FOREWORD: The Melvins prefigured grunge and have outlasted every Seattle band they inspired (except Mudhoney and Pearl Jam). Led by freaky afro-laden Black Flag fan, Buzz Osborne (a.ka. King Buzzo), this batty combo piles on the radical noise.
After this ’02 phone interview, I caught up with the Melvins at Bowery Ballroom, where they slashed and burned through a loudly turbulent set. Originally intended for High Times, this piece ended up online at a friends’ cool site, Kittymagic, instead. It turned out Buzzo was fiercely against using narcotics despite his own peer’s reckless dope-fueled behavior. ‘06s (A) Senile Animal was a terrific onslaught, though less worthy ’08 follow-up, Nude With Boots, ain’t bad.
SIDEBAR: I saw the Afro-kinked King Buzzo at San Francisco Giants World Series game. His hair stuck out like nobody else’s.
Inspiring Nirvana as well as the entire early ‘90s Seattle grunge scene, the legendary Melvins came out of Aberdeen, Washington, with a radically abstract and uncompromisingly intimidating metal-sludged attack way beyond their less sophisticated peers. Beginning with ‘87s Gluey Porch Treatment, guitarist-vocalist King Buzzo and lifelong pal, percussionist Dale Crover, have had a major impact on the revitalized independent spirit and non-conformist attitude sweeping modern rock culture. Though Buzzo (born Roger Osborne; nicknamed Buzz by his parents) has remained straightedge since the Melvins took off, his profound influence could be heard on Queens Of The New Age and their ‘stoner rock’ ilk.
“Don’t blame stoner rock on us,” the slightly dismayed Buzzo offers. “Those ideas were interesting 30 years ago. They’re not injecting new ideas to the old formula.”
Growing up, Buzzo enjoyed Black Sabbath, Queen, and ZZ Top, calling them “great musicians and songwriters,” but it was hardcore bohemians such as Black Flag, the Butthole Surfers, and Venom that struck a nerve when he hit his rebellious teens. An avid experimentalist with eighteen full-length albums under his belt as leader of the Melvins, the respected icon admits to enjoying prog-rock visionaries King Crimson as well as avant-garde musicians Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart.
When grunge exploded internationally, the Melvins were signed by Atlantic Records and released ‘93s mind-boggling Houdini (co-produced by Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain) and the monumental follow-up Stoner Witch (its title a derogatory term for hippie-ish drugged out girls). Though Cobain was stoked to help out his favorite band, he eventually succumbed to heroin and a shotgun. But Buzzo believes Cobain’s serious drug addiction could not have been curbed by intervention.
“He wasn’t exactly hiding it. If people are gonna get fucked up, they’re responsible for themselves. You can’t get people to quit. I don’t think you can or should,” Buzzo explains.
A former pothead who ran wild and performed his share of unspecified unlawful activities as a teen (half-kiddingly smirking, “if a kid isn’t a criminal and breaking laws, there’s something wrong”), Buzzo remains tolerant of marijuana users, but derides alcohol and hard drug use. Though he believes the green-leafed herb could be a gateway drug, he doesn’t denigrate Melvins fans prescribing to that lifestyle.
“I guess I dabbled in recreational drug use like most kids. As a kid, it makes more sense and you go crazy. Later, it’s a burden interfering with getting things done. People would be surprised the Melvins are more conservative than they think,” the graying Afro-maned North Hollywood resident insists. “Alcohol use is worse than drug use. It’s more prevalent and accepted. More shit passes through the liver. Emergency room statistics prove OD deaths are disproportionately more alcohol-related than cocaine or heroin. I’ve never heard of pot-related heart attacks, but I know people who are hard to deal with when they don’t have marijuana.”
On ‘00s The Crybaby, Buzzo controversially hooked up Leif Garrett to sing a rousing version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but soon realized the former teen idol was still haunted by his drug-addled past. Buzzo insists “Leif’s a charming, smart, interesting guy who’s still got demons holding him back.”
Recently, Buzzo teamed up with non-straightedge death metal masters Fantamos, consisting of Mike Patton (ex-Faith No More), Dave Lombardo (former Slayer drummer), and Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle bassist) for the Fantomas Melvins Big Band’s veritable smorgasbord, Millennium Monsterwork.
Concurrently, the Melvins released probably their most accessible work on Patton’s Ipecac Records, Hostile Ambient Takeover. From the manic Metallica-hardened lunacy of “Black Stooges” to the spasmodic Beefheartian wackiness of “Dr. Geek” to the Twilight Zone imagery of “The Brain Center At Whipples,” Buzzo maintains the virility and spontaneity of his edgy punk-rooted past.
However, he concedes, “I resent the elitist punk crowd that dislikes metal. People have a condescending attitude about that music because of the terrible nu-metal shit.”
Never afraid to get sociopolitical, the caustic Buzzo offered thoughts on several hot topics. He insists there’s a blurry line separating whether drug testing for jobs is an invasion of privacy. “It depends on the job. It’s the employers prerogative.”
As for military drug use, he blames some of it on Nazi Germany. “Hitler invented methadone as mighty fine military-designed speed for himself and troops. I’m sure our military use drugs.”
A true blue American, Buzzo thinks America “is still the best country,” adding “the damage caused by 9-11 was less than what people think. It was a lucky shot that didn’t accomplish much. We’ll just build more. Only 5% of the people at World Trade Center at its peak died. Most got out fine. It was a tragedy, but not on a grand scale. We’re bigger and tougher. People get emotional, but the terrorists weren’t successful.”