The Melvins have been dishing out their sludgy heavier-than-Black-Sabbath sounds for over three decades, and show no signs of compromising or slowing down. Their latest album is Hold It In, an awesome, diverse set of songs which feature founder/singer/guitarist Buzz Osborne, drummer Dale Crover who has been with the band through almost its entire existence, and guest guitarist Paul Leary and bassist Jeff Pinkus from fellow cult rockers The Butthole Surfers.
This interview was for a preview article for the Melvins concert at SLO Brew in San Luis Obispo, California on 10/22/14. It was done by phone on 10/16/14. (Mackie Osborne photo)
Jeff Moehlis: You just had the first show of the tour last night. How did it go? How is the band playing together?
Buzz Osborne: It was great! We had no problems. We played in Sacramento – it was a good show, a good set.
BO: I think it’s good one. I mean, I don’t listen to our records a whole lot, but I know I liked it when I made it. I think it’s as good as anything we’ve ever done.
JM: The new album was recorded with Paul Leary and Jeff Pinkus [from the Butthole Surfers]. How did their presence stir things up as far as the songwriting and the recording?
BO: Well, you know they’re both really good players. I trusted them to do the right thing, and they did. They added things to the album that we’ve never had before, so that was great.
JM: Have you known those guys from way back?
BO: I’ve known Jeff for several years, and I’ve known Paul maybe five. I’ve been a fan of the Butthole Surfers since the early 80’s.
JM: Just to be clear, my understanding is that Jeff is part of the current tour but Paul is not. Is that correct?
BO: Yeah. Paul might join us in the future but he’s not on this tour.
JM: You’ve released most of your albums on smaller labels, but you did have a short period where you were signed to Atlantic back in the ’90’s. How would you describe your major label experience?
BO: Well, we did three albums. I thought they would only do one. So they gave us money to make records, but they didn’t really tell us what to do, so I didn’t have a bad experience. It was fine. I like those records a lot.
JM: So you feel you had a lot of freedom to do what you wanted?
BO: If you listen to the records, I think it’s pretty clear that they didn’t tell us to do anything.
BO: I don’t like it as much as the other two that we did on Atlantic, but I thought it was good. It was a good major label debut, I guess. There are songs that people like on it. I thought it was OK, but not quite as focused as I would’ve liked. But by and large I’m not complaining. That was a long time ago!
JM: Of course that album had a bit of a Kurt Cobain connection [Cobain co-produced and played on a few tracks on Houdini], and I guess for better or worse you guys are forever tied a little bit to him. [In 1984, Cobain auditioned to play bass with The Melvins, but he was not chosen. The next year, Osborne and Crover played in Cobain’s first band Fecal Matter (with Osborne on bass). Later, in 1988, Crover played on Nirvana’s ten-song demo, most of which was released on their albums Bleach and Incesticide.] How would you describe the Kurt Cobain that you knew?
BO: Troubled. He was very troubled. It’s a sad story. Not a lot of happy memories.
BO: Pretty insane. He doesn’t have much of a filter between his brain and his mouth. He’s not as avant garde as I would’ve liked, but by and large it was a good experience.
JM: I have a question about your songwriting. The music of the Melvins has a lot of complicated time signatures and changes. How do you come up with those, or to you maybe that comes naturally?
BO: We have a lot of simple songs, too, but I don’t know, sometimes it just happens that way. All of a sudden you have this song that’s complicated, but you know it’s good so you finish it.
JM: If it’s good, just go with it, right?
BO: Yeah. I don’t find it to be particularly complicated for me, but I write it.
JM: What are your plans for the near future? Are you guys already thinking about the next album?
BO: The record just came out two days ago, so I haven’t got my heart set on a new one yet. But it won’t be too long. I don’t know exactly, but I’ve always got a lot of new ideas and stuff. What exactly we’re going to do, at this point I’m not sure. But don’t worry, there will be a new one before you know it.
JM: Do you want to set the record straight on anything about yourself or the Melvins? Anything that annoys you that people always get wrong about the band?
BO: Well, most of it’s wrong, but that’s OK. It’s not the best journalism – it’s pure fiction. I’m a private person, believe it or not. There’s not a lot of personal details out there anyway, so I like to leave them as they are. Let people think what they want to be true.
JM: I’m sort of surprised that, as a rock musician, you’re up and about at 9:30 in the morning. Is that your typical schedule?
BO: I get up about 4:00 in the morning when I’m at home. Last night we were back at the hotel by about 12:30, and I got up about 6:00. And now I’m driving north to Washington.