After years and years of increasing conceptual density, the Melvins attached Coady and Jared from Big Business in 2007 and multiplied themselves into the band most likely to last forever, or at least to match the half-life of the most persistent radioactive isotopes. Their newest, The Bride Screamed Murder, is one of their best, and they are installed at Spaceland (with a schedule revisiting many of their most significant releases) for all of January. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
Do you still have those charred roof tiles from Hiroshima?
Buzz Osborne (guitar, vocals): How’d you find out about that?
Decades of Buzz-o-graphy.
BO: I have bunches of that kind of stuff. I’m a big history of World War II fan. When I finally went to Japan with the Melvins in 1998 or around there, we made a special trip to Hiroshima because I wanted to go to the Ground Zero Museum. There’s a museum where you learn about the peace-loving Japanese, which is interesting. They said school kids have been going down to the river and digging around down there and finding things. It doesn’t take much to find it. They show pieces of what these kids are finding—pottery or whatever. You could walk right down to the edge of the river without having to jump over a fence or anything like that. So we start digging around down there and found all kinds of shit. Old pieces of pottery, all kinds of busted-up pieces of ceiling tile—
BO: Not necessarily—it’s been like 60 years. But chunks of building material. Blasted. So then we went to the museum and in the museum that exact same kind of tile. So we knew we were on the right track. I just threw it in my bag and brought it home. Hand-sized pieces. Easy to find. A few inches underneath the silt at the edge of the river.
Is that on prominent display in your house?
BO: I have a huge amount of stuff. That’s just one of my vast interests. I got everything from Japanese battle flags, U.S. propaganda stuff to get people pumped up to fight, a couple of SS daggers I bought in Austria … A WW2 helmet I found in Austria at a flea market.
You said once that being in your forties is the ‘ultimate age.’ Why?
BO: You’re smarter than ever, and you’re still young enough to do whatever you want.
Fitzgerald said, ‘If you get success when you’re young, you think it’s destiny. If you get it when you’re 30, you think it’s work and luck. If you get it at 40, you think it’s nothing but willpower.’
BO: Maybe. When did he get his?
BO: Apparently. I haven’t read a whole lot of his stuff.
Why have the Melvins been so energetically hated? Beyond what you’d consider normal hate for a band.
BO: I dunno. We did a lot of different things that put us in the position of playing for an audience that’s by no means converted. I’m pretty much over that except in really special cases. I’m not interested in trying to sell the band that way. It’s really hard to do, you know? We’re not a bright and breezy pop-tune band. We don’t sound like the bands that we toured with like White Zombie and Nine Inch Nails or KISS. Actually the KISS audience wasn’t bad to us. They were all mid-thirties people who couldn’t be bothered freaking out. They’re credit-card wielding adults. They sat peacefully. Politely applauded.
They’re used to confusion?
BO: If I was at a show and a band was playing I didn’t like, I couldn’t be bothered. I just went outside. From a very early age I was interested in underground music. I never appreciated the big stadium shows in the first place—I cut my milk teeth musically on smaller shows. A much more intimate basis. That’s the lessons I learned from punk rock that I never forgot. That extends to today.
Dale Crover (drums): Our first experience in the South in like 1986—people just hated us. Supposedly open-minded punk rockers who weren’t very open-minded at all. It’s funny. I’ve never really seen it with another band. Usually, if you don’t like ’em, you’re like, ‘Eh, they’re not very good.’ But I’ve seen people really have a violent reaction to what we do. Not so much anymore because people know about us right now. And kind of like us. We got pulled over a bunch. I guess we were asking for it. We had a mural of KISS all over the van done in Sharpie. It was a band van, you know? Hassled by the locals a lot. Since they realized we didn’t have any drugs on us, they let us go. We’d get more hassles by skinheads than cops.
What’s the most positive experience you ever had with a drunken skinhead?
DC: None? I don’t think they wanted to have anything to do with me. I don’t know how this happened but on that first tour, we played with R.K.L. and ended up playing with some skinhead band in Florida. They’d seen us a couple nights earlier—they were putting on the show and were like, ‘Those guys can’t play.’ Oh … really? Since the drummer from R.K.L. was a former skinhead he kinda convinced them to let us play—on the inside of his lip he had a tattoo that said SKIN. They actually had a black bass player. That didn’t bother them, but us playing? No fucking way.
So you conquered racism?
DC: We did, and then there was no place else to go after the show to stay except their house. And they lived basically in a black neighborhood and had swastikas in their house—on the outside! We were like, ‘What the fuck? What are we doing?’ But we were young and it was our first time in that part of the world and no place else to go and no money, so we just kinda went for the flow, I guess.
Is it more gratifying to be adored by millions or hated by millions? Like a bad guy wrestler?
DC: Yeah, but that’s all an act! I’m happy people like us. Who woulda thunk? After this long!
Who was the first person to lead you away from arena rock shows?
BO: Nobody. I did it all myself. I lived in a very oppressive place. It’s still an oppressive place.
DC: Fuck, where we come from, there’s no place to play. You’re lucky if you can play a house party. So getting to play a gig that’s halfway legitimate was really cool. Especially if you got paid. Maybe enough for some gas and a 7-Eleven diaper burrito after the show. That was living! A beer in hand and a burrito—everything’s OK!
But what about your gastrointestinal tract?
DC: Fuck, it was nourishment.
What’s your favorite vegetable?
Because of the psychedelic urine effect?
DC: Oh yeah! I love the smell of asparagus pee. I can’t get enough of it!
BO: In the mid ’70s—I turned 12 in 1976 and at that point I was very interested in rock music. At that time, there was Creem magazine, and along with the bands I liked—Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, KISS, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple—there was also a lot of pictures of bands that I had no idea who they were. The Clash, the Sex Pistols … to a lesser degree, Iggy Pop. Through that magazine I saw these bands that were interesting to me solely on the way they looked. Like the Sex Pistols especially. In the back of those magazines, you’d get big lists of mail-order stuff. So I’d mail-order those records. The Clash, the Sex Pistols, the Damned—all that shit! In the ’70s! I got all that shit myself. I was also really into David Bowie. Like 7th-8th-9th grade, we had an exchange student who was a senior—our school was very small; it was 7th through 12th grade—and he saw me carrying around the Heroes album and he just about shit his pants. He couldn’t believe that—he was from Sweden or somewhere. ‘I can’t believe you have that record!’ Nobody NOW would have that record. So I was just an anomaly, you know. I was too young to go up and see any of the big punk bands in Seattle. My parents were by no means gonna take me. It was about 150 miles from where I lived and it might as well have been 150 million miles. So then from that—I’m a musical anthropologist, basically. An archaeologist. From the Sex Pistols, I realized they did a cover of this song ‘No Fun,’ which is by the Stooges … so I just took it on that, and that’s how I learned about the MC5 and all that—all before 1980. All before I’d ever even seen a punk rock show! So then I realized finally in the early ’80s—10th, 11th grade—all these bands I liked, like Black Flag blah-blah-blah—were all playing in Seattle. Then it was a matter of trying to figure out how to get to those shows. By then I’d been to a bunch of arena rock shows. I never saw the distinction between—since I never grew up around people who gave me any indication of how one was supposed to act, I was equally excited seeing the Kinks as I would be by seeing a punk rock band. Or Cheap Trick—I saw all those bands. Van Halen. Van Halen in late ’70s/early ’80s were raging. RAGING. Everything Metallica wishes they were, especially at that point. I don’t care if people don’t think it’s cool. They were great. I liked all that stuff and the Sex Pistols. The Sex Pistols to me just sounds like heavy metal. It wasn’t hard for me to go from listening to Aerosmith to the Sex Pistols. It was a really easy jump, once you got around his vocals. And there was no going back. When you’re thinking 30 years ago, when I developed all my ideas about how all this stuff worked, I didn’t have much tolerance for arena rock shows after that. Now that I’m a little older, I missed out on a lot of stuff I wouldn’t have. I didn’t get to see the Clash—I didn’t get to see the Clash till they opened for the Who! Oh, I love the Who. I always loved the Who.
You said the Who were the weirdest band of all time. Why?
BO: Just listen to the Sell Out album. They are a HIGHLY underrated weird band. Very very strange. Fantomas played in South America at a festival show with the Stooges and Nine Inch Nails, and the promoter was putting everyone up in the same hotel. So I’m down in my music-archaeology thing in my brain and I see Ron Asheton walking around—‘Hey, man, blah-blah-blah—when you guys first started the Stooges, what bands did you like?’ And he’s like, ‘The band we were into was the Who.’ He told me he saw the Who in Ann Arbor in the mid-’60s. He said he still had a piece of one of Pete Townshend’s broken guitars from that show. So when you think about the Stooges, you figure those guys cutting their milk teeth on the Doors and the Who—that makes perfect sense. To be as weird as the Who were in the mid-’60s—like their live show—I don’t know what you’d have to do now. I have no idea. But they are and will always remain one of my favorite bands. Without question.
What’s the common thing across all the music you like? Anything you can isolate?
BO: I’d say no. It has to speak to you somehow. I’m not generally interested in by-the-numbers bands. Hip-hop to me is one of the most played out … and alt. country in general is played-out horseshit. ‘I’m gonna play new country with a rock edge!’ ‘Wowwwwwww! What an incredible idea that the Allman Brothers came up with in the FUCKIN’ ’60s! And they did it better than you’ll ever do it!’ Shit like that, I can’t stand.
You once said ‘rock bands are the most conformist people on planet Earth.’
BO: Oh, absolutely.
Is that what we’re talking about here?
BO: 100 percent. Once in a while you’ll find something like, ‘Oh, wow, this is really cool. I’m into all kinds of weird shit and normal music as well. I never got the memo about not liking heavy metal, about not liking whatever it may be. I like plenty of hip-hop but most of it now … I just don’t have any interest in it.
What’s your favorite rap record?
BO: Oh, my all-time favorite rap record is Raising Hell. By far. I actually saw Run-DMC on that tour. It was fucking amazing. It was really good, and there were no tapes going, I’ll tell you that. I saw a shitload of hip-hop bands, especially then, and most of ’em were crap. I saw Paris, Too Short—all crap. Live it was the worst shit you could ever imagine. They’re not bands! Shit just falls apart. I never saw Public Enemy. I saw lots of little rap bands.
Is it true people were rolling around on the ground pawing at their ears when you recorded Colossus of Destiny?
BO: I don’t know if that’s true! I have no idea. We have hardcore Melvins fans who can’t stand records like Colossus of Destiny. I don’t think that record’s that weird, personally. Was it weird? Compared to what? That’s always the ultimate—compared to Whitehouse? To Throbbing Gristle and all that shit?
At what point did you decide the Melvins was you and Dale no matter what?
BO: I never decided that—those things just happened! I never wanted to kick out anybody who was in our band. It just became obvious that that’s just what had to happen. For a million different reasons. I wish people would just understand that I know what I’m doing. Judge me by my enemies! Who hates my guts? Think about that. Judge me by who hates me, not by who likes me.
Have you ever had any people tell you that you were right after all?
BO: Like who?
Anybody in human history.
BO: I don’t know. I don’t worry about those things that much. I just rest assured that I’m not wrong about anything. I know what I’m doing. If people don’t wanna come along for the ride or think they know better what I should do with my own life than I do, then more power to ’em. I don’t see the world that way. I actually have a really open mind about those kind of things. Like the guys that I play with—if I write a song, and they think of something better, I’m not like, ‘No, this is wrong!’ I’m smart enough to know—‘Wait a minute, their idea is really good for this!’ I’m not single-minded. There are people out there who are. I always think I haven’t thought of everything. But I’m not WRONG when it comes down to that stuff. I trust musicians I play with. I give them a huge amount of freedom to do what they want. I’m not at all—how would you put it? I’m not threatened by their musical instincts.
Why do other bands work in a different way than this?
BO: Because they’re conformists. Massively conformist in their non-conformity. It’s just like the thing—nobody talks about God more than atheists.
But why conform? What do you get as a reward?
BO: I have no idea. If you take a typical stoner-rock band, why—just on the simplest level—do you never see one that shaves their heads and wears pink tutus? Why? That would up their worth in my book. It never happens. It’s never gonna happen! I never understood it. My rule with punk rock is that there’s lots of different things you can do. But that’s never really been the case, you know.
What’s something you want to learn how to do?
BO: No idea. There’s nothing I couldn’t do.
BO: If it’s a musical instrument, I can make it do something. One way or another. I never took guitar lessons.
You said once that if you couldn’t be a musician, you’d want to be a paid philosopher.
BO: That was a joke!
But you’re pretty close.
BO: It’ll never happen. Someone will pay me for talking? That’ll be the day.
They pay you for singing.
BO: Uh—yeah. I suppose. I won’t borrow any money against that.
DC: If I didn’t have this, I couldn’t get a job at a fucking Burger King.
Sure you could. You got people skills, you’re organized …
DC: They’d look at my resume and go, ‘Uhhhh, no.’
Is it just ‘MELVINS: 1983-PRESENT’?
DC: Pretty much. I had a couple jobs. The only jobs I really had before we were able to make money was working at a pizza place. Both me and Buzz, our last jobs were working at a Round Table Pizza in San Francisco. It was a drag. We tried to make the best of it. Buzz was a delivery driver and I was a prep cook.
Do you have a coherent philosophy of life?
BO: Me? A coherent philosophy of life? Rock musicians should work on farmer time.
What non-musical things help your music?
BO: The World War II thing is just one tiny aspect of things I’m into. I just try to play my instrument and plow through a lot of stuff to find little gems. It’s like a gold miner. They shovel a lot of shit to find just one little nugget of gold. And then they realize they’re basically working for minimum wage.
And they’re in the dark all the time. I’m from a mining town.
BO: Then you have the tailings to deal with.
And they break and poison the water supply.
BO: Good! We have a big planet. We have nothing to worry about.
You don’t have a hide-out planned for the Apocalypse?
BO: For what? You mean 2012? You know someone who’s actually made a hovel so they can live like the Unabomber in the middle of nowhere? Ugh, fuck that. I’d rather blow my brains out. Why would you wanna do that? Why would you wanna live like in the Stone Age? If they wanna do that, why don’t they just do that now? Why wait? And what makes them think they’re gonna know exactly when to go there? If there’s a catastrophe, do they think they’ll just breeze along the freeway to their little hide-out?
They’ll have bicycles.
BO: Yeah. Get to Northern California on that. I’m not a big believer in the world’s gonna end. No. Are you kidding? We’re not done suffering yet. Only in a country where people have it as good as we do could we possibly think that the world’s gonna end. That’s just fucking crazy. Then you have far too much time on your hands dreaming up things like that—life on the planet is better than it’s ever been, and we live longer than we ever have ever, despite what anybody says. People are living longer across the board. In every country. The quality of life is better than ever. The ability to transfer information is better than ever. The ability to transfer one person to another part of the globe is better than ever. Nonetheless, there are people who insist that everything’s getting worse. I’ve never understood that. It’s insane. Staring into the face of optimism, we are obsessed with the idea it’s all gonna end.
BO: Insanity. People refuse to look at the world as it really is. Why don’t they just be happy with what they have? Because it could all be gone. I honestly believe that life is beautiful and the streets are paved with gold. Having said that, I have no faith in humanity. I have faith in the individual. Individual rights. Not a collective. I don’t run a collective here.
What makes you suspect of the collective?
BO: I have no idea. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had no interest in being a hippie! I have no interest in it now! I’m an industrialist! I like cars and computers! I’m not gonna badmouth corporations when I use ’em every day of my life. You can’t pick and choose—‘Oh, the oil companies are evil, so I’m gonna drive my car to the anti-oil company rally!’ Fuck that.
We have more irony now than ever before, too.
BO: It’s like—I hate conservatives, but I really hate liberals. Here’s the thing. I have my own opinions about everything, and it’s basically classic liberalism. But—I also don’t believe that as an entertainer, I have any business making social commentary. None whatsoever. That’s your job. And I think you should look to higher sources than somebody like me or somebody like Jello or somebody like Noam Chomsky—people who step outside of their area of expertise. Noam Chomsky is a linguist. That’s what he does best. Why anybody listens to him on politics is beyond me. Or anybody—Brad Pitt—when anybody like that starts to get political, they can shove it up their ass. Or Bono. Any political leader that would spend time talking to Bono is fucking out of their mind.
Maybe they just wanna impress their kids.
BO: If I was the President of the United States or the Pope or anything, do you think I’d have time on my fucking schedule to talk to a fucking rock ‘n’ roll singer from Ireland? No fucking chance. I’d just laugh. ‘Are you kidding me? I don’t have time for you.’
This strikes me as very Eisenhower-ish.
BO: Eisenhower walked through a whole lot of hell before he was president. I don’t know what my attitude would be like if I’d seen the things he’d seen with his eyes. Until I’ve walked in somebody like that’s shoes … until my family is hungry, how can I tell someone else how to live? That their children should be hungry? It’s none of my fucking business.
You said once ‘music is communication’—
BO: Yes. All art. All art is communication. What I’m trying to communicate is raw emotional energy. In one form or another. That doesn’t mean it has to be explained. All I know is when I see it done right, it makes sense to me. How you get to that point, I have no idea.
How close are you?
BO: I think I’m much better at everything I do musically than I’ve ever been. Better singer, better songwriter, better guitar player—but that just comes from experience. I’m still happy about what I’m doing and I still put a great amount of effort into making it as contemporary as possible. I refuse to be an oldies act. I don’t wanna do those sort of things.
So how does it feel to go back to old stuff at the residency?
BO: We’re very much about our new stuff, but we’ve never done anything quite like this, and we thought the residency idea was good. If you’re gonna do a residency, then you should make a reason why you’re doing it. We wanted to make the shows as different as we possibly could. That’s a good idea that the music industry’s hit upon—like ‘play the whole album.’ I think it’s kinda cool. I don’t apologize for anything I’ve ever done musically, but I also don’t like everything I’ve ever done musically. But I’m in a different, weirder position than everybody else. I’m too close to it so I don’t enjoy it. Once I make the records and walk away from them, it’s none of my business what people think.
What’s it feel like to pull out the old records and re-learn these songs?
BO: Most of them—except in rare cases—I didn’t learn them off the record. I just tried to remember them as close as I could.
BO: We’ll see. And some of it is different. But I’m not married to any of those arrangements or chord progressions. None of it! I’m not trying to make carbon copies of any of it. We’re not a jukebox.
You said once you were ‘an uncommercial vehicle not to sell records.’ Is that still true?
BO: Ah—I don’t remember what I was speaking in relation to. I rarely tell the truth about those sorts of things. The best journalism is always pure fiction. I don’t go into a lot of personal details. If you think about it, I haven’t really told you anything about myself. And I won’t. People don’t need to know those things. As a music fan, I don’t have personal relationships with a lot of people I’m big fans of musically. I’ve had that be the case as well—you become friends with people who are super into your band, but by and large they’ve already made up their mind about what you’re about, and all you do by getting close to them is destroy that vision. I don’t have a really good experience with that sort of thing.
Why do you wanna meet Nick Kent?
BO: I would like to! I just finished his new book—Apathy for the Devil. The thing about it is his ability to deconstruct what is going on with these people—he doesn’t overshadow it with his own superiority complex because he is a fan of this stuff regardless of how realistic he writes about whatever horrible shit’s going on. He has a really good take. And the way he writes is great. Rock journalism, for what it’s worth—it’s not gonna stop the world or anything. Most rock journalism is absolutely unreadable garbage. I can’t make it through it. I can’t remember the last time I ever made it through a Rolling Stone article, and I haven’t looked at a Rolling Stone in twenty years. If I’m in a recording studio, I might thumb through one. I just can’t believe anybody cares about that shit. SPIN or any of that crap—it’s just crap! Not interesting. Kent had a way of doing it that personalized it in a way that didn’t make him look like he’s acting like a big shot. And he’s a good writer. He knows what he’s talking about. I would love to have met Nick Kent.
Ever think about writing a book yourself?
BO: I’ve thought about all kinds of things. I have a couple interesting things I’m working on, none of which is anywhere near completion. The music industry’s changing so much. Maybe it’s for the better? I don’t know. I don’t know that a lot of people have thought out how this is gonna work.
You mean an exit strategy?
BO: No, it’s not gonna end. It’s just gonna change. And I don’t know that it’s necessarily for the better.
You once said selling 10,000 records is ‘punk rock gold.’ What would that be now?
BO: Do people sell records? We got in the top 200 by selling about 3,000 records. When we were on Atlantic, we used to give that many records away. So … is that good? It’s not good for bands, it’s not good for the industry itself—it’s not good for people who make records or record records, for producers, people who make recording machines, any of that stuff. It’s clearly not good for any of that. But communication and the transfer of information is better than it’s ever been. So then—what are we going to do? This is what’s gonna separate the men from the boys in that department.
What do you think is gonna happen?
BO: It’s gonna collapse!
But what crawls out of the ruins?
BO: Not musical quality. It could get worse. For the first time in history, every geek on Earth can express their opinion about anything instantly. Whether that’s good or bad, it’s anyone’s guess. For me musically, I wish I woulda had something like YouTube when I was a kid so I could go, ‘Oh, what’s this Captain Beefheart?’ You could find that all out instantly, which I think is absolutely amazing. And ultimately, I think we’ll have to get more artistic. For me, my focus is gonna be on things that aren’t manufactured on a huge scale. We’re gonna get attention to detail on a small level. For more money. I think there’s still people out there who wanna buy cool shit. I’m in the position that I’m capable of making really cool stuff. That’s what we’re looking at. The day our music’s no longer in a jewel case is coming. We might be able to do one more record traditionally and then I don’t know what’s gonna happen. No clue. People don’t really realize—it’s gonna be different than they think. I still like CDs. I think they sound great, they don’t take up much space, and I don’t wanna trust my whole collection to a computer. I had a huge collection of albums I got rid of. Oh, God—I hate vinyl. I sold them to a friend of mine who collects vinyl, with the idea that he had to buy all of them. He couldn’t just cherry pick and leave me with a bunch of crap. He had to come over and get ’em out of here. The thing you need to consider is this—we should not be concerned with what vehicle music is on. That has nothing to do with what I’m doing. I don’t care. CDs or mp3s or start making 8-track tapes—I don’t care! I don’t wanna get hung up on those kinds of bullshit. ‘We’re only doing vinyl.’ I don’t give a fucking shit about vinyl! I don’t give a fucking shit about any of that stuff!
What mistake have you most often seen kill a band?
BO: What happens when bands sign to major labels is they wanna sell millions of records. I would have loved to have sold millions of records but I never thought it would happen. So they start gearing themselves up to sell millions of records, and doing things like they’re going to sell millions of records, and when it doesn’t happen, they’re left with nothing. But if you don’t go into it thinking it’s gonna happen, and more than what you thought happens—then you can be pleasantly surprised. You need to have realistic ambitions with whatever it is you’re doing. All I had to do was look in the mirror and listen to our music to realize we were never gonna sell records like that. The time we got signed, that band Sugar Ray got signed. If you look at the singer of Sugar Ray and look at me, it doesn’t take a detective which one the chicks are gonna like, you know?
I hope that never kept you up at night.
BO: Yeah, I’ll tell you—I would like to have done time with him. If I had to do time with a dude, might as well be one that looks like a chick.
If you had to be chained to anyone on a prison work gang, who would it be?
BO: Rosey Grier. I don’t know.
What a utilitarian answer.
BO: Let him do all the work. He’s a big mother. I like Rosey Grier.
SPACELAND PRESENTS THE MELVINS EVERY FRIDAY IN JANUARY AT THE SATELLITE, 1717 SILVERLAKE BLVD., SILVER LAKE. 8:30 PM / $20 / 21+. CLUBSPACELAND.COM. THE MELVINS’ THE BRIDE SCREAMED MURDER IS OUT NOW ON IPECAC. VISIT THE MELVINS AT THEMELVINS.NET.