Early Grunge Influencers the Melvins Talk New Music and Record-Breaking Tours
Basses Loaded: The new Melvins album features the work of six bassists, including Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic and Jeff Pinkus from the Butthole Surfers.
Photo by Mackie Osborne
"One of my favorite quotes that I think — well, I know I made it up — is that it is absolutely impossible for you to become rich by working 40 hours a week,” says the Melvins' guitarist, Roger Osborne. “You have to work a hell of a lot harder than that to make that happen. People think that they can clock in 9 to 5 and somehow become a millionaire — they’re out of their mind. They’re completely out of their mind.”
Better-known as King Buzzo, Osborne, along with drummer Dale Crover, forged a 30-plus-year career out of the musical juggernaut the Melvins, who innocuously influenced the grunge movement of the early-’90s with their blend of slow-era Black Flag and stoner-sludge Black Sabbath sounds. But those have been nothing more than cues for the pair, who have over the years have successfully incorporated so many different styles into their racket that to call them “experimental” would be a disrespectful sign of adjective deficiency.
Uncompromising in their focus, the Melvins have collectively and independently created one of the largest, most diverse, and pound-for-pound most consistent catalogs in modern American music. For a man who “just needed to cook pizzas to survive,” Osborne has come a long way. “Everybody has to make a living. I fault no one for that. I certainly fault no one for money either,” he says. “It seems to me there’s a seething and boiling hatred these days for people who actually have money. I’ve never understood that, you know?”
Osborne and the Melvins, who enjoyed some modicum of mainstream appeal with a few albums on Atlantic Records, have always maintained an intense touring schedule that rivals their physical output while keeping a successful indie profile on labels Ipecac, Alternative Tentacles, Man’s Ruin, and Amphetamine Reptile, among others.
Photo by Mackie Osborne
2016 opened for them with the release of the EP War Pussy, and their latest full-length, Basses Loaded, is forthcoming. This April, they’ll be formally releasing the Three Men and a Baby album on Sub Pop Records. Billed as Mike & the Melvins, this project originally began at the end of the ’90s with Mike Kunka of godheadSilo, when they were recording the Maggot/Cry Baby/Boot Licker trilogy.
“[Kunka] was on Sub Pop, and his whole thing was imploding,” Osborne explains. “His world was imploding musically at that point. And so we said we’d be more than happy to do a record with him on Sub Pop as his band and [we] got about 85 percent of the way done. He had some songs, I had some songs, Kevin [Rutmanis] had a song or two, Dale had a song, I think. We were all gonna sing a few things. And then he said he was gonna take it home. We were in San Francisco when we were doing it, and he said he was gonna take it home and finish it. We never heard from him for years.”
With Kunka vanished, a disappearance credited to his inherent weirdness and personal troubles, the Melvins forged ahead, releasing another ten albums before reconnecting with Kunka, who finally contacted them to finish the project.
Innovators in their own right, the upcoming Basses Loaded is an ode to the Melvins’ strength as musical collaborators (regardless of the passage of time), the new album featuring the work of six bassists, including Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic, Jeff Pinkus from the Butthole Surfers, Trevor Dunn from Mr. Bungle, Jared Warren from Big Business, and Steve McDonald from the legendary L.A. glam-punk band Redd Kross.
The latter will be touring with the band and also appears on the War Pussy EP. Recently, we caught wind of a small dispute broiling around classic rocker George Thorogood’s management and a claim made by the Melvins concerning the “50 gigs in 50 days” tour and the band’s challenge to Thorogood’s record (set in 1981). Osborne gracefully acknowledges defeat.
“He did 51 because of D.C. We already tried it once. A big stunt. If we can think of one, I’m up for it — I always like big stunts like that. The funny thing about that was that people would actually say to us, ‘The only reason you guys did that was for publicity.’ It’s like, well, duh! Why else would you do it?”
Osborne, who recently turned 52 years old, shows no signs of slowing down. “I’m a firm believer that if you keep your head down and keep working and you move forward, the better off you’re gonna be. That’s how I’ve operated the entire time. I’m too afraid not to work.”
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With Napalm Death and Melt Banana. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 7, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $20 plus fees. Call 954-564-1074, or visit cultureroom.net.
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