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.

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