Alibi V.25 No.12 • March 24-30, 2016 

Music Interview

It is Good to be King

Melvins frontman embraces the void

The Melvins
The Melvins (L-R): Steven Shane McDonald, Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover
Mackle Osborne
An audience with the king requires some preparation. It helps to know, for instance, the scope of his reign, the boundaries of his realm. How the king came to power and his effect on those he lords it over can be helpful too. But if the monarch in question proclaims that he is king of nothing, that his influence is as diffuse as the vacuum of space—an empty, dark place this universe swirls around endlessly—then your discourse is not with any ordinary sort of big cheese leading any sort of great nation.

Rather it may be with King Buzzo himself. Founder of the Melvins, Buzz Osborne says that he is not the representation of any style or form or type of rocanrol music. He is the thing itself, wrapped in a wizard’s cloak, standing at the precipice, shouldering the world and looking into the void for the benefit of an audience that never ages.

Weekly Alibi caught up with the king as he prepared to engage another action-packed sojourn through the lands in his jurisdiction. After talking about American politics, the failure of neo-liberalism and the downward slanted path of revolutions past and present, Buzzo dived headlong into the maelstrom and I followed.

Alibi: Earlier you said you followed the George Carlin maxim, “I don’t believe anything the government tells me.” Do your political beliefs manifest themselves in your music?

King Buzzo: No, but they certainly have an effect on my life. Generally speaking, I think it’s good policy for people to look to higher sources than entertainers for their political beliefs.

What do you mean?

The Carlin quote is a good one, but you should take that and look beyond that. If I make a political statement in my music what does it ultimately mean? People think Dylan did a lot for political discourse in music, but I disagree. I think it was mostly personal.

Was Dylan really interested in fomenting or transmitting political beliefs for youth in the ‘60s?

No. If you look into it, his favorite politician was Barry Goldwater. Goldwater was actually a classic liberal. Liberalism as we know it today is actually fascism. There’s not too much the government doesn’t want to dictate. There’s no aspect that they don’t want to regulate or be in charge of and I have a problem with that.

How does that awareness work itself through your life and work?

Our music is free. I’m a Groucho Marxist; I don’t want to be part of any club that would have me as a member. I don’t want to be part of any scene and that includes politics. When you tell me I’m part of something, that’s when I don’t want to be part of it.

If you don’t want to be part of any of the affiliations rock critics and audiences have assigned to you, have no interest in acknowledging your vast influence and contributions to rocanrol, who are you, King Buzzo?

I think all of that stuff [about me] is absolutely true, but it’s not something I ever aspired to. I didn’t try to do all those things. I also didn’t try to be part of it. It’s not surprising to me that we didn’t gain the same kind of popularity as some other bands. We’re much more abrasive. We’re weird looking dudes. Our music is abrasive, like my opinions. But I generally zipper my lip, I don’t talk about this kind of stuff a lot.

It’s hard to say anything bad about anything, especially today. You get dubbed a knuckle-dragging troglodyte, even if you hate every fucking presidential candidate out there. But if I say something bad about the one the hipsters like, then I’m a troglodyte. They’re liberal until you fuck with their parking spot.

How do your audiences react to your abrasive viewpoint and beliefs?

I think they get it but they don’t really understand where it comes from. I’m a massive radical, but not in the way that they think. I like to leave it that way. I’m not part of anything. I don’t wanna be a fucking Republican, a fucking Democrat, part of the punk rock scene, the grunge scene. I am me. Audiences can hate me for what I am, not what they think I represent. If they wanna hate me for my music or how I look, so be it. But don’t group me. That just pisses me off. I came up with my own ideas and my own opinions.

So how do you authentically interact with a musical community you’ve grown apart from, that you’re at odds with now … how does what you’re doing now compare to your work in the early ‘90s, for instance?

In 1993 and 1994 we actually had an audience. If you go back to ’83 and ’84 no one was listening to us. Huge changes happened within that 10 year period; there was a dramatic shift in what people were interested in musically. In the mid ‘80s no one was interested in our long-hair shit.

But my attitude has basically remained the same. My ideas have changed and expanded but my initial vision has been constant. My idea for the Melvins was to spearhead something wholly original. I’m still doing that. I have good taste. I knew if I made music that I liked, there would be others out there with good taste that liked it too. It’s not millions, but it’s enough. That’s all I want.

I don’t have any faith in humanity or for the massive record-buying public to be into what I’m doing. I don’t have any jealousy towards people who have become successful within the music industry. My only problem with people like that is that they’re fucking boring. I don’t fault them for wealth or power, but because they’re radically boring.

Do those positions, musical and political, still resonate with audiences; how do young people react to the Melvins in 2016?

By and large, our audience stays the same age and we get older. As people get into their 30s and 40s, they start doing different things, generally. There are a few who still go to shows, but they don’t do it as much. Or they move on. We lose 20 percent of our audience every year, but we’re always gaining new ones. I’m fine with all of that.

I’m not concerned who our audience is. We don’t have a target audience. Some people will like what we do. If I put my heart and soul into it and look like I know something they don’t, they’ll come out to see us. If I’m good at what I do, that will sell, that will translate. I haven’t been wrong about that; that strategy has worked. We own our craft. All we had to do was not quit. People always ask me how I relate to younger people. I never related to younger people. I hated teenagers when I was a teenager.

So after all of that, what are the Melvins?

I’ve often described us as Captain Beefheart playing heavy metal. But we’re not a metal band. We’re just as much Miles Davis as we are Black Flag. We are part of nothing. Brother to none. We fit in with no one. There are no other bands, there is no plan B.

The Melvins: Houdini

The Savage Imperial Death March Tour

Featuring Napalm Death, Melvins and Melt-Banana
Sunshine Theater, Monday, March 28
8pm
$20 • 13+
View in Alibi calendar calendar