Interview : Buzz Osborne (of The Melvins) : Unplugged

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By Thomas Kennedy

It been over twenty years since Buzz’s last solo-effort. We talked about who he’d been listening to during that period of time.

On the Corner by Miles Davis has definitely been one of the biggest albums that we go back to over the past 20 years,” Buzz Osborne told me. “That’s one of the main places we’re coming from. People don’t see it, but it’s there.”

While the Miles Davis influence on Buzz Osborne’s new solo material may be rather oblique, it’s front-and-center on Dale Crover’s new all-drumming project, Hew Time.* Revisiting On the Corner, I can see how the use of sleigh bells on “Black Satin” might inform the final post-silence minute of “See How Pretty, See How Smart”.

“The jazz people all hated it,” Buzz was saying, still in reference to On the Corner, “They probably still do.”

“The whole electric period,” of Miles Davis’s career is the period that had the most impact on Buzz. “Big Fun, Bitches Brew…but especially On the Corner. There’s a boxed-set of all the sessions for On the Corner that I would highly, highly, highly recommend.”

Buzz seemed thoughtful for a moment. “A lot of it comes from Miles Davis. Miles Davis and Captain Beefheart of course. Primarily with Beefheart, you know, we go back to Clear Spot and the Spotlight Kid. Not so much Trout Mask Replica. But people don’t really hear that either. But if you listen to those albums, you’ll hear it. If you listen to them, it’ll make sense. That’s where we’re coming from.”

We were standing beneath the marquee in front of Radio Radio where he would be playing an acoustic set that night, trotting out new material from his upcoming album This Machine Kills Artists.

I’d purposefully avoided previewing his set online before the show, so that I could experience the full novelty of Buzz Osborne unplugged in a live setting. I told him that I was literally unable to imagine what he would sound like on acoustic guitar. “It’s like an epistemological threshold that I cannot mentally traverse,” I was explaining.

“Yeah, well,” Buzz mused, nodding, “You’ll see. It will make sense. Although it’s not really like anything else. There’s nothing, really, to compare it to.”

How had he decided to do an acoustic project?

“Well I’ve always played acoustic guitar. A lot of the Melvins songs, I wrote them on acoustic. I can’t remember which ones, but that’s not the point. The point is, I’ve been thinking about doing this for a long time. A really long time. So… here we are.”

As Mr. Osborne has previously expressed, his acoustic stuff does not sound like Woodie Guthrie or James Taylor. The name of the album, in fact, appears to be a play on the bumper-sticker formerly displayed on Woody Guthrie’s guitar: “This machine kills fascists.”

If anything, I thought, it would make sense in the context of an Acid Western. I told myself that it would work well as a sonic backdrop for something by Jodorowsky or Downey Sr. But then when I actually glancingly reviewed the films in question on Youtube, I realized This Machine Kills Artists wouldn’t really fit as a score for these films either.

Not metal, not folk, not Acid Western: maybe it could be called, “Acid Western Molk.” As the missus, Mackey Osborne, remarked, “It sounds like The Melvins.”

Relative to the mean-average Melvins fan , the fact that I’ve been to a mere seven Melvins shows over the past 15 years actually puts me on the low-end of the standard spectrum of devotion. But I’ve seen them live enough times that it was really almost dissociative to be able to hear Mr. Osborne’s vocals, out from underneath all of the heavy distortion and thundering drums. Sort of like seeing a shucked oyster walking around. He sounded clear as a bell up there on stage, everything crisply enunciated.

“No drummers to hide behind tonight,” Buzz had told me.

“That was really, like, almost disorienting to be able to hear what you were saying,” I told him, later.

He was like: “Thank you.”

*Full disclosure: I occasionally consult on PR stuff for the record label that released Hew Time (Joyful Noise Recordings), though I did not do any work on press for Hew Time directly.

Listen : Warpaint : BBC Radio 6 Music Live In Session for Steve Lamacq

Warpaint dropped by BBC Radio 6 Music to record an interview and live in session for Steve Lamacq. The ladies have started to hit the promotional circuit in support of their forthcoming self-titled sophomore full-length due out in January via Rough Trade. During the session, they played two new songs from new LP “Love Is To Die” and the previously unheard “Keep It Healthy,” along with “Composure” from their 2010 debut album.

MOKB Interview : Henry Rollins

We here at MOKB are never going to enter the 1% putting digital pen to paper, so we have to make do with advance copies of new CDs, an occasional press pass to a major festival and, only if we promise to behave, interviews with legends. Recently, we hit the jackpot and threw down with performer, writer, actor, LA Weekly columnist/KCRW radio show host and all-time hero to this lowly scribe, Henry Rollins.

MOKB: First things first. New Black Sabbath record. I know you’re a huge fan, so did you ever think we’d come this close to a full-blown Sabbath reunion? I think the record, while a bit light on memorable riffs, is surprisingly strong. Your thoughts on the record?

Henry Rollins: I have not yet heard the album. I heard one song and it didn’t inspire me. I will eventually get it. No Bill Ward kind of put me off it.

MOKB: With the exception of the Claremont Folk Festival, you’re somewhat off the grid lately. If you don’t mind sharing, where are you these days and what are you working on?

HR: I am doing more television/film/voice over stuff this year. It’s keeping me on location, soundstages and studios. There has been cartoon work, television work, a pilot and a film coming up towards the end of the year. Due to the contracts I have signed, I can’t talk about any of it. They are very uptight with all this these days. I am doing voice over work for Infiniti car.

MOKB: Any travels of interest recently or in the near future?

HR: Nothing is planned because I am so nailed to the ground with the present schedule. I will be loose to travel in perhaps December at the earliest. Before that, I am pretty booked.

MOKB: Now that we’re well into Obama’s second term, do you think the world’s perception of the United States has changed at all? If yes, how so?

HR: The perception has changed, certainly. The president has pulled soldiers out of Iraq. On the other hand, the drone strikes, which are ultimately, just another way to deliver the same stuff the America has been dropping on people for a long time, are probably not playing well in regions that have not liked the America for a long time anyway. I think many people thought Mr. Obama was a liberal or a progressive. He is neither and that’s making some people in the States disappointed. I think the NSA stuff, what people’s perception of it is, will not play well at home or abroad. How the president plays Syria will be key to the perception of the America in the future. That’s a tricky one. There’s more at stake there than at first glance. There are a lot of big players in that one on all sides. The president is probably getting talked to by a lot of different people with different interests.

MOKB: I’m listening to A Clockwork Orange Stage as I type this? How many times have you performed at Roskilde since 2000?

HR: Once or twice. I will be there for all four days of it this year. It’s a great festival. Awful what happened there several years ago.

MOKB: Anything I should be prepared for in terms of the festival? Anything I absolutely need to bring with me?

HR: Not really. It’s extremely well run and I can’t see you needing for anything that won’t be easily obtainable. Perhaps having some sunscreen on hand will save you a purchase there. People in my experience there are very friendly.

MOKB: Would you say that festival audiences overseas are any different from American festival audiences?

HR: I have not done nearly as many festivals in America as in Europe. Lollapalooza, Woodstock, Bonaroo, Fun Fun Fun are the US ones I remember. They were fine. I reckon the audiences at them and the ones in Europe are both great. At least they have all been great to me.

MOKB: Are there any current bands that you particularly appreciate?

HR: I look for new music almost every single day. I have been listening to a lot of Finnish folk and drone music lately. I have a Masaya Nakahara album that I am going to listen to later tonight and am listening to an Autumn Galaxy album called An Emperor’s Garden at the moment. Noise/Drone/Avant music comprises most of my listening at this time.

MOKB: I’m pretty giddy over the Dan Auerbach-produced Bombino record. What is your latest musical discovery, past or present?

HR: The new records on http://www.castlefacerecords.com/ and In The Red I think are really good. The new Oh Sees album, White Fence, the new Kid Congo record is great. The new Steven R. Smith download albums are amazing. Those are perhaps my favorite new releases.

MOKB: For someone who has never heard you as a musical performer, what would you point them to as a “gateway” record?

HR: I can’t recommend my work to anyone.

MOKB: The As The World Burns Tour with X obviously left a bad taste in your mouth in terms of performing with a band. Is there any situation in which you could see yourself again performing in a band?

HR: I don’t think so. I have to be honest and if it’s not there, it’s not there.

MOKB: Any Rollins Band releases festering in the archives just waiting to see the light of day?

HR: Not really. There are some live shows that sound pretty good. A few outtakes but nothing to write home about.

MOKB: I’m assuming there’s a new journal/book in the works. Any other projects coming down in the pipeline fans would be interested in?

HR: There is a book I am trying to finish the edit on from 2009 – 2010. There is another photo book almost done as well as some more journal book stuff as well. I have a lot of voice over, television and film stuff that will roll out later this year and next year as well. Some is in the can and some has yet to be done.

MOKB: I always find it interesting that “former Black Flag singer/frontman” is how you seem to always be referenced by the media, when that was such a relatively short period. How would you like to be remembered?

HR: I don’t agree. As far as being remembered, I honestly don’t care.

Henry Rollins@Roskilde 2013
7/5 – Odeon Stage – 13:00
7/6 – Pavilion – 13:00
7/7 – Gloria Stage – 12:00

MOKB@Roskilde : Something is Rocking in the State of Denmark

That’s right, Mom. MOKB is packing an ol’kit bag and heading off to Roskilde 2013. What to expect is anyone’s guess, but given the list of bands (see poster), how can it be anything short of superfantastic?

Our goal? Avoid the pitfalls (mud, cholera, long bathroom lines) and temptations (local brews, local fare, half-naked Danes) long enough to cover as many acts as possible, interview a few famous (and not-yet famous) folks and even provide a little cultural commentary about our gracious hosts and their beloved homeland.

Stay tuned as MOKB gets all Hamlet on yo ass…

MOKB in Iceland : 5 Questions with Dr. Robert : Baldvin Einarsson (head of RMM, Kimi Records)

After traversing the wonderful countryside near the capitol city we took it upon ourselves to find the best of Reykjavik itself on day two. We started out with a visit to the hip new hostel Kex. This is a hostel in name only, as it is lodging, restaurant and tour guide all in one. While many have visions of European hostels as places you would rather forget the Kex Hostel was everything a hipster traveler requires. Lunch at Kex was amazing, it allowed us the ability to sample various Icelandic fares at reasonable prices (while we loved the Nordic cuisine, we are still working on enjoying the dried fish!). We would return to Kex throughout our stay for food or drinks (you gotta try Reyka vodka). The food throughout our trip was amazing we ate mostly Icelandic cuisine (Snaps and Vox were two highlights but also dabbled in Indian food during our stay). The rest of the day was spent wandering the main street of Laugavegur. With an abundance of boutiques, art shops and the Phallic museum (seriously a museum devoted entirely to the shape of male genitalia) Reykjavik, while small, has plenty to keep you busy. With sunlight nearly 24 hours a day the night time is when Reykjavik really comes alive. The weekly Runtur (Icelandic pub crawl) goes on until all hours of the night with bars staying open until 4 and sometimes 5 am. The venues for the RMM were stellar with both Club Nasa, Kex Hostel and the Faktory providing a great atmosphere to find new artists. We were lucky enough to catch up with Baldvin Einarsson, the mastermind behind the Reykjavik Music Mess and Kimi records.

Dr. Robert: How did you come up with the concept of the Music Mess? How has it changed from year 1 to year 2 and where do you envision it in the future?

Baldvin Einarsson: We were just trying to book Deerhunter to Iceland, and it did, at the time, make a lot more sense to make a festival around that show. And we came up with the concept of Reykjavik Music Mess, a strange line-up of all kinds of music, that we thought was good. The first year edition was though a bit to big in retrospect so we decided for this year to tone it down a bit and keep building it up from there. This years edition was smaller, with fewer bands and on smaller venues. Next year we are aiming at going somewhere in between those two editions. To have fewer bands, but bigger venues (but not more venues, two are enough). We are also thinking about getting an artistic director from outside Iceland, in order to enhance the international feel of the festival.

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MOKB in Iceland : Five Questions with Dr. Robert : Snorri Helgason

The Reykjavik Music Mess is a new indie music fest in the clubs of Iceland’s capitol featuring some of Iceland’s best acts as well as attracting some other European acts to the tiny island. When we first arrived in Iceland we weren’t sure what to expect. We knew that the sun stays out for 20-24 hours a day and that this time of year is treated as a party in and of itself as the doldrums of winter (4 hours of sunlight a day) were officially over. The people were all in great moods and the clubs/bars obliged by staying open until 4 am on the weekends.

When we first arrived, after an overnight flight, the excitement of being in a foreign land helped us overcome our lack of sleep. Our first impression of Reykjavik was how small it was. Not in a bad way, more that we were impressed that so much creative output comes from a country of only 320,000 people and only 180,000 in Reykjavik. We spent the day touring the natural wonders of Iceland’s geology, hot springs, boiling mud pits, geysers and tectonic plates. The natural beauty and the unusual sun patterns seem like the perfect palate to create whimsical, otherworldly music and the Reykjavik Music Mess (RMM) did not disappoint. Before we arrived I did some research checking out the bands that would play in the fest as most were unfamiliar to me. After a week of listening to Finnish noise rock, Icelandic punk and the rest I came across the artist that would prove to be the highlight of the festival and our trip in general, Snorri Helgason.

Snorri’s latest album Winter Sun took me totally by surprise and instantly became one of my top 5 records I’ve listened to all year. I was also pleasantly surprised at the level of hometown support Iceland gives its artists. On the IcelandAir flight from Denver, the in-flight entertainment included an all Icelandic music station which had Snorri’s first record I’m Gonna Put My Name on Your Door (which I had been frantically searching for prior to our departure). It turns out Snorri is two for two in making great albums. His English lyrics and bedroom, singer-songwriter style perfectly reflect the wonder that is Iceland. After seeing Snorri live I know that he won’t be foreign to American listeners for long and I’m honored to provide his North American debut here on MOKB.

MP3 : Snorri Helgason – Mockingbird

Dr. Robert: How/when did you decide music was what you were going to do with your life?

Snorri Helgason: I was 19 years old when I made the decision that I didn’t want to do anything else with my life than to become a musician. I’d always been very interested in music but I never studied anything or even learned how to play an instrument until I was about 17 years old. Then I snuck into my brother’s room and got his guitar out and found out with the help of the internet how to play the Come As You Are riff. Then I found an old Beatles chord book at home as well and studied that intensely. From then on it was just a matter of finding out what songs I liked and exactly which parts in the songs I liked the most and figure out the chord changes and melody movements in those songs. That’s how I taught myself how to write music.
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Interview : Five Questions with Dr. Robert : Ben Kweller

It’s been a while since we chatted with Ben Kweller, but luckily the good doctor found time during BK’s recent Colorado visit to grill him on all things music and life.

Dr. Robert: Changing Horses seemed to be a bit of a departure into a more alt-country vibe. Where did you wanna go with Go Fly A Kite? Did you have a particular sound in mind before recording it? was there any music you were listening to prior to recording it that influenced the album?

Ben Kweller: Oh Doc, you know I don’t listen to music, I just make music! For Kite, I knew it would be a “rock” record so-to-speak… As always, the songs dictate what kind of record I’m going to make. sometimes I feel powerless a little – as if I have no say in the matter. For Horses, I just kept writing these damn country songs. I wasn’t mad at them, I loved them! But, the point is, I just go with whatever gets pulled out of the air. My goal was the same as always – to make a compelling album that’s fun to listen to, that’s different from anything I’ve done before. Seriously though, I don’t get inspired by what other musicians are doing. I just want to do my own thing. So the music I listen to is really for pleasure (even the guilty kind) or to turn my kids on to stuff they’ve never heard before. Lately, we’ve been listening to: Megadeth – Symphony of Destruction, GnR – Welcome To The Jungle, Rick James – Super Freak, Chubby Checker – Limbo Rock, LMFAO – Sexy And I Know It, Pitbull feat. Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer, T-Rex – Children Of The Revolution, Conor Oberst And The Mystic Valley Band – Cape Canaveral.

Dr. Robert: Having started out as a prodigy in Radish to now being an established solo artist, what has changed about the way you make albums and write music? Do you look at the process differently now then as a teenager?

BK: It’s funny… I don’t do anything differently – I write songs the same way I did when I was 10 years old. I guess I just got better at it over time? you certainly have more to write about as you get older and experience life.

Dr. Robert: Your website seems to have taken on a life of its own, how involved have you been in that process? What was your vision for your site?

BK: I wanted to have an official resource for my fans and fellow music nerds. I wanted it to be robust and more in depth then any other music site when it comes to my music. I want it to be a place for my fans to interact and create content of their own. We still have a long way to go, but I’m happy with the way the site is developing.

Dr. Robert: Your first Radish cassette came out in 1994. What goals do you have for your career as you approach your twentieth year in the music biz?

BK: Well, I guess my goals haven’t changed much either… I just enjoy writing songs. Seriously Doc, I reeeeally fucking love writing songs. Like, a lot. Writing makes me happy and I like to be happy. If today sucks, I want to believe that tomorrow will be better. Music helps me believe that. It does for me what religion must do for millions of people. I know my music makes other people happy too. That’s a great feeling. I’ve met people with my lyrics tattooed to their skin. I met a woman in Australia who named her son Kweller. The fact that my music has affected other lives is really a special thing to me. It’s not why I make music, but it is sacred and something I’m aware of. In the end, the goal is to be happy. If you’re not happy, do something else.

Dr. Robert: What new music should we be listening to?

BK: Beyond the weird list of stuff from question #1, there are a lot of great bands out there. Here are a few of my faves: The Murdocks, The Happen-Ins, Taurus, The Dig, Sleeper Agent, The Soft Pack, Smith Westerns, Japandroids, Yuck, The Candles, John David Kent, Mason Jennings, The Sword.