An audience with the king2/26/2014
All Hail King Buzzo. For 30 years, Buzz Osborne has influenced music and blown minds as the front man of seminal experimental rock outfit, The Melvins. The band’s sludgy sound has directly beget an alarming array of bands, including Tool, Mastodon and Nirvana. But Osborne has never been one to look for laurels to rest upon, nor to begrudge his more commercially successful progeny.
“People always ask, do you ever get jealous that Kurt Cobain got fame and money?’ ” Osborne said in an interview with Consequence of Sound last November. “I go, ‘Kurt Cobain is fucking dead. Are you kidding? You think I would trade places with a dead guy?’ ”
Speaking with him over the phone last week, there’s little doubt that Osborne genuinely wouldn’t trade places with Cobain or any of his still-living counterparts. He’s a big believer in a solid work ethic trumping winning the lotto. He’ll frequently site Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol as influences — people who “work harder than anyone, because they have the ability to do it,” and who don’t give in to the folly of mistaking money for meaning.
“None of this makes any difference,” he said, referring to the gravitas of commercial music. “We’re not saving the earth or curing cancer, you know? We’re just making music. It’s fun, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not important.”
Osborne’s lack of patience for rock pretension in general is unchanged by time. Thirty years after first taking to the stage, King Buzzo remains defiant, standing alone as music’s longest surviving pragmatist.
“My tax guy told me, ‘Don’t worry about things you can’t control.’ My tax guy. That’s the best advice I’ve ever gotten, period.”
So even when Osborne makes seemingly contradictory statements — like when he says he hates the concept of music festivals but admits he’d never turn a paycheck from one down — it still manages to make sense. Making music is a passion, but performing music is, more often than not, a business.
He’s got a laissez faire attitude toward file-sharing as well. He’s not for it, per se, he just files it under things he can’t control. So even when it comes to his own new material, he’s realistic.
“We’ve printed a limited edition 10-inch just for this tour,” he said, talking about the solo acoustic project he’s hitting the road with this month. “It’s not going to be in any stores. If you don’t buy it on the tour, you can’t get it. But let’s be honest, the minute someone buys one, it’ll be online if you really want to hear it.”
He feels like MP3s and file-sharing have “gutted the music industry,” but no matter how easy it gets to share and find music, there will always be that segment of the population on the lookout for quality physical media to collect.
“That’s why we do the 10-inch with really amazing vinyl and the hand silk screened cover,” he explained. “Because there are always going to be people who want (it). Twenty years ago, a band would release a single, and they’d print 20,000 copies and sell ’em all. Do you think I’d make 20,000 singles now? I’d have to have fucking rocks in my head. (So) let’s make 1,000 really special.”
Three decades is a long time for a king to reign. And while The Melvins has never been the most popular kid on the block, it’s still around, because the band is not afraid to work. And that’s the honest truth.
“I speak strictly in fact,” Osborne declared. “But when I say anything, people say I’m jealous. Jealous? I’m the happiest motherfucker around.” CV
Chad Taylor is an award-winning news journalist and music writer from Des Moines who would love to take his talents abroad if the rent were not so much more affordable in Des Moines.