Posted August 19, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

Buzz Osborne: It’s not about the why

Buzz Osborne
Buzz Osborne

For 30 years, the Melvins have been one of the noisiest trios out there. But now singer-guitarist Buzz Osborne has just released his solo debut, This Machine Kills Artists. The acoustic songs show a different side of Osborne, who sings in a soft-yet-menacing voice on the album’s 17 tracks. For his live show, which he says involves a good amount of interaction with the audience, he’ll also sprinkle in a few Melvins’ songs. We phoned the prickly singer as he was driving to a gig and got him to talk a bit about the album and his first solo tour.

What’s it like touring without a band?
I’ve done about 27 shows total. I’m getting used to it. I’m still not 100 percent there. I learn something new every night. That’s the point of playing a lot of live shows, so you can figure out what to do.

It must be easier to fit everything in the van.
Yeah. It takes about four minutes.

What made you want to make an acoustic album?
I don’t know. Maybe the same reason I made a record like the live album Colossus of Destiny. Why not? It’s not about why. It’s about why not. That’s a good motto.

Why not shoplift until you get caught?

Did you use just one guitar or multiple guitars?
I used a Buck Owens American. I used a Gibson Acoustic. I used a Dobro. I used a cheap shitty Dobro. The engineer I recorded with owns the Dobro and Gibson. I can’t say which songs. I don’t remember.

Are you touring with just one guitar?
I have two guitars and they’re the same. One is a backup in case something happens. I have two on stage. I hate tuning guitars on stage. I don’t wanna do it. It drives me crazy. I feel like an idiot.

Were these songs ever intended to be Melvins tunes?
No. They certainly could be. I would change them a lot. I would flesh them out some. Some are old and some are new. Some are ones I just never finished. That’s kind of how it works. I had people say they don’t like our new material. I’ll ask them what record and they’ll tell me. I’ll then tell them I wrote a lot of those songs in the mid-’90s, back when I put out the stuff that they liked. It’s actually the same stuff. People never think about that.

How many songs do you have?
I’ve written hundreds of songs. I have hundreds more that are not finished. Some of them aren’t good. That’s how it goes. They’re recorded on tapes and on my iPhone. That’s it. That’s how it’s done. It’s the simplest process I can possibly imagine.

I read one review that called This Machine Kills Artists a folk album. That’s not accurate, is it?
I guess it is. Depending on what that actually is. I have no idea. I suppose it is as much as anything else. Lots of people like it but more people will hate it. I’m fine with that. I understand that. It doesn’t bother me.

There are moments when the acoustic intros sound like the beginning to an Alice in Chains song. That’s not what you’re going for is it?
I’m not really aware of what they sound like. If that’s the case, it’s totally coincidental. I never listen to that stuff. It just sounds like normal rock music to me. I couldn’t even comment on what they do. I’m vaguely aware of them. If they were standing in front of me I wouldn’t know what they look like.

Talk about the title a bit. What’s implied?
You tell me. I’m leaving it open to interpretation.

I thought I read that you hate both liberals and conservatives. Is that true?
Sure. Why not? There’s enough hatred to go around, don’t you think?

Is “Rough Democracy” political?
Maybe. Maybe I’m not talking about politics. Who knows? People should look to higher sources than entertainers for their political beliefs. Don’t listen to me.

Don’t listen to any entertainer about anything that’s important. Ever. If you do, you’re a fool.

You don’t want to listen to politicians either. So who do you listen to?
I think that’s a journey you have to take on your own. A lot of times I don’t want to publically speak about something as trivial as politics. That’s about it.

You could read historians.
I suppose. If you want to read the Howard Zinn book and believe it, it’s your business. I don’t want to do that. I’ve already read those books. It is what it is. If that’s as far as you go, you’re just looking for the answers you want and then you never look any further. I think it’s kind of stupid, but that’s just me. If people want to believe that stuff, who am I to say they’re an idiot?

What’s the live show going to be like? Do you sit on a stool?
Nope. I can’t play guitar sitting down. I play terrible sitting down so I stand the whole time. I play the same way I do in my living room. That’s it. My wife told me that. She said just play like you do at home and you’ll be fine.

Do you interact with the audience between songs?
Yes, I do. I expect people coming to see a guy play an acoustic guitar. That’s a tall order. Definitely. I appreciate anyone who is there and make sure they know that.

You have another solo album in you?
Who knows? Maybe. I have a lot of work to do. This record isn’t a month old. I’m not thinking about the next one.

Do you do covers?
I do one Alice Cooper cover. That’s it. It’s all Melvins stuff. I cover Melvins songs for some of it. I wrote the songs anyway. About half is from the new record and the other half is Melvins stuff. And the one cover. It’s about 70 minutes. That’s enough. That’s half an hour more than it should be. That’s the truth. Less is more.

Did the Melvins songs lend themselves to the acoustic format?
I just change things as much as I needed to to make them work as any good musician would do. Some songs work better than others. I just did my best. That’s all I could ask.

When does the tour wrap?
Done in September. I go home and start working on a Melvins thing. We start touring Oct. 15. It never ends.

What motivates you?
Fear of being broke. That’s a good motivator.


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].