King Without a Crown

The Melvins are happy to reign in exile. But, occasionally, obscurity has its drawbacks.

King Buzzo is the one with the crazy hair. The really crazy hair.
King Buzzo is the one with the crazy hair. The really crazy hair.

As any king should, Buzz Osborne believes he is always right. Every day, he knows any-old-Joes around the globe name-drop his band, the Melvins, for nothing more than street cred. He knows his band will never be widely loved. That’s not to say he doesn’t desire mainstream fame — he says he would happily sell Melvins shirts at Hot Topic and agree to put his songs on movie soundtracks. But he’s realistic. He knows it won’t happen.

He knows this because he’s never been wrong.

Never. King Buzzo never questions himself.

“[The Melvins] went a long time without any massive support on any level,” he says over the phone from his Los Angeles home. “It wasn’t until 1989 [that] we made any money. And the best part is that early stuff is considered classic! I wasn’t wrong! That was good!” Osborne, 46, says he realized early on — long before the Melvins inspired a kid named Kurt Cobain to chase his own dreams onstage — not to second-guess the music he wanted to make. His inclination to make songs as peculiar as they were heavy was right. Spot-on. Just because it wasn’t digestible or radio-friendly didn’t make it wrong. The music industry needed a counterpoint like the Melvins.

“[We’re] not considered important by the masses,” he says, “but without us it’s not the same. I’m fine with that. I don’t need other people to tell me that it was right. I knew it was right from the beginning.

“I’m not wrong about anything. Nothing,” he says of the music industry. “I’m right about all of it on every level.”

Over the course of 27 years and 20 albums, since the Melvins leaked out of western Washington and into the ears of headbangers and obscurists around the globe, Osborne, drummer Dale Crover and a rotating cast of bass players have relied on the most bizarre parts of their personalities to drive their musical careers.

So Osborne says it was a shock to hear his band’s name referenced once, twice, three times in the Oscar-winning blockbuster Juno. But it wasn’t, however, a shock to him when his band — one so heavily relied on to sketch the backstory of one of the movie’s main characters — was left off the soundtrack for the movie.

“All the kudos, none of the cash,” he says. “It was a massive culture reference — an Academy Award-winning cultural reference. It would be nice to make money off it. But we make our own money. I’ve never had a goose lay a golden egg in front of me.”

It makes him the ruler of his own kingdom, a sovereignty devoted to weird and bizarre music. But being the king makes people mad, jealous and insecure. They want to take him down. Because he’s made a career — a life — out of doing what he loves. Because the Melvins aren’t mainstream, he says, some people can’t accept that what they do is relevant.

Like Slim Moon, the founder of the Kill Rock Stars record label. In an interview earlier this summer with The Stool Pigeon (a British music newspaper), Osborne mentioned a conversation with Moon. Moon had asked him how long he would keep making music. Osborne was shocked — not because it was the first time he’d been asked that question, but because it came from someone who needs people like him.

“[People] say it as sort of a backhanded compliment: What else will you do? [Moon] said one time to me, ‘Do you ever get tired of playing this loud rock music and want to play something else?’” Osborne says. “It was obvious to me that in his mind the light is gone for [music].

“He’s working for me. He’s working for artists. He’s an Oompa-Loompa and we’re Willy Wonka,” he says. “There is nothing until the artists do something.

“[They’ll] be the ones selling canoes while I continue doing what I’m doing,” Osborne says.

He sighs. He knows he’s the king of this peculiar part of the music world, but it’s clear that he hates having to defend it.

“The longer you wait ... if you just wait long enough, the assholes disappear.”

The Melvins play with Totimoshi at the Knitting Factory on Thursday, Sept. 30, at 8 pm. Tickets: $15. All-ages. Visit or call 244-3279.

Inland Northwest Opera: Orpheus and Eurydice @ Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox

Fri., Oct. 29, 7:30 p.m. and Sun., Oct. 31, 3 p.m.
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About The Author

Leah Sottile

Leah Sottile is a Spokane-based freelance writer who formerly served as music editor, culture editor and a staff writer at the Inlander. She has written about everything from nuns and Elvis impersonators, to jailhouse murders and mental health...