By Alan Brostoff
Buzz Osborne has fronted one of the most influential, underrated bands of all time. Since 1983, singer/guitarist Osborne and drummer Dale Crover have been the foundation of The Melvins, a trio of the American Northwest that have seen over a dozen musicians stand in as bassist in more than 30 of their albums. This February, not only did the band rerelease some of their most classic albums but a new full-length, Working With God, blessed the record store bins as well.
Osborne told Goldmine about his passion for supporting music collectors, his opinion on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (everyone’s got one) and the reason why you might not hear his band on any radio station in America.
GOLDMINE: Where did the name for the album Working With God, and its artwork, come from?
BUZZ OSBORNE: My wife does the art for our albums. She has been doing that for almost 30 years. As far as the album name, I knew I wanted it to be something with God and then I came up with Working With God. I thought that that was a good name. I started talking with my wife about the possible artwork and what should be on the cover. She pointed out to me that God means many things and does many things if you believe those kinds of things. Then she said, “How about tornados?” Well, that’s God also. So, we’re working with God tearing the sh*t out of the earth with tornados. God looks down on all the stuff, all the torture and misery and smiles. He’s into the famine, and he’s obviously into this plague. Wife beating, child molestation… God smiles. Probably as well as the bad, it’s all there, you know, you have to take it. You can’t have one without the other. We thought it was a good name for the record, and then we decided to start off the album with a song called “I F**k Around.”
GM: A phenomenal (re-imagining) cover of the classic Beach Boys song “I Get Around.”
BO: Yeah, thank you. That took a lot of work.
GM: It sounds good, but when you put something out like that, you can’t expect it’s going to get radio play.
BO: Correct. Uh, well, you know, we could put out anything we want, and it wouldn’t get radio play. When have we ever gotten radio play? Oh, you mean for this record? Nope, not gonna get us on the radio. I only have so much faith in radio. Radio programmers just love us, you know? I mean, for a band like us, radio doesn’t really exist. Even if college radio still exists, they don’t play us.
GM: Why do you think that has been the case for The Melvins?
BO: Have you ever listened to our band? I don’t personally think that we’ve been trying to not be on the radio, but, you know, we just don’t write songs that are that kind of thing. And I’m sure that we could probably have tried to do that but there’s a lot of cards stacked against us. We don’t look like, you know, fresh. We never looked like fresh-faced teen idol types or wounded junkies. Maybe we were too athletic for that to be the case. It just wasn’t gonna happen. You know, the cards were stacked against us from the beginning. As a band we accepted that, and I’m OK with that. I’ll soldier on without worrying about that sort of thing. And I think millions of people should buy our records. They just don’t. OK, it’s not because I’m not trying to make the best possible music I can. It’s just that those kinds of things don’t always add up, and I’m OK with that. I’m not perversely trying to not be on the radio; it’s that’s never been what we have ever been about. That’s not part of our makeup. I’m gonna intentionally make weird music. I don’t think it’s really weird, it’s the general public that are weird, not me.
GM: One thing that The Melvins have consistently been great about is offering collectible versions of most albums. You have several special versions of the new album on 140 gram vinyl, correct?
BO: That is correct, custard color and silver color. We also put one out prior to that; a very limited 10-inch 500 piece, but that is long gone.
[Note: The Goldmine store has a limited (500) orange color vinyl edition of the Working With God album, above] CLICK HERE TO BUY
GM: Why have you had this commitment to the collectors?
BO: I’ve always understood the collecting mentality because I collect stuff. Not just records. I collect all kinds of other things, and I understand that mentality. I understand that what we’re doing with the collector stuff mostly is we’re making it kind of like as an entry level into buying art. It’s like you’re not just buying music. Using the music is a vehicle to sell this other thing. We could do some cheaper versions of them, but generally they’re hand silk-screened, you know, with really intense artwork done for the covers and things like that, because there’s a few people out there who will like this sort of thing. It’s not gonna be millions, but it’ll be enough to make it worthwhile. We just keep doing these kinds of things. I think people kind of enjoy it. These tend to not be cheap, because it‘s not a cheap thing to create. If you do it the cheapest possible way, no one will care about it. Because to me, if you don’t care about how it looks, why should anyone else. It’s not just about the music. The music is already out there the second we put it up. It’s online for free. So if what you want is the music, well, that’s always there for you to hear. People take it upon themselves to just put it out. Whether we like it or not, that genie’s out of the bottle. And, as you know, coming from Goldmine, music sales are the worst they have ever been. So, if what they wanted to do is destroy the industry, they’re doing a really good job of it. We have to think twice about that kind of stuff and go, “Well, how can we make this work?” Because it’s the same. We have always said for years, 30-plus years, how many records do you think I will make that lose money? The answer is less than one or two. You know, I can’t afford to just put records out and say, “Here you go. This cost nothing. We’ll charge you nothing. And then we’re going to lose a bunch of clams on this.”
GM: Most of The Melvins' collection sells for big money on the secondary market. Discogs has prices for Gluey Porch Treatments reissues for $80 and originals selling for $195. Why do you think that is?
BO: We are issuing a few of the old albums as reissues. I know that people resell them for more, but not tremendous amounts. Tool just put out their lowest selling album of all time, the least amount of records sold they’ve ever had on any release. Pearl Jam — what do you think they sold on their new album? These bands were used to selling millions and millions of records. They don’t sell a million anymore. Nobody does. Most use streaming, which has some aggregate. I don’t know how they figure that out, but you have to have 1.8 gazillion before you’ll get a dollar. Nothing. So, we try to find new ways to get to the collectors. We like to take the middleman out of it. You know, the funny thing about that is we’ve put these things out all the time. Do you think a record store ever calls us to buy any of these? No. Never. Makes no sense. We would tell the record stores the same as we would tell anyone else: They could buy them from us for full price and put them in their stores with at least 30% markup and make money. Why don’t they do it? Doesn’t make sense. We never get calls from any record store ever to buy these records. That’s just absurd. And I’m not gonna go looking for them. The last thing I’m gonna do is kiss their ass. You know, I’m not going to beg to a store to take our records. That’s how it works, and I don’t have much interest in playing that game. If you don’t want what we have to offer, I’m not gonna force-feed it to you. I’m just going to continue doing what I’m doing and leave it at that. Like Record Store Day, you know? Well, we put out records. Do you guys have any interest? No. So we sell them out anyway, without RSD’s help. You can find our stuff out there; we tend to keep making new stuff and going forward. We still put out the releases in a regular format so people can buy them. But it’s just funny to me. If I ran a record store, I’d be looking for all kinds of crazy stuff. I would want stuff that no one can get anywhere else. But they don’t seem to think like that. That thought never crosses their mind. Used to be in the ’90s, there would be stores calling somebody like Amber (PR for the band) up all the time looking for new releases. Those days are over. It doesn’t happen. Now they want Record Store Day because they’re in so much trouble. Well, you guys have an industry that has 100% return rate on anything that you bought. What other industry runs like that? You know? Sorry, but I don’t feel sorry for you. You need to step it up and figure out a new way, the same as us.
GM: Talking about something new that you recently launched: the first Melvins TV special.
BO: Yes, on New Year’s Eve we had "Melvins TV Volume 1," and we had a new one on Valentine’s Day. People seemed to really love it, so we are going to keep doing it. It’s done more like a TV show than a live concert performance.
GM: I watched it and it was unique. You had a quote I want to ask you to tell me more about if you don’t mind: “The more hell you raised as a youth, the sweeter the memories.” Can you elaborate on that?
BO: Well, I think it kind of goes along the lines of, once you grow up, raising hell kind of doesn’t make any sense. You just look like an idiot, you know? If you do it when you’re a kid, you can kind of get away with it because you actually are pretty stupid at that point. The idea of going out now and doing that kind of sh*t, the kind I was doing when I was younger, doesn’t make any sense to me now. We did all kinds of things. Oftentimes I talk about it with our original drummer Mike, who’s on this new album, which is the funny thing about Working With God, it’s with the original Melvins drummer, Mike Dillard. Our drummer Dale, the current Melvins drummer, he’s playing bass on the record, so that’s as close as we can get to the original lineup. This album is a Melvins 1983 thing. Anyway, me and Dillard have known each other since high school. We still talk to each other at least once or twice a week, and we laugh about this stuff a lot. Things that we did, things back then in the little town that we lived in, that if we were to admit to now, people would still be mad. I would be hesitant to go into details about it. A lot of that stuff, because, uh, I would probably have to face some fuming redneck. We never got caught doing anything, the reason being that we never talked about it. We never told anybody, least of all our original bassist, Matt Lukin. He could never keep his mouth shut about anything. We never told him any of the stuff we were doing, ever. You know what happens between me and Mike stayed with me and Mike, that’s it. We did a lot of vandalism when we are younger, and I’m not sure about the statute of limitations on some of it. I would assume it’s passed. We were not a Mötley Crüe type of band with the women. I don’t have those kinds of stories.
GM: Talking about the past, I understand that back in 1983, when you started out, you took your name from a former supervisor you worked for.
BO: That’s true. His name was Melvin. We were looking for a name. Actually, we were looking for just a name. One that we always really liked was The Ramones. So, we wanted something that was similar to that. The idea being that with The Ramones, you didn’t know what you’re getting because of just their name. It could be a polka band. Who knows? We were not going to go with something like Satanic Hell Spawn or something like that. We always thought that it would be cool for there to be a band that sounds like Slayer, but looks like a ’60s band. That would be funny. That kind of stuff never happens, but that’s what we were looking for. The name like Melvins stuck out, and we thought it was silly enough to do it. From the get-go, that’s been our name. We know that it’s hard to be taken seriously, but then again, we did just do an album where the first song is “I F**k Around.”
GM: Did the person you named the band after know that it was named for him?
BO: We had the band for a long time before he ever knew. He does now. I think he is still alive. I’m not sure. I had a very dim view of him. I didn’t like him at all, so I didn’t get along with him at all. He was a jerk. So, I have no interest in him as a person.
GM: For those people who may not be familiar with all The Melvins' vast catalog, where would you suggest they start, besides the new album Working With God?
BO: As to where someone would jump into our catalog, I couldn’t really recommend one (album). We have a lot of multifaceted nightmares when it comes to the kind of stuff that we do. I would say, off the top of my head, Hostile Ambient Takeover (2002), Senile Animal (2006) and A Walk With Love & Death (2017). That’d be a good place to start. If you listen to those records, you kind of get an idea of what we’re about. All of them. Not any of those by themselves would be a good example, but all of them collectively would give you a really good idea about what we’re doing. And I would have a live one in there, Colossus of Destiny (2001), which we got the idea from the novel, The Road to Los Angeles.
GM: Do you think there is a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for The Melvins?
BO: No. I mean, they would have no interest in us. We didn’t sell millions of records. I don’t really know anything about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don’t have much interest in it. I’ve never been to it. I don’t like that kind of stuff. It doesn’t really interest me. I like certain elements of those kinds of things. I certainly like a lot of bands that are in it, but I think if I had to look at it and I had to have an opinion on it, I would go with what the Sex Pistols said in their letter to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That letter probably epitomizes what I think, too. I don’t like those kinds of institutions. I guess I’m too much of a Groucho Marxist in that I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member. Plus, I don’t really care about the rock and roll old guard. You guys think you know what should be in the Hall of Fame? What are you talking about? And how long did it take them to put Deep Purple in there? I’m more of a “What have you done for me lately?” kind of guy, you know.
GM: Well, no one can ever ask that about The Melvins as you have something coming out almost every year.
BO: Oh, yeah. Every year we have something. We have releases every single year and have for decades, multiple releases in 2020 alone. I think we’ve put out seven limited-edition EPs, and I did a solo album, an acoustic solo album with Trevor Dunn that came out in August as well, and we have the Melvins TV thing. We had the new album out in February and a big giant project that I can’t tell you about yet that’s coming out in the beginning of summer. Huge project, like nothing we’ve ever done.
We all worked really hard on the new record, and we’re really proud of it. You know, it’s really fun to do something with the original group. Mike Dillard has a completely different path; he’s a union machinist with a family, kids and a wife and lives in the same town that we grew up in. And it was just special to be able to just go back and go, “OK, let’s do something with that guy.” This is actually our second album we’ve done with him, so it’s really nice to be able to do that. Dale loves to play bass, so it’s nice to have him be able to do that. It’s been good. It’s been a really great thing to do. I’m glad that our band is capable of making those kinds of steps.
GM: You said you like to collect things. Any records that you have been looking for that we might be able to help you find?
BO: I want the original Live at Leeds record with all of the candy that came with it. OK, that’s what I want. The original Live at Leeds with every single insert that was in it. If I had to pick a band, The Who are my most favorite band and that record is so very cool with all of the stuff that came with it. I would also love an original cutout cover of Odds & Sods. I would also take a copy of the first Gun Club album, Fire of Love. But that Live at Leeds has always been my favorite, even as a kid, because I could never get a copy with all the inserts. I would also take a copy of Alice Cooper’s School’s Out with the panties that came with it… and I would take an original Velvet Underground with the banana unpeeled. I would love to have all this stuff, and I would hang it up on my wall.
GM: Final question: What are you listening to right now?
BO: This morning I was listening to Blue Valentine by Tom Waits, then I listened to a Bad Brains cassette. Most recently, I was listening to the Talking Heads, Remain in Light. That’s it for today. Talking Heads’ Remain in Light is an unbelievably great record. I think it’s leagues ahead of everything else they did. Brian Eno produced that, I believe, and I’ve always loved that the record has Adrian Belew playing guitar solos on it. I think that he added so much to the record, and the stuff that he did with Bowie on those records, he’s just an unbelievable player. And I think he’s just been kind of forgotten. If there’s one guy in the world that I would love to have on a Melvins record, it would be Adrian Belew playing guitar solos. There it is. Hopefully, Adrian will read this and reach out. I’m not good at networking. I’m not gonna hold my breath, but, um, that’s what I would love. It’s never gonna happen. So, I just have to be happy with the good crew of guys we record with. We love each other. There’s nothing we wouldn’t do for each other. It’s a really good team.