Embrace What’s Happening: A Conversation with The Melvins’ Buzz Osborne

By Brent Thompson

Photo courtesy of the artist

Before Nirvana, Soundgarden and a host of other Pacific Northwest-based bands set the music industry on fire, The Melvins laid the foundation for grunge rock. Consistently cited as a major influence, the group – formed by vocalist/guitarist Buzz Osborne in 1983 – continues to tour regularly. On Saturday, October 19, The Melvins will perform at Saturn. Recently, Osborne spoke with us by phone while on a soundcheck break.

Birmingham Stages: Buzz, thanks for your time. Where are you guys right now?

Buzz Osborne: We’re in Minneapolis. Tonight’s our 17th show out of 53.

Birmingham Stages: With the large catalog of songs your band has amassed, how do you construct set lists these days?

Osborne: We do about a third older material – which means 25 years old or older – and then two-thirds newer, meaning 25 years and newer. That’s how we do it pretty much. Then we try to put together a set that flows together – we don’t really do it jukebox-style. We try to play a good set every night.

Birmingham Stages: We are really enjoying Pinkus Abortion Technician. Were the songs on it older compositions, newer ones or a mixture of both?

Osborne: A lot of times people will hear a song and they think they’re brand new, but they have been kicking around with us for a long time. You know there are good parts but you just can’t finish it.

Birmingham Stages: How would you describe your writing process? Do you write on the road, at home or both?

Osborne: A little of both. I don’t do too much writing on the road because I have my hands full with other stuff. I write at home and 99% never sees the light of day – that’s how it goes.

Birmingham Stages: After performing some of your songs for literally thousands of times by now, how do older songs stay fresh and relevant to you?

Osborne: If they’re good, we like them. Sometimes we’ll put a song to bed for a while if we’re sick of it, but we’ve recorded north of 500 songs so it’s not hard to come up with something that’s fresh. I still like playing old stuff. It doesn’t bother me – I like those songs.

Birmingham Stages: With avenues such as Youtube, iTunes and satellite radio, how do you view technology’s prominent role in music these days?

Osborne: I think it’s better now than ever. You have to embrace what’s happening. I’m not a “good old days” kind of guy. I think we’re progressive and we’re up to date as far as what’s going on now. We’re not an oldies band and our new stuff is as viable as anything else. We’re on tour to sell all of our records, not just the newest one.

The Melvins will perform at Saturn on Saturday, October 19. Redd Kross will open the 9 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $24 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.