Although he’s been making music for the better part of three decades, Buzz Osborne is now heading off in a strange new direction, and he’s not really sure where it’s going to lead him.
Osborne, better known by his stage name King Buzzo, founded the alt-metal band the Melvins in Montesano, Washington, in 1983. Their sludgy, insistent brand of punk, although never quite commercially successful, was instrumental in establishing the Seattle grunge sound of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Kurt Cobain, a high school friend of Osborne’s, often cited the Melvins as his favorite band, and he co-produced their 1993 album “Houdini.”
Twenty-seven years after the first Melvins release, Osborne has put out his first solo album, titled “This Machine Kills Artists.” It’s not the first time Osborne has performed away from his flagship band – his other departures from the Melvins include the metal supergroup Fantômas and a brief stint with grindcore band Venomous Concept – but it’s his only material to feature only him, “without the drums to hide behind.”
“I certainly don’t need to do it, that’s for sure,” Osborne said of his new album. “But maybe that’s the reason to do it. I’m up for the challenge. It’s a weird thing to do, but I’m a weird dude, no question. You don’t know the half of it.”
Unlike anything Osborne has ever recorded, “This Machine Kills Artists” is an entirely acoustic album: It’s him and his guitar, and most of the record’s 17 songs could be easily transformed into snarling Melvins tracks with the addition of bass, drums, another guitar line and a lot more fuzz.
“I realized pretty quickly when I was doing this stuff that I don’t have to show the rest of these guys any of it,” he said. “So as soon as I know the songs, I can go record it. You don’t have to work out drum arrangements or bass arrangements and who’s going to do what. If these were Melvins songs, they’d be much more fleshed out.”
Osborne might have gone unplugged, but he’s not aiming for a coffee house crowd. There’s a punk dissonance to much of “This Machine Kills Artists,” and he’s also rearranged a handful of the Melvins’ signature songs to fit the album’s style.
“I’m not going out there like John Denver,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of people say they’re really surprised by the album and the live performance. It’s not unlike Bob Dylan or Neil Young playing acoustic guitar. Neil Young could play any song he ever wrote on acoustic guitar and everybody would be fine with that. So that’s kind of the approach I’m going for.”
The Melvins aren’t going anywhere – according to Osborne, their new album is scheduled for an October release – but Osborne says that, after so many years in the music industry, he felt the need to wander off the beaten path.
“I still don’t know how this is going to go,” he said. “I’m still at the beginning of this trip. … I still really won’t feel comfortable with this until I’ve got 100 shows under my belt. Then I’ll feel like I know what I’m doing. With the Melvins, I’ve done thousands of shows. There are no surprises; I know what to expect. Not so with this. I’m still in the embryonic stages with this.”