Buzz Osborne talks fast. Whatever the subject, he spews knowledge with the velocity of hummingbird wings.
Before our interview, he’s just finished a round of golf—you read correctly—one of Osborne’s favorite things to do when he has the time. Fourteen years ago, some rock and roll buddies invited him to play a small three-par course, and he’s been hooked ever since; he’s still coming off the high of playing Pebble Beach after the band’s last tour was “shitcanned.”
Most of those “rock and roll buddies” who introduced him to golf no longer play.
“All except one have quit playing because it wasn’t easy right away,” Osborne, aka King Buzzo, says from his Los Angeles home. “I just kept playing.”
Osborne, known for the crop of salt-and-pepper springs blooming from his dome, approached golf—no lessons, no instruction—the same way he learned how to play guitar.
There’s nothing predictable about Osborne’s approach to anything—including the Melvins, the band that he’s led for 39 years and counting. The Melvins scored a big record deal, with a guarantee from the label that the band would have 100% control over the music but were dropped after just three records. While their 1994 psych-metal meets industrial noise rock LP, Stoner Witch, sold decently, the 1996 follow-up, Stag, which did garner some critical acclaim for its fearless exploration—it’s loaded with experimental instrumentation, studio effects and various styles and avoids cohesion like herpes—Atlantic knew by then that the group would never generate sales comparable to the grunge goldmine that had been dominating popular music.
“Lots of people aren’t going to like what we do, and I get that,” Osborne says. “But that doesn’t rule my life.”
Ironically, many of the bands that were generating hundreds of millions for major labels at the time cited the Melvins as a significant influence. The Melvins’ variety of heavy sludge metal—carried by Osborne’s post-punk riffs, simple power chords and notes of cheekiness hidden in plain sight and often mistaken for pure dread—has even been credited for kickstarting grunge. Osborne and Kurt Cobain grew up in Montesano, Washington, and were close friends long before Nirvana. Cobain considered King Buzzo a musical mentor. Osborne attacks his guitar without overthinking melodies, which helped shape Nirvana’s style as much, if not more so, than the Pixies’ soft-loud-soft format.
“It’s great,” Osborne says of the credit Cobain was always quick to give the Melvins. “On the other hand, I wish [Cobain] was unsuccessful and still alive—my life has been filled with [death] in one form or another.”
Major label or not, the Melvins—Buzzo, drummer Dale Crover and a laundry list of bassists and lofty guests—have churned out over 30 records since 1984, which doesn’t include compilations, side projects, reissues and detours. Osborne emits grunge intuition, implying he doesn’t need to ask permission. And Ipecac Recordings, co-founded by Greg Werckman (former manager of Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label) and Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle), has been the perfect label for Osborne and the Melvins to do that since their brief stint with Atlantic.
“We’re determined and not afraid to do things differently or change,” Osborne says. “Dale and I are a good partnership. We like to play live. We make our living playing music and figure out how to make that work. That’s our whole deal. Whether people like it or not is anybody’s guess, but I think they should.”
Success, or lack thereof, has no bearing on Osborne’s prolific nature. Nor does a pandemic. Just before Covid, the Melvins released the ambitious and underrated A Walk with Love and Death, a double album featuring two distinct albums: Love is a 14-track soundtrack to a movie that hadn’t been made, and Death is simply a nine-track album.
The fire seemed to burn white-hot under Buzzo’s ass during the pandemic: In 2021, the Melvins released two records, including Five-Legged Dog, a whopping quadruple album—36 songs spanning four records and nearly three hours—featuring acoustic reworks of the band’s classics, including “Edgar the Elephant,” “Revolve,” “The Bit” and “Billy Fish,” with some covers intertwined, including Alice Cooper’s “Halo of Flies” and the Stones’ 1971 nugget, “Sway.”
“I approached [Five-Legged Dog] as if I was going to do a cover song of another band,” Osborne explains. “I’m not that precious with [our songs]. We just did our best with what we had, and it came out good. When we had enough stuff to do a whole album, I was like, ‘We should do a double album.’ But it seems like many people do double albums, so I said, ‘Let’s do something bigger—let’s do four albums.’ Do people care about this? That remains to be seen, but I was very excited about it. I thought it worked out great. I know that we could do a whole tour like that. But it’s been so long; it’s time to play loud guitar.”
Meanwhile, Working with God is the ultimate record to “turn up to a 11.” When you need a pick-me-up after a shitty day, it’s the ideal pandemic album to blast so loud that your neighbors can enjoy “Fuck You,” the amplified tribute to Harry Nilsson’s “You’re Breakin’ My Heart” and “Fuck Around,” the Beach Boys’ punk stepchild of “I Get Around.” Overall, the record radiates with the Fugs’ biting, dark humor.
“If you listen to our entire catalog, there’s a vast array of nightmarish shit going on,” Osborne says. “That’s kind of what’s kept us going. I’m not afraid of hard work.”
In addition to music and golf, Osborne is an avid street photographer—also self-taught. His debut photography book, Rats, is coming out soon. If you doubt his photog skills, his work featured on Instagram (@realkingbuzzo) will squash that disbelief—Osborne notes that his book won’t include anything from his Instagram account.
“Photography is one of my favorite things,” he says. “I shot Mike Patton for a cover of Revolver, so that proved I could do it, which is nice.”
Maggot Brain Magazine—Mike McGonigal’s quarterly glossy zine published by Third Man Records—recently included Osborne’s photographic tour diary, which he shot on a fixed-lens Leica D-Lux (Typ 109) camera.
“I was determined to play guitar; I was determined to take pictures and I was determined to play golf,” he says. “You put discipline into anything, and it works.”
The Melvins (We Are the Asteroid and Taipei Houston open) perform Friday, Sept. 9, at 8pm. Felton Music Hall, 6275 Hwy. 9, Felton. Sold out (Add name to the waitlist.)