Interview: The Melvins
Thu, 06 Aug 2009 14:06:00
The Melvins have never done things "normally."
That's why nearly three decades into their career they still rock. So adhering to their innate unconventionality, they made a remix record like no other remix record before. Chicken Switch due out September 29th via Ipecac Recordings turns the very idea of a remix album inside out. Buzz Osborne [Vocals/Guitar] and Co. gave each remixer an entire album to work with. They were encouraged to pull from that whole record and create their "reconstruction." The result is nothing short of mind-blowing.
Buzz spoke to ARTISTdirect.com right before he left for the band's current tour with Down. He dissected Chicken Switch, told us why L.A. is great and the secret to staying in the game.
Are you particularly excited about Chicken Switch?
Chicken Switch will knock your socks off. It's not your typical remix record. It's weird. I'm happy about that. You should expect nothing less from us.
Well, if people were expecting something normal it wouldn't be The Melvins.
Nope! They probably shouldn't expect bright and breezy pop tunes from us. There are plenty of bands out there that do those kinds of things. People shouldn't expect us to [Laughs]. If you want things done the correct and right way, there are other people that will happily offer that up to you. When you're listening to that, you'll be really happy. Bands shouldn't do anything other than make people happy [Laughs].
What inspired the idea of encouraging remixers to tackle whole albums instead of individual songs?
Most remix records sound too much like the original songs. I didn't want to have that happen. I also believe in artistic freedom. There are plenty of people who have done remix records that sound like the original—or they sound like some dub or dancehall version of the original. I had no interest in that. Plus, I didn't want to give the people individual tracks. We wanted them to reconstruct these. We gave them each a whole album and said, "Do whatever you want with this: turn it into one song or chop it up however you want. We'll put whatever you feel like doing on there." That was it. We knew it was going to be different from anything that's ever been done. The people that we use are artists in the extreme. It's not Trent Reznor. It's nothing like that. It's far more up to our standard of good.
Was there anyone you wanted for a remix from the start?
No. The concept came to us from a friend of ours in Atlanta. He basically spearheaded the whole thing for us. We left it up to him. We trusted his sensibilities, and he took it from there. It's perfect. I love it, and it sounds like nothing else that we've ever done.
Is it trippy to listen to your own songs in this form?
Well, it's never good to listen to your own music. It's always bad. There has to be something wrong with anybody that listens to their own music for fun. That's like reading your own books for fun. "I really wrote this part great!" I listen to all of our stuff with hypercritical ears, and it's not fun for me. I listen to other kinds of music for fun. Listening to my own stuff is trippy in general. This is a little better, but it's still me and that fact bugs me as far as being a fan goes. Even though we strive to make records that we would like as fans, I don't want to listen to our music. I trust my own judgment.
Where did the album title come from?
I think it's in reference to John F. Kennedy. That has nothing to do with this, but it's in reference to him "having his hand on the chicken switch." I don't know where that came from. It's an amazing title. I'm a list maker by profession. I'm a professional list maker and a full-time survivor. I'm also a philosopher. If I could get someone to pay me to do that, I'd be happy. Where do you get a job application for that?
I don't know. I think the best way to start is to stand on street corners and tell people what to do.
Yeah but that quickly turns into bumming quarters from people. I'd rather just work [Laughs].
Would you ever write a book with your philosophy ideas?
The Melvins did a big art book that was really cool. That was fun. I have my own ideas about writing books. You never know. I'm sure the wonderful world of publishing would be just as disappointing as the wonderful world of music. As a writer, you know fiction writers are at the top of the heap. If you want to write you have to read a lot. That's the only education you're ever going to get. Journalism is such a weird thing. The best journalism is always fiction.
None of it's true, and it's that kind of fiction-style that makes journalistic writing interesting. I'm not saying you should make shit up though [Laughs].
Having been in the business so long you've probably seen it all when it comes to press.
I think that's a good way of putting it [Laughs]. I did an interview once in Washington D.C. where they asked me to interview the journalist. My first question was, "What kind of a person wants to be a critic?" [Laughs] What's going on here? It's very strange to me that someone would want to criticize someone's art. I can't let that kind of stuff worry me. I just move ahead and do what I'm doing. I've never been wrong about anything. That's one of the problems. When it comes to the music business, there's nothing I'm wrong about. That's where the longevity comes from. I've made decision after decision, and they've always been the right decisions. Because of that, I've had a 25-plus year career in music. That's a long time to do anything [Laughs]. I could've gone to law school three times in that period. That's a long fucking time [Laughs].
Well you continue to produce honest art. Nude With Boots has the same fire that Houdini does.
I think Nude With Boots is a better record because we're better at what we're doing. I'm a better songwriter, singer and guitar player than I've ever been—ever. That's just how it works for me. I'd like to think I've learned something in that amount of time. It doesn't always happen though.
When you can continue to resonate with people the way you have, it's obvious that what you're doing is working.
It's because we're certainly not afraid, and I stick to my beliefs. I make music that I would like as a fan—whether I listen to it or not. That's the attitude that I take. I would appreciate the things we're doing from another band.
A song like "Billy Fish" from Nude With Boots takes listeners on a journey. There's a cinematic element to it.
I think so. That's one of my favorite songs that I've ever written. That's a great one. I love that one and "Kicking Machine." "Billy Fish" is amazing. It's one of my all-time favorites.
You tell stories with your guitar playing and lyrics.
That's what you try to do. Music is communication first and foremost. Any art is. That's its job—communicating whether people understand what it is you're saying or not. I can tell when someone is faking it. So can most people. That's what drove me to punk rock in the first place. It was the intimate respectability of being able to communicate on a small scale. You're not going to get that in a place designed for a sporting event. It's not going to happen.
Are you looking forward to touring with Down?
We haven't done an opening spot since the '90s. We toured with Tomahawk but that doesn't really count because it was more of a co-headlining run. We quit doing opening slots because there's no money in it, and we got tired of trying to sell the band like that. We did a lot of that kind of stuff, got tired of it and moved on. This isn't a step backwards as much as it is doing something we haven't done in a long time.
You couldn't have picked a better band to go out with.
Well, Madonna wasn't asking us [Laughs].
You didn't get that spot with Neil Diamond?
Nope, that's not to say that we wouldn't take it though. I'm pretty much open to anything, especially if the money's right [Laughs]. If the weirdness factor is there that accounts for some, but tell that to my mortgage people. They don't really go along with that. I wish they did. I can't tell them, "Look this is a really weird thing to do. I know we didn't get paid, but…" Not going to happen.
It's definitely going to be a loud bill.
We'll do what we can in that department [Laughs]. Rock music is loud and rebellious by nature. We don't always do that stuff, but we'll go pedal to the metal on this one. We have a 45-minute set which is perfect. People should understand less is more with rock music. Nobody's good for two hours. I'd rather see a band play their best 40 minutes and be done. I rarely go to concerts though. Half of my life is spent in those places. It's not really what I'm going to do when I'm home. I don't particularly care for the people that go to bars either. Unless I'm there working, I'm not going to hang out there. When I drank, I did all of my drinking in parking lots and cars. I didn't hang out in bars. Drinking isn't a social thing; it's a running wild thing.
Will we have to wait long for another Melvins record?
You won't wait too long. There's no reason to. I'm writing constantly all the time. You wouldn't believe it. There's lots of crap. I have to wade through it to find the good stuff. We go at this full force.
Do you feel like Los Angeles is an inspiring and creative place?
Yeah, wherever you go, there you are—as they say. I like it here. I wouldn't live anywhere else. Where would you move? Where do other people live that's so amazing? Fill me in. I'd love to go there on vacation. I don't know. I don't argue with people about that. If people want to live in New York, that's fine with me. I'd have to have a serious scam to make it so I could live in New York. That whole area is essentially a rich man's playground. You can't live there. I don't want to live in a closet somewhere in Williamsburg for $2800 per month. I'm not that excited about those kinds of things. I like it here in L.A. It's great. If somebody like Warner Herzog can talk about how amazing L.A. is and even he can like it, that's something. He thinks L.A.'s great [Laughs]. On January 5th most of the people I know are playing golf while everyone in Chicago is digging out their cars.
How do you create that classic Melvins live experience?
You get up there and you play. It's a roll of the dice. That's what's so cool about live music. You're never going to get that on the Internet. I don't care if you have an HD TV, you've got to go there and see it. It's something you have to see with your own eyes and hear it with your own ears. That's why it works. That's what keeps people coming back. The human interaction has nothing to do with a machine. You never know and that's the juice of playing live. I've always played with great musicians and that helps. Sometimes I can just turn around and watch the drummer and get inspiration from there. It's like standing in front of a freight train. I work very hard at what I'm doing. I love what I'm doing. I stand behind everything and apologize for nothing.
That's a philosophy to espouse.
From the beginning you have to make quality stuff. If it's not quality from the beginning, you might as well just quit. Quality from the beginning—that means don't worry about anything but that. You can't re-package crap into something that it isn't. It's always going to be crap, and people are going to know. You strive for excellence with every record.