Melvins Interview with Buzz Osborne: A Tale of Reluctance, or: Several Considerably Sized Undertakings Come to Fruition
Melvins guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne is notorious for not enjoying the interview process. In fact, a quick search produced an exchange from 2006 where he says, “Almost every interview I’ve ever done has been nothing but complete bullshit.” So there you go.
Of course, the counterpoint to that is simple: They are what you make them. But let’s assume — just for the sake of argument — that Osborne probably didn’t feel like talking about the Melvins‘ new album, The Bride Screamed Murder (Ipecac), about how the band has changed over the course of its three albums with bassist/vocalist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis (collectively also known as Big Business) in the lineup with himself and drummer Dale Crover, or even really about why or how they put together their new 13-CD box set. I guess that’ll happen.
Nonetheless, as Osborne, Crover, Willis and Warren made their way to Phoenix, Arizona, for the second date of their current tour, questions were asked and answered with a minimum of condescension and scolding, and I still made it to the ballgame that evening on time. In the end, everyone wins, one way or another.
I’ll say this about it: I still like the Melvins. The Bride Screamed Murder rules and I’m still looking forward to seeing them in New York this Friday — and if I have the cash, I’m still going to plunk down $200 for that box set, assuming there are any left. I’ve come out of interviews before and never been able to listen to the artist or band again, so take that for what it’s worth.
Please find enclosed after the jump a Q&A with Buzz Osborne of the Melvins, and enjoy the ensuing bullshit.
Where did the military call and response cadence on “The Water Glass” come from?
It came from the military. I just got the idea and thought it might be a good thing for a song. That was it. I think it came out really good. I’ve wanted to do that for a while now and it was a good thing. It was just one of those things where you’re just trying to think of interesting things to do, song-wise. I think it came out great, I love it. We played it last night for the first time live, it was really good. Really fun.
Did the crowd respond back? Or did they not know it yet because the album’s just out?
Some of them knew it. The ones that downloaded the album. But we didn’t get a massive response, by any means. It was fine. I don’t expect everybody to know it. It’s a weird thing. It’s not like it’s a normal thing for a band to be doing. And I’m all over that. What did you think of it?
That track goes in at least three different directions. It caught me off guard, but I liked it. Thought it was a cool thing to do.
I’m glad. That’s what I like to hear. Mission accomplished, then.
Different experiments like that on albums, do you have any favorites that you’ve done over the years?
We’ve covered a lot of ground with what we’re doing. I couldn’t narrow it down to one thing. A number of things. I don’t know, really. The Lysol record was a departure for us to some degree. I’m not really sure. I think that most of our stuff’s like that, one form or another.
Does the idea come before the song?
Oh yeah. That’s the hardest part, thinking up that stuff and making it work one way or another. That’s definitely the hardest part. We’re not too married to any one particular way of doing things, so pretty much anything goes.
How has the writing relationship changed with Jared and Cody over the last couple records?
It might be a little more familiar and more comfortable with what we’re doing, but I don’t know if it’s ever gonna change. We do things not exactly the same as we always did. I try to let those guys have as much breathing room as they can, essentially. Give them as much freedom as possible to express themselves musically, but I still write the lion’s share of the material and we flesh it out from there. Essentially.
You and Dale have worked with so many players over the years, does who you’re writing with affect what you write?
I imagine it affects how it ends up, but by and large, what we write probably isn’t a tremendous amount different than how it would have ended up.
Has playing live changed at all, with this lineup?
Oh yeah, I mean, these kids are both good players. I don’t have any trouble on those lines. Every musician brings their own dynamic to what you’re doing. Sometimes it’s better and sometimes it’s worse. What we’re doing hasn’t changed a tremendous amount, but it changed with whatever they added to it. But I’ve always played with people who are good musicians. Generally that’s not the problem. It’s never been the problem that I didn’t like playing with them. The problem’s always been their extracurricular activities have stood in the way of what we’re doing. Or their out-and-out insanity. One of the two.
What keeps you wanting to try new things musically? You could’ve probably put out seven records that sound like Houdini and been the biggest band in the world –
I wholeheartedly disagree with that. Number one, Houdini didn’t sell that records, and number two, we put out the same record time and time again, nobody would care about us. It would’ve been over a long time ago. And that’s exactly what people would sell. Houdini wasn’t a massive seller. Not if you compare it to Stone Temple Pilots or some bullshit like that. It wasn’t a commercial success, by any means. To use that as an example for what I would write music based on that would be commercially successful, I don’t know that anybody would use that (laughs). I honestly think that what we’re doing is better than that. That’s not one of my favorite records that we’ve done. But I’m a hard one to ask about that kind of stuff.
I was actually just using that as an example, not saying that’s something you should do.
Oh I know, I’m just telling you why I don’t think that would work.
Right, but what I was asking was what makes you want to try new things musically?
I guess the reason we want to do that is because I want to keep music interesting. That’s it. Mostly. I want to write music that I would like as a fan. And I would appreciate bands doing what we’re doing. As a music fan, I would like that. That’s it, really. That’s the main thing.
Is there a difference for you between just writing riffs and experimentation in the studio or sound manipulation? Is it something you hear in your head, or create spur of the moment?
Everything’s pretty planned. Even the stuff that doesn’t sound like it is. It’s all worried over quite a bit. I’d say 98 percent of it. We’re accidentalists to some degree, where if we stumble onto something we really like, then we’ll go, “Okay, let’s do that,” but that doesn’t happen that often. Most of it’s pretty meticulously planned out.
Do you just go by feel for when a track is done? I’m thinking of “P.G. x 3.”
Oh yeah. I knew I wanted to put guitar on it, I knew I wanted it to have a cappella vocals, and then we kind of just recorded it like that and listened to it, thought, “Ah, that’s all it needs.” Sometimes you have an idea what’s gonna work, then you do it and it doesn’t really sound like how you thought, and you change things around then. At some point with everything, you have to just walk away from it. Leave it be. Because you can overanalyze things and ruin it as well. Without question (laughs).
About the box set and the process that went into making those discs. The CDs look great. Was there a reason you guys did that now?
Well, it took a long time to get done, and we weren’t sure exactly when it was gonna be done. It’s a huge undertaking, work-wise, and it’s done now, basically coincidentally. We could have gotten it done before, we would have, but it’s a little bit too much of a time thing to really deal with, to put a really distinctive “It’ll be out this date” type thing. We’re lucky we got the ones we got finished on this trip finished in this amount of time. We’re really happy with it. Everyone loves it.
Was there a reason you did CDs instead of vinyl?
Yeah, sure. The reason is because if we’d have done that same thing with vinyl, you’d have to have $100,000 to make that work. That’s it. Despite what you might think, vinyl doesn’t sell. You can think it does, but it doesn’t. Sells less now than it ever has. There’ll be people arguing with you about that and arguing with you about that, but I tell them, “Okay, press a thousand pieces of vinyl, see exactly how you do.” We do some of it, and it’s hyper-limited. That’s it. Vinyl’s not gonna save the music industry. It’ll be a boutique-type of item that’ll sell to a certain amount of people. That’s it.
That’s the exact opposite of what you usually hear.
Who’s telling you that vinyl is selling like crazy and they can’t believe it? We’re selling a tenth of the vinyl we used to sell 15-20 years ago. Every band is.
Was there a reason Crybaby wasn’t included in the box?
We didn’t include the Fantomas/Melvins Big Band either. We might do special packaging for those at some point, but the vast expense on that whole thing is the manufacturing. That’s the hard part. CDs aren’t expensive. I asked the guys at Hydra Head. We showed them the box set. “In order to do the equivalent on vinyl, how much would that cost?” “We’d need $100,000 to make that work.” So that’s it. The vast expense there is not in the CD manufacturing, it’s the manufacturing of the actual covers. Music’s gonna be free. It’s over, as far as that’s concerned. People can buy vinyl, they can do that sort of thing, but by and large it’s gonna sell less and less as time goes on, not more and more. It’ll never get back to selling what it used to sell. Not ever. It’s gonna get more expensive as time goes on. That’s it. So the people that want to buy that stuff, they’re gonna download the music for free, and they’re gonna pay a huge premium on the thing to have in your hands. That’s it. Then you have to focus on what’s really cool, and I think there’s 300 people out there in the world that will appreciate a meticulously-put-together, hand-made piece of art, essentially. I mean, vinyl’s fine. People want vinyl, that’s fine with me, but it’s the worst recorded medium you can put music on. The worst one you can get, and I don’t understand what people’s fascination with it is. Certainly not sonically. But whatever. It’s whatever people want.
How much does it cost?
It’s costs $200. You get 13 CD box set, hand-made, $200. It’s a great deal, I think. But I collect all kinds of stuff. I understand that mindset. I collect art and toys and all kinds of things. The key to that kind of thing is not making 10,000 of them, making a small amount of them for the people who will appreciate that sort of thing. Then for the people who want to just download music for free, of course they can do that too. They can be happy with that. I personally am not happy with that. I like things (laughs).
What kind of toys do you collect?
All kinds. All kinds of toys. Hyper-limited edition vinyl toys. Old stuff. All kinds of strange things. As far as new stuff goes, I mostly collect the vinyl stuff, like KAWS Toys. Things along those lines. Anything along those lines. Less of the stuff that you’d buy at chain store-type toys. I have some of that stuff, but the stuff that interests me is more along the lines of what we’re doing with the box set (laughs). That’s the mentality. That’s the thing. And I mean, look, if we could financially make a box set of 13 albums with that kind of letterpress covers, I’m sure we’d have done it. Unfortunately, none of us have a hundred grand sitting around, you know? People say, “Why don’t you guys just make the covers for the box set available without the CDs at a lower price?” Okay, we’ll take the CDs off the box set, that’s about a buck-thirty. It’s about 10 cents each for the CDs. You’re not paying for the CDs. We know that. It’s the rest of it that costs a lot of money.
And still, 13 discs for $200 is pretty good.
I think it’s a great deal. Everybody that buys it’ll love it.
Have you gotten a response from people who’ve bought it yet?
Well, last night was the first night on tour. People who bought it were ecstatic. We sold quite a few. Not all of them. In the edition of 300, we have about 100 done. There’ll be about 25 available online, then the rest of them we’re selling other than our personal copies, so we’re talking about 50 copies, maybe, that we have with us. That’s it. Then they’ll be gone and we’ll move onto the next thing. That’s the future. That’s what has to change.
What’s next after this tour?
We have a few things going on over the summer, then we’re doing another tour in September in the Western US. Then we take it from there. That’s our plan. Keep things rolling along nicely.
Are there going to be more releases, maybe not of the same scale of the box set, but more limited things like that, collectors pressings?
Doing something like this, a 13-CD box set with letterpress covers, hand-made, folded and glued, is a huge undertaking (laughs). Just to do 100 means we had to hand-make 1,300 CDs for it. And that’s all folding and gluing and all that stuff. So if I can think of something along those lines that’s that kind of thing, we’ll do it. That makes sense. I have no problem with that. I like doing that kind of stuff. I love it. I’ve always done those kinds of things. I don’t have any problem with that. The problem is thinking of those ideas, whatever they might be. I have reason to believe it’ll be things like that in the future. I think that’s where music is heading. The selling of music is heading into that capacity. There’s just no money to be made selling CDs. You can’t do it. So if you want to make any money, you’re going to have to figure out a way to make this work. I think this is a good alternative. Can’t download this shit on the internet, that’s for sure. Not something like this. Thank god. Humanizing the whole thing. I’m fine with that.
Tags: Ipecac, Melvins, Seattle, Washington