Mad for Racket: Melvins

Melvins talk low-enders, road harpies and the importance of grades 1-12

Stoner rock/sludge punk legends are hardly a dime a dozen, even when they've had as many bass players over the years. Yes, more than a dozen low-enders have passed through this 33-year-old rock 'n' roll juggernaut that is Los Angeles, California by way of Aberdeen, Washington's Melvins. Confused? You should be. This band trades on confusion.

If Melvins were a magician, they'd be masters at sleight of hand.

Buzz Osborne aka "King Buzzo," the 52-year-old singer/guitar player has been in the band since the get go in 1983 when he and two of his high school chums decided to give the whole music thing a go. Osborne says he never thought of doing anything else with his life.

"I never went to school," Osborne says. "I'm sure I would've worked something out. I would've done something. I never cared that much about anything (other than music). I always thought people that went to college are stupid. Fuck 'em.

"If everybody does it, then economically it's worthless," he continues, sounding a tad worked up. "The people I know who have made the most money never went to college. The guys that I know that have done the best, that didn't inherit money, never went to school. In America, if college is so important, why don't they fix the first 12 years. If what they're saying is that you're an unemployable moron if you didn't go to college, then let's fix the first 12 years."

Yep, Osborne marches to beat of his own, um, drummer, as well as the beat of one of rock's best skinsman, Dale Crover, his bandmate since '84. Crover and Osborne, along with their bassist du jour have cranked out a ridiculous number of albums. So many that when asked to count, Osborne can only say, "Oh god, I don't know."

Not including live recordings, and there are many really good ones out there (we recommend Live at the F*cker Club, if you can find it), Melvins have two-dozen LPs and likely lots more coming. They're one of those bands that records whenever they feel like it. With longtime collaborator/recording engineer Toshi Kasai seemingly available to hit the record button whenever the mood strikes, Crover and Osborne will probably top the 30-album mark around 2020.

But the real Melvins story here is how they've long eschewed need to kowtow to pop culture, or act like the average (somewhat) well-known rock stars or musicians. Melvins fans understand this.

They do what they want to do. Sometimes they play really catchy, heavy, almost straight-ahead rock 'n' roll music at nearly soul-crushing volumes. They're forced to turn up the amps super loud because Crover hits the drums as hard as anyone in music. Melvins have done their own thing from the beginning. Gluey Porch Treatments (1987) opens with just more than four minutes of sludgy, feedback-laden guitar over sparse drumming before a semblance recognizable song structure begins for the last two minutes of "Eye Flys." While there's been considerable growth in the band since '87, this is Melvins music (some call it noise, others say it's a little slice of heaven) at its core.

This year has seen the release of two Melvins albums, although one isn't a new. The band released Three Men and a Baby under the moniker Mike and the Melvins, which refers to recording sessions the band did with Mike Kunka of godheadSilo notoriety. The album was in the can for a decade before Kasai stepped in and mixed the tracks. Kasai engineered the other '16 release, the thundering Basses Loaded, which featured six (yes, six) different bass players including current Melvins touring four-stringer, Steven McDonald (Redd Kross and OFF!), as well as Krist Novoselic (Nirvana), Jared Warren (Big Business), Jeff Pinkus (Butthole Surfers/Honky), and Crover on double duty.

Osborne obviously digs working with Kasai, who also played guitar in Big Business for a while, a band with a strong Melvins connection. Kasai and Melvins have worked together since '02.

"He (Kasai) lives in LA," Osborne says. "He knows what we want to do. We had a good experience. I'm of the belief that when you have that sort of thing, you don't run away from it very often. He's great. We have a really great time with him always. He's intuitive. We have a lot of laughs."

With Kasai twiddling the knobs on Melvins recordings, Osborne and Crover can concentrate on cranking out the punchy, genre-bending din. For the uninitiated, a Melvins performance can blow minds too. The band is a visual stunner and Osborne has one of the most kickass manes in rock 'n' roll, yet they're also one of the more seriously focused bands you'll likely ever see. With current bassist McDonald in the mix, the band's in rare form, but they've never had trouble finding gifted bass players—it's holding on to them that has been the challenge.

"Generally the big problem is personal, not professional," Osborne says. It's not that they can't play. That's never the problem. It's the day-to-day stuff that can become a problem."

With McDonald, though, it appears to be working out. The band is even dropping a Redd Kross song into their set, namely "Janus, Jeanie, and George Harrison" from Redd Kross' excellent '87 record, Neurotica.

"(McDonald's) done all the touring we've done this year," Osborne says. "He's on our last record (Basses Loaded). We'll probably record some more. He's a great player and has a great attitude."

As Melvins wrap up their current leg of touring, which found them playing smaller towns (like Flagstaff, for example), Osborne's appreciative of the ardent fan support ... to a point. He is no fan of, for example, folks giving him too many pointers while on the road.

"I don't do well with unsolicited advice," he says. "You can tell when someone is appreciative, but (pauses) I have never done well with that. I just stare at them and say, 'Thank you. I'll write that down and put it in my locker.'"

Word to the wise, Tucson, word to the wise.

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