King Buzzo on Solo Work, Collaborations, and Why Melvins 1983 is the Closest You’ll Get to the Original LineupThe Melvins frontman reflects on past projects like Fantômas and Crystal Fairy—and looks ahead to Working with God, the new Melvins record
For our latest Autodiscography, we catch up with the always-opinionated, never-resting Buzz Osborne (better known as King Buzzo) of Melvins—a band vital to the development of the Seattle grunge scene, from its infancy in the early to mid-80s to its apex in 1994. That’s when the bona fide alt-rock movement came to a screeching halt after the death of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain.
Widely regarded as prolific masters of doom, the Melvins have lovingly shoveled up a mix of sludgy, grunge-styled hardcore punk for nearly 40 years, drawing on music by Minor Threat, Butthole Surfers, Flipper and Black Flag. Draped within the heavy influences of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest—and the experimental sounds of artists like David Bowie and Throbbing Gristle—the Melvins would go on to influence a slew of Pacific Northwest bands like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, and yes, Nirvana. Despite the band’s storied history, the Melvins have maintained an underground cult status—a badge of honor those bands couldn’t keep a hold of.
Melvins’ new album, Working with God, features the band’s 1983 lineup: Osborne on vocals and guitar, nearly-original Dale Crover on drums and bass, and original drummer Mike Dillard. Ahead of the album drop—which includes vinyl-only reissues of Gluey Porch Treatments and Hostile Ambient Takeover—Osborne waxed on about his solo projects, his collaborations with Fantômas, Goatsnake, Lustmord, and more.
“God of Thunder” – Hard To Believe: A KISS Covers Compilation (1990)
RIOT FEST: You covered “God of Thunder” for a KISS tribute? Why that song?
KING BUZZO: I think we did it because we all knew it. I like that song. It’s one of their better ones. I think Gene Simmons is the best vocalist in the band. We did some shows with KISS. They’ve never been anything other than totally nice to me. And they didn’t have to be. They were always accommodating. They’ve always been nice, they’ve always recognized me and been cool. And so I have nothing bad to say about them. They’re super nice guys as far as I’m concerned. That was my experience.
“Dog Catcher” – Goatsnake Vol. 1 (1999)
How’d you meet up with the guys in Goatsnake?
Most of those guys were in a band called Scream—or some of them were, anyway. I knew those guys from a long time ago. We played shows with them in, I don’t know, ‘85 or so. I think they were impressed with the way that we recorded some of our records. The engineer was a big fan and wanted us to be involved in the studio, mixing and that kind of crap.
I did my best on it, whatever, and I honestly don’t think that they liked much of it. Which is fine, you know, that’s okay. I never even got a copy of the record, so I have no idea how it came out. I certainly wasn’t gonna go buy it. Production is not the kind of thing that I’ve been asked to do a lot of. A little, but very little.
Don’t really have much to do with those guys, so I haven’t seen them in, must’ve been 20 years probably.
So, maybe that’s just a one-off kind of thing.
Yeah. Like I said, I never even heard the record. I think they might’ve used one of the songs. Honestly, I don’t know. But I certainly never got a return call, so that’s fine. It’s not really something for me to worry about, you know? That’s okay. They don’t have to like it.
Nope, you’re right.
I don’t know what people are looking for when they make records. I have no idea. To me, most people who make records do it in a really conservative way. That’s kind of an irritation for me. I think there’s enough of that kind of thing out there.
Like a conservative approach to the way the drums sound, the way their guitar sounds, the way the vocals sound. All of it. It’s very conservative. Most bands have no interest in pushing limits or doing anything weird at all. Most bands, if I was to be a producer, they would be very surprised at how I would approach it. They probably ended up getting a much more interesting record, but what they want is something that’s very conservative. They don’t really want anything weird.
People have some weird ideas about how you have to have some vintage guitar with some certain amp. All that’s fine, but you can’t throw technology at someone and make them creative. It doesn’t work. You’re either creative, or you’re not creative.
Do you think creativity is more of an innate thing—as in, you’re either born with it or you’re not?
I don’t know if you’re born with it, but I’ve been working incredibly hard on it. Incredibly hard. It’s been a hard row to hoe, as they say, to try to keep as creative as possible and do as weirdest stuff as I can and still maintain what I think is good. I’ve always assumed I had good taste, and if I just made music that I liked, there would be other people in the world that liked it. And I wasn’t wrong about that. I stuck to my instincts, despite what a lot of people might think, you know. I’m not not trying to sell millions of records. It’s just that millions of people don’t buy it. That’s okay.
The Director’s Cut (2001)
Mike Patton’s project [of Faith No More, with Dave Lombardo and Trevor Dunn]. That actually worked out good. We did four albums, a bunch of touring. We haven’t done anything in a long time. I have nothing to do with what gets recorded, how it gets recorded, nothing to do with any of it. So, I didn’t write anything for the band, nothing whatsoever. But, that’s okay. I was happy to be involved.
Well, you did play guitar for them…
Yes, played guitar. I did a little tiny, tiny bit of vocals, but very little. I think that more could have been done with Fantômas, but I don’t know what the reasoning is that we don’t.
The album The Director’s Cut combines experimental metal with famous motion picture theme songs, like the Godfather. That’s kind of interesting and fun.
That’s probably the most user-friendly of the Fantômas records… I would say. A lot of them are pretty hard to listen to as far as like, the average Joe listener, you know? I don’t know if they’re based on anything. There certainly is not any lyrical content, unless he’s screaming and yelling. If that’s as lyrical as we’re going to get that sounds fine to me. Nothing wrong with that.
Are you and Mike still in touch?
Mike is part owner of the label Ipecac that we are on. So I hear from him and see him once in a while.
I read that actor Danny DeVito (as well as Moby) are fans of Fantômas and Mr. Bungle through Mike. Did you ever get to meet Danny, and if so, what was that like?
I met Danny DeVito a couple of times during Patton Oswalt-related adventures. He was very nice. Nice and very short.
Lustmord… I met through the guys in Tool, and did a record with him. That was really fun. And then, I did a couple of remix jobs with him and that was fun too. We haven’t done anything since. We should probably do something else with him. That record came out really good. I was really happy to do it.
And his style is dark, really moody stuff.
Yeah, very ambient.
What attracted you to that type of sound?
I knew it was something we hadn’t done before. I knew he would add some element that was not in our music. So I was very, very attracted to that.
Even more experimental than Melvins?
I don’t know if it’s more experimental… it’s just different than what we would normally do. That’s what attracted me to it.
Do you still think about previous projects, and do they affect the next project you do?
I don’t revisit the old albums very often. Usually, with that kind of thing, I make the records, I listen to them right about up until about the time they come out, and by then I’m done. I walk away from them. Move on to the next thing. I’ve already lived with it for months and months and months. Like our new album, Working With God, I’ve been listening to that record for about a year. So I’m done. Now it’s time for the public to listen to it.
Crystal Fairy (2017)
That was a band with Teri [Teresa Suárez Cosío, AKA Teri Gender Bender] from Le Butcherettes and Omar [Omar Rodríguez-López] from… God, what are they called? Mars Volta. Short-lived. We never even got to play a show, which is unfortunate because I think that record’s really good, but nothing happened. Through a series of bad events, it got to the point where I couldn’t deal with it anymore. And I just said, “I can’t make this work anymore.”
Both of them were on some idea that they were going to do big wheel record label stuff, and had some plan for touring. None of it seemed to pan out at all for them. They should have just kept the Crystal Fairy thing going. They should have been more accommodating, but that wasn’t gonna happen.
It’s too bad—I think it’s the best record either one of them has ever been on.
Is it more likely that if you’re ever going to reconnect with another group, it would be with Lustmord or Fantômas?
Oh yeah. That’s way more likely than Crystal Fairy.
Certainly not Goatsnake. We know that now.
Oh, well, Goatsnake is not asking, so that’s an easy one. I don’t think Goatsnake’s even a band, as far as I know. Maybe they are. I’m not in the loop of that kind of stuff. I’m not part of the A-Team when it comes to that. I don’t know what those people do.
I just keep doing my work, and I would love to have people like that around, but I’m not going to go asking. I’m not gonna beg them. I did nothing to them except try to be nice and try to help out. That was it, you know? They never said anything bad to me either, but you know, I certainly have no relationship with any of them. That’s their idea. Not mine.
This Machine Kills Artists (2014)
Gift of Sacrifice (2020)
I did an acoustic record five or six years ago. That was the first one I did. I felt it was time to do another one. Unfortunately, it came out in the middle of a pandemic, so I wasn’t able to tour it or anything, which is a real drag.
I have two, I did one about five or six years ago called This Machine Kills Artists. And then I did the new one, Gift of Sacrifice—I thought it was high time, but the new one came out in the middle of the pandemic. So I wasn’t even able to tour it. Unfortunately, it’s just sitting there.
It sucks. So now I’m going to have to reboot all of that and do a new album, a new acoustic album at some point, and try to tour that.
So going acoustic—there was just something in you that said “I just need to unplug and explore this new avenue.”
Yeah. I kind of had a feeling it would work. And the last one I did, it did work. I went all over the world to play guitar by myself. It was great. And this one I did with a bass player named Trevor Dunn, a standup bass player, who’s worked with us in the past. We would do the album with him called Freak Puke. And that went really well. And so I was really excited to have him come out and work on that more. Trevor’s great. I have full confidence when I work with him. I know he’ll do the right thing.
Working with God (2021)
We did [Working With God] with our original Melvins drummer. So that’s why we call it “Melvins 1983”—that’s when we started playing with him. Then we used our drummer that we use now, Dale Crover, who actually plays bass on the record… because I’m not about to go and get our original bass player, because I can’t stand him. So this is as close as we can get to the original lineup.
I think I know what you’re talking about.
He’s not a very nice guy, let’s just put it that way. I want nothing to do with him. So this is as close as we’ll get.
The record also has Mike Dillard on it. Mike is a union machinist who lives in Washington State, which is still in the same town that we grew up in. We did one other album with him before called Tres Cabrones ….that was about four or five, six years ago. So it was high time to do a new one with him. So that’s where this came out with. I’d like to do an album with him every year.
The band is also reissuing vinyl versions of Gluey Porch Treatments and Hostile Ambient Takeover—are there any updates or additional tracks with these versions?
We didn’t go in and remix them or anything like that. No. We don’t have the master tapes for Gluey Porch Treatments. We’d have to rerecord it. There’s an idea: re-record our records.
Taylor Swift is rerecording much of her catalog for that reason.
It might be a fun thing to do. I wouldn’t mind re-recording the Ozma record. That might be fun.
What does Working with God sound like compared to other Melvins albums?
Gosh, I don’t know. It fits in good with the Tres Cabrones record, so it’s a good combo. Really happy to be doing Working With God. It came out great. I love the record. Really happy with it. Hopefully we’ll be able to play some of that stuff live at some point.
I’m sure fans will be there for it.
We do have fans. One thing you can guarantee [with Working With God] is that millions of people will not like.
Why is that?
I think my tastes are different than the general public’s taste. That’s okay.