Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne loves what he does. Since founding Melvins in 1983, the singer/guitarist has regularly reinvented the band to challenge fans and keep them guessing, making sure nothing about the group’s sound or direction becomes stale from album to album. He works incredibly hard at it, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s how it should be, in his opinion. “I am a songwriter and artist-musician, and that’s what I do,” says Osborne with a prideful tone. “I know other people who work other jobs who put in forty hours or more a week, and I go out of my way to make sure I put that many hours in too. I think musicians should work at least that hard on their stuff. If the average musician put in eight hours a day like everyone else does at their job, just think how much they could get accomplished! A lot more than they do right now, because musicians tend to be some of the laziest people in the world.
“I’ve never understood why so many musicians see fit to put so little time into what they do,” Osborne continues. “Most people put in forty hours a week at a job they hate, but it pays the bills, so they do it. Musicians, on the other hand, love our jobs—they’re really fun and interesting and exciting—but lots of musicians don’t work hard. Why? I don’t get it. That doesn’t work for me; I feel really privileged to be able to do what I do, and I go out of my way to put the time in and work at it—that’s why the Melvins put out so many records.”
According to Osborne, the desire to continue to break new ground and (yet again) do something unlike anything he’d done before was the driving inspiration behind his new album, This Machine Kills Artists. The results are a genuine step out for the guitarist. “I had never made a solo album before because the Melvins are my baby, basically,” says the guitarist as he begins to explain where the inspiration for This Machine Kills Artists sprang from. “Dale and I have been partners on this band for a long time, but I write most of the material with only a few exceptions, so I never felt the need to ‘go solo.’ At the same time, I’d never really recorded anything acoustic before; I’ve played acoustic guitar and have written a lot of Melvins songs on acoustic before, but then I’d just transfer them to electric for the Melvins. Those were the comfort zones I had, and I always had it in the back of my mind that I would do this someday; I just didn’t know when or how. Then I was just spurred to do it; I saw a different kind of challenge in it. I still play acoustic guitar pretty aggressively, without question, but I was really up for the challenge of making a record this way. I wanted to see if I could do this stripped down and with nowhere to hide. I wanted to make that work, and I was fine with putting the work in to make it good.”
As one listens to This Machine Kills Artists, there’s no question that the time put into the record’s design and making has borne fantastic, sweet fruit. Throughout songs like “Rough Democracy,” “Drunken Baby,” “How I Became Offensive” and “Illegal Mona,” the craftsmanship applied to both the production and performance is obvious. A very organic sound—natural reverberation, overdubs that were done in real time (not just copied and pasted into the mixes digitally)—dominates the record, and listeners will find that the sound is far more satisfying than it may have been if it had just been fabricated in post-production. That everything about the songs was done with a specific purpose in mind causes the album to feel more lived in and comfortable. Inspired, Osborne actively makes his vocals match those instrumental tones, presenting some of the finest, most melodic vocal performances of his 31-year career. The combination of those two elements makes for an impressive and wholly enlightening presentation of Buzz Osborne’s talent. Listeners won’t be able to stop themselves from catching an edge of excitement as a result.
“I ended up really enjoying making this record, and it turned out to be surprisingly easy to do,” beams the guitarist at the memory of making This Machine Kills Artists. “What I would do was work on the songs at home until I had something I liked and, because I didn’t have to run it by a band, I’d go record it as soon as I was happy with it. I’d work up two or three songs like that and, when I had them, I’d find out when Toshi [producer Toshi Kasai—who has produced many of Osborne’s albums with the Melvins—ed] had time and go over there and record them.
“I think it took us about two weeks over the span of two months to record all the songs on the album, but one of the really cool things about it was that every time we’d record, we’d do the songs in a totally different way,” Osborne continues, buzzing. “We didn’t use any amps on the album, so it was just a matter of how we recorded the guitar—with what mikes and the method by which we’d capture the sound. Some of them were pretty wacky too: in some cases, we’d set up a bunch of mikes in front of the guitar or put microphones in stuff to get odd textures. A couple of times, for example, we’d set up a guitar in the room about six inches from the instrument I was playing and put a microphone inside of it so we’d get the ambient sound from the inside of the instrument as well as the string noise and reverb from the sound of another instrument and stuff like that. We tried an incredible number of different things in order to get different sounds and tones. Stuff like that, people might have been surprised or even offended by the way we worked, but I’m always amused by it. It might have been weird, but the results justified the means, I say, and it was fun.”
Since recording on This Machine Kills Artists wrapped last February, Osborne has kept true to his “hard-working artist” occupational standard and also recorded another Melvins album [which will be released later this year—ed] as well as playing solo shows to preview the acoustic album. “So far, I’ve already done about twenty shows this year on my own with an acoustic guitar, but I’m doing forty-two shows in the U.S., ten in Australia and another twenty-three or twenty-seven in Europe all by myself with an acoustic guitar after the album is out. On those first shows, I previewed some of the new material and also played some Melvins songs acoustically, but I want to get some other older Melvins stuff in the sets too; I want to take it as far as I can—I don’t want to do anything halfway. After the new Melvins album comes out in the fall, I’m thinking that maybe it would be good to do this solo thing at the same time I’m touring with the Melvins; like play to open Melvins shows. It’s possible, I could do it and it might be cool to do. The ceiling’s the limit, as they say,” he says with a chuckle.