Bob Hannam

Forever In Their Own Lane – Melvins’ Buzz Osborne Talks Acoustics, Misadventures, Dogs, Judy Garland, & Jungle Rock

There’s a reason the Melvins are considered to be a prestigious group, even with their rough-and-tumble roots and inexplicably heavy sound, and that is because they set the tone early on for what metal could be. Alternative metal, the grunge movement, and even some of the ’emo scene’ took shape with the influence of this band mind – so a conversation with them is always imperative.

The Melvins have been a staple from the underground scene for over 35 years. They had a large part in inspiring the grunge era, even connecting the members of Nirvana. Their frontman, the legendary King Buzz Osborne, spoke with AQ’s Ray Romanski about dropping a quadruple acoustic album, their upcoming tour, Betty Davis and Miles Davis, and much more. All while he was gearing up for a tour with Ministry and Corrosion of Conformity, which comes to Montclair in just 10 days.

Where are you calling from?

I am in Los Angeles; we’re heading out tomorrow to Ohio for our first show with Ministry.

Are you excited for this tour?

Um… I’m hoping it works. As far as not getting canceled or someone getting sick, but that remains to be seen.

What is it like to prep for tour again?

Strange. This has been the longest I’ve been home in about 35 years. I’ve been fine during the whole thing, my wife and I spent the most time together uninterrupted. We didn’t kill each other. We realized we actually get along well together and like hanging out with each other. It’s fun. I’m not getting a divorce because of this.

A lot of people can’t say that.

That’s it. If anything, we grew closer together in that amount of time.

That’s wonderful.

I think so. We celebrated 28 years of marriage [in January] and I think that’s one of my greatest accomplishments. That is 25-and-a-half years longer than most rockstar marriages. Three-and-a-half years, and then they get divorced for something like gross infidelity or totally hellacious drug or alcohol use – or their wife gets mad they don’t take the garbage out enough. You can’t live with someone for 30 years without something happening, but we like to say none of it are divorceable offenses. We also had a saying at our house for a long time: there won’t be a divorce because one of us will be dead.

That’s pretty morbid.

Keeps ‘ya honest. We’re not splitting anything. It’s winner takes all.

I want to talk about Five Legged Dog, the massive acoustic album you released in 2021. It’s a 4LP/2CD of like 40 Melvins songs, two-and-a-half hours worth of rearrangements. How did that come to fruition?

Well, we were sitting in the pandemic wondering what to do, not knowing when we’d be able to do anything at all. And so I started thinking about what kind of thing has nothing to do with us being able to tour. At the beginning of this whole pandemic, right when it happened, I was on the cusp of doing a giant acoustic tour with Trevor Dunn on standup bass. I had an album that was about to come out in March. It would’ve taken me to places like the entire U.S., the entirety of Europe, Australia, South America, and probably even South Africa. All shitcanned, so I was a very discouraged fellow at that point.

I had acoustic on the brain, so we started working on a record of Melvins songs; you know we have 30 albums or something like that and 500 songs we’ve recorded to choose from. And we had never done anything quite like that before. When we started, we decided, “Well, let’s make it a double album – no, triple album…. If we’re gonna go for three, we might as well make it four!” The four album thing, I don’t think anyone has ever done a four album retrospective of their own material. Not to my knowledge.

You even have a few covers on there, as well. Alice Cooper, the [Rolling] Stones, even Warren Zevon. My question: what criteria does a song need to have for you to decide to cover it? 

Have to like it.

That’s it?


Is it a unanimous decision?

No. I’ll say, “I think that will be a cool version.” People like Dale [Crover] trust my vision impeccably. He knows I haven’t failed him along those lines yet. He trusts me to make the right decision and he’ll do his level best to make it work. He’s a great person to be in a band with.

I loved your cover of “Spoonman.” Was that a spontaneous decision or had you planned to cover Soundgarden?

Thank you. I really appreciate that. What happened there is a terrible, terrible thing. We learned that cover for the Chris Cornell tribute show. Then Matt Cameron happened to be in town, stopped by our studio. We had recorded some of it and had him do a drum track along with Dale; that was great. I am forever grateful for those guys.

I’m sure you heard about Mark Lanegan passing away. What are your thoughts?

I was never friends with Mark – I’ve met him, but never had a personal relationship. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I don’t run in his kind of circles. He goes into graphic detail about his drug use in his book. I’m not at the methadone clinic, or snorting heroin in the chic heroin places where they might be. That sounds terrible, but whenever I hear about these things of a heroin addict or a drug user dying, I’m never surprised – saddened, but never surprised. “Buy the ticket, take the ride,” as Hunter S. Thompson said. I don’t do it. A lot of people…. I’ve had a lot of death in my life. Especially music related death, too, and I don’t want to be one of those casualties. Life is hard enough as it is. As sad as it is with Mark, and I’m really sad for the people who loved him and really knew him, but beyond that I think it’s death by misadventure.

You probably get this question a lot, but how do you, Dale, and Steve [McDonald] find inspiration after 25 albums? How do you stay unique?

To me, I will work as hard on this or as hard or harder as anyone with a professional career. Whether it’s a doctor or whatever, I will work at least as hard as they do [and] much more than 40 hours a week. It’s always amazing to me people think they can get successful working just 40 hours a week and that’s just crazy. If you stick to that plan, you will wallow in hideous mediocrity for the rest of your life.

Wow, that is a big quote.

Don’t ‘ya think? I think so, and like, what is a weekend? If I went by those standards, I would not have a fucking career in music. I’m willing to go the extra mile and do the extra mile work. 120 hours a week or 70% of waking hours spent figuring out how you do what you do – musically or whatever it is, and I’m willing to do that.

It’s a testament to your artistic integrity.

That’s what I’m saying. We’re not a standard metal band and we’re not anything. We don’t fit in at Punk Rock Bowling and we don’t fit in with the Ozzy [Osbourne] crowd. We’re somewhere in between… and I’m not a joiner-inner. When I started dreaming of this stuff of what I was going to do, when the bands Nirvana and Soundgarden were starting, I felt like I found something that wasn’t being represented in the music world. And I wasn’t wrong. To us, those bands went on to sell records to the tune of 100 million, which I had a large part of. It’s nice to know that I wasn’t fucking wrong. My instincts are correct. As a result of our tremendous hard work and working with people who are extremely talented, we’ve been able to carve out a niche in the world of music, worldwide, on a global level.

Consider two bands – Nirvana and Soundgarden. Without us, they’re a completely different animal. Nirvana, for one, wouldn’t exist. And Soundgarden would not sound the way they do. So my good intentions made that possible.

Your photography is beautiful. Can you tell me your secret?

Thank you, I’m glad you like it. It’s one of my great passions. I have loved taking pictures since I was a kid. I don’t want a big camera. I like small cameras. I have it with me all the time and if I don’t have it with me I take a picture with my cell phone. I think the iPhone is one of the best cameras ever. If you brought Man Ray back to life and gave him an iPhone, he’d be able to take amazing pictures because it’s him, not the camera. People on Instagram always ask me, “How did you take this picture?” I say the same thing, “With a camera.” My wife is a graphic designer and she goes, “I don’t give a monkey how you took the picture as long as it’s good.” If you give Jimi Hendrix any guitar, he’d be able to be Jimi Hendrix on it. You can’t throw technology at someone and make them creative. Now can I take the most expensive camera in the world and take a shitty photo? You better believe I can. Just like I can take the most expensive guitar and amp in the world and make something that doesn’t sound good.

That can be said about a lot of musicians.

Right – it doesn’t make them any different. It’s so silly to me when it comes to something as important as art, or music, or photography. Can’t you just enjoy it for what it is?

Who is that barking?

I have a dog named Buster and a dog named Blackie.

Are they rescues?

Nope, these ones are not. We’ve had a lot of rescue dogs in the past but they’ve passed on. Now we’re down to two. One we rescued was an English Staffordshire Terrier named Gigi and she died suddenly after having a career as a show dog prior to us getting her. Her owner left specific instructions to the trainer to find someone suitable for the prize winning show dog to live the rest of her life with. We had to audition for her and what they liked about us was at the time, we had dogs that were young and dogs that were old. Really old, so they liked the fact we didn’t give up on dogs. They let us have Gigi and she was an amazing dog before she passed on. We got Blackie and raised Buster from a puppy. He was a gift from the guitar player from Tool [Adam Jones].

What do you listen to?

Today I listened to Betty Davis because I watched a documentary about her recently and it got me back interested. Prior to that, I listened to Miles Davis; the Dark Magus live album, which I think is amazing. Probably my favorite of his live records. Then I was putting together some playlists to listen to while we’re on tour – one of which is a gigantic Tom Waits playlist. At the end of the playlist, I added the entire Judy at Carnegie Hall record, which I think is one of my top 10 favorite albums ever. “The greatest night in showbiz history.” I think people who don’t take that seriously or laugh about it are out of their minds. You can hear her bleeding on stage. I’m just talking about that right now and I have chills.

You ask what inspires me, I want to make heavy metal that sounds like Dark Magus; that sounds like The Who Sell Out. Add a jungle rock, garage rock element to it. I wanna add John Spencer and Judas Priest. I want it all at once. Pure noise. The Beatles crossed with Throbbing Gristle. It’s not my job or my worry to see if people like it or not. Millions of people will not like what I do, and I know that.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

We’re really excited to get Five Legged Dog out there. It was a lot of work and I’m very, very proud of it. I am really happy to be playing with Steve and Dale. I think those guys do an incredible job. I sometimes catch myself onstage watching them play… lotsa fun just to be on stage with two absolute volcanoes of musical talent. It’s not lost on me and I take every opportunity I get to sing praises for them. I talk about that with Dale, “We’re playing onstage with Steven McDonald from Red Kross,” who we’ve been fans of for decade – long before we could ever play with him. It’s just a weird thing. I never could have guessed in the history of the Melvins that would even be a possibility. It’s too weird to even wrap my head around the reality of it.

Weird is never a bad thing.

Doesn’t bother me.