Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Melvins Life: King Buzzo on Soundtracks, Sonic Relevance & Still Giving a Shit

Left to right: Dale Crover, Steven McDonald and Buzz Osborne/King Buzzo of The Melvins (Photo courtesy of Speakeasy PR)

If you’re new to The Melvins, imagine Captain Beefheart fronting Flipper doing a set of Sabbath covers. If that thought gets you going, read on.

Formed in 1983, The Melvins have built an incredibly prolific discography that boasts some of the most wildly inventive – and undeniably heavy – sounds committed to record. The band’s newest release (and the latest chapter in their long association with Faith No More/Dead Cross/ Fantômas frontman Mike Patton’s Ipecac Recordings), A Walk With Love And Death, finds the trio stepping into double-album territory for the very first time. A Walk… showcases two distinct sides to the band’s music: Death, a proper Melvins release, and Love, the score to the Jesse Nieminen-directed, Melvins-produced short also titled A Walk With Love And Death. (A release date for the short has not been announced yet, but the trailer can be seen below.) Guests on the album include Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago, That Dog’s Anna Waronker and Teri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes/Crystal Fairy, with the whole package co-produced by veteran Melvins associate Toshi Kosai.

A Walk With Love And Death is another achievement for a band that has never once stopped exploring the esoteric. Fronted by the incomparable Buzz Osborne (a.k.a. King Buzzo, also of Fantômas) and boasting the blistering beat of longtime drummer Dale Crover (whose career also includes a memorable stint with Nirvana, resulting most significantly in him playing on a handful of tracks on 1989’s Bleach), The Melvins’ fluctuating bass player spot has included such notables as Lori “Lorax” Black (daughter of screen legend Shirley Temple Black), Matt Lukin (later of Mudhoney), Jeff Pinkus (Butthole Surfers), Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle/ Fantômas) and Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic. (The Melvins’ history with Nirvana runs even deeper, as Crover and Osborne both played in Kurt Cobain’s mid-’80s band, Fecal Matter.) Steven McDonald, best known for his work with OFF! and California Pop/Punk legends Redd Kross, has held the bass position since last year. (Also of note is Crover’s recently released solo album on Joyful Noise Recordings, The Fickle Finger Of Fate, which is absolutely worth seeking out.)

To learn more about A Walk With Love And Death and The Melvins circa 2017, I hit Buzz up on his cell last Saturday shortly after his soundtrack for that evening's performance in St. Louis. 

I’m glad that our paths are crossing right now, because I really love this new release. Obviously, this is a different kind of Melvins album. How did this relationship with Jesse begin, and how does this particular film project work into the album itself?

We’ve known Jesse since the early ’90s. We met him when he was going to college in Athens, Georgia, and we’ve been friends with him ever since. He’s very involved in modular synth music, and he helped me build my own modular synth, which was great. We’ve know him more than two decades.

What was it about his movie that you thought would be good to meld The Melvins into?

Well, me and him are doing it together. He’s the main creative driving force, but I’m adding a lot. We’ll see; it’ll be very experimental. We like all kinds of weird stuff. It’s sort of like The Holy Mountain crossed with Twin Peaks.

Was the Death part of this collection already in the can before this thing came about?

No, we recorded all of it at the same time. We’d be working on some of one and some of the other. It was all done at the exact same time, so it really is a real thing. We could have just made it all into one album and just picked combinations of stuff off one and the other one. But we thought we had enough material to do two albums, so we might as well. I think it works really good because they’re so different. I figured if people can’t handle it, then the should grow a pair!

You have a lot of guests on this record – like Joey, Anna and Teri Gender Bender. What did they bring to the proceedings that wouldn’t have been there otherwise?

They contributed to things that already existed, so we really didn’t write music with them; they just came in. Joey was there for maybe an hour or an hour and a half. We just played him songs, and he just jammed over them. That’s it; it wasn’t like a massive collaboration. Anna came down one day and was also there for maybe an hour and a half and did some vocals on stuff. It was really, really, really simple.

What kind of input did Toshi have on this? Obviously, you’re a band that’s been doing it long enough to know your own sound. What does having that outside fourth perspective achieve when you’re in the studio working on a project like this?

We’ve worked with lots of different people. We’ve worked with Toshi for a long time – 15 or 16 years, probably. He’s great; I think he’s a highly underrated engineer. He’s very, very into trying new and different things. We have a studio space with him in LA that we’ve had for quite a few years now. He does some other bands there, but it’s not really a commercial studio. We do a lot of stuff there at our leisure. That’s how it works [now]; it’s a new industry. The days of going into a studio for four to six weeks are over. We never really did that anyway. It’s just dumb to do that, I think. Times have changed. I think our stuff sonically stands up to anything that’s out there. Anything. If people want to disagree with that, well, some people like peanut butter and some don’t. I know what I like. These records I have no problem with at all; I wouldn’t change a thing on any of them. If I don’t like something when I put a record out, I’ll just make a new record. It’s not tremendously difficult to do things of that nature; it’s also not vastly world-stoppingly important. It’s music; it’s what we do. It’s not like, ‘Oh my God. I’ve got to work on this record. I have to write music for two years!’ It would’t be any different. We work at an incredibly quick pace; I’m very excited about that. I feel very fortunate that that’s how it works, but I work with people who are really good. The guys who I play with are great players, and they make it a lot easier.

I talk with a lot of bands who have been playing since the 80s. A lot of them have been through the major label – and even indie label – conveyor belt. At this stage in their career, a lot of them are putting out music on their own and being their own record companies. In the case of The Melvins, this new record's out on Ipecac Recordings. What does Ipecac offer The Melvins at this stage of the game that you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise?

We trust [Mike Patton], and it works. I’m a creature of habit when it comes to that sort of thing. If you treat me right, I’ll be nice to you as well. Why change things if it’s working? The grass isn’t always greener. We do a lot of things on our own as well, but those are smaller releases that are less in a traditional form, which I’m very excited about as well. But who knows? If we can’t do it with Ipecac, then we’ll do something else. We’ll figure it out. I’m certainly not afraid of anything; I never have been.

You’ve had a lot of different bass players over the years. Is there a particular reason for why that spot has been ever-changing throughout the band’s career?

Most of the bass players have been in the band longer than most bands stick together. We had Mark [Duetrom] and we had Kevin [Rutmanis], and that was from ’93 until 2006. That’s a tremendously long time. It’s not a lot of bass players in that amount of time; it’s longer than most bands last. When we had to get rid of Kevin, we decided that we didn’t want to put all of our hopes and dreams in one thing because it’s too difficult to deal with. I don’t have any interest in having to worry about something that’s not going to work for whatever reason. In every single one of these cases, the reasons we’re not playing with them are totally personal reasons; it has nothing to do with musicianship. There’s no other way to deal with that; I don’t know how else you deal with that in those types of situations. There’s that, plus I want to remain working; in those kind of situations, it’s impossible to work under those conditions. So there you go; that’s the main thing.

It’s not a ‘revolving door.’ I like how all these guys play. When people say that kind of thing, it’s not being fair to bass players’ abilities. We’ve only ever played with people who were really good, other than the first bass player we had. Everybody else was an amazingly good player who could handle it. Not anybody can do it. That’s not fair to those guys to say that. If people think that, then they’re not listening to what’s going on.

Certainly, Steven had a tremendous history prior to coming on board with you guys. How does he best serve where you guys are now musically?

Well, we let him do what he wants. We don’t dictate a whole lot [of] what’s going on; we trust his abilities to do the right thing, and there’s no reason for me not to. We were already fans of what he did. We trust him; we let him do his thing, and we’re better off for doing that. When you hire a painter to paint a picture of your wife, are you going to stand over his shoulder and tell him what to do? No, you trust him, his vision and what he’s doing. I don’t know what people think or how other bands work, but that’s not how I work. That should be clearly obvious if people listen to all the people we’ve played with. They’ve all offered something completely different than the other guys.  

You and Dale have worked together for a long time in a business or industry that isn’t really known for making long-running friendships –

What business is?

Exactly. In terms of the two of you working together, what has enabled you guys to persevere after all these decades?

We trust each other. I write a lot of material, and he trusts my vision. That’s about it. He trusts what I’m doing, and we don’t argue about anything, really. It makes it easy; I can’t think of any reason not to do it. The only reason you would quit doing something like this is because A) People don’t give a shit anymore, or B) You don’t give a shit anymore. There’s really no other reason to quit, unless you have some personal issue, like you’re a heroin addict or who knows what. If you lose interest in it, then why would you do it? If no one cares, then why would you do it?

Obviously, we’re in touch because of the new record, but I know enough about you guys to know that there are other things always happening. What do the next six months look like for The Melvins?

We’re touring until the middle of November. Then, we have another album that’s almost finished; it just needs to be mixed. We recorded it at the beginning of this year. I’m not sure exactly when that will come out, but we’re not ones to wait too long for anything. We’ll see.

We’re looking at 30 years since your first album [Gluey Porch Treatments] came out, and it’s a huge accomplishment for any band to still be here three decades later. That first record still holds up today; I can listen to that and the new record back to back, and it still sounds current. How has making albums evolved for you over the years? Is there a formula that you continue to use – in terms of your outlook and what you want out of music – or do you think that’s changed in the last 30 years you’ve been doing this?

My attitude as far as what I’m doing, why I was doing it and what I thought about it hasn’t changed at all. From the beginning, I’ve had an idea of what I’ve wanted to. We didn’t have a lot of takers, but I was sure of it. I was sure it would work; thankfully, I wasn’t wrong about that. But we make records in a wide variety of ways, so there’s no one way we do anything. We’ve recorded over 400 songs. It’s not something you would just plug into [and say], ‘Here’s how we do this.’ That would be incredibly boring.

To close out with a standard Rock journalist question –

I’ll give you a standard Rock journalist answer!

Obviously, you guys have a wide-ranging discography; there are a lot of things going on there –

Thank you for noticing!

Absolutely! I would be hard-pressed to answer this question if someone asked me it about you, so I figured I’d go to the source. Where should someone begin if they want to get into The Melvins and understand what you represent musically and philosophically?

I would buy the new album; I would also buy Colossus Of Destiny. I would buy – off the top of my head – Bullhead, Stoner Witch and (A) Senile Animal. That would give you a good take on what we’re doing. There’s certainly not one album. But if they have those five album and listen to them intently and still don’t like us, then they just don’t like us. Nothing they can do.

Well, you’re still out there working, so plenty of people clearly do.

Yeah, but if they listen to those five albums and they have no interest, then I don’t know what to tell them. This is what we are; those five records are a pretty good representation of it.

* Portions of the above interview were edited for space and clarity. 


September 16  Tampa, FL  The Orpheum
September 17  Ft. Lauderdale, FL  The Culture Room
September 18  Orlando, FL The Social
September 20  Athens, GA  40 Watt Club
September 21  Atlanta, GA  The Masquerade (Hell Stage)
September 22  Nashville, TN  3rd & Lindsley
September 23  Memphis, TN  Hi-Tone
September 25  Madison, WI  High Noon Saloon
September 26  Rock Island, IL  Rock Island Brewing Co.
September 27  Des Moines, IA  Wooly’s
September 28  Omaha, NE  The Waiting Room
September 30  Ft. Collins, CO  Aggie Theatre
October 2  Albuquerque, NM  The Launchpad
October 3  Flagstaff, AZ  The Green Room

The Official Melvins Website 

The Melvins @ Ipecac Recordings


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