Buzz Osborne Gives Us His Collaboration Wish List

The Melvins singer-guitarist on who else he’d like to work with.

We’ve worked with tons of people; we seek it out. Honestly at this point, with me and the other guys there’s not many situations we can’t handle, whatever it may be. We just did one right before everything collapsed with Mark and Steve from Mudhoney. We knew they’d be at our studio for two days, so we got something recorded that they could play on before they got there, with the idea that at least we’d have something to work on right away. We usually go, “Do you guys have anything you wanna do?” 

For me, at this point, I just let it happen naturally. If they have a whole song, great. If they don’t, I’ll be more than happy to contribute to the songs. When we did the record a few years ago with Paul Leary and Jeff Pinkus from the Butthole Surfers, they were pretty much part of the band. Paul wrote three to four songs, and he just basically had ‘em done, and we added our parts to it, that was it. It was kind of a collaboration, but at that point, it’s somebody else’s song and you want to honor it and do the best job for them that you can — try to make them see something that wasn’t there.

Usually the people we collaborate with I’m already a fan of. Like Butthole Surfers — what am I going to tell them? We did something with Jim Thirlwell, what are you going to tell him? In those situations, you listen and try to learn something. All the bass players we’ve ever played with I was already a fan of, so I just let them do their thing. Let it behave naturally and show them the songs and then basically tell ‘em to play ‘em like this or make ‘em way better, give them the freedom to be the musician they are.

I’ve worked with people before who shall remain nameless who were just constrictive beyond belief. Like I could make this way better if just given a chance. I’ve got the better part of 40 years in the studio and writing songs, I think I can do a better job than you, who doesn’t play guitar. I’ve written hundreds of songs, so I have a good idea of how arrangements work.

At this point, after all the stuff we’ve done, it’s nice to do something we wouldn’t normally do. Honestly I can’t think of another band doing this on the scale we’ve done it on. It’s part of our thing. The Mudhoney thing, I guess we could easily start a new band with us three and those two guys, but they live in Washington and we don’t. So it’s more of a collaboration with these things. I’ve had people say “You guys should just do projects.” No, you should just do projects. Let me do the driving, I know what I’m doing. Whatever me and Dale do together, generally speaking, is the Melvins. We had a bunch of trouble in the mid-’90s with a bass player, Kevin Rutmanis, and we said we would never get in that situation from then on. We’re not going to be that emotionally tied to what we do; we’re going to continue on no matter what. I don’t want to complicate things anymore, and I’m not going to get tied into one thing. I’m just not going to do it.

In the grand scheme of things, especially right now, this isn’t overly important. It’s art, and art is something you do extra in your life. In times like this, music can lift you out of the down spirits you might be in. But art has always been something that’s been trying to give the normal people something they’re not getting in their regular life, as they’re out there making a living. To take them out and transport them somewhere else, if just for a moment.

Not a lot has changed for people who have a lot of money in thousands of years. Thousands of years ago, the Romans had entertainers, people entertaining them all the time. It’s not a whole lot different. And now everybody has it. Everybody now has more than people in the past ever had. We’re very fortunate. The food is better, the entertainment is better, the access to information is better, life is better. It doesn’t mean that everything is always going to be good. I would have loved as a kid to have that kind of situation: What does Blue Cheer sound like, what do they look like? A minute later you’re watching them play. I think that’s absolutely wonderful.

When we do speciality records now, we’re selling them to the whole world all at once, not just people we see. Everybody on the entire planet has a chance to buy it — that’s crazy. It’s more than I can comprehend. If you have a hundred things you want to sell, it’s worldwide, instantaneously. I think we’re just scratching the surface on the possibilities of all that, as human beings.

The new record we just made with Trevor Dunn, Gift of Sacrifice, those songs once they had bass on them, gave it a whole new life. He wasn’t supposed to play on most of the record. I just let him play on it after it was done because of how cool it sounded. That’s why it’s a King Buzzo with Trevor Dunn record instead of a King Buzzo/Trevor Dunn record. I had most of it written before he came in, but he did such an amazing job on it, I didn’t imagine that’s where it would go. My wife listened to the whole record and she’s like, “This is something I’ve never heard before, this combination of things.”

Tom Waits

Oh, my god, Tom Waits is a huge influence on us. We’ve never done a Tom Waits cover. I would be too afraid to. I have an uber amount of respect for him. I think with a guy like him, I would assume if I went into that collaboration that he would have no idea what we did, and he wouldn’t have taken the time to listen to it. That would almost be better, because then he wouldn’t have any preconceived ideas. And then we’d just ask him what he wants to do. 

If he was interested or knew what we were doing, was familiar with our music, we’d ask him if there’s anything we do that he would like to elaborate on. With a guy like that, you listen. It’d be like making a film with David Lynch. You don’t tell him what to do, you listen to what he wants to do! [Laughs.] I’d be glad to be in the room. Whatever you want, we will do our utmost to do it to your satisfaction, whatever it is.

A guy like Tom Waits, you’re talking to one of the heads. I would want to just be all ears. If he didn’t have any ideas, I’d be more than willing to start. Maybe we would have a couple things that we could get him to sing on, see what he’d come up with. 

Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible

The Damned are one of my all-time favorite bands. Songs like “Neat Neat Neat” sound as fresh and wonderful right now as they did when they came out. They’re still completely legitimate and great. They’re just phenomenal. I don’t know what I would do with them. Once again I’d probably be in a situation asking them what they’d like to do! We might have a couple songs that we’d like them to put stuff on. Captain Sensible is a fantastic guitar player, severely underrated. And Vanian is a great frontman, singer — there’s really nothing he couldn’t do. If those guys wanted to join our band, they’d be in today.

I don’t know what I consider them, maybe a more updated version of the MC5? They did MC5 songs I think. I would be open for anything. I think with me Steven and Dale, we can do anything. Country, disco, we could pull it off. I have complete confidence in the abilities of the guys I play with. Those guys are world-class musicians. If you go by pure musicianship, I’m the odd man out, so fortunately I write the songs. I am the luckiest man on the planet to have those two guys in my band. It’s a dream come true. It’s like Pete Townshend writing songs for Keith Moon and John Entwistle. What a dream! You bring in these songs and say, “Here you go, guys, let’s see what we can do with this!” Those guys make my job way easier, because they’re just so fucking good. I love it! I know when I bring a song in, it’s going to be better. With Vanian and Sensible I would feel the same way.

Sean Lennon

I think he’s an extremely talented guy. We actually played with him and his mom at the Roxy once, guests with them, which we always joked was as close we’ll ever get to jamming with the Beatles. I think he’s a fantastically talented guy, way above and beyond. He has his mom’s art sensibilities and his dad’s music sensibilities all in one. One of the rehearsals we did for the show, his mom wasn’t there, and he goes, “That’s OK, I’ll just do her parts.” And he sang her parts, fucking perfectly. And you know how she sings! And he pulls it off perfectly, like it’s nothing. Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. It was unbelievable.

He played bass on Cibo Matto’s Stereo*Type A record, and the bass playing is phenomenal! He’s severely underrated, and I would love to collaborate with him.

Steve Jones

That’s like Dave and Captain Sensible. I’d be happy just to be in the room with him. I hear him play guitar on the radio, he does his radio show. He’s really good. I think he has a music sensibility that’s above and beyond what people would imagine. He’s a hero, that would be more of a fanboy thing than anything else. I think it would be fun to go in and do something: He sings really good, plays guitar really good. It’d be fun to have him do something that people wouldn’t expect. Maybe big-band sounding or something!

I would never ask if he was a fan. I don’t wanna hear the end of that sentence. One thing that was funny, we did that old festival from 10 years ago, called All Tomorrow’s Parties. We curated one of them, and we asked the Damned to play and the Damned were like, “You guys are the first people to ask us to do this! We’ve always wanted to do this.” We’re like, “What?!” We couldn’t believe it. They were totally cool, totally nice. That was great. Ask and ye shall receive!

Kim Thayil

We plan on working with him. We did some stuff with Matt Cameron last year. Whenever we can get it together, we’re definitely going to play with Kim. He’s an excellent guy, really smart, a lot smarter than people think. He could spend hours talking about 20th-century art or Black Sabbath, take your pick. Or some crazy philosophical-political discussion of who knows what. He’s highly educated and very opinionated. If he decides something, you’re gonna have to be a hell of an arguer to convince him otherwise. I like people who are strong in their convictions, whether I completely agree with it or not. Generally I agree with Kim. We’ve never had any arguments or anything. I like people who if you ask them questions they can defend what they’re talking about. 

I always admired the fact that Soundgarden had success and also were nice enough to talk about how much of an influence we were on them. I thought that was really cool. I think it would be really fun to do something with him. That’s one that could probably happen. Steve Jones and Tom Waits and Vanian and Captain Sensible not so much. I guarantee I can do it with Kim.

As told to Josh Modell.

Buzz Osborne is a founding member of “rock” band the Melvins. Over the past 30 years, he’s played on more than 50 recordings on various major and minor labels, and performed over 2000 shows. In 2012 the Melvins became the first band to release three different records in the same year with three different lineups of the band, and did a spring tour of the U.S., a Canadian tour, and a London show with Slayer to 10,000 people, then played shows in all 50 states, plus DC, in a record-setting 51 days. Osborne’s latest album, released under the moniker King Buzzo,  is a collaboration with Trevor Dunn of Mr. Bungle called Gift Of Sacrifice.