Digital Noise Network Buzz Interview

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Fantomas guitarist/Melvins guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne interviewed Wednesday, May 4 while hanging out at home in Los Angeles.

Buzz: Hello.

Patrick: Can I speak to Buzz please?

Buzz: That’s me.

Patrick: You up for an interview?

Buzz: Oh yeah.

Patrick: Cool. Where are you at today?

Buzz: I’m in Los Angeles, where are you at?

Patrick: I’m in Montana.

Buzz: Ooohh. Big Sky Country.

Patrick: Big Sky Country, that’s right. So you guys got a European tour coming up. Are you looking forward to that, or are you enjoying some time off before that gets underway?

Buzz: Well, you know, it’s always nice to be home, but you gotta to do what you have to do. A career’s not that big of a deal. It’s hard work, but you know, so is rustlin’ cattle.

Patrick: (laughs). So let’s start off by talking about “Suspended Animation.” I gotta say that’s definitely one of the fuckin’ coolest album cover concepts I’ve ever seen.

Buzz: Damn.

Patrick: We’ve been passing it around the office flipping through it. Tell me about the idea and where it originated to have a mini wall calendar.

Buzz: Oh that. You know, Japanese artist Nara, he kind of came to us with all of the stuff that he sent for us to pick from and once that happened, the idea of using a whole bunch of different art came about. Then the calendar thing kind of just fell into our laps. It’s good.

Patrick: How did you guys originally get hooked up with Nara to do the artwork?

Buzz: We wanted to so something cartoon oriented. He’s a really good artist. He’s done a lot of different things that we’ve liked over the years and we just took it from there. It turns out he’s a really big fan of the other band I’m in, the Melvins. That didn’t hurt.

Patrick: Why April of all months?

Buzz: That was when it was coming out. We knew it, so it made the most sense. Now it doesn’t make sense, it’s May.

Patrick: How do you think this thing is gonna stand up to the test of time? Like if this thing had come out in ’94 and was all about April of ’94, do you think it’s almost like a time capsule?

Buzz: Yeah. Test of time, who knows? My prediction is that, if it would’ve came out in 1994, it would’ve sold as many as “Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd. Since it didn’t, it’s gonna sell far less.

Patrick: Every time I listen to a new Fantomas album, I wonder how you guys write these insane tunes. What’s the process like when you enter the studio to record this stuff?

Buzz: Buzz: You basically just shit your pants. That’s where it’s at. It’s really hard. Usually it’s Mike’s stuff. So Mike basically is the author of everything and we just take it from there. We just try to make him satisfied of how his vision’s coming out. Which is fine with me. I usually write music and play for the Melvins so it’s a nice change of pace for me.

Patrick: How does that work? How does Mike convey to you guys, you know, this is what I want this track to sound like?

Buzz: Usually from demos or from, kind of, he has an idea in his brain of how it might sound and we just kind of take it from there. We don’t really practice, which shows you how good those guys are really. No practicing at all, hardly. Mostly just sitting around and goofing off, then getting together and just shitting your pants.

Patrick: It’s not just those guys. You’re included in that bunch of talented musicians.

Buzz: Yeah, but you know, what can I say? Yes you’re right, I’m an amazing guitarist.

Patrick: There you go. It sounds like you guys have a big blast in the studio. What’s the general mood like when you guys enter the studio to record material?

Buzz: The mood is (hums “Imperial March” from “Star Wars”).

Patrick: Yes!

Buzz: It pretty much; get the job done. There’s not a lot of goofing off. With that much stuff to do and as hard as that stuff is, there’s not a lot of time for goofing off. The prices that the studio’s charge, we’re not down there partying like Guns ‘N Roses. We got work to do.

Patrick: I don’t know if Guns ‘N Roses does a lot of partying anymore.

Buzz: What do you think?

Patrick: I think it’s just Axl sitting in an attic somewhere.

Buzz: If we’re lucky. I never liked that shit to begin with anyway.

Patrick: When are you gonna start standing in line for “Star Wars” tickets?

Buzz: Me.

Patrick: Yeah.

Buzz: I’m paying some little Asian kid to do it right now.

Patrick: Is he standing in front of the right theater?

Buzz: As far as I know. Here’s how stupid those people are. Originally, they’ve always had the premiers at the Chinese Theater here in L.A. So people originally always camped out there, in front of the Chinese Theater. This year, they’re having it at the ArcLight Theater but there’s still people camping out in front of the Chinese Theater as a form of tradition. That is just out and out insanity.

Patrick: Do people drive by those guys and throw eggs at them?

Buzz: No. Nobody would bother. Hollywood is freak city. Where would you start throwing eggs?

Patrick: Going back to the album. How did you guys go about churning out 30 tracks and what was the deciding factor each one? Like, were you guys like ‘oh, this one should be April 10’?

Buzz: You know, whatever made sense musically is all that amounted to. If one song sounded good next to another. It’s kind of a flow to it. It makes sense like that. That’s kind of what we did.

Patrick: This is kind of a crazy group if you look at it. You’ve got members of Faith No More, Slayer, The Melvins and Mr. Bungle all wrapped up in a neat little package. How did you four originally decide to get together and start creating tunes?

Buzz: I’ve known Mike and Trevor a little bit since the early days, the early ‘90s I mean. We did some shows with Mr. Bungle, the Melvins did, so we were kind of aware of each other for a long time. When this came up, Mike said he thought of me as a guitar player and was his first choice. Him and Trevor were talking about it, called me up, and I said, sure why not. That’s really how it worked. The drummer took a little longer to figure out. Originally we thought about the guy from Sepultura.

Patrick: Igor.

Buzz: The label was completely against the idea. Roadrunner Records said that they’d fight it every step of the way. Which shows you how fun and amazing indie labels are, you know. I don’t know what I’d do if I had a label telling me I couldn’t do one thing or another.

Patrick: Which happens to a lot of bands nowadays.

Buzz: It probably always has. I don’t know if it’s worse now than it’s ever been.

Patrick: I’ve had a chance to see Mike live. I saw a Tomahawk show, so I have an idea of what he’s like live.

Buzz: Where did you see him?

Patrick: I saw them open for Tool in Denver.

Buzz: Oh yes.

Patrick: It was hilarious because I was familiar with the band and he came out and they didn’t do too much Tomahawk stuff. It almost sounded more like Fantomas’ style with crazy sounds and noises. You could just feel the tension building in the audience and Mike starts laughing and says ‘that doesn’t sound like a happy Denver’ and amongst the booes, says ‘don’t blame us, blame Tool, they asked us to be here.’

Buzz: Yeah. Yeah.

Patrick: It was actually hilarious. I’ve never seen you guys play live, so describe for me a Fantomas show.

Buzz: Well, we all spend the first fifteen minutes backstage getting blow jobs. That’s how it works. Then tequila shots, getting blow jobs and watching baseball on TV. Then we hit the stage and the first thing I do is, I look for the youngest kid in the front row that I can find and I kick him right in the face. BAM. Just to show people that we mean business. Then maybe we start thinking about playing music. Mike does a little Q&A, questions for the audience. Then we take it from there and usually it’s so complicated nobody can tell if we’re playing it right or wrong anyway. But, if we look like we know what we’re doing, nobody questions it. Some nights are better than others.

Patrick: How many times would you say you guys invent a whole new song on stage and never play it again?

Buzz: Never. No, there’s no improvising going on at all. None. It’s true. There’s no improvising. If we could improvise like that, we’d be billionaires right now. It’s all very worked out.

Patrick: I was recently thumbing through a Nirvana biography called “Come As You Are” and there’s an extensive part of the book dealing with the early days when Kurt was hanging out with the Melvins. What do you think about when you look back at that seemingly innocent time period before the world’s eye focused on the Pacific Northwest and everything got sucked into a vacuum of pop culture?

Buzz: What do I think about it?

Patrick: Yeah.

Buzz: Desperate times. A bunch of broke kids. Futureless. Nightmarish. A bunch of people going nowhere fast. I don’t have a lot of fond memories. Some. In the area where we came from, there was nothing going on. It wasn’t really open arms. Things went very slowly for the Melvins. Back then it was a pretty depressing, desperate time. Cobain got relatively famous as far as our culture’s concerned and things just didn’t work out for him, which has no good side to it. There’s no happy side to that story.

Patrick: Yeah.

Buzz: I have sad images about all that stuff. There’s nothing good about any of it. There’s no good side to broken homes, heroin addiction and death. None at all. Those books are bullshit. You can’t read that stuff and think you know anything that’s really the truth. It’s not true, you know. It’s looking through the whole thing through the eyes of someone who wasn’t even there.

Patrick: I’ve wondered about that before. In the early part of the book, it paints a picture of Kurt as almost being obsessed with you guys.

Buzz: Yeah.

Patrick: And leaching on to you guys as a group and even talks about you guys as being “disgusted” by him at first.

Buzz: That’s not true. That’s absolutely not true. There you go. That’s something that he (the books author) is deciding is going on. We were never disgusted by him. As far as him latching on to us, that’s absolutely true. Without us there’d be no Nirvana. No doubt about that. Him and the drummer and the bass player. People don’t want to look at it that way. That’s cool, I don’t care.

Patrick: What are your early recollections when you first hooked up with him? It was during a time when you guys were discovering what direction you were going to go in.

Buzz: I discovered that long before he got interested in any kind of music. I just thought he was another kid that had the same kind of sense of humor as us. He kind of understood that whole musical thing. Another comrade who had the same problems as everybody else, basically. As far as being disgusted by him or everything else going on, I had my own problems. It’s just absurd you know.

Patrick: Were you surprised when all the attention came to focus on that area and all of the bands coming out of it? Or did you expect it?

Buzz: I was surprised in the fact that I didn’t think any of the bands were that good. I understand that Nirvana and Soundgarden sound basically like pop bands, but as far as the rest of the stuff I’m not interested in it at all. Not in the least. I don’t feel like a part of any of that stuff. I don’t feel like we were a part of that scene at all. I left there in like ’86 or ’87 for California. I haven’t lived there for a long time. 18 years. 17 or 18 years and I haven’t regretted it for one minute.

Patrick: A lot of bands these days look at the Melvins as a form of influence. I was talking to Kirk Windstein from Crowbar recently and he cited you guys as a major influence on him. Do you get a lot of that? Admiration from bands that really respect you guys?

Buzz: Yeah we do. It happens a lot. It probably has something to do with fact that we’ve been around as long as we’ve had. We certainly have been an influence. There’s just not enough time in the day when you have time to think about things of that nature.

Patrick: What are your plans down the road after you finish this touring cycle?

Buzz: With the Melvins?

Patrick: Yeah.

Buzz: We have a reissue record coming out in May. It’s a reissue of a record that’s coming out with the original lineup of the band prior to Dale Crover, from 1983. It was never released. That’s coming out in May. We may have a new record coming out in the summer, maybe some shows in the fall, we’ll see. So far that’s the plan.

Patrick: Maybe some shows, including Montana.

Buzz: I don’t know. That’s somewhere I don’t really want to go to in the middle of winter, I’ll tell you that.

Patrick: I hear that.

Buzz: Too dangerous. What town are you in?

Patrick: I’m in Great Falls, which is right in the middle of the state.

Buzz: Is that near Bozeman.

Patrick: It’s just north of there.

Buzz: Oh okay.

Patrick: Most of the shows that come to Montana, come through Bozeman, Billings or Missoula. There’s always a lot of traveling for fans too.

Buzz: Billings, is that that town that has the big mine that’s filling up with toxic water?

Patrick: No that’s Butte.

Buzz: Butte.

Patrick: There was this dog that lived out there, that they called the Auditor because you never knew when he was going to show up. He lived in that pit for 17 years where the toxic water is. No one really fed him or gave him water.

Buzz: Wow.

Patrick: The damn thing looked like a rasta with insane hair, this little ball of dreds. It was kind of an oddity because no one understood how this thing could’ve survived for so long there. He recently died, but he was an icon for that whole deal.

Buzz: So he survived in a situation where scientists think everything’s gonna die?

Patrick: Right.

Buzz: Well, there you go.

Patrick: People couldn’t figure out where he was getting food or water from.

Buzz: He must have been drinking that water then. He was probably fine. Once again science is wrong again.

Patrick: No doubt. Okay, last question. If you could put together your ultimate festival show and you’re on the bill with Fantomas or The Melvins and you could pick any bands past or present, which ones would you choose?

Buzz: Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and um ZZ Top.

Patrick: Would you be with Melvins or Fantomas?

Buzz: Both bands.

Patrick: Thanks for talking to me Buzz.

Buzz: I’ll talk to you later.

Patrick: Bye.

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