The Melvins hail from the small town of Montesano, Washington, but it’s not hard to envision them being spawned from an ancient tar pit instead, emerging from the bubbly ooze, instruments in hand, ready to slay eardrums across the planet.
For 36 years, the sludge rock legends have plied their trade, led by wild-haired guitarist and singer Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne and airtight drummer Dale Crover. As bands and musical trends have come and gone, Melvins have never wavered, never compromised, all while maintaining a startling musical output. The group has more than two dozen studio albums in its catalog and twice that many EPs and singles.
The band’s experimental, down-tuned swagger and husky riffs formed the blueprint for Seattle’s grunge scene, and the Melvins were inextricably linked to that movement. Kurt Cobain was a high-school classmate of Osbourne and Crover briefly played with the group prior to Dave Grohl joining.
While Osborne and Crover have been Melvins constants, the band has featured a rotating cast of bassists over the years. Steven McDonald has provided the group’s low-end since 2015.
In September, Melvins embarked on a lengthy U.S. tour with McDonald’s other band, Redd Kross. Crover and McDonald are logging double-duty each night, acting as the rhythm section for both bands. It marks a welcome return to the road for Melvins, after Crover’s back ailments forced the band to cancel European shows this summer.
In advance of the group’s local stops in Brooklyn and Asbury Park, I phoned Osborne during the tour to discuss the latest happenings in the Melvins universe, as well as his riff-making process.
How’s Dale’s back doing now? Is everything OK there?
I don’t know if he’s OK, but he’s making it through it. He’s got two discs that are cracked in his back. And he’s doing double-duty, playing for both Redd Kross and Melvins.
What’s it like touring with Redd Kross? Their power pop is kind of an interesting juxtaposition with the sludge of Melvins.
It’s a great combo. It might seem unusual, but it’s better than doing something that’s expected. We’re a weird band, extremely so.
Embracing the weirdness is what it’s all about sometimes.
It’s not hard to do for us.
What’s the status of any new Melvins material?
We’ve got stuff coming out all the time. This year, we’ve done a new 10-inch with Flipper, we’ve done a 10-inch with Shitkid, and a single came out with Redd Kross. We’ve just reissued the The Maggot and The Bootlicker as a double LP. We’re always working on something. When people hear stuff new, it’s actually not new to us. (Laughs)
Right. You’ve been living with material for a long time before people get to hear it.
It can be a long time, sometimes years, before it gets on a record.
One of the things that’s always impressed me about the Melvins is you’re still very prolific at releasing records. Many bands that have been around for a while will slow their album output down, but you guys keep churning it out.
It’s what we do. We work at it as hard as anyone. You can’t be successful working 40 hours a week. People work 40 hours a week with weekend hours and paid vacation time, but that doesn’t happen for bands.
What’s the secret to being so prolific? Do you write material on the road?
I have a hard time writing on the road. I write everything at home, but I write a lot. I have hundreds of things that aren’t finished at home—hundreds. Honestly, I could just use riffs I’ve already written and go through those, and probably don’t need to write anything, but I’m a songwriter. It’s what I do. When I pick up a guitar, I’m thinking in terms of songwriting. If I come up with a riff, I just quickly record it. These days, I’m using my phone. Sometimes at soundcheck, I like to set up my own gear. I’ll sit there and play quietly through my amps. Sometimes I’ll come up with something and I’ll just quickly record it through my phone. When we put out records, people think it’s new music, but a lot of time the riffs could be 20 years old. I’ve had people tell me, ‘I liked your Stoner Witch record; I’m not sure I like your new stuff,’ when actually I wrote that stuff when I was writing Stoner Witch (laughs). People imagine everything on a new album is brand new. It’s brand new to you, but you have no idea what we went through to get to that point. It’s like hatching a dinosaur egg. It takes time.
You strike me as the type of person who enjoys many different types of music and art. Is there anything in particular that brings you inspiration?
Nothing has ever moved me more than music in general, as far as art goes. I’ve never looked at a painting and got the same feeling I’ve had from listening to music. Inspiration can come from anywhere. It could be the way a vocal sounds or a car door slamming, listening to the outside world. On our double-album A Walk with Love & Death, one of the records was a soundtrack to a movie that didn’t exist. Now it exists, but the record came first. A lot of that was how I envisioned the soundtrack would sound. A lot of it is field recordings and outside recordings—that’s the kind of stuff I look for, not just standard stuff. We made the movie after the soundtrack. Now it’s out and we’re selling it on tour. We have the soundtrack and a DVD of the movie. It’s a 32-minute movie made by me and a guy named Jessie Nieminen.
It’s cool that you envisioned an entire soundtrack in your head.
I’m a movie freak. I could talk about movies for hours without stopping.
Do you go to the theater a lot, or watch stuff at home?
If I’m streaming, I’ll watch TV shows. Mostly, I’ll watch Blu-rays and DVDs.
What are your favorite types of movies?
My favorite movie of all time is The Treasure of the Sierra Madre by John Huston. That’s the best movie ever made, no question. [It] laid the groundwork for movies as we know them. I like good movies—any style, any era. I’ll go to everything, from the biggest Marvel blockbuster to art house movies.
The Melvins were the subject of their own documentary in 2016.
Yeah, a guy named Bob Hannam made a film called The Colossus of Destiny. I thought it was pretty good.
Since you’ve been around for such a long time, how has the audience at your shows changed throughout the years? Do you see longtime fans bringing their kids now?
Not really. Once they get to be about 35 or 40, they don’t really go out as much, so we lose them. But new people come along. We see a few older people that are our age, but not many. I’m 55. We don’t see a lot of 55-year-olds at rock shows.
What do you like best about your visits to the New York area?
It’s a large music community that has always been very supportive of our band. But when you’re onstage, you’re not really thinking about where you’re playing. You have a job to do. I just think about giving people something that they don’t get in their daily life, and a reason to continue to come see us.
The Melvins will appear at Warsaw in Brooklyn, NY on October 10 and the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ on October 11. For more information, go to themelvins.net