The Melvins' Buzz Osborne talks bass players, Kurt Cobain, working with Sub Pop and more
More than three decades after forming Washington sludge legends the Melvins, one might think frontman Buzz Osborne has run out of milestones to reach.
Yet this year alone, the group will release Basses Loaded, an album featuring six different bass players; and Three Men and a Baby, a long-lost record with godheadSilo bassist Mike Kunka that is also their first release with fellow Pacific Northwest icon Sub Pop Records.
Osborne said the group tries to keep things fresh with new collaborations and ideas, though the concept for Basses Loaded was an unintentional one.
“It was kind of like, 'Hey, wait a minute, we’ve got all these awesome songs, but we have six different f---ing bass players,’” he said. “So it was kind of a happy accident.”
Among those collaborations is a co-headlining tour with British grindcore band Napalm Death, with Japanese noise rockers Melt Banana opening, which will come to the Orpheum in Tampa on Saturday.
Steve McDonald of Redd Kross and OFF!, who will be in the touring lineup, is the bassist for four songs on Basses Loaded. Another four tracks feature Melvins drummer Dale Crover, recently named the 69th best drummer of all time by Rolling Stone, switching over to bass.
Yet the best known name on the album credits is Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, who plays on the track Maybe I Am Amused. The Melvins were longtime friends with Nirvana, with Osborne credited with introducing Kurt Cobain and Novoselic to Dave Grohl.
“We’ve known Krist a long time and it was fun to record with him,” he said. “I hope at some point we’re going to do some more with him, but rounding him up is like trying to round up a five-year-old on a big-wheel. He’s an elusive guy — rarely checks email or cell phone.”
Osborne decried last year’s documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck in a review for The Talkhouse, claiming it was “90 percent … bulls---.” (Novoselic recently responded to his criticism, telling Rolling Stone, “That’s just Buzz. He’s always been like that, but we love him so we just accept him for that.”)
Despite the plethora of media about Nirvana and Cobain released after his death, Osborne said he has never really seen an accurate portrayal of him and has tried to avoid them.
“I gave up on all that stuff a long time ago and had I not been contracted to write a review of that movie, I never would have watched it,” Osborne said. “I’ve resigned myself to the idea that the truth will never be out there about him. So what? People don’t care.”
Among his complaints in his review was the inclusion of a story about Cobain trying to have sex with a mentally disabled teenager, which Osborne said was an example of taking everything he said at face value.
“He had a really dark sense of humor and he was real funny, and they take it far too seriously, I’d say is the main thing,” he said.
The Melvins were among the several indie bands who signed to a major label in the wake of Nirvana’s success, releasing 1993’s Houdini, 1994’s Stoner Witch and 1996’s Stag on Atlantic Records. They were dropped by the label in 1997 and soldiered on with a steady stream of releases that has continued through now, primarily on Mike Patton’s Ipecac Recordings.
Around that time, the band started recording Three Man and a Baby with Kunka under the moniker Mike & the Melvins when godheadSilo went on hiatus in 1998. The album was mostly recorded in 1999 and then left dormant until the band finished it last year.
“Honestly, I didn’t even remember a lot of the songs and I was like, 'Oh yeah, that is a pretty good song,’” Osborne said. “I’m really happy with the record, it came out great and I’m really happy it’s coming out.”
The album also marks the Melvins’ first time working with Sub Pop, despite sharing a location and mutual acquaintances with the label.
However, Osborne said there’s nothing to share about the experience of the two Washington music icons coming together yet.
“That’s the thing, it’s just starting,” he said. “I’ll let you know in two years.”
-- Jimmy Geurts