The man behind the Melvins: Buzz Osborne 

click to enlarge Endurance factor: Headed by the sometimes incomprehensible Buzz Osborne, left, the Melvins have been playing avant garde metal for nearly 30 years. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Endurance factor: Headed by the sometimes incomprehensible Buzz Osborne, left, the Melvins have been playing avant garde metal for nearly 30 years.

Buzz Osborne, mastermind of the Melvins, explains the band’s longevity: “It’s because I’ve got cojones!” he says, using his anatomy to explain how his avant-garde metal band has survived 29 years, six lineups and innumerable stylistic changes.

The declaration might be bold, but over three decades, the vocalist, guitarist and experimentalist — who brings his group to the Great American Music Hall next week — has earned his bragging rights.

Although the group spawned from the early-1980s hardcore punk scene, it quickly embraced the blues-metal of Black Sabbath. By welding lumbering riffs of Sabbath with the energy of punk, the band created what is now known as “sludge metal.”

Never stagnating, the Melvins continued to evolve past the sludge genesis through projects including a 70-minute musique concrete sound-clash and an ambient-drone collaboration with horror movie sound engineer Lustmord.

Last month, the band released the devastating “The Bulls and the Bees,” which reflects its history in a tight five tracks. As usual, it features idiosyncratic titles such as “The War on Wisdom.”

“I’m not sure what I was talking about on that song,” Osborne says, “but combating wisdom isn’t necessarily a hard thing to do.”

For Osborne, new Melvins projects can be as surprising to him as they are to his audience. He says, “The lyrics are very direct, even if I don’t know what they mean. I’ve never had a certain way of doing things, so that leads to how our music comes out.”

He seems to be touched by a muse that speaks in a language even he can’t fully articulate. But if Osborne isn’t sure about the meaning behind his own songs, how can audiences understand the band’s forays into strange musical territory?

“The vast majority of people that buy our records understand what we are doing,” Osborne says. “Every release, 20 percent of our fans leave us, but new, younger people come in, so it evens out.”

 

Audiences may take what they like from the Melvins’ experience. Osborne says, "I believe that interpretation is a path that people are on, right or wrong. I don't have a story to tell. If people are right or wrong or boorish or intellectual, I'm fine with it all."
Pressed for a clearer definition of what he means by "path," Osborne cryptically replies, "Life is beautiful. The streets are paved with gold."


IF YOU GO
The Melvins

Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. April 12   
Tickets: $21 to $46
Contact: (415) 255-0333, www.slimspresents.com

 

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John Gentile

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