Revolver has teamed with Melvins for an exclusive vinyl variant of their recent LP, Working With God, on orange wax. They're limited to 500 copies and won't last long — order yours now!
"I've always thought something like this would happen. I never worried about … like, global warming killing me. I always worried about you killing me … giving me something that was going to kill me. And I wasn't that far wrong."
It's November 2020, eight months into the global pandemic, and Buzz Osborne's sense of vindication is coming through loud and clear as he talks to Revolver over the phone from his home base of Los Angeles.
"In the future they're going to look back on us as barbarians for living in houses that didn't have virus scrubbers," the Melvins frontman continues. "Everything we're doing now will be completely barbaric in 100 years. So I try and put things in perspective and realize that no lives matter, when it comes down to it. None. It doesn't make any difference. When the hand of doom touches you, it does not discriminate. … I tend to be a pessimist. And then if I'm wrong, I can be pleasantly surprised."
At this point — 30-plus years into a career that's generated about the same number of albums — the Melvins are an institution: genre-blurring alt-metal experimenters that have obstinately followed the beat of their own drum. Their fiercely independent, boundary-pushing approach to music (and the industry at large) has earned them scores of critical accolades, diehard fans and famous supporters (from Tool's Adam Jones to Outkast's André 3000). They also just so happened to kickstart the seismic grunge revolution in the Nineties that still resonates throughout popular music today. Osborne chalks the latter up to one of those unexpected "pleasant surprises."
"That was something I could have never foreseen happening," he says today. "When we were starting the band, I [just wanted] to do something that was missing in music. So we started doing something that was then picked up by bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden and that whole genre, which changed everything. They got that from us. And I'm happy that that's the case. Our ideas impacted music on a global level. … That gave me the courage to continue doing what I'm doing. And I'm never gonna stop."
Since forming the Melvins in Montesano, Washington, in 1983, Osborne has always been about forward momentum. He is restlessly creative during the best of times, and the worst of times are no different. Despite 2020's ongoing COVID-related disruptions, he's managed to stay as productive as ever. He dropped a solo record, Gift of Sacrifice, and developed a Melvins virtual concert series with longtime drummer Dale Crover. (Crover is also readying his own solo LP, Rat-a-Tat-Tat!, for release in 2021.) He's also working on a "gigantic four-album thing," the details for which he isn't ready to reveal, and compiling a book of his personal street photography. (Osborne also shot his buddy and Fantômas bandmate Mike Patton for Revolver's Fall 2020 Mr. Bungle cover.)
As if all that wasn't enough, Osborne and Crover are about to unleash a new Melvins 1983 record, Working With God, which features original Melvins drummer, and Osborne's high school friend, Mike Dillard behind the kit. (Crover switches to bass duties in this configuration.) The 13-track album picks up where their Melvins 1983 debut, 2013's Tres Cabrones, left off. It's a raucous, odd, fun collection of guitar-heavy goodness that taps into the same irreverent smart-assery and musical curiosity that Osborne and Dillard shared during their teenage years growing up in Montesano.
"'Working with God' is good," he says about the album's vaguely ominous title. "Eight tornados tearing up the earth and ripping the shit out of everything? We're 'working with God.'" He laughs. "God puts a tornado on earth and looks down smiling. 'Here it is.' God puts a pandemic on earth … and looks down smiling."
WORKING WITH GOD HAS YOU TEAMING UP AGAIN WITH MIKE DILLARD. HE STILL LIVES BACK IN MONTESANO WHERE YOU TWO GREW UP, BUT YOU GOT OUTTA THERE AS SOON AS YOU COULD ...
BUZZ OSBORNE Mike is one of my best friends. I've talked to Mike weekly since I was in 10th or 11th grade. And we've been friends since. He was the first drummer in the Melvins. It became obvious by '84 that he was not going anywhere, and I wasn't going to stay there. He lives approximately one mile from the house he came home from the hospital to. It wasn't destined for him to leave. … He's a family man. Three kids. A wife. And he's a union machinist. He's married to the woman that he was going out with in ninth grade. … If I would have stayed there, I would have parked a bullet in my head, for sure. There was no chance of that working out for me. There was nothing for me there. … I moved to that town when I was in 7th grade and from [then until] 11th grade I had no friends. Until I met Dillard … Him and one other guy … And I'm still friends with both of those guys. And that's the only two people I was friends with then — not one single person from the class I was in. Not one. They all hated my guts, and the feeling was mutual.
THE WORKING WITH GOD SONG "BOUNCING RICK" IS NAMED AFTER A TEACHER YOU AND DILLARD BOTH HAD IN SCHOOL. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE ABOUT RICK?
I think he was 10th grade biology … We called him Bouncing Rick because that's how he moved around. He looked like he was bouncing all the time. … There were a whole bunch of other names for teachers. The Snake. [Laughs] Guess how fun her class was. She was horrendous. And Groceries. Thunder Thighs. Sergeant Lewis. There was another one called Heap. [Laughs] We called her the Human Heap. She taught forestry.
IT SEEMS LIKE YOU AND DILLARD FOUND A PLAYFUL APPROACH TO DEAL WITH A SHITTY SITUATION.
It was more hate-filled. [Laughs] It was a hate-filled approach to how much we despised where we lived. ... It was horrendous. That's where [Kurt] Cobain and all of us were from. It was hopeless. I have no fond memories of it, none of the good-old-days stuff. It was nothing but a hellish nightmare for all of us.
WORKING WITH GOD SEEMS TO HAVE A REAL DARK SENSE OF HUMOR TO IT. CAN THAT BE TRACED BACK TO THE MINDSET YOU ALL HAD GROWING UP IN WASHINGTON?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. We have a very, very dark sense of humor. As did Cobain. Cobain had one of the darkest senses of humor of anybody I've ever known. At least on par with us. Far less P.C. than people would imagine.
THAT'S INTERESTING BECAUSE KURT COBAIN ALWAYS SEEMED TO BE PRETTY IN LINE WITH NINETIES POLITICAL CORRECTNESS.
I would disagree. [Laughs] You have to understand, with that kind of stuff, it's jokes. It's not real. When it comes down to it, none of us really think any of those kinds of things. I would never say any of the stuff, but I would never deny that non-P.C. stuff was going on. But as to what it was? I would never tell you. I would just say that it was very dark, but it was humor.
SPEAKING OF HUMOR, WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO TURN BEACH BOYS' "I GET AROUND" INTO "I FUCK AROUND" ON WORKING WITH GOD?
We've been singing that at soundcheck for years and years. We'd been saying we should do an exact replica because it would be hilarious. And then what we realized was replicating the Beach Boys is not that easy of a task. It wasn't the easiest thing I've ever done, getting all those vocal harmonies right and getting the joke right.
YOU ALSO PUT YOUR OWN SPIN ON THE FIFTIES R&B CUT "GOODNIGHT SWEETHEART." ARE YOU A BIG FAN OF THAT EARLY ROCK & ROLL STUFF?
Oh sure. If I had to make a line, I would say there's a line that goes from Jerry Lee Lewis to Jim Morrison to Iggy Pop to Johnny Rotten. We're waiting for the next one. I guess you could say Chuck D. But I'm not sure who the next person is.
SO NO ELVIS IN YOUR THROUGH LINE?
For all the parents out there that thought Elvis was bad, Jerry Lee Lewis was their worst nightmare. He's the badass. Elvis was, like, nothing. Jerry Lee Lewis was the real deal. And Little Richard. Those guys were the ones. That's more of my liking. Although I love Elvis — Elvis was great. I don't really completely trust anyone who hates Elvis. … He was a hick. [Laughs] That's what he was! Give any hick millions of dollars and they're going to go crazy. We've seen it happen a million times in America.
[LAUGHS] YEAH, THERE'S A LONG LINE OF HELLRAISERS FROM THAT ERA. GEORGE JONES JUST POPPED INTO MY MIND.
George Jones. You picked out one of the best! He's unbelievable. He put those rock stars to shame. I never saw Axl Rose get arrested for a DUI on a lawnmower. [Laughs] There's enough room for me to like all of this … the Sex Pistols and Fear along with Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. I don't see anything wrong with it. Or Marty Robbins. I could just burst out bawling listening to that shit. I've never heard anything like it. Him and Roy Orbison. Oh my god, driving across the desert listening to Roy or Marty. The sun's coming down. There's nothing better. Music is the greatest art form ever. Nothing has ever moved me more than music. … Nothing will pump me up more or get me more emotional than that. …
I think it's a primal thing. It's really old. It goes back to the beginning of time. Music has meant something to every culture. And it still means something. Why do I do it? Because I love it. I'm determined to continue to do it as long as I can do it. Until I don't care about it anymore. I feel if I put as much as I feel into it every time I do it, then there will be enough other people out there that like it. It won't be millions, because it's too weird, but it will be enough.