MELVINS Q&A: Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover talk vinyl splits, punk and Groucho Marxism

A couple of weeks ago we caught up with Melvins just before they played a sold-out show at the Electric Ballroom, London. They were traveling light, back to a three-piece for the night after auxiliary drummer Coady Willis called in sick (it was the runs, no one can play through the runs), but nevertheless in good spirits. It seems like ages since the Bride Screamed Murder was released, so it seemed like a good enough time to ask guitarist/frontman Buzz Osborne and drummer Dale Crover what was going on with regards to a follow-up, if indeed their mooted split with Napalm Death was going to happen, and try and find out what it is that has maintained their irrepressible enthusiasm for fucking with their audience’s heads for so many years now.
You generally like to avoid touring in the winter and record instead, are you about to work on a new album?
Dale: We’re getting ready to. Yip, we’re planning to do a record when we get back. We’re not touring again until April, so yeah: we’re working on something new. We’re working on a few things.
Buzz: A lot of things that we can’t talk about right now.
Dale: Secret stuff!

How does it all come together—is it a question of you, Buzz, coming up with the ideas, stockpiling them and then sorting through them? And is it that sorting that takes up more time more so than the actual writing?
Dale: He’s definitely got a bunch of songs ready, ideas at least. But then, he’s always writing new stuff so…
Buzz: I’m not looking forward to it—I’m looking forward to not doing regular albums anymore.

Buzz, you’ve said that the album format’s dead, what will replace it?
Buzz: I think so. EPs.
Dale: Record companies don’t have any money any more…
Buzz: Why were records the length they are now? Why? ‘Cos that’s how long the format was—that’s it!
Dale: Like 35 minutes is all you can get on vinyl, all your old vinyl and then CDs are longer—
Buzz: —so we started making them longer.
Dale: But we usually make them about 45 minutes long because people’s attention spans are not that long. Ours aren’t!

Your sound is pretty weird on many levels but even the straightforward sounding stuff is deceptively complex, it’s like a watermark—not too many bands can rip you off.
Buzz: I’ve always thought it was really complicated music ha ha ha. I think so; it’s difficult. Not a lot of bands do covers of our songs and there’s a reason for that. Well I do like a clever riff. I like bands who put together something that’s a bit more complicated. A lot of it is a bit more complicated than people imagine. It’s tough. I do weird tunings and all kinds of weird shit that people don’t pick up on. Live, we mask it by tuning in odd areas while something else is going on.

It’s not like you have to play Melvins songs live just like they are on record.
Buzz: We never do.
Dale: No, never.
Buzz: Albums are suggestions.
Dale: Some younger bands are always afraid of doing something different in the studio because of the, “Well, how can we do that live?” and they’d have to play it differently—who cares!?
Buzz: Albums and live are totally different. They should be approached differently.

The ethos of Melvins is very much to do something different, isn’t it?
Buzz: We try to. We try.

You are one of the few to always have a sense of humor, no matter how warped, in your music. It’s tough to do. But is that something along with changing styles etc. that has contributed to your longevity. It can’t be healthy singing about hate for 25 years.
Buzz: All you have to do is chant about hate with a smile on your face! Ha ha ha. It shows how much you love hate. [Metal] It’s not meant to be serious.

The underground music sense doesn’t have a sense of humour.
Dale: No.

But yet a lot of the best humor comes from anger.
Buzz: Just like the best journalism comes from fiction!

True! Most of the time—the rest is mostly bootlicking. But is comedy, particularly the more anarchic British comedies, an influence on Melvins?
Buzz: We’ve always been a fan of it, certainly Monty Python and Benny Hill, Britain’s comic genius.
Benny Hill’s kinda unappreciated in the U.K.
Buzz: Here’s the thing, though, everybody knows who he is.
Dale: Everybody was talking about this yesterday! We have the Benny Hill Show on all the time.
Buzz: We grew up with that stuff.
Dale: It’s funny.

Given that humor, etc. doesn’t really fit in with the underground music scene’s rulebook. do you think the conservatism of the underground is better or worse now?

Buzz: It’s the same. Oh yeah. Although, for a moment in the late ‘70s punk bands embraced a lot of different kind of things — Ramones, Blondie, Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Dead Boys, none of which were at all the same but nonetheless still under the banner of punk rock…
Dale: And then you’ve got the Butthole Surfers, Black Flag… All that stuff was completely different.
Buzz: …Minutemen, Throbbing Gristle, Flipper: they’re all different. But you’re not going to find that sort of thing now on your typical punk rock tour where every band sounds like Bad Religion, major chord progressions, pop-rock that’s not even as good as the Knack! I don’t get it. To me, all these bands just sound like the Descendants crossed with the Dickies—or Bad Religion. It’s like time stopped. If you got to a Warped Tour situation—I don’t know if you have that here—it’s all bands that sound exactly the same, or they’re ska-ish. You’re not going to hear a band that sounds like Pussy Galore, no way, like an industrial hybrid of the Cramps. That’s not going to fit in the parameters of what we call Hot Topic punk rock.

Who’s to blame for the propagation of weak punk?
Buzz: Well it’s nothing new. It’s always been like that. People like that sort of music. I don’t know why. I’ve always been a Groucho Marxist meaning that I’d never want to be part of any club that’d have me as a member.

Where does the playful aspect of your music come from?
Buzz: I’ve always been a big fan of bands like the Fugs, Captain Beefheart—the Fugs especially. We’re what Captain Beefheart would do if he played heavy metal. That’s what we’re doing. Ha ha ha!

There’s a sort of childlike enthusiasm to Melvins, though, in the way you play with ideas.
Buzz: Maybe some of it, yeah.

Melvins on Pancake Mountain

Is maybe your biggest creative victory then, to just do what you want, be it marching band or noise rock?
Dale: Yes.
Buzz: Yes, I’m fine with that. I don’t feel constricted by anything; I’m into all kinds of stuff. I’m interested in all sorts of stuff, influenced by all kind of things be it soundtrack music, quiet/loud, noisy/calm, ha ha ha!

Have you ever come up with an idea that you liked but thought it wouldn’t fit Melvins?
Buzz: No. If I thought it was good we would figure out a way to make it work.
Dale: There may be some things that we haven’t finished, that we just don’t know what we are going to do with.
Buzz: But it’s not because we don’t think it would fit in within the constraints of what we are doing.
Dale: Right.
Buzz: I don’t have any problem saying that if I think it’s good then it’s going to be on the record, and that’s it.
Dale: And that’s all that matters.

Is it harder to shock a Melvins fan these days?
Buzz: No, it’s easy. Ha ha ha!
Dale: They’re easily confused.
Buzz: Yeah, I mean I’m often surprised by why people expect us to do something normal—they shouldn’t. There are lots of bands who are willing to do all kinds of normal things; people should not look to us to do that. Y’know!? Normal to us is still pretty weird. There are lots of things we want to do. There is a lot of music that I wanna do; there’s not one thing.

Would you do a Christmas album?
Both: Sure.
Buzz: I’d do something along those lines, for sure.
Dale: It’s maybe a little late to do one this year though. Next year.

Shane Embury from Napalm Death was saying that Napalm Death want to do a split with you guys—will this happen?
Buzz: Yeah, we really wanna do it. Well, our end of it is done, we just need any track from them, even if it’s one they’ve already done.
Dale: Yeah, we don’t care what it is, if it’s already been released it doesn’t matter.
Buzz: It’s going to be part of a specific thing; we put out a record on CD in June that’s called Sugar Daddy Live. That has 13 songs on it, so the vinyl edition is going to be 13 seven-inches with a different band on the other side, so there’s 13 split seven-inches, all a song from Sugar Daddy Live, all with B-sides with a band who has nothing to do with us. Ha ha ha!
Dale: Bands we like or bands we’re friends with.
Buzz: Or bands who don’t exist anymore, y’know. We gotta lot of them: Off; Fucked Up; this band who hasn’t existed since the ‘80s the U-Men; the Cows; Napalm Death; Mudhoney. I can’t remember who else. Oh, one of them is going to have three songs on one side and that one’s got the Necros, and Negative Approach.
Dale: Yeah, bands that don’t exist anymore!
Buzz: ‘Cos I was like, “Yeah, we wanna do split singles, but do the bands have to exist anymore? Can they be old bands that we like?” Y’know, as a B-side, why does it have to be a band that’s new?
Dale: And everyone’s pretty much said yes.
Buzz: Especially if they don’t have to do anything.
Dale: Those bands that don’t exist anymore were like, “I don’t think we can do a new song…” No, we don’t want a new song! We want one of your old ones.
Buzz: Yeah, we’ll just take it off one of your records.
Dale: And they were fine with it.
Buzz: Nobody’s ever done that sort of thing before and I like it.

That’s the beauty of Melvins, though, you can share vinyl or tour with anyone and it still seems to fit.
Buzz: We don’t like touring with other bands so much though. Like opening for them, we’ve done a lot of it and we’re kinda sick of selling the band that way. The worst part of dealing with it—and except for very few occasions—is dealing with their road crew, their management; that’s the worst part of it. It’s not the bands.
Dale: Bands who we’ve opened for in some big place, they would dick around in a soundcheck forever…
Buzz:… Or just be assholes.
Dale: And by the time we’ve gone in and set up their stuff they are opening the doors. Stuff like that.
Buzz: I’m just sick of it, that kind of crap. We did a tour a couple of years ago with this band Down and it was the exact opposite of that—they were all really nice. If all our tours could be like that I wouldn’t mind it. But we’ve done a lot of tours like that and we’re done except for special occasions. We’ll do some shows where we’ll open but the idea of going on a 40-date tour with some band that’s going to treat you like shit is just not my idea of fun.
Dale: Unless they offer us so much money that…
Buzz: Unless it’s so much money you don’t care—which doesn’t happen. It could but it doesn’t happen.
Dale: But the Down tour, we hadn’t done anything like that in a long time.
Buzz: And they were really nice.

Tonight you’ve got no suppor
Buzz: Nope. No other bands.

You’ve talked about marketing the band and going on certain tours and so forth, Ozzfests, which sound terrible.
Buzz: Ozzfest is horrible. There wasn’t one thing about it that was could. That’s everything I hate about music, and everything I hate about the music industry rolled into one tour. Warped Tour is no different. None of those package tours are any different than that.

It’s convenient for the discerning listener ‘cos you can give it a wide berth and it holds all the idiots in the one place.

Buzz: Yeah! I mean, if you’re 16 years old and you want to get away from your parents for a couple of days it’s a great thing to do. But I’m not 16 years old! Ha ha ha! I don’t care.
Dale: And you generally don’t get a soundcheck you just get thrown up there.
Buzz: They are about everything except music.

You’ve got such a singular identity—like Ramones, Misfits, etc—that you could have totally raked in the merch sales and stuff like that, but you’ve held off. Why?

Buzz: Yeah, but I’ve got no interest in putting my logo on some beer cooler sorta thing. If we were going to do something like that, I really wouldn’t want to sign with some company that’s going to do those sort of things, not because I don’t trust the companies it’s just I think that stuff looks cheap.

Is it more a case of control, like when you did the CD release with the limited run, you can have more quality control over it and effectively Melvins’ name.

Buzz: Yeah, that stuff’s fine, it’s good we can do that sort of thing, but there’s another end of it and that’s: nothing sells anymore, y’know. And unless you’re going to make something that’s so cool why would anyone buy it? CDs don’t sell. Vinyl sells less than ever—there’s no resurgence in vinyl. People who say that are out of their minds. I say, if there’s a resurgence in vinyl make 20,000, go ahead and see what happens to ya! Give it a shot!
Dale: A lot of our stuff has been limited edition, handmade or the sort of stuff that you can only get at our shows.
Buzz: Or online.
Dale: But we made it that way so that it was something that was unique.
Buzz: Special.

That misconception that vinyl now sells millions to the audiophiles; is that the same misconception, same logic that thinks Houdini sold millions?
Buzz: Yeah, yeah… Millions! Yeah it’s one of many misconceptions. I don’t know, people seem to think that we are dead broke or filthy rich; there’s no in-between. We’re either multi-millionaires with more money than God or we have nothing at all. I did an interview the other day and the guy said, “But what about bands like you guys who don’t make any money with what you’re doing?” Like, “What would make you think that we don’t make any money doing what we’re doing?”
“But you guys aren’t in it for the money.”
Yeah—“What the fuck are you talking about, do you think I flew over hear for no reason, ‘cos I think it’s cool? I could stay at home and make nothing. That might be fun, once.” That’s just crazy talk. And I don’t know why people think like that; they’re not using their heads. Why would vinyl be selling than ever?
Dale: Most kids are not going to have record players. My kids don’t care. My kids don’t care if it’s a CD or a vinyl, they listen to the iPod so that’s what they’re gonna know. It’s digital.
Buzz: Yeah but in 1990 we’d make 15,000 singles. You think we’d make 15,000 singles now? No way… 500, 800 maybe, and what’s that tell you? It’s selling not more than ever but less than ever.
Dale: Maybe 5,000

What’s the way forward for new bands?
Buzz: Well, what’s the most important thing? Having people hear your music. That’s the most important thing. It’s easier now than ever in the history of music. The exchange of information is easier now and better than ever before. That’s really the most important thing—the vinyl, the way it’s packaged, all those sort of things are secondary to the music. Being good, that’s it.
Dale: It’s strictly a collector’s thing, vinyl.

Are you sentimental with regards to your material, like did you need convincing to do Houdini?
Buzz: Not really, I’m much more a what-have-we-done-lately kinda guy. I think it’s well and good that bands get back together and do a reunion tour, do all those sorts of things but most of those bands haven’t put out a good record in quite a long time.
Dale: Very few have.

You’d have a problem doing a reunion tour—you’d have to split up first.
Buzz: We’re going to do a farewell tour, and then do a reunion tour.
Dale: Farewell Forever. Until next time.
Buzz: Goodbye Forever.

Is there a place that you feel a particular affinity for when touring?
Buzz: I don’t feel at home more or less anywhere. I like touring the U.S. because it is easier, and we don’t have overseas airline flights. I like touring America, it’s fun. But once you’re on the stage it doesn’t really matter. Like tonight, we could be in the States, in Berlin… It doesn’t matter. It’s no different. Trying to play without thinking, that’s the key. The best shows are the ones you don’t remember. If I don’t remember the show that means I didn’t have to think about it once and it was amazing.
Dale: Sometimes you’ll play the worst show ever and someone will say, “That was the best show I’ve ever seen you guys play,” and it’s like, “No, no, that was horrible!”
Buzz: But that’s none of your business.
Dale: Yeah.
Buzz: Because people will make their own judgments and if they liked it better than any other show then just say “thanks”.
Dale: That’s all you can do.