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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Music. No Bullshit.

One of the things that turns me off from a band the quickest is when they babble ceaselessly about the ideas behind their music. There’s nothing less rock and roll than a guy demanding to explain to you every emotion that went into writing a song, or rattling off influences like the recipe to some moody acoustic soup.

Buzz Osborne has no time for any of that bullshit.

The frontman, lead singer, songwriter, and guitar player of the Melvins doesn’t spend his time retrospectively romanticizing his career, or beating old hits to death on tour 20 years after their release. He has no interest in being an icon or the voice of any generation. And that’s probably why his music is regarded by many as some of the most influential to come out of the late 1980s and early 90s, and why so many more commercially successful bands cite the Melvins as a direct sonic influence.

The Melvins (comprised mainly of Osborne and drummer, Dale Crover, with a rotating cast of bass players) have been releasing an album every year or two since 1987. Few of their contemporaries can claim that kind of consistently prolific output, and the reason is that, unlike many of the other bands that were discovered in the Grunge explosion of the early 90s, the music they were making always took a front seat to image or gimmicks.

“Influence can come from a wide variety of sources. It can be noises in general, or a book you’re reading. You don’t know,” Osborne explains. When it comes to the band’s writing process, the system is just as straight-forward, “You just wade through a lot of garbage, and then something happens. You kind of self-edit as you go along. But unless you put in the footwork, nothing’s ever gonna happen. That’s always been the case.”

And he has no need for nostalgia. He recounts a small basement show “many years ago in Albuquerque with Urge Overkill,” as being a lot of fun, but when I ask if he misses those days, the answer is a flat “No.” Osborne elaborates, “The difference is, now there’s people that care about our music. Back then there wasn’t. That’s hard to deal with. We went for a long time without anybody caring about us. I don’t wish to go back to that.”

Osborne’s curt, direct opinions are consistent in every interview he’s ever given, and every article he’s ever written. He pulls no punches and indulges no idol-worship. He’s simply a man who plays his guitar, and chooses to allow that to speak for itself.

The message is entirely in the music, and that ideology extends to picking their supporting act as well. The Melvins are currently touring with LA-based Mexican firestorms Le Butcherettes, an angry, loud, female-fronted punk band that also leaves everything out on the stage. As Buzz recounts, “I saw them play live, and that was how it worked. I thought they were really good, and really wanted to tour with them. They’re one of the better new bands that I’ve seen.”

So if you get nostalgic when the radio or Pandora plays old Nirvana, or Alice in Chains, or Primus, and you wonder why there aren’t any bands around today that skewer their feelings with a wall of distortion and a primal scream, realize that the Melvins are still around. They never changed. They were just waiting for the rest of us to catch up and realize that the thing we loved about all of that music before MTV made it “safe,” was that it was made by people who played from their fucking hearts.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Home of the Brave

We need to talk. For the last several weeks, in the wake of the racial terrorism visited on yet another community, there have been discussions – some more reasoned than others – regarding things that have been coming up more and more frequently in our society: racial divisions, gun violence, and the various ways in which we react in the aftermath of the two. I can’t speak to the first two. I’m not qualified, as I know very little about the realities of either outside my own opinions, all of which are based on hearsay. But I can speak very personally to the third.

It’s interesting to me that, every time another of these awful events occurs, we immediately get so involved in understanding, and deconstructing, and arguing about the event itself, that very few people bring up what is, to me, the most horrifying aspect: it’s becoming more frequent. Perhaps it’s just that we’re more connected and aware, but it’s gotten to the point where my initial reaction is no longer the more appropriate disgust and sadness I eventually slide into, but something that verges on annoyance. Every time I read another headline about a mass shooting, or a hate crime, or any of the awful things that fill up my Facebook feed every morning, I am, in that moment, mostly just angry that I have to read about that kind of shit again.

The really torturous part is that everyone else only seems to want to dig deeper. The hive-mind of the internet wants to know how, and why, and where, and how many, and what did the family think, and where did this guy come from, and none of that does anything to address how we keep it from happening again. Sure, there’s lots of politics thrown around every time about gun control and violence in our culture (more recently racism in our culture, which is actually a good conversation to have), but nobody ever asks what it is about our country that makes us keep doing these horrible things to each other over and over again on a scale no other civilized group outside a war zone can even approach.

It’s not the guns, Canada has as many or more, per capita. It’s not the drugs or the racism, England might be worse on both fronts. It’s not violent movies or video games, because you go to China and that’s basically their national pastime.

But here’s something interesting. You tell an American there’s a speed limit, and what’s he going to do? Build a muscle car and drive it as fast as he can. You ask a redneck to take down a flag because it offends someone, and it’ll become a part of his personal heritage. We’re a culture that is defined by our often stand-offish individuality and independence. Show a Chinese guy a violent movie and then tell him not to kill anyone, I promise you, he won’t do it. I can’t say the same about the American.

You go anywhere in the world, and ask them to describe an American and the two words they use are “fat” and “loud.” The third one is usually “rude” or “violent.” These stereotypes grew out of the values we hold dearest to our national identity. I’m not saying we haven’t made progress, but perhaps we would make it faster if we started addressing the way we view ourselves as a people. Maybe if we started to redefine to ourselves what it really means to be a citizen of this country, over time, we might be perceived differently. And then some of this might actually start to change.