King Buzzo Unplugs
Melvins’ guitarist goes acoustic?
By Kevin Curtin,
12:30PM, Fri. Jul. 25, 2014
Buzz Osborne takes a sonic sidestep on Sunday at Red 7, leaving his trusty EGC axe and Sunn Beta amp head at home in favor of a Chinese Blueridge acoustic guitar. We sparred with the ever immodest Melvins mainstay about his solo tour and new LP, This Machine Kills Artists.
Austin Chronicle: In recent years we’ve seen the Melvins release a covers album, a remix album, and now an acoustic album. Have you reached a point in your career where finding new frontiers for releases is important?
Buzz Osborne: No. We’ve always done that and if you look at what we’ve released, we’ve always been all over the map. So it’s not a new thing, that’s for sure.
AC: I’m not saying Melvins’ albums don’t have different creative imprints. I’m talking the distinct formats of these albums.
BO: Do you really think albums like The Bootlicker and Stoner Witch are similar? Absolutely not. They don’t all fit in with one type of thing. In order for me to think that, I’d have to think that all of our records are running along the same track. Hostile Ambient Takeover and Pigs of the Roman Empire, the trilogy Maggot, Bootlicker, and Crybaby, plus The Colossus of Destiny, Stoner Witch, Bullhead: none of those have much in common. I would say that the answer to that is “No.” I don’t feel the need to do anything different because I’ve always done that.
AC: Has the acoustic guitar typically been part of your writing process?
BO: Well, I’ve written lots and lots of songs on acoustic guitar. I’ve always played acoustic guitar. It’s nothing new as far as that’s concerned, but this is the first time I’ve done anything that’s just acoustic. The album really is a fully acoustic album. I didn’t use any amps or input boxes or anything. It was a challenge for me to make a really good record with only acoustic guitar and vocals and that’s it. That was the hardest part of the whole thing.
AC: Was maintaining variety a conscious part of your process?
BO: One hundred percent. What I’d do is finish a song, then I’d go over and record it. Then me and Tosh [Kasai] would try to figure out a new way to record. So there might be only two songs on the album that were recorded acoustically the same way. There was a wide variety of techniques both in recording and mixing. We didn’t just set everything up and record the album. This all stems from the fact that I was trying to make it interesting.
AC: Are you the type of writer who sits down and goes to work every day or do you wait for inspiration to strike and work out a song at that time?
BO: It’s like panning for gold. Not everything is good. Sometimes you can’t think of anything that works and I’m not one to go, “Okay, I’m going to write a song.” It’s not the kind of thing you plan out. I find that to be a much more difficult task. If you wait for the moment, then you have to drop everything and immediately do it. I’m up for that though. I don’t mind.
AC: You’re on week six of the American leg of this tour. What has the experience been like so far? Are you finding performing solo satisfying and are you getting bombarded with song requests?
BO: We always get asked to play songs, but I pretty much know what I’m going to do before I hit the road. I try to do the same show for every city. I won’t do a better show in New York City than Austin, you know? I want to give everyone the same shake and I don’t take any one show more or less serious than another one. By and large, the fans are nice. They don’t give me any shit, and it’s good.
AC: Is there a storytelling component to this?
BO: Oh, of course. I try to do that here and there in the set. It works out pretty good because it’s a little different than what I normally do. I don’t do any of that, “Well here’s where this song comes from” crap, though. I’m really trying to make it different than most acoustic bands. Mission accomplished, I believe.
AC: Are there pitfalls that other musicians have had when going acoustic that you’re consciously trying to avoid here?
BO: Yes. I didn’t want to sound like a version of Woody Guthrie or James Taylor, which is what I’m trying to avoid, which is what happens with every rock & roller that picks up an acoustic guitar. I’m intentionally trying to avoid that.
AC: I could never imagine you strumming open chords.
BO: Exactly. Well, there are some open chords on there, but it’s not your typical thing, which is exactly what I wanted to do and that’s a tall order. On paper it doesn’t look like it would work.
AC: And you don’t sit on a stool.
BO: I can’t play guitar and sit down. It doesn’t work for me. I just don’t play very well. It’s very uncomfortable for me. Even the studio I stand up every take. I play guitar better that way.
AC: Jeff Pinkus is on the local bill. You’ve recorded and toured together recently. When did you first meet and what do you admire about his musicianship?
BO: I met him a long time ago. More than 10 years ago. I saw the Butthole Surfers a number of times with him in the band, but I never met him until Honky. That’s when I became acquatinted with him and we took it from there. I always knew that his musical landscapes were correct and might be something I want to be involved in. It wasn’t hard to figure. We’ve recorded a few things with him and we have more coming out at some point.
AC: Last month I was at the Experience Music Project in Seattle and came across your letter from 1986 where you say that Kurt Cobain would have a future in music if he sticks with it. I was stunned by it. That must be the earliest acknowledgment of his musical talent. Was that a prophetic moment on your part or were his talents so obvious even then?
BO: Well, it was obvious to me, I don’t think it was obvious to a lot of other people. No one knew that he was going to as big as he ended up. I certainly didn’t know that kind of stuff. I don’t know. I think that sort of thing has been largely ignored.
AC: What has?
BO: Without our influence, none of that stuff would have ever happened for those guys – at all. Nothing would have happened. I think that’s significant, whether the world in general does or not. I left that area not too long after that and I never looked back.