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Interview With King Buzzo of The Melvins
The Melvins have been around. And around. They are one of the most consistent rock bands of all time, ever since the inception of grunge in the late 80s/early 90s. They’ve made their mark on the rock & roll landscape by writing music and touring relentlessly throughout America and abroad for almost 30 years.
This year, a three-piece version of the band titled Melvins Lite that includes Buzz Osborne (more affectionately known as King Buzzo), drummer Dale Crover and stand-up bassist Trevor Dunn are attempting to make rock & roll history by touring 51 states in 51 consecutive days. The Guiness Book of World Records will be watching as the band starts September 5th in Anchorage, Alaska, then makes their way through every state in the mainland (including Washington, DC) and ends up in Honolulu, Hawaii.
I caught up with King Buzzo to get his thoughts on what has been a busy year so far that is sure to end on a high note…
LISTEN TO THE AUDIO VERSION (starts at 1:00 mark): Interview with Buzz Osborne
Buzzo: (phone ringing) Hey sorry, I was winding up my last interview.
Nick: How’d it go?
Buzzo: It was good. Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Where are you at?
Nick: Fargo, North Dakota. I’m with the FM Observer.
Buzzo: North Dakota? We’ve never actually played in North Dakota. We’ve played across the river from Fargo, but I think it was still Minnesota.
Nick: Yeah, that would be Moorhead…
Buzzo: Yeah. Right there. We’ve technically never played in North Dakota, so…
Nick: This will be new then. The crowd’s gonna be ready for you.
Buzzo: Oh yeah. They’re gonna eat us alive.
Nick: Yup. It’ll be college town, USA by the time you roll through.
Buzzo: Nobody likes us more than college kids. Us and college kids get along real well.
Nick: I bet.
Buzzo: I never went to college, so…that seems obvious!
Buzzo: Funniest thing is: any of my buddies who are most successful with their own businesses–none of them ever went to college! (laughs)
Nick: No, of course not!
Buzzo: Two of the guys I know just went straight into the service. (laughs)
Nick: So, let’s talk about the 51 in 51 tour. One of the most innovative and aggressive touring gameplans i’ve ever heard of. How did this idea come about?
Buzzo: I’ve heard about it since I was a kid…George Thorogood trying to do this and even says that he did it, but I know that he didn’t because I was a George Thorogood fan in 1980 when he tried to do it and I remember that he canceled it. His memory seems to have fogged at this point because I know he didn’t do it and if he did do it, why isn’t he the Guiness World Record holder which he’s not?
Nick: Exactly! He’s not in the book. It doesn’t count unless you’re in ink!
Buzzo: I talked to Guiness and they said ‘absolutely not, there is no George Thorogood’ which means that Thorogood didn’t do it. They don’t even know anything about that.
Nick: They’ve never even heard of him?
Buzzo: The thing is, after that, George got really famous for his “Bad to the Bone” song and he was surrounded by people who would’ve loved that publicity, so instead, what he did is just said that he did it.
Nick: Ah. Well, if you have people surrounding you that will believe anything you say…
Buzzo: What is the old saying? “Bullshit makes the world go ’round?”
Nick: I think that’s it.
Buzzo: I’m all for it! I am not above a publicity stunt, and that’s all that it was.
Nick: Of course not!
Buzzo: Well, if everybody could do it, then it wouldn’t be a big deal. So that’s what we want. We want to try to do it. We’ve done tours where we’ve done, like, 30 some shows in a row so it’s not that many more. If you’re gonna do something like this, you’ve gotta do it right. You’ve gotta go out with a bang. Boom boom boom. Make it happen! Start in Alaska, end in Hawaii.
Nick: I cannot wait!
Buzzo: Yeah, so we’ll play Sioux Falls, SD the night before (Fargo). We’ve already played Sioux Falls, SD once with Nine Inch Nails.
Nick: No kidding?
Buzzo: Yeah. A long time ago. We also played there with Helmet as well, on July 4th, 1997. I might be wrong about that date, but i’m pretty sure. Can’t remember the name of the club, but I remember the date and the year! (laughs)
Nick: (laughs) That’s unbelievable!
Buzzo: Yeah, that’s pretty crazy. I remember years and dates like that and I don’t even know why.
Nick: Amazing. That’s like, 15 years and 1000 gigs ago. How do you remember that?
Buzzo: I don’t know. I can remember all kinds of stupid shit. I remember the venue we played with Nine Inch Nails. It was a brand new venue and Nine Inch Nails did $30,000 in damage to their dressing room that night. Sioux Falls. I remember that.
Nick: What?? (laughs)
Buzzo: That was on their “Downward Spiral” tour. It was good. So, we’re really looking forward to this. We’re gonna play North Dakota. If you’re gonna play North Dakota, you gotta play Fargo. Where else are you gonna play?
Nick: Well, that’s probably the best city North Dakota has as far as entertainment goes…
Buzzo: We figured we’d have the best time in Fargo. That’ll be good. Driving there, you’re thinking driving across Montana will never end and then you get to North Dakota and you think that will never end! (laughs)
Nick: Oh, that’s not a joke. Plus, Fargo has electricity now, so that’s a bonus!
Buzzo: Yeah, it’s way out in the middle of nowhere. You could hide from the world there, you know?
Nick: There was an 800 foot-high generator that had been powering the entire city for the last hundred years or so.
Buzzo: I don’t doubt it. Still burning buffalo chips up there.
Buzzo: Yeah, but like you said, that’s a big college town, so anytime there’s a college town in any state, it means there’s an influx of culture and anytime there’s an influx of culture that means there’s outside forces coming in that are gonna make thing happen that wouldn’t normally happen in a town like that. College towns have always been real nice to us. Always a good thing. I don’t have any problem with that. I’m an urban guy. I grew up out in the woods, so I want to end my life surrounded by city. Some of us don’t like nature. (laughs)
Nick: Lot of mosquitoes up here too, just for the record. I thought i’d let you know in advance but it’s not like you’re gonna be galavanting out in the woods or anything.
Buzzo: Yeah I probably won’t. It’ll probably be me, the hotel room, and the gig. That’s it. The next day we play in Minneapolis so we’re looking forward to that, too. All of it is good, you know. This is gonna be a really good thing to do. It started when we were trying to figure out if we could do this Melvins Lite thing with Trevor Dunn, so a little over a year ago we played 5 shows here in California in little places like San Diego, Fresno and San Luis Obispo to see how it would go and it went great. While we were doing that, I realized we didn’t have as much gear so I realized we could do this 51 shows in 51 states tour and we could actually make it work. That’s kind of how it happened. Then, I go ‘if we’re going to do that tour, we’ve got to put a record together’ so that’s how the FREAK PUKE record happened. Then we had that whole tour booked a year out. A year ago last fall we had this whole tour booked but we didn’t announce it ’til June after our tour with the Melvins regular lineup that includes the Big Business guys. We had both those tours booked at the same time plus the Canadian tour we just finished with the Melvins Lite. I usually don’t leave any stone unturned in that department. I like to plan ahead when I plan.
Nick: Yeah. Planning 51 in 51 a year in advance would probably be wise.
Buzzo: It was wise. I also didn’t want our promoters to know that they had us over the barrel either. But we didn’t ask them for anything outrageous. All we wanted was that date so the deal we have in Fargo would be the same deal we would have any time we would play there. We try to be as realistic as possible with every promoter we ever play with because we want to be able to come back and do another show with them.
Nick: Oh yeah. The door will always be open in Fargo.
Buzzo: Yes, we want everyone to have a good experience and we will do our best to have that happen.
Nick: Nice. So, how has the chemistry been onstage with the stand up bass? I know you guys have played with Trevor before this year…
Buzzo: Oh it’s been great. Trevor is a tremendous musician. That’s the thing. He’s also a smartass. That all helps. If you can’t deal with people making smart-ass comments, you probably shouldn’t be a musician. The previous tour went really well. I knew it would. I’d seen him play a number of times before this, but not quite in the same rock-type thing that we’re doing, but I knew it would work. Once I started thinking about songs for the FREAK PUKE record, it all just kind of fell together. So now, we have both versions of the band that are gonna go and I would think probably next year you could probably anticipate us doing a tour with both lineups of the band at once.
Buzzo: All we’re doing is adding one more guy. Also, this year…and I think this is also a first. I might be wrong about this, but I think it’s a first…we also have an EP coming out at the end of August that will be just in time for this tour. A 4-song EP on Amphetamine Reptile records that is the Melvins 1983 lineup doing new material.
Nick: Reuniting with Mike Dillard, is that right? Getting the original group back together?
Buzzo: Yup. That’s right. So, what we did instead of having the original bass player who, at this point i’m going to say is acting like a brat which is why we’re not using him.
Buzzo: We’ll use Dale Crover, our normal drummer who plays bass, and Mike Dillard plays drums. So it’s as close as we’re gonna get to the ’83 lineup. I wrote some new songs and we even recorded an old cover song by a band called The Lude that they never recorded but we had a demo of and they told us that we could record it if we wanted to, and basically gave us the song. It’s a song we used to play back then. It’s a 4-song EP and I think we’re the only band that has ever done 3 releases in one year with 3 separate lineups of the band! (laughs)
Nick: I was gonna say, you’ve got BULLS AND THE BEES, FREAK PUKE and MELVINS 1983 coming out back-to-back-to-back in the same year! I don’t think it’s been done.
Buzzo: Maybe. Maybe Frank Zappa did it, but I doubt it.
Nick: I don’t know…it would be tough to pull off back in the 70s…
Buzzo: I don’t know either. He was a pretty hard worker. I actually saw Zappa in 1981, believe it or not.
Buzzo: Yeah. I was in 11th grade. (laughs) Frank Zappa was quite a head spin to put on an 11th-grader.
Nick: (laughs) Wow. What was I doing in 11th grade? Picking my nose in the high school parking lot, more than likely…
Buzzo: My parents had no idea what I was doing in 11th grade, i’ll tell you that. Definitely not driving 100 miles to see Frank Zappa play, know what I mean? Fortunately, my parents didn’t really care what I did. It was good.
Nick: Ah, yeah. That would give a guy a certain amount of freedoms.
Buzzo: I didn’t really care what they thought, and I didn’t get into any trouble, so it was all fine. The best part was that in the end, I don’t know if they ever had much hope for me or that any of this stuff was gonna turn out, but i’m not asking them for money, you know?
Nick: I think you’re doing all right.
Buzzo: I think the less you have to hand your offspring money, the better. (laughs)
Nick: Exactly (laughs). So, how much time are you guys giving yourself for each stop? You have a gig each day for 51 consecutive days. Are you sleeping on the road, or how will that work?
Buzzo: Well, we set it up with a lot of foresight, and I worked very hard with our booking agent to book these states on these specific days and these specific towns. That’s why we did it a year in advance, so we couldn’t fuck it up.
Nick: That’s smart, because–Austin, TX? Texas is big! You’ve got a lot of ground to cover between Austin and the next stop.
Buzzo: We’ve got to go from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Austin, then to Norman, Oklahoma. That’s a long drive. You’ve got to understand…the freeway system in Texas is actually pretty nice.
Nick: Norman, Oklahoma?
Buzzo: Norman Oklahoma is just behind Oklahoma City. Straight north from Austin.
Nick: That’s got to be about a 6-hour drive…
Buzzo: Easily 6 hours.
Buzzo: But we’re not babies. What are we, a bunch of old women? Not at all! We’re grown men. It’s just driving. It’s not a big deal. People freak out about driving. I’ve never understood that. I love to drive.
Nick: Long highways, the open road. Not a ton of concerns.
Buzzo: I love it! One of my favorite things to do. I don’t like buses, and besides, this is the kind of tour you can’t do on a bus. You have to be behind the wheel. I want to be behind the wheel most of the time. We’re not going to be able to do this forever. The more hell you raise as a child, the sweeter the memories, you know? I want to have stuff to talk about when i’m almost ready to die.
Nick: You’ll never quit playing music, though, right?
Buzzo: Well, you know, most of those blues guys never quit and every time the Rolling Stones get on stage, that makes it OK for us to do it. (laughs)
Nick: Yeah! As long as they’re still throwin down jams, then anybody can.
Buzzo: They make it OK. Old people today know what rock and roll is all about. They were shaking their ass to it in the 50′s, so nobody’s going to give me any shit. We’re law-abiding citizens, by and large. This will be a fun thing to do. I’m really looking forward to it. We did this across Canada earlier this year. We didn’t play every day, but it gave us a chance to see if this Melvins Lite thing would work and it worked beautifully. I’m really happy we could have all this going.
Nick: Cool. How is it working out sonically with the stand-up bass? Is the ferocity and the loudness still there on stage?
Buzzo: You’re not going to have any problem.
Nick: Didn’t think so…
Buzzo: It works really well. We started with it playing big shows in places like Edmonton, Canada which is way farther north than Fargo and they had no problem with it. So, if they had no problem with it, I can’t imagine who will.
Nick: Nice. So are you guys keeping track of tour progress online at all?
Buzzo: Yes we are! Spin Magazine. If you look on our Facebook page you can see this thing that we did, something along those lines with Extreme Magazine in Canada (on the last tour). We will be doing a similar thing with Spin Magazine and I have a couple more ideas that I don’t want to talk about at the moment. I don’t want to ruin the surprise. Plus, along with everything else we’ve done, we’ve got a whole bunch of different releases planned for next year, too.
Nick: Releases? Plural? As in, more than one?
Buzzo: Next year is our 30th anniversary.
Nick: There must be some groundbreaking stuff coming next year.
Buzzo: Yeah. We’ll do 30 shows next year. We’ll play 30 songs a night (laughs). We’ll play venues that only hold 30 people.
Nick: (laughs) VIP only!
Buzzo: First 30 people get a free beer. How about we play a gig every 30 days! (laughs) See, the ideas never end! We’ll only play 30 minutes (laughs). Or we’ll play 30 30-minute gigs.
Nick: Or–put 30 shows together in advance, and announce the gig the night before on Facebook or something…
Buzzo: Yeah. You never know. We’ll just do Kickstarter. Whatever cities give us the most money is where we’ll go. (laughs)
Nick: When the tour concludes in Hawaii, what will you guys do to celebrate? Maybe a Hawaiian vacation is in order?
Buzzo: I think i’m just gonna come home. I like L.A. That’s where I wanna be. I’m not a big beach guy, believe it or not.
Nick: Maybe learn to surf?
Buzzo: Nah, I don’t like that. I like other outdoor activities, but not that. Too much sand and stupid people.
Nick: Going to hop on a bird and get the hell out of Honolulu?
Buzzo: I probably will. I tour all the time, so being home is like a vacation for me. We still do 85-120 shows a year, and we have for 20 years. It’s a bonus to be home.
Nick: I hear ya.
Buzzo: Look, I take what I do seriously and I love what I do. I don’t take it lightly. It’s an honor and a privilege to be a musician and going out and playing music to fans all over the whole world.
Nick: The fans know that and they respect that. I’m a fan, so I can tell you straight up.
Buzzo: We know that. We never stop and we never have. Trends come and go, but we just keep changing which is fine with me. Most of the assholes that i’ve dealt with in the music industry, it’s been my experience that all you have to do is wait and the assholes will be gone. You’ve got a promoter in some city like Cleveland or somewhere who is telling you you’ll never have lunch in that town again, but all you have to do is wait ‘em out and they’re gone! We’re the last band standing.
The Melvins Lite play at the Aquarium in Fargo on September 18th. BUY TICKETS HERE
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