Melvins' Buzz Osborne: 10 Albums That Made Me | Revolver

Melvins' Buzz Osborne: 10 Albums That Made Me

From David Bowie to Redd Kross, sludge-grunge stalwart shares stories behind records that shaped his life
buzz osborne melvins joseph okpako GETTY, Joseph Okpako / Getty
photograph by Joseph Okpako / Getty

"We've never done anything like this before," says Buzz Osborne about the Melvins' new studio album, Pinkus Abortion Technician. "But we're kind of accidentalists, you know? When something seems like a good idea we go for it."

For Pinkus Abortion Technician, that "good idea" was to have the band double up on bass players, with Osborne and stalwart drummer Dale Crover joined by two four-stringers: Steven McDonald (Redd Kross, OFF!) and Jeff Pinkus (Butthole Surfers), both of whom have been playing with the Melvins over the past few years.

"These guys are world-class players," Osborne says. "They're as good as anybody out there. They're better, because they have better sensibilities. All the stuff that I can get from Jeff's involvement in the Butthole Surfers and Steven's involvement in Redd Kross, I want that in my band. I want all that weirdness and all that sickness and all that insanity."

The Melvins, of course, encompass plenty of weirdness, sickness and insanity in their own music. And there's plenty of it to go around on Pinkus Abortion Technician, from the darting and dizzying "Embrace the Rub," to the trudging, bass-heavy blues of "Don't Forget to Breathe," to the largely acoustic "Flamboyant Duck," which comes complete with a banjo solo. There's also several unusual covers to be found on the record, including an awesomely heavy take on the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and the bizarro opener, "Stop Moving to Florida," which mashes up the James Gang's "Stop" with the Butthole Surfers' "Moving to Florida." (The title of the record, of course, is a nod to the Surfers' 1987 effort, Locust Abortion Technician.)

As for what people will think about Pinkus Abortion Technician? Osborne doesn't very much care. "You couldn't say one thing to me that is a criticism of my music that isn't old news. I've heard all of it," he says. "So I don't do well with criticism. I don't want to hear the ends of any of those sentences, you know? You can compliment my music, I'll take that. But if you want to tear me apart? Then it's my turn. 'Oh, great, you don't like our new record?' Well, I think that your wife is ugly! How do you like that?'"

Clearly not one to be lacking in opinions, Osborne was happy to sit down with Revolver to talk about 10 albums by other bands that he likewise believes to be beyond reproach.

Neil Young – Zuma (1975)

If I remember correctly, I made this list with the idea that these are records that I've listened to on a nearly weekly basis for 30 years. This one is in constant rotation, pretty much. I think the production is especially good on it. I think the guitar soloing is really amazing. "Cortez the Killer," "Danger Bird," there's not a bad song on it. And none of the guys on it were virtuosos. But if you get up there with the kind of attitude that is in this record, none of that matters. None of that ability has anything to do with making music.

The first time I heard this was probably in the early Eighties. I was struck by the honesty in it. And I loved the fact that it sounded like the whole thing was recorded in one day — by a band, you know? It felt like, "Here's a bunch of songs that we wrote." I thought that was kinda cool. It just sounds like a really good band playing together. And on a purely guitar-playing level I loved it because the guitar solos weren't, like, speed-weenie-sounding guitar solos. They were nice and slow. And I liked slow guitar players, like Billy Gibbons and Eric Clapton, who weren't setting land-speed records with their fingers. They were taking over with their guitars from what the vocals were doing. It was guitar singing. That kind of lead playing speaks to me a lot more than Slayer's lead playing … even though I love Slayer.

Miles Davis – On the Corner (1972)

Drum-wise, this album had a huge influence on our music. 100 percent. When we got the Big Business guys in the band, we would listen to this record and I would go, "This is what I want you guys to do." Nobody's ever brought that up though. I thought it was totally obvious!

This album pissed off a lot of people, I know that. I can't understand why. But you know, there's no one more uptight than a jazz snob. Most of them have such tight asses you could shove a 50-cent piece up there and you'd get two quarters back. I don't know what it is they're listening for or what it is they don't like about it, but this record, to me, it's almost like I'm listening to the soundtrack to heaven. And I love the fact that Miles was breaking rules in an area that needed to have rules broken. It's a fucking great record. It's really weird and I can listen to it all the time.

ZZ Top – Tres Hombres (1973)

The thing that's great about ZZ Top is that everything they do has a funky element to it. And it's riff-oriented in a way that no one's ever come close to — and they have a groove. Every single song has a fucking groove. And it's, like, a good-time groove. Whereas if you listen to something like Peter Green [with Fleetwood Mac], it's along the same lines except it's a bad-time groove, you know? ZZ Top comes from the same school but it's the exact opposite vibe. And Tres Hombres, that's the height.

To me that is the best record they ever did and the reason why ZZ Top is one of the greatest bands ever. There is not a bad song on the record. You can go from top to bottom, every single song belongs there. And Billy Gibbons is arguably at the height of his abilities. His guitar playing is second to none. If you don't like this record then you just don't like rock music.

David Bowie – Diamond Dogs (1974)

Diamond Dogs was a record I heard when I was about 12 or 13. Just the first song alone ["Future Legend"], when Bowie starts the record with "And in the death …" it was like, "Oh my god … what the fuck is this?" I didn't know anything about George Orwell or any of that stuff at that time, you know?

I learned a lot from Bowie as a teenager. A lot. I was just talking about this today. A record like Hunky Dory, when I heard "Quicksand," just all the lyrics, I was like, "What is this about? Who is this guy?" And I discovered all that stuff on my own. I didn't have any older brothers or cool people to introduce me to these records. I bought them simply because of the way the covers looked and how David Bowie looked in magazines. I mail-ordered the records.

When I put on Diamond Dogs I was like, "This is something I've never heard before. I don't know what this is. This guy's a total freak, but he speaks to me in a way nothing else has." Sitting in my room listening to those songs I just couldn't believe it. I felt like there was a whole world out there I knew nothing about. And I had to be a part of it somehow. This gave me hope. This gave me a reason to live. Well, this and drugs.

Tom Waits – Blue Valentine (1978)

I first heard this in the mid-Eighties and I literally have listened to it every single week, at least once a week, for 35 years. I believe it was recorded live to two-track, meaning there was no mixing or nothing. They recorded it live, it was done. There's one song on this album called "Kentucky Avenue" that I can't play in front of my wife because she just breaks out bawling. I kind of use that song as a barometer for people: "Listen to this song and tell me what you think." I'll play it for them, and if they have no reaction to it my standards for them lower. Because they're not listening to what the song's about. They're not listening to what's really going on there.

With Tom Waits, the thing I liked about him first off was his voice. I thought it was really cool. And I felt his lyric writing, especially on this record, was second to none. I thought his ability to put together a song with almost a big-band arrangement, with similar instruments or weirder instruments, was very impressive. And his subject matter was very cool — it sounded like Flannery O'Connor crossed with, I don't know what, Tennessee Williams. It was like, "OK, here's a guy who's not a virtuoso, but he's a genius." You can't teach this sort of thing.

Tom Waits does not have one single thing a musical teacher would ever teach you. Nothing. Not singing, not piano playing, not guitar playing, nothing. You might score points in a poetry class with his lyrics, but other than that, nothing. Yet there it is. He digs it out of the dirt. That's why it's so cool. I believe him. I like performers that I believe. Bob Dylan said something I've never forgotten. Which was that he liked performers who made you think they knew something you didn't. That's what I want. That's what I wanna do. I wanna go onstage and prove to people I know something they don't. That's why they're there. That's why they're interested.

The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers (1971)

Sticky Fingers, to me, is rock & roll, top to bottom. It's the basis of why rock & roll is so cool. It's brimming with their influences, from blues to country, and they embrace it. They see the good in all those sorts of things. I see the good in them as well.

How did the Rolling Stones influence the Melvins? Oh my god, I don't even know where to begin. The simplicity of their playing is amazing. It's part of their genius. Yet it's very complex. If you listen to a song like "Moonlight Mile," just the rhythms and the way Mick Taylor is playing, it's very complex. And a song like "Brown Sugar," I can't believe they got away with that, you know? But that's the song. It's like, not everything is a social commentary. And there is such a thing as writing something from the third person. Just because I wrote a song it doesn't mean it's what I personally think. People need to lighten up about that sort of thing. It's just music. It's art. And art is something you enjoy extra in your life, you know? You enjoy it because it gives you something.

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bayou Country (1969)

You never hear anyone talk about John Fogerty's guitar playing. What they fail to realize is John played lead guitar on all these records. If you listen to the cover of "Good Golly, Miss Molly" on this record? It sounds like fucking Johnny Winter's playing, you know? It is ripping guitar. And "Born on the Bayou," that has to have one of the coolest rock vocals ever. Ever. John Fogerty has one of the best rock singing voices I've ever heard. I can't help but believe everything he says. To me, Creedence Clearwater at their height is what Bruce Springsteen wishes he could do, you know? That's what he's trying to do and he's not even close. John Fogerty is a genius. A genius in his simplicity.

If you listen to someone like Kurt Cobain, he wasn't a good guitar player, but he could put two simple chords together in a way that people liked. Why? I don't know. I have no idea. But it worked. John Fogerty is the same thing times 10. And Bayou Country is one of the greatest rock records ever made. Even a song like "Keep on Chooglin' " — it's a fucking weird-ass song, you know? But it's so fucking good.

Pussy Galore – Sugarshit Sharp (1988)

The Melvins played with Pussy Galore in '88 or '89, and that was when they really put the hook in me. About halfway through their show I was like, "You know, I really like this." And it went from there. This album is just an EP, but I think it's their best record. It's like the Cramps playing industrial music. And Jon Spencer is one of these guys that I think is one of the greatest, most unheralded guitar players ever. You never hear anybody talk about what a great guitar player Jon Spencer is. It doesn't make any sense to me. I like this record all the way through. I like their "fuck you" attitude, I like the way it sounds. I like the performances. I like Jon in general. I think his sensibilities are really great. I've always been a big fan of his, no matter what he did.

Lawrence of Arabia: Original Soundtrack Recording (1962)

Lawrence of Arabia, I've seen it at least 50 times in the theater. For a long time, I would see it two or three times a year. L.A.'s a movie town and they play a lot of movies here. They'll show, you know, The Wizard of Oz at the Chinese Theater. And it's like, "Yeah, I'm going!"

I would say your life would be made better if you watched Lawrence of Arabia at least ten times. It is an epic movie. Every scene could be a fucking postcard. It's tremendous. There's nothing to compare it to. And whenever I go to see it, I always get there early so I can hear the overture. [French composer] Maurice Jarre, who did the music, also did the soundtrack for The Man Who Would Be King.

His music for Lawrence of Arabia, I think it just really fits in with what's happening in the movie. And the drumming at the beginning of the overture is really amazing. It's been a big influence on what we're doing. There's also a song called "Rescue of Gasim" that has influenced how we've written drum parts. That's a thing nobody's ever picked up on in our music. But I've always thought our music was tailor-made for soundtracks. It's just that movie-makers don't agree!

Redd Kross – Teen Babes from Monsanto (1984)

This was the first thing I heard from Redd Kross. It's all covers, and the first song is "Deuce" by Kiss. I was just like, "Oh my god! Here's a band that loves all the same stuff we do!" That's kind of where we got the idea to do Everybody Loves Sausages. Because I just felt like this record was a record showing people what they were into. They had "Ann" by the Stooges. Bowie. Kiss. It was like, "These guys know what they're talking about. This is good! They're not wrong. It is cool to like this!"

We did a tour with Redd Kross in Europe and Australia and they did that whole album. On my request! It was like a dream come true. It was awesome. I loved it! And the Bowie cover ["Savior Machine"], we play it live now. Because we have [Redd Kross bassist] Steve [McDonald] in the band. I go, "We gotta do 'Savior Machine'!"

The idea that I'm in a band right now with the bass player from Redd Kross and the bass player from the Butthole Surfers is really fucking weird to me. If you had told me in 1986 that someday that was gonna happen I wouldn't have believed you. That was just too crazy for me to comprehend. But here I am!

We took the Melvins' Buzz Osborne, Dale Crover and Steven McDonald golfing. And it was just as insane as you'd imagine. Watch below: