Buzz Osborne has a lot to say.
During my hour-long, wide-roving conversation with the Melvins' singer and guitarist, King Buzzo (as he's known to his extremely loyal fans) mused on life, love and T Bone Burnett. And I've got to say: I learned a lot. Some of what I can't fit in this Q&A includes sound financial advice ("If you don't have enough money to survive for the next year without working, then you don't have enough money in the bank") his death plans ("Just incinerate my corpse and dump me in a garbage can"), a brief exploration of personal theology ("I personally don't believe my flesh and blood and bone is me") and an explanation of his negative feelings towards cassette releases ("Cassettes are expensive and don't sound good – why would you do it?"). I was seriously reconsidering my financial and funeral planning skills after I hung up the phone.
Of course, all this wisdom was in between our discussion about Osborne's current project, a solo acoustic tour during which he's releasing a six-song tour 10'' while planning an upcoming acoustic full-length called This Machine Kills Artists on Ipecac Recordings.
Osborne and associates constantly inject their sludgy metal albums with boundary-pushing sonic experiments. They've played for more than 30 years as a group and released more than 20 albums, and Melvins (and really anything Osborne releases) are just as exciting as ever. This acoustic experiment — like their covers album; Guinness World Record-chasing 51-day tour through 50 states and DC; and sorta-side project Melvins Lite — is another excellent entry into the group's bizarro, outre catalogue.
It's just a bonus that King Buzzo is just a goddamn delight on the phone.
[Osborne picks up phone; I've been chatting with his wife for a few moments.]
Buzz Osborne: You were talking with my wonderful wife.
NUVO: She does seem wonderful. You've been married twenty-something years, right?
Osborne: In May it will be 21 years, married for 20. We got married nine months after we met, and have been married ever since. The first marriage for either one of us, and I hope it's our last. It doesn't happen, especially in rock and roll, or any profession, really. No one has any interest in commitment. You tell me why; I can't figure it out.
NUVO: I don't know! My parents have been together since they were in 8th grade.
Osborne: That's nice. Our original drummer is like that, too. He's married to the woman he was going out with in 9th grade. Two kids, union machinist. That's kind of why it didn't work out. His destiny didn't lie in rock and roll, you know? Unfortunately. Oh, well. Me and him are still best friends. That's the other thing – the guys that I was friends with in high school, I'm still friends with. ... You know, honestly, I don't know a whole lot about Indianapolis. ... What sort of things do you do there for fun?
NUVO: Well, I mostly see music all the time.
Osborne: And there's a lot of music in Indianapolis?
NUVO: There's a ton of music in Indianapolis. There's a ton of psychedelic rock right now; we have really great hip-hop. It's definitely growing exponentially, so there's lots of free shows, little labels popping up, awesome beer. Most people do the race track thing, but I do music.
Osborne: [The 500] is only once a year, right? Do they have snowmobiles on there at this point? Indianapolis Snow Mobile-athon?
NUVO: It's super flat, so I don't think that it would be very fun to snow mobile on. There's lot of biking here; we do all the weird amateur sports. We're getting cricket now. But I'm mostly at the bar, seeing music.
[Next, we embark on a long diversion into an explanation of my background, where Osborne is essentially interviewing me. We cut that out for obvious reasons.]
Osborne: We played in Bloomington once, a long time ago. I don't remember the name of the venue. It was in '90. 1990.
NUVO: How can you possibly remember [show dates and places] like that?
Osborne: Well, I have a good memory for stupid shit like that. I have a genius level of intelligence in my brain, none of which I can use on a daily basis. Not a single thing. I remember distinctly; it was a relatively unattended show. We had a good time, though, and there was this relatively cute girl who offered for us to stay at her house. So we said, "Sure, we'll go there." And her house – it was in late spring when we were there – had no heat, no running water and it was filled with dogs, so the whole thing smelled like a zoo. And we had no money to go to a hotel, so we were stuck there.
NUVO: Sounds like Bloomington. Honestly, I feel like I could still find that woman living there if I wanted to.
Osborne: Probably. Probably still lives in the same place. But after that we started going, "Great. We can stay at your house. Do you have electricity? Do you have running water?" But she was nice. We were happy to take [the space]. I don't miss that kind of thing. I'm glad I did it, but I'm beyond it. At this age, give me a hotel within walking distance of a convenience store where I can buy water any time of the day or night and I'm happy. And a fast Internet connection. I don't need much for happiness. I just did my first acoustic show ever a couple nights ago in LA, and it was great. It went really well.
NUVO: Why go out acoustic now?
Osborne: I forget who said this, if it was Tom Waits or Bob Dylan: "If you don't change, you die." So, I think it was a good thing to do. We have a Melvins album that will come out this year, as well, so it's not like I'm getting too far away from that, but I think it was high time. Honestly I wish I would have done it a long time ago. So I just finished my album yesterday, and I got a 10'' that I'll have for sale on the tour. We made 500 of them, and four songs from that 10'' will be on that album. It's a six-song record, but I recorded two Melvins songs as well.
NUVO: How did you pick the two Melvins songs to re-record acoustic?
Osborne: They worked well acoustic, for some reason. I don't know, other than that there's no real criteria for it. Live, I'm playing a few other Melvins songs as well, so it's not unheard of, considering I wrote all the music. ... The 10'' is a really amazing package, with hand silk-screened cover, limited edition with crazy vinyl. All the things that collectors like. And I like that stuff, too. We gave a song away recently, the first song we gave away free. No one can really bitch! They're getting free stuff. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, you know?
NUVO: Shockingly, people find a way.
Osborne: Or, as Archie Bunker said, "You can lead a gift horse to water, but don't look in its mouth."
NUVO: What was the timeline of recording these songs? Did you record the first four songs on the 10'' first and get them down, or did you do all 17 and then pull four from that?
Osborne: I did those four songs in the early part of the year; I started recording them before. I actually just did it as an experiment, seeing how it would go. And then, it went well. So I [decided] to do a 10'' EP, then said, "I'm going to do a full-length album." I have a vast amount of material sitting, and I always write new stuff as well. So I finished that all up in January and February and mastered it yesterday.
NUVO: I'm a little bit in the True Detective conspiracy rabbit hole, which featured the Melvins track "A History of Bad Men," two episodes ago. Do you watch the show?
Osborne: No, I don't watch TV.
[cue many minutes of explaining HBO's True Detective, which claims T Bone Burnett as music supervisor.]
Osborne: We got approached to license that song some time last year. And, you know, it was a relatively decent amount of money. It's not going to make anyone millionaires, or even thousandaires. But it sounded cool, and we honestly don't get a lot of offers like that, not really ever. And I'm more than happy to put my music wherever possible. The only thing I'm not super interested in is [this scenario], "I've got an art film I want to put your music in; I don't have any money, though." It's like, I can do stuff for no money every day of the week. I can set up gigs for nothing. Those are the easiest ones to set up! I rarely, unless I know the person, I just can't be bothered. You can't just put your stuff out there for nothing. It makes you look like you're worth nothing. And so, we did it. ... Here's the weird thing. A long time ago, when we put out the Eggnog record, T Bone Burnett called me – it was in the early '90s – and told me how much he liked that record. Isn't that weird? He somehow got ahold of my number and called me to tell me how much he thought that record was amazing. The Eggnog record, of all records! He also told me that he thought indie labels were a ripoff, and we were getting ready and talking about signing to Atlantic [Records] and he didn't think that was a bad idea. And I didn't know him at all – I'd seen his band play before that, opening for the Rolling Stones, believe it or not.
And I never talked to him again. I know he's been involved in a lot of projects, and every time I saw his name, like with that O' Brother [Where Art Thou] and stuff like that, I would think, "Hey, I talked to that guy, once." And now, 25 years later, we're doing this thing. And I think it's good! I always thought our music was tailor-made for soundtrack stuff, but it just never really happens, never. They say, "We want to use your stuff for this movie," but when it comes time to do it, they say, "Well, we decided to use a Rage Against The Machine song, instead." And I'm like, "Okay, well it was your idea. I didn't ask you." I've been told so many times, "Oh, yeah, we're really interested in doing this. We're wondering if you can do it for nothing?" No. I can stay at home and make nothing. I don't even have to get on the Internet for that. It's just rare that it comes full circle. People always say to us, "Why don't you do soundtrack stuff?" Why don't we DO it? Well, first of all, I don't want to make soundtracks for anybody. That sounds horrific. I'm not built for that. I can't listen to some director tell me what he wants or doesn't want. My ego is not built for that. I would be going, "Here's what I think of how you're directing the movie." I'm not interested in that; we have a vast catalogue of stuff people can pick from, and they have no interest. So this is a new thing, and I've heard a lot of good feedback from it. Thank you, T Bone.