Interviews > The Melvins
THE MELVINS
Interview by Noah Skusse

Photos Courtesy of: Trish Lewandowsky
Sept. 24, 2010 at The Roseland Theater, Portland, OR

The Melvins formed in the early 1980’s in Washington. The founding line up was Buzz Osborne, Matt Lukin on bass (Mudhoney), and Mike Dillard on drums. Kurt Cobain had auditioned to be their bass player but couldn’t cut the mustard. Mike was quickly replaced by Dale Crover and over the following 27 years they have had numerous line-up changes but the core of Buzz and Dale have remained intact. The current incarnation features a second drummer, Coady Willis, and bassist Jared Warren, both of Big Business. I first started to listen to the Melvin’s in the late eighties when I had a high fashion roommate from Washington state. My CD collection sports more Melvin’s CDs than any other single artist and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to them before their show at Portland’s Roseland Theater last month.

I’ve read that you just started to play guitar after high school?

Buzz: Yes, that’s true

What did you do during high school if you weren’t playing guitar?

Buzz: Jr high, early part of high school I liked outdoor sports, you know--stuff like that, and listening to music and then I started drinking and partying and decided I didn’t like Jocks… so that was the end of that, but I always liked playing sports and still do a lot of out door type activities, whatever they may be.

But in interviews you talk a lot about work ethic, not partying?

Buzz: Yeah I don’t know where that came from? It’s certainly not common. It’s the exception. And partying certainly took the place of sports and now later in my life, the last fifteen years or so I’ve gotten more back into sports, but obviously not contact football or anything like that, but I’ve always been sports minded and loved that kind of stuff. But, I don’t watch it on TV or anything like that. That’s something I can’t stand.

Right , right

Buzz: I tend to like to play sports rather than watch them, except baseball but I’d go to a baseball game. I don’t like to sit in front of a television. I don’t own a television, I haven’t in twenty plus years, I have no idea what’s on there. I haven’t missed it.

Nervous laugh ( I luv TV)

Buzz: I’m more hands-on, but at my age it’s not a good idea to play tackle football.

I read you play golf.

Buzz; Yeah a lot of golf, That kind of stuff I love that kind of stuff as well as everything else I do , I mean that’s all centered in and around making a living playing music, you know – pretty busy all the time

You guys are non- stop. (The dude who interviewed Buzz right before me returns to give him a couple of his bands CD’s and Buzz thanks them polity).

Buzz: Not much down time but I’m happy about that.

And you’re aware that’s unusual right, to have not played music in high school but then start after that?

Buzz: I’m very aware of it, at the time it didn’t seem, well I guess I played a little , but I didn’t really start playing guitar until really almost the very end of high school. And within a very short time of that I was writing my own songs and we were playing in a band. Living through it, it seemed like it was a lot longer than it really was, time wise.

Back then it felt like a long time?

Buzz: Yeah but it was just a year or couple of years, not really even that long, until we started playing shows, but you know.

What type of music were you listening to then? I read where you had said that the Stooges grew up watching the Who and how that seemed like an understandable transition, step.. I mean, I know everyone says the Seattle sound was based on Iggy, but is that what you were listening to then?

Buzz: I would say the Stooges have an incredible influence on pretty much all alternative punk rock music in the world. You know certainly Australia. In the eighties I don’t think you had a band down there that didn’t sound like the Stooges, you know. Not to my knowledge.

And the American ones with that sound did well over there too.

Buzz: Yeah exactly. We like all that stuff, as well as a whole lot of other stuff. Punk rock you just need the right attitude. Before that I was into all the rock type bands, I still like that stuff, I still like all the music I liked as a teenager, pretty much. I never went through a stage of music I’m embarrassed about.

It’s interesting now to look at y’all and all the bands that are currently reforming.

Buzz: Lack of money is the root of all evil.

I saw the Zero’s a couple of weeks ago which was pretty amazing.

Buzz: Yeah, fuck yeah, they’re great, the Mexican Ramones.

EL Vez ,

Buzz: I met a few of those guys before they were really nice guys.

They’re in LA still, right.

Buzz: Yeah, to the bone, forever.

You’ve said you listen to all kinds of music and I read you were listening to lots of Cadence music, were you listening to that before, or just as research for “The Water Glass” (First song on The Bride Screamed Murder)?

Buzz: No band has ever done anything like that, that I know of you know, um so I wanted to apply it to one of our songs. I don’t know where those come from? I have no idea. Closest I can come to figure out what it is, is that it’s like slave songs or spiritual songs?

Right, but is that the first time you did research to write a song or is that part of the process?

Buzz:Yeah I do stupid shit like that all the time, I do lots of research with or without songs.

Yeah but was that the intent, did you do the research with the idea that you were going to write a song around it?

Buzz: Yeah to some degree but I’ll just look into things for no reason at all, its not uncommon for me to wonder “ why do they do this?” , and then I’ll start thinking about it and go , “huh, yeah how does this all relate” and it never ends.

The internet is great.

Buzz: It rules. My wife always says I have like ten conversations in my head at once and it never quits. She’s right.

Dale joins us.

Buzz: Pull up a chair Dale, This is Dale.

Hi. What about that aspect though that you’ve been releasing music since before there was the internet, do you think that’s been a positive thing for y’all.

Buzz: I think it’s better now than ever. We can put our tour dates in one spot in the internet and then everybody in the whole world knows about it. Thank god. Onward and upward. I’m not a good old days type of guy I generally think the good old days are the bad old days. Things were worse. There was no era , no rock music era, that was better than another era. When? I totally whole heartedly disagree with that.

You’re saying rock music or all kinds of sub genres of rock?

Buzz: If you look at rock music there was never a golden time when like everything was amazing, everything was always fucked up. Everything always was, but there are a few little gems sticking out of the shit. Always been, I think. If you look at the top ten in the seventies it’s not good bands its crap bands. Unless you consider Kool and the Gang good but I never did.

I feel like there were times… I mean I went to the last MusicfestNW and it was all these bands reforming, the Gories, the Zeros, Sleep. All these bands, most probably started while y’all were already playing.

Buzz: Sure I’m fine with that. I mean why not, you know.

Some of it was great.

Buzz: I have no problem with that, if Rolling Stones can tote their sixty year old asses on stage there’s no reason why these guys can’t.

Sure, even --- I saw the New York Dolls when they came through last year—the new version.

Buzz: What’s left of them.

They were awesome, it was a really fun show.

Dale: Yeah actually I heard some of their new stuff and I was like, that’s all right.

Buzz: They were good, they didn’t put out any bad records, really.

Well there weren’t many.

Dale: No just a couple.

Buzz: You know what I mean, they’re not embarrassing, at least they were weird, and the weirder the better.

Talking about the bad old days, I’ve read that you’ve said you have no special feelings about vinyl?

Buzz: No.

Does that feeling translate to when you guys record, do you record to tape?

Buzz: I’m not interested in any kind of medium, if people wanted cassette tapes that’s what we would do. I want people to hear our music, I don’t want to be an exclusive club.

Dale: No, but we do vinyl too, just not exclusively ---we do it as limited runs.

Buzz: We can sell a certain amount of it but when the bottom drops out of that, why would I bother?

And you wouldn’t record to tape.

Buzz: I’d record anyway. I try not to get wrapped up in the intricate details of that, people lose themselves in that sort of thing.

Dale: You know a lot of people think Pro Tools is the way to go now especially for the money but a lot of people also love analog and argue for recording that way, but for our last couple of records it would have been hard to have 21 tracks of drums on a tape. I mean we could do it, but it would be harder.

Buzz: We could make a record with anything .

Really y’all do 21 drum tracks?

Dale: Yeah 21 tracks, really that’s just the basic kit. On the new album, the song, “The Water Glass”, there were 80 tracks of drums.

Buzz: Really?

Dale: Yeah we wanted to over dub a shit load of snare drums.

Wow.

Buzz: But the thing is that on the records we did in the late nineties, when we did the trilogy we recorded those on 16 track 1 inch and no one goes, “wow, that sounds so different”, or worse or better. It doesn’t matter. If you put us into a room like this with an 8 track machine and told us to make an album, you’d have yourself an album, there would be no way around it.

Dale: Yeah, other bands have done it before.

Buzz: We could do it. I’m a firm believer in hiring a good engineer and taking it from there. We could make four track recordings, it’s going to be harder, but we could do it. No question.

Dale: The Beatles did it.

Buzz: Yeah the Beatles did and the stuff sounds amazing, even by today’s standards, because they had amazing microphones, amazing rooms, amazing engineers, all that… and all the time in the world.

But that’s a big part of a lot of peoples argument for using analogue (for the record, not mine, not really a Beatles fan).

Buzz: But if the Beatles were around now do you think they’d be using a four track machine? They’d be using the newest, best stuff available.

Dale: That’s what they were using then, the best stuff available.

Buzz: State of the Art! Why would you go candle in the dark unless you have some weird fetish for it. And fine, I don’t mind that and it doesn’t bother me but I try not to worry about those things. “Does it sound good?” I mean another band could go into the same studio as the Beatles with the same guys and make a crappy sounding record. No question. (Laughs)

I read you have put out like 25 records!

Buzz: Yeah I read that too, something like that, I’m not keeping track.

Dale: It’s a lot, hard to remember but I think that’s about right.

Buzz: I try to stay contemporary. Whole heartedly.

How long did y’all spend on the last record?

Buzz: Two weeks.

Is that about average?

Buzz: Yes, We’ve spent as much time as 21… What was the longest?

Dale: HAT or Stag or Stoner Witch (three of my favorites).

Buzz: Three and a half weeks tops.


Dave Curran, bass player for the Unsane and the current Melvin’s tour manger came down the stairs to announce another interviewer was waiting.

How many interviews do you do a day?

Buzz: This is the fourth today.

OK just a couple more questions…

Buzz: Whatever you need.

Along the lines of trying to stay current and there never being a golden era of modern music, What new bands do y’all listen to?

Buzz: Ah, Tweak bird, Totimoshi, who we are touring with now.

Dale: Gay Witch Abortion, Dirtbombs...

Buzz: Yeah the Dirtbombs are good.

Dale: Really good, I just saw them recently.

Buzz: Big Buisness. I love Big Business, obviously. ( Coady (drums) and Jared (bass) are both also in Big Business)…. The thing is if you asked me that same question in ’86 I’d have just as many names. Six, seven bands max, that I’m supper into but that’s about it. I was picky then, I’m picky now. That’s OK.

Sure, you can be picky.

Buzz: It’s cuz we care, we really do. We’re big music fans, we buy records. Attitude is the number one thing to look for. Take Pussy Galore, why were they good? Song writing and attitude –It’s not because they were amazing players, although I do think John Spencer is one of my favorite guitar players.

Boss Hog and Heavy Trash too.

Buzz: That’s a classic example, they’re all good because he’s so good.

Dale: I was blown away seeing them a couple of years ago at the ATP festival in Europe that we got to curate and we really hoped Pussy Galore would do but nah they couldn’t for some reason but we were able to get Boss Hog.

Buzz: They were good, we really liked it.

I guess my last question is, I’ve been a Melvin’s fan since the late eighties -- early nineties and researching for this interview I was constantly amazed by your career and surprised by the main stream success, -- Shocked to find I could stream your whole performance at Bannaroo on NPR of all places, or to find out that the latest record “The Bride Screamed Murder” broke the Billboard top 200. What has been the biggest surprise to you guys in the way that things have changed over the years?

Buzz: The biggest surprise for me probably is that the whole time, maybe the vast majority of it, at least the first eight years or so, nobody gave a shit about us and it’s good to know that I wasn’t wrong.

Like in 1984 through?

Dale: Yeah till ‘92. The first US tour that we did, in maybe ’86, it wasn’t that people just didn’t care about or like the band or whatever…

Buzz: They fucking hated us.

Dale: They were really, really angry.

Buzz: It was not good, and it was like that everywhere, it made us want to not tour again. But we didn’t change what we were doing.

And now you’ve broken the Billboard 200 and are on NPR.

Buzz: Well I always thought people should like us.