By Christine Leonard
CALGARY – If memory serves, the last time yours truly spoke with Roger “King Buzzo” Osborne of the legendary sludge rock outfit The Melvins, it was 2010 and the Godfather of Grunge was contemplating the merits of finally having made the Billboard Magazine’s list of the 200 top-selling albums. The actual number of records sold on that effort was nominal (say 3000 units), but the implications of the hardcore punk act traversing the lamestream and gaining commercial appeal was far greater. At the time, Buzzo estimated that such an achievement could only be a prelude to the end of the world as we know it.
“I don’t think music’s any worse or better than it ever was. I like music as much as I ever have. I don’t’ think that there was ever a ‘Golden Era.’ But there’s very few band that I actually really endorse. There never was,” Buzzo confirms.
“I like all kinds of new stuff, but I also like the same stuff I liked when I was 13. I never quit liking a band I really liked. I never grew out of stuff. Now there’s this huge expanse of stuff that I like, but I’m not afraid of liking new music or old music. Not at all. It’s either good or bad it’s not anything other than that. If it was good, to me, and it came from 1965 that’s great, or 1985, or 2015 it makes little or no difference to me.”
Seven years on, The Melvins are still pumping out obtuse yet intense albums with remarkable frequency. Remarkable because group that originally arose in Montesano, Washington back in 1983 is showing no signs of slowing down in their old age, if anything they’re picking up speed in their old age.
“Yes, that’s kind of the point,” Buzzo agrees.
“I feel like we are afforded the opportunity to make music for a living and with that, to me, comes a responsibility of holding up my end of the bargain. Which is that I will continue to work and make music as long as I can. We’ve done a lot of work, and it’s difficult because you don’t want to do the same thing over, and over, and over again. So, we try to work differently, as well. Sometimes that’s exciting and sometimes it’s not. Essentially, I like doing what I’m doing. I’m going to continue what I’m doing, but beyond that. I don’t’ really need motivation. I mean, it’s nice to have records where you listen to them and it makes you want to make your own records, but it doesn’t always happen. You never know where inspiration is going to come from.”
Hedging away from the everyday, The Melvins recognize the inherent value of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. Lately that’s meant taking on monumental challenges that have drawn the exuberantly heavy band into the locus of an album/soundtrack/filmmaking enterprise that has been as demanding as it has rewarding. But despite the inherent risks of going out on an artistic limb, Buzzo remains steadfast in his convictions and comportment when it comes to boldly going where no band has gone before.
“We’re not afraid. No, no, no. What’s the worst that could happen? I’m only really trying to please myself,” Buzzo admits.
“People take that as meaning I don’t’ care what the audience thinks and that’s not true. I care what they think, but I make music that I like figuring that other people will like it too. I would never make something that I intentionally wouldn’t like. I have to like it. If I stand behind it, I think other people will stand behind it and I don’t see anything wrong with that. I figure that’s really the key: making music that you like.”
Using that skeleton key to unlock the next chapter in his discography, Buzzo doubled his efforts and his output to produce The Melvins’ latest, a dramatic dual-release titled A Walk With Love And Death. A multifaceted release, the album consists of a dark stand-alone LP called Death and a moody film score LP called Love.
“It’s an album, as well as a soundtrack, and it’s all called A Walk With Love And Death, which is a little confusing for people, but we’re used to that,” he muses. For what is this life, if not a walk with both love and death?
“Fair enough. I guess you could stroll with love and death. The two halves are very different and there’s something on there for everyone. Maybe. Depending on what you’re used to. I don’t know what you’re used to, but we had a good time making it. It was a huge undertaking and we put a lot of work into it. The film is getting made right now as we speak. It’ll be out at some point and time with a different edited-version of the soundtrack.”
Surprisingly, this release marks the first double-album from the 34-year old band that has brought us such headnodding classics as Ozma (1989), Bullhead (1991), Houdini (1993), Stoner Witch (1994), and more recently The Bride Screamed Murder (2010) and Basses Loaded (2016). All along the road, the collective work ethic of long-time friends and band members; drummer/vocalist Dale Crover (who performed and recorded with Acid King, Nirvana, Hank Williams III), bassist/vocalist Jared Warren (Big Business, The Whip, Karp) and drummer/vocalist Coady Willis (Murder City Devils, Dead Low Tide, Big Business) has allowed King Buzzo free reign to surmount the trivial and fully explore his artistic intentions.
“It’s always interesting to me when people say things like ‘I don’t like your new material.’ Well, it’s not necessarily new. Some of the stuff on the soundtrack album we’ve had for a while and there’s one song on the other album (“Yuthanagia/Euthanasia”), which is a song that we’ve had since the early ‘90s that just never made it on to an album. It was on a 7-inch, it was on a flexi-disc, back then, so it’s the first time we put it on the record.”
Having finished the album and awaiting the imminent completion of the accompanying short film, directed by Jesse Nieminen, which shares its name with the twinned albums, Buzzo is eager to progress to his next benchmark assignment. Motivated and interested in the business of making music, Buzzo’s ability to overcome procrastination, forego the trappings of fame (he’s notoriously private), and remain true to his vision has set Melvins apart, and above, for decades. And while some musicians tend to look back on their storied professions with a certain degree of misty-eyed nostalgia, Buzzo isn’t one for dwelling on the past.
“We’re going to play some material off our new album, but we have a lot of records. You can’t play everything, so we had to kind of pick and choose what’s going to fit into the set and we’re working that out right now. So, who knows? Some songs I like more than others, but I don’t’ listen to my own music. We make the albums, like A Walk With Love And Death, and by the time it comes out I’m done with it. I’ll have moved on to the next thing, whatever that may be, ‘cuz we finished it months and months ago. When you finish a project, you’ve just gotta let it go out into the world and let someone else have it.”
The Melvins perform July 17 at Union Hall (Edmonton) and July 18 at The Marquee (Calgary).King Buzzo, Melvins, The Marquee, The Melvins, Union Hall