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Thinking Out Loud: Melvins' Buzz Osborne

The Melvins frontman shares his life lessons

Roger ‘Buzz’ Osborne is a true punk rock lifer, for over 30 years, the frontman of Washington state sludge/doom/noise rock figureheads Melvins. A key player in the US alternative/underground music community, he played bass in Kurt Cobain’s first band, introduced Nirvana to Dave Grohl, collaborates with Mike Patton and Dave Lombardo in Fantômas and is close friends with the likes of Tool, Mastodon and Down. A man who approaches the music industry with his eyes wide open, he’s learned a thing or two about negotiating the peaks and troughs of life across his 51 years on the planet. And here’s some of the wisdom he’d like to pass along…

My advice for bands is to work hard, and be as peculiar as possible. The weirder you are, the better: weird is wonderful. Because people will remember you. If Alice Cooper had looked like [late American children’s TV host] Mr Rogers no-one would have given a shit. It’s good to stand out. People might not like our bands, but chances are that when they see us, they’ll remember us… for good or bad.”

Nothing will kill a band faster than losing money. Try to make sure that every single thing you do, no matter how small, actually turns a profit. And a profit doesn’t mean making enough money on a record to plough it all back into the next record, that’s ridiculous, that’s just robbing Peter to pay Paul. Bands can have this weird communist vibe when it comes to making money. There’s nothing wrong with it! Without money your band is fucked. Just don’t go expecting to make U2 money. That won’t happen, trust me. The difference between making money as a band and playing the Lottery is that you actually have a chance with the Lottery!”

I vote, and I have my views, but Melvins fans don’t need to know about my politics. Donald Trump certainly doesn’t speak for me…but then neither does Obama, or the Democrats. I’m from the Groucho Marx-ist school of thought, I don’t want to be in any club that would have me as a member.”

Anytime I’ve felt like walking away from Melvins, we just kick out a bass player and things instantly get better. I think I’m a good person to be in a band with, but sometimes there are instances where keeping someone in a band is going to hurt the band more than kicking them out, in which case they have to go. People kinda make their own bed in Melvins, they’re the masters of their own destiny, but sometimes they fuck up. I don’t arbitrarily decide to kick people out, it’s never any easy decision, because starting over each time is a pain, but needs must. And the truth is that if you kick someone out of your band and you remain good, no-one is going to care. I don’t have people pining for the return of their favourite Melvins bassist.”

It’s nice when people say kind things about our band, but I can’t worry too much about that: I have a job to do. It’s nice to know that’s I’m not entirely wrong in thinking this band has value, because for many years no-one gave a shit. But those endorsements don’t actually add much value to our band. I mean, people go on about Kurt Cobain loving Melvins, but Nirvana have probably sold close to 100 million albums, and our association with them has not translated into the smallest fraction of that. You can’t place much importance on it. Andy Warhol once said that you should make your art and put it out there, and while people are deciding whether they like it or not, you should get on with making more work: that’s something I’ve always believed.”

For some reason everyone thinks I worship at the altar of Black Sabbath. Honestly, I couldn’t really care less about Sabbath, and as time goes on I care less and less and less. I never listen to Sabbath, and if I do, it’d probably be the Dio-era. Sorry to shatter that illusion. If I had to nominate a favourite band of all time, I’d say The Who. I’ve got a lot of inspiration from them. They wrote great songs, and as a live band – particularly when Keith Moon was still alive – they were pretty much untouchable.”

The best thing I ever got from Fantômas was my association with Trevor Dunn. I’ve done a lot of work with him since then, both with Melvins and outside the band, and he’s a great guy. Other than that, well, there’s the satisfaction of playing music that’s completely different to what we do in Melvins. I’m glad I’m not waiting around for Patton to do something, because I’d be sitting here with nothing, he’s not exactly pushing the limits in terms of Fantômas activity! Are there any other musicians I’d like to collaborate with? Yeah, Jimi Hendrix and Judy Garland. No, I always say those two, but there’s tons, I wouldn’t even know where that list would begin or end.”

I couldn’t care less about Courtney Love. We’re not close. There’s nothing I could do to Courtney that’s worse than what she’s already doing to herself. When I reviewed [Kurt Cobain bio-pic] Montage of Heck for the Talkhouse website I said some things about her, because it’s obvious that that film is her slanted take on Kurt, but she’s certainly not someone I spend my time thinking about. Who would play me if we did a Melvins film? Sidney Poitier. Actually there’s someone making a documentary about us at the moment [The Colossus of Destiny: A Melvins Tale], so maybe I’ll learn something new about myself there.”

“The key to survival in the music industry is being massively realistic. You need to be happy with what you get, rather than what you think you are owed. The world is rarely fair. I have a career in music, and I’m very happy about that, but I’m also very cagey and careful about it. I have ten year plans, I spend a lot of time thinking about what’s ahead. Because I have to. I mean, take that tour we did where we did 51 shows in 51 days in 50 states plus Washington DC: I had that tour booked a full year in advance, these kind of things can’t happen overnight. We think well ahead: Melvins already have our next two albums in the can. I leave very little to chance. We did a tour of the United States back in 1986 where we lost hundreds and hundreds of dollars, at a time when I couldn’t afford to lose a nickel, and afterwards I said I would never, ever tour like that again. And we didn’t tour again until we were sure we wouldn’t lose our ass, years later. If I want to get paid zero I can stay at home: ‘Let’s just go over there and see what happens…’ Fuck that!”

“**I’m not cut out to be a ‘sitting on the front porch, watching the world go by’ guy. **I want to continue making music for as long as I can. If Keith Richards can do a solo album at his age, there’s no reason why I can’t continue making music: If he’s not done, I’m not done.” 

Melvins' album, Hold It In, is out now through Ipecac. The band tour the UK from October 8-10. See their Facebook page for details.

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