Buzz Osborne, the heavy riff guitarist for the Melvins, has gone acoustic.
He recently recorded an acoustic album, just released, titled This Machine Kills Artists, and he’ll be bringing his one man acoustic show to Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace on Thursday, July 31.
During a recent phone interview, Osborne didn’t offer many details on the name of the album, released in early June by Ipecac Records. In fact, he turned the tables by asking me what came to mind when I heard the title; I told him it reminded me of “This machine kills fascists,” a statement famously written on Woody Guthrie’s guitar.
“The thing with Woody Guthrie is I never knew if he meant the guitar, or if he meant him,” Osborne said. “He never got specific, and people just sort of assumed. I think he assumed that music has the power to do something of that nature—or does he need you to take the guitar and use it as a weapon and literally and physically kill someone with it? Which you probably could—and then you have to figure out what his definition of a fascist is.”
I suggested to Osborne that Guthrie may have been making a reference to his favoring of labor unions against those who abused workers who migrated to California from Oklahoma during the Great Depression.
“What’s real interesting is if you study the history of the Okies, the vast majority (of them) had nothing like that happen to them when they got to California,” Osborne responded. “The reality is, those people came here and did real well in California. They were well-off, and a lot of them were well-off to begin with, and moved here for better pickings. I can’t say it was a mistake; I’ve been to Oklahoma.”
Enough about history: Let’s talk about the music. What inspired Osborne to make a solo album—and an acoustic one to boot?
“I’ve always played acoustic guitar and have always loved playing acoustic guitar,” Osborne said. “I’ve done a lot of things in my vast, three-decade-long career. I’ve never been afraid of doing weird stuff as far as stuff that would be left of center of what I normally do. I really feel that there’s nothing I can’t do and be universally accepted by, I’d say, 80 percent of whatever my living audience is at that moment. Twenty percent of people won’t like it, no matter what … but there will be a new 20 percent to take its place. So, it’s odd, you know?”
Osborne said he’s always writing songs of some sort.
“I consider myself a songwriter in one form or another. It doesn’t necessarily mean I write for someone else to play my music, although I would, but it never comes up,” he said. “I wade through a lot of stuff, and it’s like digging for gold. Some of these songs could have been on earlier records, and some of them are very new.”
Osborne added that some of the feedback he’s received regarding his songwriting does not make sense.
“Let’s say (the Melvins) put out a new record, and it has different guys on the record, and then I’ll hear somebody say, ‘Well, I liked your earlier records, and I don’t like what you’re doing now.’ I say, ‘You know, a third of those songs were written during the era that you like, so they aren’t new.’ You just can’t win,” Osborne said with a laugh.
Osborne explained that musical legends inspired him to go acoustic for This Machine Kills Artists, which is credited to King Buzzo.
“One of my all-time favorites is Pete Townshend from The Who,” Osborne said. “He did this live show called Secret Policeman’s Ball back in 1979, and that always inspired me with how he could take Who songs like ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ on acoustic guitar, and make them sound just as good. I realized very quickly that it’s not the arrow: It’s the Indian. I always had that in the back of my mind—that (if) music is good, and it’ll be good, no matter what.”
Bob Dylan’s acoustic efforts also influenced Osborne, he said.
“Bob Dylan could do an acoustic version of ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ and no one ever thought it was bad. Folk music is fine, but I always thought Bob Dylan made (music) a lot better. Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger were big heroes of his, but he took what they were doing and bettered it, which is what you always hope would happen. (Dylan’s music) is mean-spirited. It’s not better days are coming; it’s much more realistic. … It’s not campfire sing-along stuff.”
Of course, he and the Melvins are not without their critics. While Osborne said he’s somewhat sensitive to criticism, he doesn’t have any regrets about his success.
“In 30-plus years of doing this, I’ve never had anyone tell me something … that makes me walk away saying, ‘You know, he’s right. This is right; I’m terrible.’ Never; not one time,” he said. “No one has ever given me good advice as criticism, not once. I’ve done music a lot more than the average person out there. I’ve been involved in it for a long time. … Things I’ve thought were good when I originally started influenced people and touched people around the world, and were ideas that were originally mine. That makes me feel really good.”
King Buzzo (aka Buzz Osborne) will perform with Emma Ruth Rundle at 9 p.m., Thursday, July 31, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $15. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit pappyandharriets.com.