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It’s difficult to believe it when you say – in print or out loud – that a band who first found fame in the grunge era is still going strong. The mainstays that no one thought were going anywhere have long since gone the way of the dodo; Nirvana flamed out early and yielded the wildly successful, Dave Grohl–fronted Foo Fighters as well as bassist Krist Novaselic‘s efforts in a couple of different groups (Stinky Puffs, Sweet 75, Eyes Adrift and, most recently, he’s appeared as the bassist in a reconstituted Flipper), Smashing Pumpkins has broken up twice and is currently running at half–mast with two of the original members, Soundgarden’s done and singer Chris Cornell has already run through a band or two as well as having gone solo a couple of times in the interim, Rage Against The Machine has long since succumbed to the dying of the light (creatively anyway – they still take the stage together when the price is right), Sleater–Kinney went tits up not long ago and Alice In Chains is six feet under the dirt too. Yet still, there are a couple of bands from the ill–fated, drug–saturated grunge era still working and even gaining momentum; a select few that The Melvins happily number themselves among. So how do they do it? How, after the tidal wave of fanfare that the Pacific Northwest quadrant of the United States once enjoyed has crested and receded, did anyone make it out alive as a creatively viable entity? The answer, according to guitarist Buzz Osborne, is simple: keep changing.
There’s no arguing that Osborne and The Melvins have come a long way from where they were sonically when Nirvana first started singing the band’s praises from a very mainstream stage. Anybody with their heads in the underground when grunge erupted from the Pacific Northwest like Mount Ves–who–cares in the early Nineties has a fuzzy memory of The Melvins. For those that came late to the party even back then, The Melvins were the more uniquely Northwestern band that Nirvana always wanted to be but had too many pop hooks to play that role believably. The Melvins aren’t content to play that role either anymore and their new album, Nude With Boots, proves that fact from note one. The sludgy swing of tracks including “Dog Island,” “Suicide In Progress,” “The Smiling Cobra,” the title track (which is a great showcase of the band’s current, two–drummer line–up that almost finds the band venturing into Rush country) and “The Stupid Creep” trump everything the band has done previously in its entire career and more than makes up for less lucid moments like “Dies Iraea,” “Flush” and “The Kicking Machine” that happily whiz by and don‘t labour the album too much. Osborne’s vocals have actually improved in tone too; no longer growling and snapping awkwardly metered stanzas, the singer delivers even–pitched and better toned lines than he’s ever been able to before and he now dominates the mixes with an authority he has scarcely ever dared to attempt previously. Could it be that they’ve finally hit a stride? Maybe – late bloomers aren’t unheard of and, with Nude With Boots and 2006’s (A) Senile Animal already being touted as some of the best material of the band’s career, The Melvins’ time may be now – a quarter century after they started.
Saying that a band might only now be hitting its stride over twenty–five years after they started getting noticed might be damning with faint praise but Osborne is the first to say that his band will take the kudos and say nothing more than thank you. After all, in an art form that boasts notoriously fickle fans, popular notice is hard to come by – particularly when there are an increasing number of options from which to choose. The guitarist rests assured, however, that The Melvins will be equipped for any storm – good or bad – that might come; but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t ask for a little respect, and when he isn’t offered any, he has no qualms about taking it.
Bill Adams vs. Buzz Osborne of The Melvins
BA: Hello, Buzz?
BO: You’ve got him. Who’s this?
BA: It’s Bill Adams calling.
BO: Wow – where are you at?
BA: I’m in Waterloo, Ontario right now.
BO: Never heard of it. [chuckling] Naw, I’m kidding. Ontario? That’s great – awesome.
BA: [chuckling politely] Yeah. So I got a change of contact numbers at the last minute, are you on the road? At home?
BO: Yeah – I had something I needed to do so this is my cell phone.
BA: Ah – okay I see. So how’re things going?
BO: Good. I’m really busy this morning, but things are alright.
BA: That’s cool. I’m assuming that you haven’t yet left for tour, but that must be happening soon….
BO: Actually, I just got back from two shows that we did in San Francisco; we’re kind of always in that sort of thing, but the big tour starts on the fifteenth of July though.
BA: Have you been playing stuff off of Nude With Boots already?
BO: Oh – we did a show in Vienna for a festival where we played a bunch of stuff off of it, yeah.
BA: How was it received?
BO: Oh, it seems like people like it. Usually people tend to be receptive to what we’re doing, they know us well enough to know now to understand that we’re not going to be doing the same old shit. Thank god for that….
BA: That’s understandable, and it must work to your benefit.
BO: I hope so. One never knows though; you have to take into account the ugly depths of human nature. No one ever seems to do that.
BA: Ain’t that the truth.
BO: I don’t know why – I have no idea why that is.
BA: But, by the same token, nobody’s ever walked up to you and said, ‘That fuckin’ sucked’ right?
BO: Really? You think no one’s ever said that to me? You’d be dead wrong.
BA: [laughing nervously] No way – that’s happened before?
BO: Oh of course it has – especially when you put alcohol in the mix. If you introduce alcohol into a crowd that might be even a little hostile and suddenly people turn into total, total, total assholes and I’ve dealt with that for years.
BO: Of course. People think they’re smart and I have come very close on numerous occasions to caving in some little fucker’s head – and that’s the truth. That’s the place where that stuff has taken me; it’s not pretty.
BA: That’s unfortunate.
BO: It certainly is unfortunate, but what’re you going to do? I believe that people dig their own graves – that’s just how it works.
BA: Well, that’s painfully truthful.
BO: It’s absolutely true; in my experience, that’s the case anyway. Not everybody’s like that, there’s just a few people out there like that you know? I was just in Vegas watching the Sex Pistols play and some kid – I suppose he was probably in his mid–twenties – decided to inform me that my band – but more specifically me in particular – sucked. So I just grabbed him in a head lock and whispered in his ear that he’d better be kidding or else I was going to cave his head in. He said he was kidding at that point [chuckling].
BA: That’s impressive.
BO: It was great. I can’t imagine ever doing that to anyone ever. The parents that spat out people of that nature must be real pieces of work.
BA: Absolutely – and it’s really true too; I’ve written articles that I’ve received emails and phone calls threatening violence and death and things like that for. All for something I wrote? Are you kidding?
BO: Yeah, well I guess it depends upon what you wrote, but that’s part of the problem. By and large, it isn’t a big deal, but what’s interesting about things like that is that they’re laying into someone they don’t even know – number one – and it’s strictly as a result of how we sound. That’s always interesting to me. It’s very strange but, fortunately, new fans cycle their way in. We just played in San Francisco and I met a number of new, sixteen and seventeen–year–old kids there that were very, very nice – some of which were brought there by their parents. They were very polite and very cool so the world isn’t a totally horrible place. People cycle through, so it all balances out nicely. It’s all about the law of averages.
BA: Ain’t it the truth. I was listening to the new album right before I got on the phone with you and it’s a pretty significant departure from what I remember as being the archetypal sound of The Melvins. I know there’s always been a bit of it there, but it seems like there’s a lot more Sabbath in the mix with Nude With Boots – is that the case or am I totally out to lunch?
BO: Uh, well to me, that influence has been severely overstated in our sound. I think it’s one part of it, but my attitudes fall more on the punk rock type of thinking from the time I was a teenager. Sabbath, to me, is relatively one–dimensional; they made a lot of really horrible records and I do like some of that stuff, but, certainly at the inception of the band, I was more interested in Flipper, Black Flag, Venom… some Sabbath to a certain degree – I like some of that stuff, it’s fine – but I can’t imagine listening to a whole lot of it you know?
BA: I can hear those things on the older releases certainly, but this album seems a little more polished; the tern is going to fall short on this, but it feels more like a major label production. You know? It’s a lot neater and tidier.
BO: Well, maybe – I don’t know. It seemed like the right thing for the songs we were writing. We’ve never been afraid to do whatever we think sounds good and that could fall under any type of sound on Earth. The funny thing about this record is that it was recorded under very adverse circumstances [laughing] so if it sounds that good and that polished, then mission accomplished.
BA: What adverse circumstances? I know you’ve got a new bass player….
BO: We’ve done two albums now with the same line–up: we’ve got two drummers now as well as a bass player that sings. They’re from a band called Big Business and they’re really, really good; it’s been a total pleasure to have them be involved in our band.
BA: That’s cool. So what were the adverse circumstances.
BO: Well, we didn’t spend a whole lot of money on this record and some of it was recorded in our practice space, some was recorded in Minneapolis, in less than standard settings. I challenge anyone to figure out what on there is what. They won’t, of course, because we won’t tell them – it just sounds good. I think it might have to do with the fact that we’ve been doing it for so long and, at this point, we do have the whole thing figured out to some degree. Plus, you don’t want to do a bunch of retreads of what you’ve already done – you know? People already know what those other records sound like, we’re trying to do something a little different; who knows what the next one is going to sound like.
BA: That’s fair enough, was that the sole guiding principle behind Nude With Boots? Was there a plan walking in? Like, ‘Okay, this is what we did, what do we feel like doing this time?’
BO: Yes. That’s exactly what we were thinking; “This is what we did, what do we want to sound like now this time?” I just wanted to make a really good record – that’s it. And I think it came out great – I think it’s really weird and sounds great, and I love it; I think it’s the perfect addition to what we’ve done.
BA: Well, I tend to agree with you in that regard. As I say too, when last I listened closely to The Melvins, it was five or six years ago give or take, and it really surprised me that it was, in my mind, so different. Was this a matter of standard growth for the band or was it a conscious effort to throw people a curve ball?
BO: Well, I think in the grand scheme of what we’ve done, I don’t know what we’d have to do to throw somebody a curve ball if you listened to all of our stuff you know [laughing]? We’ve covered a lot of ground with a lot of musical styles and I was by no means trying to be perverse this time, we never really have been; it’s always been a matter of what we thought sounded good . I’ve said that each time we’ve released a record; I stand behind everything we’ve ever done and apologize for nothing.
BA: …And as well you should because why would you apologize for something that you made that you like?
BO: Exactly. We make quality music that we would like as fans – that’s what we strive to do. I appreciate the kinds of things we do; now granted, I don’t listen to my own band for recreation – that would just be too weird if I did – but I always appreciate that kind of thinking and I get inspired by that kind of thinking and it translates into our music.
BA: I gotcha. Now, this tour that you’re heading out on, how big is it?
BO: I think it’s about forty–some shows, and then we go to South America for two shows and then we go to Europe; we’ll be done at the beginning of October.
BA: Oh wow. So it’s looking like almost up until the New Year is how far your time if spoken for?
BO: Well, we’re booked up until the seventh or eighth of October and then we’ll have until the end of November off before we go and help curate the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in England. That’ll be really fun and we’ll be doing some more shows at that point as well.
BA: That’s cool. Now, this question might not be something that you even want to answer but, as you were saying, everything you’ve ever released was something that you wanted to hear – not that you listen to your own band, but something you believed in – what haven’t you done yet that you’d like to try?
BO: I don’t know – I have to dream that up. That’s the ticket right there – that’s the hard part. How do you figure that out? In your case, as a journalist, how do you figure out what you’re going to do next? I mean, you could always do what you’ve always done, or you could try something new. I prefer to try something new, but figuring out what that will be is relatively difficult and definitely separates the artists from the people that are just spinning their wheels.
BA: Well, I can totally relate to that sentiment.
BO: …And nobody hits a home run every time. Not for lack of trying….
BA: Sure – but at least you’re swinging for it.
BO: Oh yeah! I’m very inspired by music. It’s one of the best things in the world and I believe that the best music inspires you to make your own music. I’ve maintained this for a long time: The best art inspires you to make art – whatever that may be. The best books may inspire you to write a book. It doesn’t always work out that way and it doesn’t always mean that you’ll be really good at it but that’s what it should do as a communication tool.
BA: Absolutely. But with that said though, what were you listening to during the writing of Nude With Boots?
BO: Don’t get me wrong – it isn’t necessarily something that you can use as a mold, it’s an attitude. The best way that I can think to describe it and it wouldn’t be particular to that record – it would be particular to a lot of records – is the band The Latin Playboys.
BA: Oh really?
BO: I would never try to copy them, but I love their attitude and I`ve been very, very inspired by that band.
BA: Do you feel that sort of spirit translated into Nude With Boots?
BO: Let’s hope so. God only knows – you know?
BA: In the final analysis, it’ll really boil down to what everybody else winds up saying because, correct me if I’m wrong, there are only so many interviews that you do right?
BO: No, I do any interview that anybody wants me to do. I’m very happy to do interviews; I’m very interested and I’m happy that people are interested in doing them with me so I very rarely, if ever, turn them down.
BA: Really? Wow. That must make for a whole lot of cell phone minutes.
BO: Well, it’s just part of the whole thing. I’m just happy that people are interested; I don’t take it lightly. I’m more than happy to answer any questions.
BA: That’s cool. Now, obviously The Melvins’ sound has, in some ways, changed–
BO: Let’s hope so, that’s what I like to think.
BA: –Over the years, did you ever see it going where it is now?
BO: Uhm, meaning what?
BA: Did you expect that, if someone had asked, you’d have been able to say ten years ago that the album you’d be working was Nude With Boots?
BO: No way. There’s no way I could have possibly done that. This record is a compilation of everything that has happened since then. You change your thinking as you go – or at least you’d like to think you are. Most people don’t actually have the guts to change their thinking and apply something new to what they’re doing unfortunately. That said, I don’t think there’s any possible way for me to predict what I’ll be thinking musically in ten years. No way. Hopefully it’ll be something different from what I’m doing now. I’d like to think anyway.
BA: Indeed, and I know you’ve taken on a bunch of different projects; you worked with Mike Patton on Fantomas….
BO: Yeah, I’ve done a lot of that kind of stuff. I’ve worked with Patton and a bunch of other musicians in various capacities. You have to understand: in the grand scheme of what we’re doing – in the history of our band – I think what we’re playing right now is some of the best – if not the best – music we’ve ever made with the best musicians I’ve ever played with. I’ve been through the whole thing and I’m happier now than I’ve ever been with it. You have to understand too though, when we play live we do all kinds of stuff; we don’t just concentrate on new material, we do material from all of our “eras.”
BA: Really? Are you going back to 1988 and even before?
BO: On this tour, I think we’re even going to do one from ‘86. At least one.
BO: Oh yeah – I’m not afraid of that material [lost connection]
BA: Sorry about that, I’m not exactly sure what happened there.
BO: No worries.
BA: So as you were saying, do you have a bead on where you plan on going next or is that still open?
BO: I have no idea what’s going to happen. What we’re going to do is go out and do this tour – I’ve got some ideas about what I want to do and I’ll continue thinking about them, but I don’t know how they’re going to to yet, and thank god for that; I want it to be a clean slate.
BA: Every time?
BO: Yeah, that’s what I’d like. You know, when you’re going to make a new record, you don’t want to make the last one, you want to make a new one and make it equally as good.
BA: That’s cool, and you were talking about projects that you’ve worked on in the past, are any of those still on the back burner?
BO: Well, we’ve put in a lot of time with Fantomas so hopefully we’ll do some more of that stuff, but we haven’t done a gig since 2005 so I’m not holding my breath.
Melvins – "Nude With Boots" - [mp3]
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