Let it be known that the amazingly singular personality that is Roger “Buzz” Osborne, also known as “King Buzzo,” simply will not slow down. In 1983, he founded the grunge/sludge powerhouse band the Melvins, and remains to this day its iconic, often-controversial, and always-outspoken frontman, guitarist, singer, and songwriter. During this time, he has also dabbled in punk with the bands Venomous Concept and Fecal Matter, and is the guitarist for Mike Patton’s avant-garde experimental/noise project, Fantomas.
This past June, he released his first solo acoustic album, This Machine Kills Artists, after testing the waters earlier this year with a limited edition 10” record that contained some of the songs. Buzz has also been in the studio this year with The Melvins, with plans to release an album later this year. Buzz is currently on the U.S. leg of his This Machine Kills Artists tour. He managed to squeeze me in for a conversation just before he left.
So, why acoustic? Why now, at this point in your career?
Buzz Osborne: Well, I’ve always had the idea to do acoustic stuff, I just never did it. I’ve always played acoustic guitar, you know? I’ve written lots and lots of songs on acoustic guitar that I transferred to electric. It just seemed like the time is right. I realized pretty quickly that it was something that I really liked doing, but I’ve never done it live. Now, I’ve played about 20 or so shows live. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go; I wasn’t sure what people were going to think. I really wanted to think of a way to do it so I wasn’t standing up there like some shitty version of James Taylor. I wanted it to have the same kind of power and necessity as what we’re doing— weirdness, craziness, you know—and have it come out in the power of just me playing acoustic guitar and singing. That’s a tall order!
When you guys did the Melvins solo albums as an homage to the KISS solo albums, did that play any part in making you want to do another solo project further down the road? Was that ever in the back of your mind?
Well, you know, since I write the majority of the music on the Melvins albums, they’re all sort of like solo albums! It’s not like I felt I needed to finally spread my wings and get my songs recorded because they’re almost all my songs anyway. I’ve always felt like I’ve had an amazing vehicle for my music, and the guys I’ve played with were exceptionally cool, and I’ve never had a problem with that. So, it’s not so much like I feel like I’m filling a void as it is I’m just doing something new. And you know, really, I’m a workaholic, and this will just be another extension of my own thing. Hopefully, more will be on the horizon. I’m doing a huge U.S. tour—well, huge for acoustic. I’m doing almost 40 shows, then I’m going to Australia, and then I’m going to Europe. All with just me on acoustic, no drums up there to hide behind. I’m very excited about it.
music is the most important thing about this whole deal. It matters very little what package it’s in
I put out this 10” kind of as a teaser, and it had 6 songs on it, 2 of which are acoustic versions of Melvins songs that aren’t on this record. The 4 other songs are on the record. But there’s a limited edition of 500, and it was only on vinyl and it wasn’t sold in stores, and it wasn’t sold digitally. So, it’s really not “released.” It was released to
500 people in the whole world. That’s it. So, it’s kind of the way bands used to put out a single before the record came out, you know? I did it just to see how it would work, and I got a really good response from it. So then, the full-length album seemed like a good idea, so I recorded a full-length album with the same kind of thing in mind. I really tried my best to make sure that if you like the Melvins, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t like this. It’s not me doing something dramatically different, or out there playing protest songs or some shitty version of Woody Guthrie, or anything else. It’s not my Nashville Skyline record, you know?
Since you brought him up, was the title This Machine Kills Artists a nod to Woody Guthrie’s “This machine kills fascists” slogan he used to put on his guitars?
Of course! This Machine Kills Artists is a take on that, but I prefer to leave it wide-open for interpretation on whatever people might think, and not be direct and tell them exactly what I was thinking. But yes, it is absolutely. I figured everyone would know that. I think it was kind of funny. There’s a lot of humor in what I do…
Then how do your own political views of classical liberalism mirror Guthrie’s stance against fascism? Did that play into your choice for titling the album?
Honestly, I have no idea what he thought about that. I read Bound for Glory and he seems semi-socialist to some degree, but I honestly have no idea what his politics were. And as far as whether my ideas about politics would gel with his, classical liberalism certainly goes against any type of fascism, but it also depends on what your definition of the word “fascism” is. And I tend to believe that as an artist, I rarely speak out about political issues because I think people should look to higher sources than entertainers for their political beliefs. He’s included in that. He’s an entertainer and guitar player; that’s his area of expertise. I’m a musician, a songwriter who puts out records. I’m an expert at that. Now when it comes to politics, for me to speak out about that I feel like I would be going waaay out of bounds. That’d be like me talking about welding. I would like to think that you would look beyond Bono for your political beliefs, or Eddie Vedder, or whoever else mouths off about politics, whoever they may be in the entertainment industry. Generally speaking, we’re talking about people who wouldn’t work two months for two million dollars. I have nothing in common with those people. Nothing! Same with actors or any of these people. They’re not working class. They’re far, far above all of us monetarily, and their opinions matter very little in that department. There’s nothing we can learn from them as human beings. Nothing. Not on the scale that you and me are on, as normal people who work and are middle class or lower-middle class or whatever it may be. There’s not a whole lot of life lessons we can learn from multi-millionaires who have assistants on every level of every idea of what they’re doing. Woody Guthrie certainly didn’t. But nonetheless, he’d be more along the lines of the way we are, but his area of expertise is in his musicianship, not in his politics. So, take it with a grain of salt.
You put out “Dark Brown Teeth” first when you put out the 10”. So, how did you choose that track as the first one you wanted to put out there to the public?
That one really gets to me. I still think it’s one of the best songs on the record. I do, and I really, really loved the chord progression on it and the way I played it, and I love the lyrics and the thinly- veiled references to whatever’s in there. I just thought if people could like that one and thought it was cool, they might be open-minded to the rest of it. Which isn’t dramatically different, but I covered a lot of ground over 17 songs on that record with an acoustic guitar and nothing else, you know? I mean, it was hard. It was a challenge. You really gotta pull it out of the bag on that one. And I realized pretty quickly what was going to work for me at least on this record as my first acoustic record (and hopefully not my last), was that short songs worked better. I think there are only one or two maybe that are four minutes. The rest of them are short and I just thought a little acoustic guitar goes a long way. It was better for me to write these in little bunches than have some nine-minute song. Live, though, I play Melvins songs as well as songs off that record. I do some songs that are pretty long. Almost all of that works. Maybe that’ll happen on my next acoustic record, but who knows? I was just happy to get this one done! For me it was a major milestone. It was a big deal to finish this record and have it all be good, and be proud of every single song on it and think that it works from top to bottom. I worked really hard on it. I labored over it to make it something really cool. I mean, even the recording process—the guy I worked with, Toshi Kasai, he’s recorded our records for a long time at his studio, called Sound of Sirens Studio in L.A. Every single song is recorded differently. We would set up different mic-ing techniques and try all kinds of weird ways of recording it, and double the guitar with maybe my Buck Owens American or with his Gibson, and use a ton of different kinds of microphones and just a ton of different ways of mic-ing, trying to figure out the best way to mic an acoustic guitar and the best way to get a good recording from an acoustic guitar. It was just me and him in a studio, and it was great! It came out really great, but man, we trudged trying to figure out how to make that work with nothing else, and how to fill it up, fill up all that sound, all that space, with something that sounds really cool.
How long were you in the studio working on this album?
Well, since it’s his studio, I would go down there whenever he had time to work on it. I’m an early riser, so I’d go over there early in the morning as long as he wasn’t busy doing anything else. Or I would sit at home and write the songs, and I’d go, “Okay, I’ve got a couple I can record,” after I waded through all the hard work at home, and then go over there and try to hammer it out. I don’t know. I guess I really couldn’t say. A lot of days. Total, less than three weeks total.
I had read that you used the Buck Owens American acoustic on the recording, and you mentioned that you used a Gibson, too. Were there any other guitars you used on this album?
I might’ve used a Dobro that Toshi had, a really cheap Dobro for a couple of things here and there. We did so much screwing around, it’s impossible to say. I know on the beginning of “Hesitation Twist,” there’s an out-of- tune 12-string he had that had about four strings broken on it, and I just hit the first chord. But there was a lot of stuff. But that’s how we make all of our records. I view recording and playing live as totally different. I don’t think they’re the same at all, in any way. I don’t think people are stupid enough to think they’re at a concert when they’re listening to a CD or record. It’s a different experience. Most people listen to music in the car. You’re certainly not going to have the same experience in the car as you would going to see concerts, so I just approach them differently. I don’t expect them to be the same. So in the studio, I try to take off every single prejudice I have against any type of recording technique and try to just find the way to honor whatever the song is in the best way possible.
Did any of the other songs really stand out? Maybe it was something like the songwriting process or something that inspired you to write the song, anything like that.
Nothing in particular stands out as specific because the way that I write songs is I just play guitar and play and play and play until I find something that works. And so it’d be impossible to say that there’s any one thing like that. I mean, I’ll play guitar and all of a sudden I’ll play something that strikes me as interesting, and then I’ll quickly record that in one fashion or another so I’ll have that riff saved, because I have a tendency to not be able to remember stuff… If I don’t write it down or record it, I can’t remember it. They’re gone forever. I make sure that that’s the case, even if it means just recording it into an iPhone, you know? I don’t want to lose it. So I don’t. I make sure I don’t. I mean, if I don’t have any way of recording something when I’m playing guitar, I won’t play anything new. I’ll just sit there and play songs I know. Because I don’t want to fall on something I can’t record, and I can’t write music, so I won’t even do it. There’s lots of songs you can play that you remember without having to record it.
That’s really great advice to pass on to other musicians: if you get an idea, hurry up and record it! Make sure you put it down somewhere so you make sure you can do something with it.
I think it’s a good idea. If you’re a songwriter, that’s what you should be doing any time you touch a guitar. You should constantly be thinking about that. I do, anyway. As a result of that, I’ve done it for decades, and I have a massive wealth of material to draw from. But, I end up still writing new stuff. It just never ends. I don’t want it to end. I mean, I’m a songwriter. That’s what I do. That’s it. That’s my deal.
Did your wife, Mackie Osborne, design the artwork for this album?
Tom Hazelmyer did the artwork on the 10”, and my wife did the rest of it. I work almost exclusively with those two. They’re both really good designers and I love what they do. With my wife, I basically give her the freedom to do whatever she wants, usually. I might have some idea, but I’m not a designer. I have ideas for things, and then I give it to her. Since that’s her area of expertise, I choose to let her show me how it should look. I mean, I’m not going to go to the bank and start telling the banker about mortgages. Let these people do their job. And the funny thing is, now that everyone has computers, everyone thinks they’re graphic designers as well, which they’re not. There’s an art to it. There’s a lot of bad stuff out there. Just like how people think, “I have a home recording set-up, I can make things that sound really amazing.” Well, maybe. Just because you have the technology, doesn’t mean you have the ability, or the vision. You can’t throw money or technology and make someone creative. You can’t do it. It’s not possible. It has to be there. I mean, Tom and my wife, even if they have Exacto knives and a piece of paper, they can still come up with a cool design. That’s all good. I love that. And I like to let the professionals do their work.
You’ve mentioned it a few times and it sounds like you’ve already got it in the back of your mind to do another acoustic album in the future. Do you think you’ll ever do another non-acoustic solo album? Maybe collaborating with guests?
Aw, no. Well, maybe. I wouldn’t rule it out but I wouldn’t say it’s going to happen, either! [laughing] Anybody’s guess. I mean, right now, I’ve got this album that’s done; I’ve got a new Melvins album that’s almost done. So, that’s about as far as I can look forward. I’ve got some plans for a wide variety of weird shit, but as far as full-length solo albums go, this one just came out! Maybe I would, I’m not sure. It might be fun. It’s a lot of work. But, I’m up for the challenge! I’m all about “One is good, two is better.” I mean, it’s just music! It’s not massively important. It’s entertainment. It’s fun, you know??? You want to go out and see someone play that gives you a charge that you can’t get anywhere else. That’s what I want. So, if you don’t like your record, go out and make a new one! Work harder on the next one! That’s what I think. There’s no such thing as “too much music.” “This band has put out too much music!” Well, then you have a better opportunity of finding something that you like! I just don’t understand any of that. I’m much more open-minded when it comes to those sorts of things. I want to be blown away by music, and I want to buy a great record by a band every single day if I can. I mean, if I can find a record by a band where I like even one song on the record, I’ll buy it. I’m a huge music fan. I’m not just a curmudgeon. My whole work ethic comes from my love of music. I think it’s the highest art form. More important than anything else as far as art goes. You’re not going to get the same charge looking at a Francis Bacon painting as you will listening to The Stooges. Even though Francis Bacon is amazing, it’s still one- dimensional. Music is much more important. Everybody knows that. If they don’t, then they should think about it more. But I also get inspiration from a wide variety of artists, people like H.C. Westerman or Francis Bacon, who worked really hard at what they do. Or writers, or all those things. Or movies! I’m a huge movie fan. And music makes movies so much better, generally. I mean, imagine Jaws without the theme. Wouldn’t work! Music is as old as we are, the feeling of music. I met this guy who’s an IndyCar driver. I asked him what it was like to drive. He was driving cars like that in the ‘60s. He said they were going 170, 180 miles per hour. I was like, “Well, what’s that like?” And he said, “Well, it’s the same feeling I get when I listen to music.” That’s amazing. I was really excited about that.
I’m not strong enoughto handle constructive criticism. I don’t want tohear it. Never. Not from people I don’t know.
I’m not strong enoughto handle constructive criticism. I don’t want tohear it. Never. Not from people I don’t know.
Huge, huge influence! I mean, we also did the opening scene from The Shining on Nude with Boots. That’s an old Gregorian chant, I believe. But we were more inspired by the way it was done on The Shining soundtrack, though. My favorite director of all time is John Huston. He directed The Treasure of Sierra Madre, which I think is the best movie ever made. I can watch that over and over. A close second is Lawrence of Arabia. Then, after that, I don’t even know where to begin. There are so many. But, I love movies like The Holy Mountain, anything David Lynch does, pretty much. Movies when I was a kid that really influenced me were Taxi Driver and The Exorcist. And then any of the weird movies from the ‘60s, whatever they may be. I love to read books about directors like Fassbinder, how they worked, or Herzog or John Huston. I’ve read his autobiography, and his biographies are really amazing. John Huston always said the best advice for directors is never start making a movie until you know what the ending is going to be. That’s good advice. How are we gonna wrap this thing up? I never want it to feel like it’s just a bunch of songs; I want it to have an ebb and a flow and make sense. Even if it only makes sense to me.
OK, you guys have had albums and various releases on lots of different labels. I know mostly you’ve been on Ipecac.
Yeah, for the longest time.
Do you want to talk about that? Have some of these just fallen to the wayside? Do you still collaborate with some of these labels from time to time? I know you still do stuff with Amphetamine Reptile.
Yeah, me and Tom [Hazelmyer, AmRep’s founder] are really good friends, and we’ll work together until either one of us is dead, or we just have nothing else to say. That’s a really good relationship. We’re really doing stuff with him in a way that’s never been done before. And a lot of the stuff we’re doing is just massively hands-on and important, as far as that’s concerned. In a digital era, everything can be downloaded and looked at for free. Which is the most important thing. By and large, the music is the most important thing about this whole deal. It matters very little what package it’s in. But for the few people out there that want something amazing, we’ll provide it for them. But it’s not going to be millions of people. It’s a very select group of people. That’s not by design. I don’t want that to be the case. But music doesn’t sell the way it used to, so you have to be really careful with that. I’m not in the position, and neither is Tom, that I can just go out and lay down a bunch of clams and lose money. This stuff is very expensive and it’s very labor-intensive. And our target for that stuff is the people who appreciate that, not everybody. Everybody can basically get the songs for nothing. I’ve already given away four songs on this record for free! So people can’t really complain. “Oh, I had to pay too much for this record.” Well, yeah, but I gave you this much for nothing! I don’t want to hear it. I never want to hear it. Complaints, to me… I just don’t have the capacity or the ability to be able to handle that. I’m not strong enough to handle constructive criticism. I don’t want to hear it. Never. Not from people I don’t know. It doesn’t help. I can’t imagine in my own life going up to someone I barely know and telling them what I don’t like about what they do. That’s just rude. It doesn’t compute with me. I would never do that. I’m much too polite for that. So when people do that to me, I have zero tolerance for it. I’m not going to listen to that. And they’re wrong anyway. I don’t want to hear the end of that sentence. Ever. Like I said, it’s me.
What happened to Boner Records?
Boner’s still around, and we had a really good experience with them. Then, when we moved to Atlantic, we did three records with Atlantic. Then, right after the Atlantic thing, we did the Honky record with AmRep, then we were on Ipecac. Before that, we had a bunch of different releases on a wide variety of labels, none of which we got paid for. So, those were the main ones. Oh, and we did the solo records with Jello on Alternative Tentacles. And we did Mangled Demos from 1983 on vinyl. Atlantic always did exactly what they said they were going to do, and Jello’s fine. Boner’s always been cool. Ipecac’s obviously been cool, and AmRep, I have a very strong working relationship with them. But, those kinds of things are few and far between, those sorts of working relationships with labels. Labels, by and large, you can’t trust them. They just won’t pay you, that’s the new thing. Well, not new, but now, indie labels just won’t ever pay you. Unless you sell a million albums, you won’t ever get a nickel. Nothing. They just never pay you. I’ve had that happen more times than I can count with a wide variety of sources.
Is there anything you can tell me about the upcoming Melvins documentary, or is it too early?
Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know what they have in mind. We do a lot of interviews, and they’ve interviewed a lot of people, so we’ll see how it all ends up. I’m very excited about it, but it’s their deal. What we have in the works also, though, is from when we did the 51 day tour where we played all the states, plus D.C. We’re coming out with a movie that we made on that, too, that’ll probably be out around the end of the year. 51 in 51.
And wasn’t that a world record?
Yeah, we did it! We accomplished the entire thing. I love that kind of stuff! I love big stunts. “Do this!” Fans got excited. We were doing whole albums. We did four whole albums over two nights, you know? Play one album, take a break, play another album. Then come back the next day and do two different records. So, you know, we always had to go bigger… When we did [51 shows in 51 states], we had that booked a year ahead of time because we didn’t want anyone else to know it. And we wanted to make sure we got all the dates. We didn’t talk about that until it was only about four months before we did it. But we had it booked a year ahead! So, we leave very little to chance. But we did it! We started in Alaska and Hawaii, and we did every state plus D.C. We did it, we did it! I’m still so excited about that. We played in Baton Rouge on that tour. That was our Louisiana show. The Sex Pistols played in Baton Rouge on their tour, can you believe that?? That’s amazing! They played at Huey Long ’s Kingfish, I think it was called… And let me just say this about New Orleans in general: The first time we went to New Orleans, we were on tour and we were having a really crappy time. Everywhere we went, it was in 1986, we went to Texas and played a bunch of places, and everybody hated us. They were not interested in our long-haired bullshit in 1986, believe me. We get to New Orleans, and that was the first place outside of Washington state (where we lived at the time) where people liked us! And I’ve never forgotten that, and New Orleans has had a really special place in my heart as a result of that. I’ve never forgotten that. I’m still friends with people who were at that show! So, I felt like, now here’s an oasis of people who actually understand what we’re doing! You know, so I’ve always felt that about New Orleans. I’ve always felt a closeness to New Orleans. It’s like a bohemian oasis in the South. I love it. So, I always look forward to it. New Orleans, for us, has always been a great place to go. We’ve always been excited about every show we’ve ever had there and we knew it was going to be a blast. Always! For more than 25 years. I don’t take that lightly. I want everyone there to know how much we’ve appreciated their support for over 25 years. It’s great!
You have released so much material over the years, and it doesn’t look like there’s any end in sight. Can you actually pinpoint any of your favorite releases, anything that stands out or holds a special place in your heart, for whatever reason?
Oh, yeah, I can do that. I can pick out like five records right now. The new solo record, that’s one of them. Colossus of Destiny, I love that. Some people have a hard time with that one, but I think that record’s amazing. I really loved The Bride Screamed Murder a lot. Nude with Boots, Stoner Witch, maybe the Eggnog and Bullhead records… Those would be the standouts. But if I had to pick 5 albums of the Melvins’ stuff that would give people a good example of what we’re doing, I would say Eggnog, Stoner Witch, Nude with Boots, Colossus of Destiny, and Hostile Ambient Takeover. Or no, the Lustmord album, Pigs of the Roman Empire. If people have those five albums and listen to them, then that’s a good representation of what we’re doing. Couldn’t narrow it down to one. We’ve done too many weird things, you know? But Colossus of Destiny would be in the top three, certainly. People need to have that record to understand what we’re thinking. We did an album last year called Everybody Loves Sausages, and it’s a cover album of bands that were influences on us that not everyone would’ve thought of, like Roxy Music, David Bowie, The Fugs, Venom, and Queen. So, we put that one out to give people an idea of what we’re into. That was out last year. It’s called Everybody Loves Sausages, on Ipecac Records.
We used a bunch of guest stars, like we had Mark Arm of The Scientists with us, J.G. Thirwell did David Bowie, Caleb [Benjamin] from Tweak Bird did the Queen song, Scott [Kelly] from Neurosis did Venom… It was awesome! And I told people, “You can listen to this record and see what we’re into that’s not an obvious influence, like Black Flag or Black Sabbath.” No, none of the obvious ones. The ones people wouldn’t have necessarily thought of, you know? Throbbing Gristle, Tales of Terror, Pop- O -Pies. That’s where we put out the John Waters song. That album was amazing. It’s a really good point for people to go, “Ohhhhh! Got it!” That’s how you make sense, because that’s the kind of shit we’re into.
I asked a few friends who are huge fans of yours, “What do you want to ask Buzz?” I got one that was asking about the rumor that you were supposed to record “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” with Kelly Osbourne. Was that total b.s.?
Oh, no, that one was total b.s. TOTAL b.s.! But I am a huge Judy Garland fan, especially the Live at Carnegie Hall record. I think that’s an amazing record! I like that record a great deal, so there is a connection there with me and Judy Garland. No question of that.
King Buzzo plays One Eyed Jacks (with Dax Riggs) on July 25th. For more info on This Machine Kills Artists, visit ipecac.com