The Melvins: A Band the Critics May Never Understand
"WE'VE NEVER HAD UNIVERSAL APPEAL TO ANYONE. AND THE FACT THAT WE'RE SO DIFFERENT MAKES IT TO WHERE PEOPLE VIOLENTLY HATE US."
When I first spoke to the Melvin’s frontman Buzz Osborne, otherwise known as King Buzzo, during the Spring of 2017, one thing was made outstandingly clear. The Melvins do not follow conventional form. There is no science, no math, no structure to the way they present themselves and create their art. The band, in and of itself, is one giant experiment. An audio frankenstein to the rock music genre. Their previous release, A Walk With Love and Death, saw the band split their record into two parts. Part one, titled Death was a mostly mellowed down variation of what could be considered a more traditional sound, if you can really call anything the Melvins do “traditional.” Part two, Love, is a surrealistic, experimental, sound collage style noise album that serves as the soundtrack for their soon to be released short-film, which shares its name with the 2017 album.
The bizarre teaser trailer is piled with photographs taken by Osborne himself. Buzzo admits digital photography as a second passion, though most of his work has yet to see the light of day. This could hopefully change in the near future.
The Melvins have pushed their personal boundaries yet again with their latest release, fittingly titled Pinkus Abortion Technician, which sees Butthole Surfer Jeff Pinkus share low-end duties with Melvins bassist Stephen McDonald. The two bassists perform on all eight songs on the album, and will be performing bass simultaneously on-stage during the current Melvins tour. With the Melvins’ valiant efforts in setting, surpassing, and skewing the bar, comes a comatose inducing confusion from their critics.
“We called the record Pinkus Abortion Technician and I read that some guy had a problem with that,” Osborne explains. “He said that this was named after the Butthole Surfers record. Yeah, no shit. You’re not a detective, you don’t need a PhD to figure that out. And then he said, ‘oh that’s kinda cute.’”
The title of the new Melvins record is indeed a reference to the 1987 Butthole Surfers record Locust Abortion Technician. From that album, the Melvins dropped their own version of the song “Graveyard,” which serves as the final track on the new record. Another Butthole Surfers cover, “Stop Moving to Florida,” was the first single dropped for Pinkus Abortion Technician.
Between the two Butthole Surfers tracks, as well as an upbeat, garagey rendition of the Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” Pinkus Abortion Technician features three cover songs. Having eight tracks in total, Osborne alleges that some critics haven’t been able to wrap their heads around this concept.
“We’ve always liked playing cover songs. Some people take issue with that too. Saying like ‘oh there’s covers on these records, blah blah blah.’ It’s said in a way that’s detracting from us. It’s like we’re ignorant for doing something like that, or it’s not real. Its like these are people who already have something against us and they’re just pointing this out.”
Osborne feels they’ve been going through the same song and dance with critics, the media, and purist music listeners since the beginning of time. Despite being considered an ultimate influence for some of the greatest bands in modern history, a lot of people just don’t get it.
“That’s how it’s always been with us. We’ve never had universal appeal to anyone. And the fact that we’re so different makes it to where people violently hate us. That’s the world we came out of. People violently hated our band. It’s nothing new. What some people considered the glory days of our band, they don’t understand what it was like,” Osborne states. “When we would play, we would get violent reactions from people. They wanted to fucking kill us.”
To a certain degree, it’s somewhat understandable. Maybe not the whole “they wanted to fucking kill us” part of it, but more so the general populations inability to digest the Melvins’ auteurist approach to songwriting. The Melvins are unfamiliar. They’re weird. I love them for it, but the majority of the populus have been conditioned to listen to lyrics about booty shakin’ said repeatedly over a straightforward beat and call that good music. People like catchy, people like simple. The Melvins’ can and have been catchy and simple, but the experimental aspect can be difficult for some, if not most. But then again, that’s what makes the Melvins the band that they are.
This portion of the conversation led me to a cheeky idea. If the Melvins are an experimental rock group, maybe I had just thought of the ultimate experiment for them to take on. I blurted my pitch.
“Why don’t you sell out and try to make a commercial pop record?” I said.
“Maybe people will love you then.”
Osborne did not share my enthusiasm.
“Yeah, that would be new. How would that be new? People do it all the time,” he says.
“But that fact that YOU do it would be new, would it not?” I respond.
“Yeah, totally. It’d be great. That’s a totally great idea. Why don’t you write that down and I’ll put it in my locker?" Osborne comically retorts.
"If I take more advice like that from you, I’d be out of business.”
He continues: “First off, I don’t know what would sell. I have no idea. I don’t know what people want or like. I have no interest in even thinking about that.”
Whether you agree or disagree with me, it’d definitely be different. But then again, it’s the Melvins. Everything they do is different. We end the conversation with a light chat about the upcoming short film for A Walk With Love and Death.
“Do you want to talk a bit about the film’s storyline, or anything else before it’s release?” I ask.
“Not really. I’d prefer to let people have their own reaction to it. Not unlike anything else we’ve done, some people will like it and some people will hate it. That’s the way it goes.”