Q&A with King Buzzo of The Melvins lawrence.com

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Q&A with King Buzzo of The Melvins

  • By Tim vonHolten
  • Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The new Melvins record is a collaboration with a guy named Lustmord called "Pigs of the Roman Empire." The cover is on the back. And that's just the beginning of the sass. King Buzzo has been defying convention with his band Melvins for 20 years. They've weathered major label contracts, tours with White Zombie, and "Dookie," and have emerged as smooth and freakish as a two-headed snake. How, you may ask. Dunno. lawrence.com spoke with the miraculously locked monarch about literally thousands of topics, all of which can be found at lawrence.com, but some right here.

lawrence.com :: Buzz?

King Buzzo :: How are you? Where you at?

lawrence.com :: Lawrence, Kansas.

Lawrence, Kansas. Heartland of the U.S.

The middle of the heartland. The heart of the middle of the heartland.

Isn't that where William Burroughs died?

He did. He lived AND died here.

Yeah. Lived until he died.

And he died how he lived.

He lived there a long time, didn't he?

For, I think, 15 years. Nine... Nine or 15 years. I have no idea, but he lived here longer than any other place. He loved Lawrence. Loved his cats. Loved shootin' stuff up.

And shootin' guns.

(laughing) I was actually talking about guns.

I know you were. I just had to get that in there.

You beat me to it.

(laughing) Well, you know.

Took my punchline. That's all right.

It happens.

So, 20 years of the Melvins. Holy shit.

All narrowed down to us playing at the Bottleneck.

This is the culmination of 20 years as the Melvins.

At the Bottleneck. Yep. So what are your thoughts about this? Did you ever imagine in 1984 that you'd still be in this band?

No. No, no, no, no. When we started the band, the idea of just playing a show is amazing. I didn't think that far ahead. No way. How old were you when you started the band?

I'm 40 now, so I was 20. 40-years-young. And no regrets.

That's nice.

All my friends that are in their 40s say it's the best decade. 'Cause you're still young enough to do whatever you want.

And you're old enough to do whatever you want.

You're old enough to do whatever you want and you have the sense that that much living gives you.

Yeah, in your 20s you're still pretty stupid.

I wouldn't want to be in my 20s again, ever. It's horrible. Worst part of my existence was my teens and my 20s. It started getting better toward the end of my 20s.

But you were 20, and already something of a pioneer. So your 20s were your formative years musically. Would you agree with that.


So they may have been painful, but they really brought you to where you are today.

Yeah, in hindsight I wouldn't change anything, but I wish I could do it over and do it differently. It would have been a hell of a lot easier. What would you do differently?

I wouldn't have been so hopeless.

(laughing) Meaning...

I didn't see any future for me. So you were an angry kid?

Well, at the time you don't really think about it that way. You just try to get through it. I didn't have a really fun experience as a teenager. I think a lot of people that age DO think about it. They let their anger consume them. Were you that kind of kid?

I found self-realization through vandalism. And that happened at the grocery store where you worked with Melvin?

Sure. All the time. The more hell you raise when you're a kid, the sweeter the memories. You have a lot to look back on. I always love to see people who never did those things when they were younger. They're the ones who end up 45-years-old, driving around a brand new Corvette or something equally ridiculous. "Look at me! I'm a teenager!" And you're going out with some 18-year-old chick.

I believe the term is chippie.

That's a good one. I don't get that either. Why would I want to talk to a teenager? I didn't like teenagers when I WAS a teenager. I wouldn't want to talk to them now. My wife has a good saying about that. She says, "I've hated children ever since I was a child." I have to love that. That's a good one. She said that and I thought, "You're the woman for me."

So no kids in your life.

We like other people's kids. I don't want any kids. No way. Some people just shouldn't breed. Most people shouldn't. I love kids. I love other people's kids, and I love the fact that they go home at the end of the day. I don't need kids. I don't need it. Children are great for other people.

And you're plenty busy anyway.

And it's not just that. It's just I have no desire to do that. None. We always joke that we're like a gay couple.

(laughs) But you can get married.

We are married.

And you were allowed to do that by the United States of America.

Why would they want to be heterosexuals? Why? I thought they wanted to be gay. The best thing I've ever heard about that is, "Gay marriage? Haven't these people suffered enough?" Now you're gonna make 'em get married?

I think it's about the insurance.

I'm sure the end of it is money.

And the insurance companies are going to screw them over anyway, so they should probably keep separate health plans. Keep the double benefits.

They already have more money than anybody else, and they have no dependents.

They live in the nicest neighborhoods.

Yeah, they have good taste. Personally, if I was gay, I don't think I'd want to be like a heterosexual. I'd want to be something different. Isn't that the whole point? Oh, you want to be a heterosexual. Why not just be a heterosexual? You're the one confused. Not me. I'm heterosexual and I don't want f*cking kids. Where do I fit in? I guess. Ultimately, I really don't care if they get married or not. Ultimately I don't care. But it falls in the category of what I like to call the "if only" category. If only gays could get married. Everything would be great.

That would solve all the world's ills.

(laughing) Yeah, yeah. If only Greenpeace was right. And we could be completely anti-civilization. Great! Back to living in the Stone Age.

Perhaps we could let all the homosexuals get married and fight the War on Terror.


That would take care of the world's two problems.

Well, I've always thought there'd be nothing more frightening than a squadron of bull dykes coming at you across the battlefield. It'd be a bloodbath. That'd be one of the most terrifying assassination squads ever.

All that flannel.

Oh my god. They'd tear your head right off. Then add a little bit of Slayer to the mix. It'd be unstoppable.

Shock and awe.

There ya go. We just had to censor some boobies on the cover of our paper last week --

That makes it even dirtier. -- and the black booby-censoring rectangle said "Shock and Awesome."

I think a lot of people don't realize that censorship actually makes things better. Like if you had chocolate cake shoved down your throat every five minutes, you wouldn't like it either. You get bored of it. Do you guys have any parental advisories on your records?

No. I intentionally don't put any type of cursing on 'em for that very reason. Because I want the most offensive thing about us to be the way we sound. Not what we're saying. I don't like those ugly parental advisory stickers on there anyway. Because I said the word "f*ck." To me it's better to not say it, to not have it on there. Then people have no reason not to buy our stuff. Parents then can't say a word about it. Every fourth grader on earth hears the word "f*ck." Why do I need to say it? To me it's better not to say it. If that's the way people get a thrill -- "Wow. That guy just said 'fuck' on a record." I ultimately don't care one way or another. Great. It doesn't bother me, but I simply don't want people to have that to hold against us.

And you find it easy to avoid it.

Very easy to avoid it. ... Maybe I'll do it. Who knows? I should do a record that has nothing BUT that on it.

Not a bad idea.

F*ck f*ck sh*t p*ss. C*cks*cker. Whatever. Drink p*ss out of a dead donkey's d*ck. All kinds of crazy stuff like that. Wow.

That's foul.

The worst thing in the world! Is that true?

Drinking p*ss out of a dead donkey's d*ck?

It IS pretty bad. I'll give you that.

I don't know. We just never wanted to give people that kind of ammo against us. That was it. That's the whole thing. That's all it is. So you've talked about what you DIDN'T want to do. Was there a plan for the Melvins at the beginning?

I don't know. For some reason we all had an interest in music. I didn't start playing guitar until pretty late in the game. I was already out of high school by the time I got a guitar, really. I had a cheap electric guitar, but I didn't start playing guitar til I was 17 or 18-years-old, so a lot later than most people. And within a couple years the Melvins had played their first show, so there wasn't really a whole lot of guessing about what we were gonna do. It all happened pretty fast. You've been credited with creating a genre that came to be called "Grunge."

Yeah, yeah. Is there anything to that, in your opinion?

I don't know. I guess in some people's minds they like to say that. We don't spend a lot of time thinking about it, actually.

It's a nice thing, though.

I guess so. Even though that genre became as mainstream --

As milquetoast as anything else that ever was. But it's still hangin' on. Take the weakest link in the grunge chain, Alice in Chains, and THAT'S what every shitty band on rock radio is modeled after. Three Doors Down, Puddle of Mudd, Godsmack. They're all verbatim ripoffs of a band that was a marketing scheme to begin with. I'm not saying this is your legacy --

Why not say it? You came up with something that was new and cool, and it took off. It changed the freakin' world --

Yeah, well, y'know. We can wait all day and we still won't get any royalties. Line 'em all up. Line all those bands up in a row. Even if you did -- even if you lined 'em all up I still wouldn't get anything.

I bet you could get a "Six Degrees of Melvins" internet game going.

That'd be fun for two minutes.

You guys have been involved with so many artists, and are still affecting interesting music. And you're doing artwork, and writing. From Nirvana to Primus to Neil Young, you've been involved in some way with all these people, but you're still pretty underground.

We're by no means popular. When you talk about popular like Home Depot popular. Or "The Mall" popular. It ain't happening. The same people that hated me in high school still hate me. And that's okay with you?

There's nothing I can do about it. I suppose if I really tried hard, and really tried to figure out what it is everybody wanted, then maybe some of those people would like me, but generally speaking, as far as they're concerned, we're LOSERS! So be it. I'm fine with that. You find whatever it is that makes you happy and you do it. Whatever it may be. Whether it's eatin' ice cream or choppin' off people's heads. I'm sure John Wayne Gacy was really happy killing those kids and stuffing them into the crawl space of his house.

He was a clown, after all. Maybe he was crying on the inside.

I think he was laughing. I don't know. You just keep movin' your feet. None of that stuff really goes to my head. I think that's one of the things that's probably made it possible for us to continue doing what we're doing is the fact that we've never had any massive success. Most people never get over massive success. They can't live up to it again. They don't know what they're gonna do. It's not something you can bottle or figure out. If that was the case, major labels would only put out albums that sold a million records. And that certainly doesn't happen. They don't know what's gonna happen. They have no idea, no clue. They have less clue than I do. And I can't pick 'em. I'd never be an A&R guy. I've listened to so many albums and thought that they were crap and that nobody would buy it, and watched them sell 10 million. I have no idea what people want. I listened to that Green Day "Dookie" record, and I was like, "This is crap! Warner Brothers signed this? This is horrible!" It sold like 50 million or some insanity. So there you go. I won't make it. And they got to add a really punk rock touch to the last "Seinfeld."

I've never seen Seinfeld. I don't watch a whole lot of regular TV. I watch DVDs movies and stuff like that, but TV's not something I spend a whole lot of time in front of. I do watch it in hotels if we're touring, but not a whole lot.

Give us a little more information about life on the road with the Melvins.

We try to keep focused on what we're doing. There's a number of things we like to do while we travel, one of which is look for junk. And I mean junk along the lines of things you bring back to your apartment, and not smack. We actually look for real junk. Crap like that. I like doing things of that nature, but we try to stay focused on what we're doing. We have a job to do, so I'm very careful about how we set our tours up, how long the drives are, where we're going, what clubs we're playing, all those sorts of things. And making sure that it's as good an experience for us as everybody else, and take it from there. We're very user friendly as far as that's concerned. We try not to lose focus on what it is we're out there to do, which is we're out there to play music. That's what we're doing, and so we want that to be the main objective for all of us. And we've done it for long enough now to where none of us have these sorts of tour freakouts that most bands do. None of us are on cocaine benders. We always find it hilarious when we read things like, "Such and such band fell over dead from tour exhaustion." Exhausted from what? I've worked WAY worse jobs than this. What the hell are you talking about?

I think Matthew Perry and the Olsen twins lead very "exhausting" lives too.

I love that when you hear things about "children." "The Children, The Children." The children are literally living out "Lord of the Flies," people.

The children are on acid right now.

Yeah, they're cookin' on acid.

They're killin' cats.

And spray painting and smokin' pot. Everything that you don't want 'em to do. You just laid out the groundwork for 'em to do it. Wow, that's great. What were we talkin' about?

Let's talk about your major label experience.

Sure. We made three records that I still really like. I like that. They paid us pretty well to stay on Atlantic, which was great. I couldn't believe they wanted to do three albums; I was surprised they even wanted to do one. Me and our drummer, Dale, were the only people involved with the whole thing that didn't think it would work, as far as -- We pretty much knew we weren't gonna sell millions of records, but all these labels at once wanted to sign us after Nirvana took off. And so we decided that this would be a journey we would like to see what would happen. And the ironic nature of a band like us being on Atlantic sounded like something we wanted to do. The same label as Aretha Franklin and Led Zepplin. I thought that was hilarious. So we went into it with the idea that we were gonna get out of it with as much as we could without having to sacrifice everything that we thought was good about us, and we never thought we'd sell a lot of records. And we were right! (laughs) And we were in a better position than we were when we went in it.

So you went in with your eyes open. You had no illusions.

No, no. I don't look like any of the Backstreet Boys. We're far too ugly looking for any of that thing to happen. And we don't have to hire stylists to figure out what we're gonna wear, or any of that kind of thing. We had 100 percent artistic control written right into our contract. And they didn't have to put the records out, but they had to give us the money to do it. And they had to act in a certain amount of time. I would sign a contract like that again in a second. We could turn in any record we wanted. They didn't even know where we recorded or how much we spent. No idea. They never bothered us. They let us do whatever we wanted, and paid us to do three albums. Go figure. Nobody was more surprised than me. When I was looking over those contracts when all of that happened -- like 15 contracts from 15 major labels -- I was like, "The world is a weird place." We'd just put out the "Lysol" album and we have contracts from every major label. You tell me. I couldn't possibly do that.

We signed with Atlantic, and went and played them the "Lysol" record, and they said, "Sound great!" Cool. They didn't do anything. They never tried to hook us up with Aerosmith-esque songwriters or anything like that or even try to get us to do anything. AT ALL! They didn't ask for a power ballad?

No. They asked for nothing! They said, "Great! Sounds great! We like you guys. Do what you want. Do you think that was timing? Is stuff like that still happening?

I don't know. Record labels are getting bigger and signing less stuff now than they were then, so it was kind of luck of the draw for us to be associated with a band that was selling tens of millions of records, and citing us as an influence. That's the kind of thing that most people that work at major labels, or any label really, needs -- they have to have those sorts of things in order for them to get excited about something. And at that point major labels were signing stuff that you might actually want to hear, as opposed to now, but even then -- it's the same shit. It's not really any different. I mean, those bands like Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, they all sound like the Bay City Rollers compared to us. We're far more uncommercial than any of those bands ever thought about being. So it didn't surprise me that our stuff didn't sell, and it didn't surprise me that theirs did. Oh well. I guess it's basically the same kind of thing that was always sold, really. Take a song like "Teen Spirit." Intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus, chorus, chorus, end. It's the same as fucking "Johnny B. Goode." It's no revelation. They sold that stuff the same way they sold Motley Crüe's "Dr. Feelgood" album in the late 80s. Same station, same publicist, same record label, same tour, same managers, all that shit. Nothing's different. So I wasn't taken in by any of that stuff. It was hilarious. Watched scum-sucking pig bastard people do whatever they were gonna do. None of it surprised me in the least. So there you have it. And we walk out of it and -- Jello Biafra likes to describe us as "the last band standing." That seems apt.

Yeah. And I've got no reason to quit. It's great. We have a great time doing this. We have a brand new record that we love, a new tour that's gonna be a blast, and we have an album coming out with Jello Biafra in October. We've got a new book coming out, "Neither Here Nor There," that we're gonna be selling on this tour, that came out in the Spring. It's the most prolific time in our history. Everything's great. It's roses. It's the most prolific. Is it the best?

It's the easiest time. No doubt about it.

Are your tour runs shorter.

As long as we want. As long as we want them to be. We have a really good arrangement with our booking agent, and basically he does whatever we want. I say, "We have to start on this date, and we want to be done by October 17." Okay, here you go. "I don't want any drives that are very long." Okay. No problem. Very simple.

Things seem to be really on your terms.

They have been for a while. Quite some time, as far as that's concerned. When we were on Atlantic, we thought we'd try a lot of things we'd never tried, and I'm glad we did. Like opening for arena rock bands on tours and things of that nature. We did a lot of that stuff and I'm really happy about that. I'm sure that that all helped in its own way, but I'm through with that sort of stuff. I couldn't care less. It would have to be an amazingly lucrative offer for me to subject myself to the rigors of having to play to somebody else's audience as well as deal with their f*cking road crew and all the hassles that entails. I'm tired of trying to sell the band that way. We're done with it. It would have to be such a monetary thing that I couldn't resist for me to put myself through that. There's a few situations I would, but not many. So we did a lot of that kind of stuff, and it's fine, but I have no interest in it anymore. We do our own thing. But also, we would do, for quite a few years, we'd do an arena-level tour or something like Lollapalooza followed up or right after a headlining tour. So we always have done stuff like play the Bottleneck. Always. We've always played those kinds of places. And I always thought it was really great that the same week we could play the Superdome in New Orleans with KISS, as well as some dump in Birmingham, AL. I love that. All points in between. ... It's been a while since you played in Lawrence.

A few years. Last time I played in Lawrence I videotaped kids sitting out in front drinking Robitussin®.

My roommate was big into that.

It was great. They were all out there -- cherry-colored faces, chugging bottles of Robitussin®.

You've gotta have so much of that -- it's cheaper to buy booze.

They're not old enough to buy booze. But who's gonna let a 16-year-old with a sticky red face buy a dozen bottles of expectorant anymore either?

Oh, you have to be 21?

I think they'll give you a hard time. I think allergy medicine is kind of off-limits now too.

There's always somebody puttin' a fly in the ointment.

Well, that's a pretty good memory of Lawrence.

Well, I don't have any bad memories of Lawrence. Usually, with touring, especially -- we've been touring for 15 years. We added it up -- we've done well over 1,500 shows as a band. That's a lot of shows. So I tend to only remember things that are really bad... I remember it (Lawrence) being like a typical college town, along those lines. Where you have a lot of pesky post-adolescents walking around wasting their parents' money. Generally speaking. And then you've got a lot of Kinko's and coffee shops. Didn't you have a shitty reception when you opened for Primus?

In Lawrence? Or Kansas City? Was it not Lawrence?

No. We played a place in Kansas City that was in the round, and I remember it being excessively bad, which is why I remember it. And the crowd was a bunch of pricks?

Fratboy types.

Well, I'm glad it didn't happen here. Although we're not above treating bands like crap here.

I don't really care. I come to expect those sorts of things. When you're playing to somebody else's audience it's never an easy sell. Certainly the fratboy crowd that would be interested in Primus at that time, which was at the heart of Primus' prime-ing -- they certainly didn't have any interest in us, which we found to be kind of refreshing, actually. It was nice at the time to go through a period of five or six years where you preach to the unconverted. The uncontrollable nature of that was oftentimes very exciting and refreshing -- to piss off a bunch of people along those lines. It was good.

Why people pay to see shows and then ignore them is beyond me. I don't know if they just want to say later that they were there or what -- but I imagine you guys are pretty hard to ignore.

(laughing) Not for most of the world.

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