As part of a magnificent two months of ‘Don’t Look Back Gigs’ from All Tomorrow’s Parties, The Melvins performed Houdini to a sell out show at London’s Koko. We caught up with Buzz Osbourne (Guitar, Vocals) for an insight into the intricacies of a marriage The Melvins have made with music for over twenty years. Being such a complicated marriage (with all sorts of inter-band adultery and a neverending hunger for bassits), it was perfect that our man Philip Hoile was on hand to council Buzz into opening up some niches and explaining his relationships.
[Just as we were to commence the interview, the lights all went out; Buzz went to the light switch and flicked it a numerous occassions exclaiming he had no idea what was going on]
Philip: So Houdini was the album picked for you to play, how do you feel about it?
Buzz: That’s what they wanted us to do, so we said OK, why not?
Phil: Do you feel that’s representative, I mean, is there anything you’d ideally like to have played?
Buzz: Unsure, then Colossus of Destiny
Phil: Something a bit more experimental?
[Trevor Dunn walks in and inquires about the lights, Buzz says “Try it, if you don’t believe me”. Trevor then insinuates it’s sabotage by Buzz]
Buzz: That’s Trevor, he’s playing bass with us tonight.
Phil: How come no Kevin?
Buzz: ‘Cos we kicked him out
Buzz: He was in the band since ‘98 so that’s pretty good. Longest ever infact. But, you know, these things happen — what can I say!
Phil: Is this typical of the mystery that surrounds who plays bass on Houdini?
Buzz: Yeh, well there were a few: Billy Anderson, Lori did a bit too. Dale and I did most of the bass on it.
[It should be mentioned that Buzz and Dale are apparently tight lipped about whether Lori Black did anything on Houdini. Maybe he let that go?]
Buzz: We were all over the place at that time, we signed the deal with Atlantic but we hadn’t a bass player; we didn’t tell them that though! They found out about it after we had signed.
[Someone comes in for the keys for the fusebox, Buzz claims oncemore that he did not touch it!]
Phil: Regarding the three solo albums you did in 1992, I can always find yours and Dale’s, but never Joe Preston’s? Is it symptomatic, or…?
[These solo albums were released in a tribute to Kiss, who did the same thing]
Buzz: I don’t know if I had anything to do with that. It really is a solo record so that would be between him and the label.
Chico: So… have you spent anytime listening to Joe’s band Thrones then?
Buzz: A little, but not much…
Phil: Onto Kiss, you’ll be doing “Goin’ Blind” tonight…
Buzz: Yes, you know Gene Simmons played bass on that track when we played it just after Houdini was released? Oddly enough, when we recorded that song he said that he never thought of how good the track was, so Kiss put it back into their set.
Phil: What do you think about The Elder?
Buzz: I’ve never heard it.
Phil: Erm, fair play then…
Buzz: I haven’t heard alot of their stuff.
Phil: So you’ve played with Gene Simmons then, you’ve done alot of other stuff recently — there’s another Jello Biafra album coming out. Then there’s also the work with Lustmord.
Buzz: The Lustmord work is probably one of my favourite things we’ve ever done.
Phil: Anything else coming up?
Buzz: Well we don’t generally plan these things, they just happen. The Jello Biafra thing, it’s unfortunate that alot of people don’t really understand what we’re doing. I assumed they would, but then again I’m assuming on the grounds that the American music buying public owe him ALOT; well that’s what i think. The debt they owe is as a result of the battles he thought against the PRMC, which basically set the precedent that any album with the word ‘fuck’ on it would result in the buyer having to be eighteen. It’s tragic that people don’t recognise the significance of Biafra’s work.
[The Parent’s Music Resource Center [PMRC] gained huge success in censorship as a result of Al Gore (senator) being the husband of one its leaders. At the time it started in 1985, it was interestingly only Frank Zappa who stood against it. Jello Biafra became a huge target for his apparent ‘threat to minors through anti-christian, sexual, and perversive lyrics’. Biafra was and is still one of the most important figures in the fight against corrupt censorship laws in the United States.]
Chico: So the work with Biafra aside, have The Melvins ever designated any medium in their own recordings to the same political agenda you made with Biafra?
Buzz: What we tried to do with The Melvins is just work on the way we sound, rather than what we were saying. I really didn’t want one of them ugly stickers on my records!
Phil: Does it make it quite exciting then to be doing something with Jello as it is ‘political’?
Buzz: Well yes, but we also find the middle ground. We say Jello do what you do and we’ll work on what we do. What never ceases to amaze me is how grossly misunderstood our vision is. I really never understood how that is, as we’re not a popular band; surely people wouldn’t look at us to do anything normal — it’s absurd?! If you have trouble with us, what is it that you’re listening to that you think is so great?
Phil: So is there going to be a new studio record?
Buzz: We’re going to start playing with a band called Big Business, a band from the US. There will be two drummers and a bass player that sings.
Phil: A full time merger then?
Buzz: Definitely. We’ll be working with Trevor Dunn, who’s the bass player from Fantomas…
Phil + Chico: Oh we know all about him!
Buzz: Yes he’s done and is doing alot of things! It makes good sense to work with him, he’s a great bass player and we’ve worked together lots of time. He lives in New York and we live in Los Angeles though, so as for permanent — I don’t know. Surely we need someone that lives in the same city, you know?
Phil: I saw you play soundtracks for three Cameron Jamie films on your UK tour. I noticed that one of the songs come up with Lustmord…
Buzz: Yes it did, but we changed it dramatically. Pigs of the Roman Empire is one of my favourite records, it’s one of the only ones I can really listen to. We worked on that record real hard. We never said what’s what — who was Lustmord and who was Melvins. Alot of people get mixed up as to who plays what on that record. People say oh I wish he didn’t ruin that part, but they have no idea as to whether it was that made that sound! People think it’s him ruining us; that’s ridiculous!
Phil: You also released the “mangled” demos.
Buzz: I have been planning to release them a long time…
Phil: That’s my next question out of the way!
Buzz: I’m really happy with that record, it was from so long ago; I can listen to that and feel like it wasn’t me!
Phil: It was nice to hear after seeing that real old video at the end of Salad of a Thousand Delights.
Buzz: Yes that’s great that we managed to find that, alot of stuff from that time is lost or damaged. The funniest thing that I realised when delving into that stuff was that I didn’t start playing guitar until I was eighteen, just out of high school. It all happened relatively quickly. I never played in garage bands or cover bands.
Phil: Last thing: On Houdini there’s “Sky Pup” and “Spread Eagle Beagle” and then with the album cover; what it is about the dogs!
Buzz: I don’t know… “Spread Eagle” was last minute; we decided it’d be funny. I suppose we just like the idea of the two-headed dog thing; all two headed animals really.