A Talk with King Buzzo
Melvins are weird. As I stood at the front of the Black Cat in D.C. with my hands practically touching the stage, frontman Buzz Osborne, known as King Buzzo, walked on stage with his gray afro-like hair, wearing a cloak covered with eyes, and holding a clear guitar.
They are more than weird though; Melvins are iconic to any fan of hard rock for the hand they had in creating one of America’s most influential music movements: grunge. If you were anything like me in high school, you would sit in bed and listen to Kurt Cobain interviews for hours…. One band that I noticed kept recurring throughout these interviews was Melvins. Naturally, I had to listen to them. A heavy sludge metal band, Melvins have a unique sound that hasn’t faltered for 40 years. I had the opportunity to talk to Buzz this past month.
When he asked how I got into his music, I gave the blunt and maybe disappointing answer: “honestly, my high school grunge phase.” I know a lot about the bands that the Melvins inspired but I wanted to learn more about the band itself, so I started by asking their influences:
Carolina Permuy: I'm 19. What were you listening to when you were my age?
Buzz Osborne: 19? Lots of punk rock stuff…The Damned, the Sex Pistols, The Clash. By 19, the band had already started, it would be 40 years starting next year since we started in ‘83. I would've turned 19 in ‘83., so I've been playing in this band almost my whole life…. I should quit! But you know I liked all kinds of bands. By that time, bands like T.S.O.L. as well as Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin.
Carolina: Being in D.C. now, are there any D.C. punk bands that you liked?
Buzz: I liked all that stuff. Scream was my favorite. I liked the Void, The Faith, Rites of Spring. Those three I really liked.
Carolina: You formed in 1983, I was born 20 years later in 2003. How and why has your music stayed relevant for so long?
Credit: Carolina Permuy
Buzz: Don’t know, we worked hard. Never really knew what anybody would like. All we knew was what we liked and figured that if we made music that we would like as fans, it would please us as fans. And there might be other people out there that [would like our music]... not going to be millions, but it'll be fine.
I was hesitant to ask Buzz about grunge because I feel like many bands are invalidated for their current accomplishments by constantly being asked about their music from years ago. Especially for bands like Melvins, who have been making music since the 80s, they are respected and well listened to past the grunge wave. Though I’m a big Kurt Cobain fan, I don’t think it's appropriate to ask every one of his friends about him. However, since grunge shaped my current taste in music, I was curious to hear how Buzz felt about being such a major influence on other musicians and the evolution of hard rock.
Carolina: Next year Houdini turns 30 and recently a lot of other “grunge” albums have been celebrating anniversaries [I was wearing an Alice in Chains shirt and their biggest album turns 30 this year]. What did you think of the Seattle grunge scene in the 90s? Do you think it was overblown? Do you look fondly back to that time?
Buzz: By that time, I already lived in California for a long time. I was happy that people that I knew were doing well. But by and large, I didn't think it would get as big as it was. It didn't bother me. It's nice to know that something we helped create changed music on a global level. That was cool.
Carolina: What's your favorite song to perform and why?
Buzz: Well, in this set that we're doing tonight, and that we’ve been doing on this tour, my favorite song would probably be a new one called “Never Say You're Sorry.” I play a cool wah-wah pedal solo. I do three of them.
Carolina: Oh, that's cool.
Buzz: Yeah, that's fun. I like “Euthanasia” a lot and we’re doing that tonight. I like playing “With Teeth,” the last song we're gonna play. I also like playing “It's Shoved.” That's a good one, it's an old one.
My dad and I have a cover playlist on Spotify called “Play it Again, Sam.” We add original songs and their covers. The Melvins’ cover of “Goin’ Blind” by KISS is one of my favorites. I told Buzz about this and asked about collaborating with artists he’s a fan of:
Carolina: You've worked with a lot of musicians in the past, I know you worked with members of Butthole Surfers?
Buzz: Yes, the guitar player and bass player: Paul Leary and Jeff Pinkus.
Carolina: What is it like to perform and collaborate with musicians that you're fans of?
Buzz: It's a little weird, but I like doing it. I'm not afraid of that kind of a challenge. It's fun to produce records with those guys. The guy who’s playing bass now, Steven, has played with us since 2016 and we were fans of his band prior to him playing with us. So that was kind of cool. I like it a lot. I wouldn't have guessed that would have been the case when I started listening to those bands.
Carolina: I always think it's cool. When I read about bands collaborating, I think it must be cool to go from being fans of music to actually creating stuff with them.
Buzz: It’s great. You wanna let 'em do what they want because you already like what they do. I don't wanna change it.
Carolina: About touring, you guys have been touring for a while, right?
Buzz: Yeah, a long time.
Carolina: Did you think COVID was a huge threat to that?
Buzz: Well, when that was going on, I didn't know what was gonna happen. We didn't play these shows for two years. That’s the longest I've ever gone since I started playing guitar without playing a show.
Buzz: Oh, yeah. We used to perform around 80 to 120 shows a year… We're gonna perform about 108 this year. And that's just in the U.S., so if we added a European tour and maybe some other places, we would probably be closer to 150.
Carolina: And you don't get tired of touring?
Buzz: Some days are better than others. If you don't feel good or you might be under the weather or something, or if I have a hard time with equipment malfunctioning that can be a little disastrous. There's always problems one way or another. But it's a weird way to make a living, but I don't mind it… I'm not really a nine-to-five guy.
Carolina: Yeah, that makes sense. You guys have switched record labels a lot, right? Did that change your sound?
Buzz: Well, the first couple labels we were represented by, we never got paid for those records. We produced them very cheaply, so it was nice. We got on Boner Records in the 80s. We had a little bit of money to record, not too much, but a little bit. That was nice. And then we were represented by Atlantic Records for three albums. We had more money to spend, but we didn't spend a ton of money. We've been with Ipecac Recordings since 1998. As far as a label changing the way we sound, no. I would say no. I wouldn't be very receptive to that unless they had really good ideas, which so far hasn't happened.
Carolina: Your recent album [Bad Mood Rising]... was that a reference to the song “Bad Moon Rising?”
Buzz: I just thought it was funny. Yeah. Bad Mood Rising
Carolina: How was the process of making it? Was it different from other ones?
Buzz: We recorded it over a year ago during the pandemic. It took that long for it to get manufactured, so we've been listening to it for a long time. I can usually listen to 'em right until the time they come out then I move, I've moved on. We're already started working on a new album and we’re about a third of the way done with Dale playing drums and the guy from Ministry as well.
Carolina: That’s exciting
Buzz: Yep. It was fun to record that record. It's our 29th or 30th album I think…We've never stopped…We never took a break. A lot of these bands *pointing at my Alice in Chains shirt* that are backing out had 10 year breaks, while we never did that.
Carolina: My dad wanted me to ask you if rock is dead like everyone says it is?
Buzz: I don't know. I mean I'm not a fan of EDM stuff. I'm not really a fan of rap. But I don't really care what people listen to. I know that occasionally something that I like gets through and sells to millions, but not often. Once in a while, I agree with the general public about that kind of thing, but not too often. I'm not good at deciding what's gonna sell and what isn't…but as far as what's gonna happen in the future, I don't know. I’m not sure how some stuff that’s popular now got popular to begin with.
Carolina: Are there any bands you're into now?
Buzz: Yeah, I like this band called Helms Alee a great deal, and I like this band we just toured with called Taipei Houston. I think they're really good.
Lastly, I had to ask him what he wanted the Georgetown community to get out of this interview and his music:
Carolina: I'm writing this for my college arts magazine. Is there anything that I missed that you want to say to a bunch of 20-year-olds who really like music?
Buzz: The weirder the better. It can't be too weird, especially with art and music. It's like, the more peculiar it is, I think the better off you're gonna be. Nobody knows what's gonna work. Nobody has any idea. So there you go.
Carolina is a sophomore in the SFS currently having a crisis about her major.