Grunge patriarch and Melvins singer Buzz Osborne knows that when the music industry gambles, the house always wins. But that hasn't kept him from letting major labels, arena-rock headliners and now car companies roll the dice with his sludge-punk band. Though Atlantic Records didn't succeed in marketing Melvins to the masses during the '90s, the Scion Motor Co. is undaunted. In its branding efforts to market compacts and coupes to Gen Y-ers. Scion bankrolled the latest Melvins effort, the braying The Bulls and the Bees, and released it digitally as a free download for fans. In an interview with Scene, Osborne sounds off about that and more in preparation for his band's return to Nashville.
Were you guys at all hesitant to get involved with a company like Scion?
Well you've gotta remember, in 1992 we signed with one of the biggest record labels in the entire world. I would venture to guess that they have more fingers in more pies than Scion does, and we clearly had no problem with that, doing three albums with them.
Did that ever have any effect on the band's creative process?
I've had people ask me that in the past 20 years. "It must be good to be off a major label where you don't have them telling you what to do" and all the stuff like that. My response is always, "Did you listen to the records we did for them?" [Laughs] If that's record company meddling, then good on them. Our first record we did for Atlantic had a nine-minute drum solo at the end of the record, and I promise you there wasn't one person down there that told us that was a good idea. Not one.
They didn't try to pull the reins back and talk you out of that?
Not in the least. The thing about it is, we've operated our entire career with the idea that we were going to do whatever we wanted to. ... We've always done exactly what we've wanted to and made the exact records we wanted to — that's it. And nonetheless, people get really weird about all this stuff. I was surprised at how so few people were actually impressed with the idea they were getting [Bulls & Bees] for free.
Your last record, The Bride Screamed Murder, actually cracked the Billboard Top 200. Did it outsell the records that came before it? Or have record sales declined to the point where you guys are in the average as far as rock artists go?
I believe it sold about 30,000 the first week. That cracked the Top 200. The Bride Screamed Murder is not even close to being the biggest-selling record we ever did. That just shows you how far down the music industry has come. If you have a record today that sells 3,000 in one week you'll be in the Top 200. We used to give away more records than that as promos when we were with Atlantic. I know Houdini sold well over 100,000 copies and we didn't even come close to the Top 200. We probably didn't come close to the Top 500 at that point. People don't buy records — that's it.
Was there ever a point when you were on a major label and opening big tours where you thought that what you do might connect with the mainstream?
No, not for even a millisecond. I always knew that was never going to work. The only people that didn't think it would work were me, [Melvins drummer] Dale [Crover] and the general public. Everybody else thought it was a great idea, and so we went along for the ride. Sure, why not? Look, I think our music should sell millions and millions and millions and millions of records — that's what I think. It doesn't, why? Because the world's not a great place. I understand that. I'm fine with that, and you move on. I think our music belongs on Atlantic Records alongside Led Zeppelin and Aretha Franklin and The Rolling Stones. Now the general public doesn't agree. ... So if you're a fan of The Melvins, you had to go out and look for us. That means you're halfway there already — you already understand weird music.
How glad are you that over all this time your hairline hasn't receded?
I have implants, that's it.You do not.
Oh yeah. I paid $50,000 for implants.You did? Or Scion and Atlantic did?
Scion paid for it. They had implants put in so I didn't look weird [laughs].
You guys have been around for almost 30 years and you haven't gotten soft. If anything, the music has become more abrasive. What inspires you to keep the music so menacing?
If you look at Tom Waits' new record, that is as abrasive and as weird as anything he's ever done. That's what he likes. He's all over the map, and if that guy can do it, there's no reason why I can't.
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