The Birth of Grunge:
Remembering Kurt, the Evil Media and 25 Years with Buzz Osborne
Words by Martin Halo — New York City
Los Angeles, California — Grunge music is celebrating its 25th Anniversary. That might sound strange to some considering their first introduction to the genre came in 1992 with the rise of Nirvana. But in reality, the roots of the sludge reverb date back further. In 1984 the Pacific Northwest held the catalyst and spearheading the charge was a three-piece punk induced rock outfit from Montesano, Washington, The Melvins.
Before moving to Los Angeles in 1987, they would lay the yellow brick road to America’s last great cultural revival. An upheaval of culture that saw the return of explosive, dirty, long-haired, denim wearing kids from Seattle who introduced the world to glam’s executioner. Sorry Brett Michaels, but your tour ends here.
Melvins founder Buzz Osborne sits at his home in Los Angeles, California sprawled out under the sun, gazing out over a picturesque sky. “It’s beautiful here”, he says while raising his morning cup of coffee to his lip. “Let’s keep it our little secret. It’s truly is paradise and we don’t want to overload it”, he jokes.
For Osborne it should be nothing but smiles, his release of Nude with Boots marks the silver anniversary of his musical brainchild and a survival in an industry that is merciless in its crippling of countless victims.
“To be able to survive solely on music this long I consider to be a great accomplishment”, Osborne remarks. “I can say that only because I have been very careful the past 20 years, because lord knows I haven’t sold a lot of records.”
“I have learned a lot from my struggles. I try to remember where I came from. When music becomes a means to pay the bills people start to become unrealistic. They spend their money on insane things and forget about how things work. For most people making $10,000 takes months. Musicians, on the other hand, get to a certain point and forget about how hard it is for most of their audience to do that well. They lose touch with how things work in the real world. It is a psychosis almost. We call it ‘touring psychosis’ where bands that once had tons of money now have nothing.”
Osborne snickers, “you can’t blame that all on the managers! Musicians tend to lose perspective.”
“Here is a perfect example”, he continues, “I was on tour in Australia a little while back and prior to leaving I read this huge article on Neil Young where he is telling the interviewer how we should all convert our cars to electric and support the whole green thing. He converted one of his Cadillacs to electric and he feels everyone should do their part and follow the same standard of living to save the environment”, before a short pause. “Who do I meet on that tour in Australia? The guy who flies Neil Young’s private jet.” Laughter fills the conversation.
“This guy tells me that Neil hasn’t flown commercial in more than 30 years. These artists want you and me to drive around in golf carts and sit under 2 watt bulbs while they are jet setting around the world! It’s crazy.”
Even though the Melvins were never successful on a level of lavish excess, which Osborne would soon explain his resentment to the mainstream culture of monetary glorification, the band held something more valuable. They held the influence to change the world with shattering implications on American Music. Buzz Osborne was the man who introduced Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl to a young Kurt Cobain. It was a colossal action in the history of rock.
“I met Kurt Cobain when he was 11, before he was ever involved in music and it is true that I was the person who introduced Grohl and Novoselic to him.”
“It was relatively hopeless there during that time and hopeless there still. We were long gone before grunge exploded. Bands like Soundgarden and Green River would book a show together and advertise it for a month. They would be lucky if they got 10 to 15 people there. Certainly nobody was shoving contracts under our noses to do any records. That’s for sure. Sub Pop never liked us, that was evident from the beginning and believe me, the feeling was mutual.”
“That is about all that you will ever read that is true about our relationship”, comments Osborne. “You have to understand something; the Nirvana story is a tragic one. There is nothing good about any of it. That guy is dead. He met me, he got interested in music and now he is dead. What is the good part about that? I don’t have a lot of good feelings along those lines. I have had people from MTV contact me to talk about the ‘happy’ side of Kurt Cobain. To be honest, I don’t have a happy side. It is tragic, it’s horrific, and it’s nightmarish. It is the ugly depths that drug addiction and being ill prepared for that kind of fame will bring to you”, as he references the single shotgun blast which resulted in the suicide of Cobain.
“There is no good side to it. Through the years I have been burned and misquoted by every journalist who has ever contacted me on the subject. The number one thing they cannot understand was how we influenced the great Cobain? All that means is that they have no intimate understanding of the man whatsoever. Spin, Rolling Stone and all of the mainstream outlets have this preconceived notion of how Nirvana came to be and when the one guy that was there tells them differently, they dismiss it. That is how they are.”
“The fact of the matter is without the Melvins there would be no Nirvana, no matter what you read, which means our music impacted the world on a global level. We had a direct influence on all of those bands, including Soundgarden. It is all a result of our music. Journalists cannot stand that shit because the coupling of money and success blinds them.”
“Even though we have been around and making records for 25 years, they hate us because we don’t play their game and we are not flying around in private jets. Why do you think they latch onto Paris Hilton and Courtney Love? You don’t need talent when you have the bucks to back it up! That is the mentality, understand that.”
It is clear that Buzz Osborne is unapologetic, not to the media, not to his critics, and certainly not on his records.
The Melvins released Nude With Boots, back in 2008. It preceded their silver anniversary of recording and their 17th studio LP. A musical lineage rooted in primal instinct rather than the blinding glitter of material collections forged the Melvins on an artistic path uncompromised by the sole pursuit of fortune.
“For the Nude With Boots recording Dale Crover and I basically started over, from square one. We fired our bass player and had to re-think our entire approach. Instead of just hiring another bass player we added a bass player and an additional drummer”, explains Osborne.
Jared Warren and Coady Willis joined the fold.
“It was something we certainly didn’t have to do, and we considered it a gutsy move at the time. I have very intense views on recordings verse live shows and we are not a band that is precise in playing the tracks exactly the same way every time. When I am making an album, I am making it for you to listen to at your home or in your car. I know for a fact it is not going to be on the radio”, he jokes. “When you come see us play live you are going to get a different animal. We rework our material so that they succeed live, and this time around was no different. We had to rework our catalog to include an additional drummer and basically a whole new band.”
“I was standing there starting over from square one after 22 years with a brand new band and a brand new idea bout how this band was going to work. It was a challenge; believe me.”
“I am a firm believer in letting people do their job”, Osborne continues. “If you hire somebody to have them play bass, let them play bass. If you hire a flamboyant, hard-hitting, drummer, then we want all of that you can give us. I want the people I play with to be comfortable and to own the music. As a songwriter I want the tunes to become something else.”
“I think people play music better when they own it. Give musicians the freedom to express themselves as much as humanly possible. Nude With Boots I wrote entirely with those guys in mind.”
After touching upon numerous themes and topics including freedom of expression, Nirvana, and the media, Osborne concludes his mental purge in an encompassing statement that solidifies his intent of individuality:
“You have to go with your instincts. The problem with musicians is most of them are scared. They are terrified. The more peculiar you can be, the better off you are. You constantly have to strive to not be perverse. You have to make records that you like. Trust your judgements. This recording is a historic achievement for us, we are celebrating 25 years. I think it is as vital and current as anything we have every done!”
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