my own if I need to. I just think it’s really fun.

Are there other bands that operate similarly to Melvins that you respect?

I don’t feel like we have any brother bands at all. None. I can’t think of who they would be. Not last year, but the year before, we did three releases with three different lineups, all of which were vital. I just don’t know that there’s a whole lot of people doing that sort of thing and considering it all a part of the same thing.

You guys are pretty unique in the music industry.

In a lot of ways the music industry is running scared, and I’m sure not going to take advice from them. We have outlived a massive amount of trends, and I have always looked at all of that stuff as a hilarious sideshow that has little bearing on reality. So when we were on Atlantic I never looked at it like, Oh, this is it, this is our big shot. I never thought it would work.

How did you acoustic project come about?

Some of it had to do with Dale’s wife getting sick, so we had to change our schedule around. The Melvins album is now going to come out in fall instead of this past spring, and then I had to get my acoustic album done. So I busted my ass in January and February and got it all finished. I was really happy about that, and I had this tour planned.

What was it like doing the record without a full band?

I had to make this record work with just acoustic guitar and vocals. That was a challenge – you’ve got a lot of space to fill up, and I didn’t want it to sound like some bad version of Joan Baez. Fuck that: I want to do something that’s newer. I don’t feel like there’s anyone doing acoust stuff that’s quite like this, it’s a little different.

How is it performing live? Does it feel like the audience is right on top of you?

In my business, you have to get used to looking stupid in front of a bunch of people. If you can’t get used to that, it’s not going to work. I wasn’t intimidated by the crowds; I was intimidated about my own ability to deliver. Everyone makes mistakes, and I would just tell the audiences every night, “If I fuck something up, I’m just going to play it again.” That doesn’t happen too often, but it certainly happens. It’s kind of nice – I’m not too worried about playing on The Tonight Show.