Helmed by Buzz Osborne, the Melvins have helped codify the heavy music lexicon since 1983. Formed in Montesano, Washington, their massive guitar riffs and off-kilter lyricism not only influenced the Seattle grunge scene, but also grunge's less commercially successful, infinitely heavier cousin, sludge metal (which spawned bands like Mastodon, Eyehategod, etc.)
In anticipation of the Melvins' July 15 show at the Knitting Factory, we spoke with Buzz about past visits to Spokane, recent Melvins albums and the band's lasting impact.
INLANDER: As a Washington native, have you had any experiences with Spokane from past tours or from growing up and visiting the area?
Osborne: Spo-kane. I like saying it wrong, Spo-kane. [To the tune of Eric Clapton's "Cocaine."] She don't lie. She don't lie. She don't lie. Spo-kane.
I never went anywhere when I was a kid, but we've been going to Spokane since '85, '86. The downtown districts were filled with drunks, and the cops had a drunk tank with Teddy bears painted all over it. One of the drunks climbed up on our van and set off the alarm. He didn't even notice — I don't know if he even knew where he was at.
You recently released Five Legged Dog, a massive, 36-song acoustic anthology. What was the curating process like? Was there any insight into your growth throughout the last 40 plus years?
I don't know if I've thought of it in those terms, but that would be true. It was interesting to note that we could have done one that was probably five hours long if we wanted to. I think we've written and recorded close to 500 songs.
When we started out, we knew we were gonna do some acoustic Melvins thing with covers. I would figure out three or four songs and bring 'em in because we have our own studio. And then we would just learn those songs for the day and record them by the end of the day. When we had enough for the first record, we were like, "Ah, let's do a double." And then we were like, "Hey, everybody does doubles. Let's do a triple." And then we go off, we do three. You might as well do four. Make it massive.
You always have that maximalist energy. It's even in your multilayered vocal production.
We worked very hard on the vocals of the record. We knew that the vocals were gonna be the thing that was gonna sell. We spent a tremendous amount of time on the vocals. I'm glad you noticed.
I wanted to ask about this irreverence that goes throughout your music. For instance, in 2018, you put out an album called Pinkus Abortion Technician, a play on Butthole Surfers' Locust Abortion Technician.
Well we did Pinkus Abortion Technician with the bass player from the Butthole Surfers. Some people thought that was weird, but I thought it was hilarious. The Butthole Surfers are one of the funniest bands ever. We also did a cover of [Butthole Surfers'] "Moving to Florida," which came out great. We tagged it onto a cover of a cover by the James Gang called "Stop." And we covered the cover that they did, so then you could call it "Stop Moving to Florida."
What's the aesthetic impulse behind all of these layers? Layers of irony, vocals, etc. Is it all rooted in humor for you?
We're a weird combination of Captain Beefhart playing heavy metal mixed with Throbbing Gristle and the Butthole Surfers. I would say that's what we're doing. That's our base.
Are there any bands that have been influenced by you that then in turn inspire you?
My favorite band from that whole era of grunge was probably Soundgarden. I like them more now than I ever did when it was happening, which is strange. The idea that we could have influenced somebody like that in any way — and Nirvana — also means that we influenced change music on a global level. That in and of itself is enough.
And you've been doing it for 40 years next year. What has held you all together?
I feel like we have this mission. Like we're very dedicated to making the art we're trying to make, but it's not easy and not for most. That's the deal. ♦
Melvins, Helms Alee • Fri, July 15 at 8pm • $20-$22 • All ages • The Knitting Factory • 919 W. Sprague Ave • sp.knittingfactory.com • 509-244-3279