Melvins’ Buzz Osborne Talks ‘A Walk with Love and Death’ and Making Music That He Likes
From their humble beginnings in Montesano, Wash., Melvins have become an alternative rock institution over the past 30 years. They always seem to have a fresh idea, thanks in no small part to vocalist, guitarist and ring leader Buzz Osborne. King Buzzo has seen (and tried) pretty much everything, especially after the group just released their first double album “A Walk with Love and Death” — which combines one hard rocking traditional album with a soundtrack for the group’s short film of the same name. Entertainment Voice recently caught up with Buzz to talk about Disney musicals, bass players and where the band’s headed next.
You guys are on your 25th album, “A Walk with Love and Death,” your first double album. For starters, what feels different this time around?
Well, it’s a strange double album, that’s for sure. It has both a soundtrack and a regular album, so that’s different. We have Steven McDonald playing bass on the whole album, so that was kind of cool, he brought a much different thing than we would normally have. So that’s different. We like him and his pedigree. Those are very important things.
What changes do you think came with the double album format? Did it affect your approach to the music?
If it was a single album, it probably would have been half and half. We would have picked our favorite stuff from the one and our favorite stuff from the other and mixed it into one album, that’s probably what we would have done. But since it’s a double we were able to expand those into full albums.
And as people tend to like vinyl more and more and more, what they don’t realize is you can’t get as much on vinyl as you could on a CD. So album lengths are going to go back to what they were in the ‘70s, which is 35 minutes. I mean, you can jam more onto an album, but it doesn’t sound as good. 20 minutes per side is about the max.
I kind of feel like that’s where people’s attention spans max out, anyway. Do you think there’s maybe something perfect about a vinyl run length?
No, I think it’s too long. My attention span is about 20 minutes. I’ve never understood why people don’t like EPs more. People won’t buy EPs for some reason, I don’t know why. I think they’re actually better.
You feel like they’re punchier? More to the point?
I don’t know, that’s about what my attention can handle. It’s just like, live I’d rather see a band play a really good half hour set than a two hour set. Much rather. Without any question at all. I mean, we play about 70 minutes, because that’s about as much as I want to play.
The second disk is a soundtrack for the Jesse Nieminen-directed short film also titled “A Walk with Love and Death,” which you guys produced. Can you tell us a little bit about the film? Judging from the trailer, it looks pretty twisted?
Yeah, we’re big fans of David Lynch and things of that nature. Weird compared to what, you know? Compared to the latest Disney movie, it’s pretty weird. Although Disney itself is pretty twisted, right? I mean they had the “let’s sing along with the hunchback movie,” right? That was pretty weird.
Plus, all those princesses get married at like 14.
Now you’re talking!
Any idea when you’ll release the film or how?
We’re not exactly sure, it’s not done yet. So, this will get people interested for when it’s finished. Lots of it is footage that I shot and pictures. All sorts of things along those lines all mixed into one 33-minute movie.
The album also features guests Terri Gender Bender, Joey Santiago, and Anna Waronker. Any interesting stories about their contributions or how they came about?
We knew all those people and they happened to be there. They worked on existing tracks, we didn’t really write music with any of them, but they just contributed to things that were already there. Little bits here and there, none of them did a tremendous amount, but they all did enough to where it makes sense to get the credit. But interesting stories? Nah, we didn’t go to the devil’s clown room with them or anything like that. Like, Santiago was maybe there a couple hours, that’s about it.
Dale Crover has been with the band since 1984, and he’s getting ready to release his first full-length solo album. What inspired him to do his own thing now?
Who knows? I think he had the opportunity to do it and did it. I think he was happy about that. You know, it doesn’t bother me, I think it’s good. The more the merrier.
Could you tell us a little bit about the 30+ year relationship between you and Dale? What has it meant to your career to have someone that you’ve worked with for so long? How has he helped shape the sound of the group?
Oh, yeah, he’s a good player. That’s helped a lot. I pride myself on always playing with good musicians, because that always helps me. We get along really well and we don’t argue about anything. No trouble, no problems. He trusts my vision in a lot of areas and we give each other a lot of space. That’s the key to any good relationship, really.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Redd Kross and Off! bassist Steven McDonald just joined the band in 2015. Has his arrival changed anything about the way you guys approach things?
We let him do his thing, which is good. We trust his ability to play what we’re doing. I mean guys like that you just let them go, you don’t dictate a whole lot. We were already fans of his, but we were already fans of everybody that we’ve played with. Whether it was Kevin Rutmanis or the Big Business guys (Jared Warren and Cody Willis) or Jeff Pinkus or Trevor Dunn, we already liked what they were doing – we were already on board. So we didn’t need to do anything.
People have this idea that we have this revolving door of bass players, and it’s really disrespectful to these bass players, because not everybody can do what they’re doing. They are very, very unique players. None of them sounds like any of the other people and we’re not just looking for anybody that can do it. That’s fucking crazy, people that think that. It’s nutty. These guys are all special people, special musicians who have a special talent that we want to be a part of. They each add their own thing. It’s not just me telling them what to do, not at all.
So, does it feel like a breath of fresh air when you get a new musician that you get to play with like that?
Well, that might be why it’s worked so long for us. That could be.
Unlike a lot of the other Pacific Northwest bands during the ‘90s, it seems that Melvins made the conscious decision to stay underground. What freedoms and challenges do you think that ethos has brought to the band over the past three decades?
What do you mean we chose to stay underground?
It feels like that as opposed to a lot of the bands that came out of Seattle and surrounding areas, you guys wanted to maintain your connection with the fans and maybe not quote-unquote sell out?
No, that’s absolutely not true. I mean, we didn’t care who listened to our music, and we also didn’t care about remaining true to anything other than ourselves. If millions of people bought our record, I would not be bummed out about that. But I also haven’t concerned myself with that. I never went, ‘This is what we want to do.’ I haven’t made a conscious decision to beaver away at not selling millions of records. That’s not it at all, not in the least.
Those people may have decided they wanted to try and do that, but lots and lots and lots of people have tried to sell millions of records and it’s not worked. It doesn’t matter if they choose to or not. So I don’t feel that way. I feel like we did what we were going to do, and I don’t feel any special need to do something for the fans. Because I have no idea what the fans want. I have no concept of what they’re into, I have no idea what they think is good or bad.
All I know is what I think is good or bad, and I feel like if I make music that I like, then there will be some other people out there that like it because I have good taste. That’s it. Beyond that I don’t make a conscious decision to only play to this audience or that audience. Or remain true to them. I don’t know who my audience is. I don’t know who they are. I know it changes. People come and go. We don’t have any specific target audience that I’m interested in. None.
I’ve never ever felt that way. I always thought that everyone should like our music, everyone should. But they don’t. So that’s just what you live with. That’s ok. I’m not going to sit there and try to decide what they want. ‘Here’s what I think will sell millions of records…’ I have no idea.
Like, when I heard an advanced copy of the Green Day “Dookie” record, I said, ‘No one is going to buy this fucking garbage. It’s crap. I can’t believe anyone would listen to this shit. Who’re they fooling? Who are they trying to kid? I see all the bands they’re ripping off – it’s just garbage, it’s crap.’ Then it sells like 35 million records. I have no idea what the fuck they want. No idea. I know what I don’t like and what I do like, that’s all I know. Beyond that, I concern myself not in any way with what they – them being the general public – wants.
I also don’t perversely make things I know they won’t like. I’m not doing that either. I’m making music that I like and then they can decide whether they like it or not. It’s none of my business. I think that’s the mistake that people make. ‘Well, this is what they’ll want, I’m sure of it.’ Well, I’m not sure of anything.
You guys always seem to be trying something new, something “out there.” After your first double album, first soundtrack, and first film – what’s next?
We always have ideas for all kinds of things. I don’t know what we’ll do next. We’ll see. If I did have a really good idea, I probably wouldn’t tell you right at this moment, because I don’t want someone to beat me to it. Rest assured, we have some good ideas. Well, they’re good ideas as far as we’re concerned.
Right. Who knows what people want?
Yeah, I don’t know. I have no idea.
“A Walk with Love and Death” is available on Apple Music July 7.