Sludge, American style

For Melvins' leader Buzz Osborne,
normal is a state of someone else's mind

     The Melvins have a flare for the dramatic, as well as for the bizarre, most certainly in a Frank Zappa sorta way, especially for a band with album titles like "The Maggot," "Hostile Ambient Takeover" and "Everybody Loves Sausages." Appropriately, the masters of sludge rock, longtime members Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover, are celebrating the month of August by appearing as animated characters in the Cartoon Network series "Uncle Grandpa." You could argue that Osborne's potted-plant hairstyle also inspired another cartoon character, the Simpsons' "Sideshow Bob."

     Living in the sub-cult village of American pedal-to-the-metal, they are irreverent, funny, and, occasionally, exceedingly ambitious.

     For example, the group that usually performs as a power trio once played every night for 51 straight days in every state in the U.S. and the District of Columbia. The 2012 tour started in Anchorage, Alaska and ended up in Honolulu, Hawaii.

     Band leader and guitarist Osborne says the Herculean effort would have been written up in the Guinness Book of World Records, "but you have to pay for that."
     As far as the weirdness goes, Osborne makes no apologies. Being anti-social, most certainly non-commercial, is a an artistic statement opposing the overculture.

     "We're a lot of long-haired kooks, that's kind of the deal," he says in a telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles. "There are enough bands already doing the normal stuff."

     Other notable oddities in the history of the Melvins is that in 2011 they were touring in Christchurch, New Zealand at the time of a major earthquake, and then were in Tokyo, Japan for an earthquake and tsunami. He adds they were in Los Angeles for another temblor, but adds he finds no special coincidence regarding these events, even considering the fact that the Melvins play loud and hard enough to set off earthquake alarms.

     What else? Oh yeah, this: The Melvins challenge Neil Young for the title, "Godfather of Grunge." They have also been referred to as "the Gods of sludge." They are most certainly the godfathers of gut-pounding something.

    "One-hundred percent, no question," he says. "Most people give us props for that, for what it's worth."

     The grunge pioneer connection began with Osborne growing up around Aberdeen, Washington, and attending the same high school as Curt Cobain.

     "We did know each other to some degree," Osborne says. "We were all interested in music. (Cobain) had a talent for chord progressions that were good to listen to ... But everything that happened with the way he died replaced all of that."

     When he introduced Cobain and Krist Novoselic to Dave Grohl, Nirvana was born. Now a member of the Foo Fighters, Novoselic recently proposed to Osborne that he and the Melvins join together for a series of shows performing Nirvana songs, but the idea fell through.

     Nevertheless, they will be always connected to the birth of grunge and the fabled "Seattle sound," even though they have been based in Southern California for more than 20 years. The band's first album "Gluey Porch Treatments" in 1987 led to a few more independent releases and then, just as Nirvana was taking off, the Melvins were signed to Atlantic Records to produce "Houdini." But in the time since the group has spun out of the "grunge" universe, creating a ferocious, disassembling hodge-podge style fusing Black Sabbath to the furies of all forms of guitar noise.

     The Melvins are touring after releasing two albums this year.

     The first, "Three Men and a Baby," is a project that originally began in the late 1990s, but was abandoned when the drummer had to be fired "due to extracurricular activities, if you know I mean," Osborne says. After he returned, they completed the record.

     "I had put that (project) completely out of my mind," he says. "I completely forgot what they sounded like. He came back we finished it and now I'm really proud of it."

     The main focus of the band, though, is to promote "Basses Loaded," which includes a rambunctious cover of the Beatles' "I Want to Tell You," as well as an eclectic mix of buzzing guitar, jazzy interludes, off-color joke tunes, a cover of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," and more than one track calling back to the early days of grunge. The record features six different bass players (hence the album title), including Novoselic, Jeff Pinkus of the Butthole Surfers, Mr. Bungle bass player Trevor Dunn, Jared Warren of Big Business, and Steve McDonald of Redd Kross, who is the bassist on the current Melvins' tour.

     Osborne says the use of so many bassists was due to a feeling of complete insecurity about how many band members have come and gone over the years. He is the lone original member.

     "It's so discouraging to have all of my musical hope pinned on one guy," he says. "So I use a lot of people. Every version of the band (on the album) is different sounding. We hadn't done anything like this and it seemed like a good idea."

     At the end of it all, the Melvins are the avant garde masters of the unconventional.

     "I don't think it sounds odd," he says. "There's not much I can do about what people think is experimental or odd. It sounds normal to me. All things are relative."

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