The Melvins’ King Buzzo Talks Livestreams, Music Business: ‘This Is A War Of Attrition. I’m Not Stopping’

David Wolff – Patrick / Redferns
– Melvins
The Melvins: Buzz Osborne, drummer Dale Crover and bassist Steven McDonald, do their second livestream Feb. 14.

Roger “Buzz” Osborne, aka King Buzzo, aka leader of metal band The Melvins, has always done things his own way. Working alongside drummer Dale Crover since the mid ’80s, the Melvins are nearly synonymous with DIY ethos, from the band’s heavy, experimental music and all that entails over the past nearly 40 years, heavily influencing Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain as well as generations of up-and-coming creatives. Largely managing themselves over the entire period, the band didn’t miss a step after being dropped by Atlantic Records in 1997.

That DIY ethos continues to now, with numerous projects including a PPV New Year’s Eve livestream that saw the band as fresh (and sludgy) as ever, leading to the “Divine Monkeyshines: Valentine’s Day Special” announced shortly thereafter.

Pollstar checked in with the always-opinionated avant garde metal maestro for his take on livestreams, the state of the music business and everything in between.

Pollstar: You’ve been mostly self-managed for your entire music career as co-leader of the Melvins.
Buzz Osborne: We’ve been self-managed for maybe 99% of our career. We got signed to Atlantic Records without management. We had a manager during part of the Atlantic Records years, but it was about exactly what I thought it would be, which was ineffective. I didn’t see any point in it. So we got rid of that situation in the ‘90s and haven’t looked back. To me, what a manager needs to do is justify the money they’re making. They need to justify that by coming up with good ideas that are going to make it possible to make not only what you’re paying them but above and beyond that.
So you handle all the day to day and the business side yourselves?
It depends on what you mean. Day-to-day stuff like setting up a tour – that’s what a booking agent does. If you’re talking about managing a tour, that’s what a road manager on the tour does. If you’re talking about physical finances and stuff like that, that’s why you have a bookkeeper, you know.
Who is your agent?
Robby Fraser (WME). We were the first band Robby ever booked, look at him now! I have massive loyalty to that guy and I will go wherever he’s at. Now, he’s a senior partner at William Morris. He has expressed to me that us being the first band he ever booked led him to everything else he’s ever done. People must have said, “He books them, so he must not be all bad (laughs).” So that led him to a lot of things in the position he’s in now and he’s never forgotten, so I have a great relationship with him. We’ve been through a lot together, done all kinds of crazy stuff – booked probably north of 1,000 shows, at least.
That agent/artist relationship has to go both ways, though.
Well, he’s often told me I’m the most realistic person he’s ever worked with. I’m a guy that will go – “OK, we’re playing Upstate New York on this date, how can they pay us that much money? This doesn’t make any sense to me. I want you to get to the bottom of this.” I don’t want to walk into a jackpot, I want to work with people who are realistic, and have some idea of what we’re capable of doing. Believe me, I know exactly what we’re capable of doing in any market in the U.S. if there’s something unrealistic, in my experience it will remain unrealistic. If you go out there and do unrealistic stuff and go for the short money, eventually people won’t believe in you again. What I want is long-standing relationships with clubs and promoters that go on for decades. So there’s places like the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Ga, we’ve literally been playing shows there since 1989, with the same people. That’s what i want. I don’t want to play one show for a bunch of money, I want to play 15-30 shows.

And you’ve done just that. But In 2020 a lot of that was impossible. This year, for a band touring so regularly and with such longevity with business as usual and sustainable, how did you process the whole pandemic?
I had a solo album that was going to come out in May, then I had a huge gigantic tour planned — all kinds of plans for that. Then we were going to put out the new album that we have coming out now, that was going to take me to November. Then we have an album – “Working With God” — that was going to come out at the end of the year. That was the moment that would prompt us to tour with the regular Melvins come spring.  So all that got canceled – down the shitter. We’re living in a new world now, and I don’t even know what’s going to be there when it’s time for people to tour. I don’t have any concept of what’s going to be out there. I have no idea. 
We may have to reinvent the world as far as that’s concerned.
I’ve spoken with some people, who will remain nameless, that work with very big bands. They seem to think the ticket prices and that sort of thing will remain right where they’ve always been. I’m not so sure. They seem to think they’ll remain bullish on tickets, and take it from there and not lose a dime on any of that stuff. Maybe they’re right, but don’t know what’s going to be out there, I have no idea.  The one thing that is going to be guaranteed, the biggest of the industry are going to survive this, they’re going to have more of a stranglehold than anyone’s ever had before. One thing that people misinterpret, especially when it comes to business, is the one thing that small business has over large business is lower overhead. So if you destroy the entire system of small businesses, by only allowing the biggest ones to survive, that’s exactly what the big ones want to do.  There is no reason to misinterpret why a billionaire would vote for high regulations and high taxes. That’s because it makes it impossible for someone to come in and take over. That’s it. They can survive that. Others can’t do it.  Low overhead is the one thing they have on their side, but if you destroy that you’re playing into what they had planned all along. I don’t think people quite understand that.
How about your “New Year’s Evil” Livestream, featuring a full Melvins band, with Q&A sessions, high production value and visuals? 

New Years Evil
– New Years Evil
Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne during the Melvins’ “New Year’s Evil” livestream event, which was on-demand over the holiday at $5 pay per view.

I enjoy doing that kind of stuff. It’s no replacement for a live show, but any of these – if you go out on a tour, take a gigantic arena band, if they did one of these it’s not going to make anywhere near as many tickets as a big tour. It’s a fraction of that. Not everybody is interested in this, only a small amount of people are interested compared to how many would see you play. I think it works to some degree, and then there’s some people who will talk about, “Look how much money they made!” Actually no, they haven’t made shit all year. They made nothing. 
We priced ours really cheap because we wanted people to come back. I don’t know if it’ll work or not. We’ll have to wait  and see. We’ve planned multiple of these from the beginning, we did them at our studio, but had a massively high production value because of the people we worked with. Friends for a long time – Jesse Niemenen from Atlanta did the creative input as far as how it looked and directed it. We did all the rest of it – we filmed it, we recorded it and did all kinds of things, with the interviews. The interviews were as important as the rest of it. We wanted to make it more like a TV show. We didn’t hire a bunch of people, did it all in-house with us three and our engineer and his girlfriend Alicia, that was it, the whole crew.
I’m an amateur photographer so I know what will work and not do and what the cameras will do and not do and how to make something look cool. Look at good directors in Hollywood, they’re all good photographers.
 We had to do it like everybody else would do it – we rehearsed with masks on, recorded with masks on, did all that stuff. It’s not like we could just do a month of rehearsals to figure out what we were going to do. That’s just not realistic, and everybody has kids and parents and things like that. We’ve all been trying to follow the rules on this whole thing. Then when you get into this, you have figure out songs we kinda know that would really work under this context and that we don’t have to spend three weeks flogging to death figuring it out.
We did songs mostly that we really like and that do well really live, and thought that was important. I think it’s a good thing to do, but I’ve watched a bunch of the livestreaming things and knew what I didn’t like about them, so tried to do one that was the opposite of that.

How was the experience working with Veeps ?
They charge by how many tickets you sell, no upfront fee or anything like that. That’s basically what we did. They seemed cool. I don’t know, it’s a whole new world to me. I honestly had no idea how many people would come see what we were doing. It was past my expectations, I’ll put it that way, but not enough to make your eyes pop out. 

What do you see happening in the immediate future, for performing in general as well as personally? Are you able to plan anything at all?

I’d say there’s going to be nothing happening. I don’t see how it could. I’m thinking no sooner than March of next year probably. I had a lot more hope for this vaccine. But now you have to continue wearing the mask, continue social distancing – perhaps you won’t get as sick if you get it. That doesn’t change anything! That doesn’t change a fucking thing. How can you have a live show? If they can’t open a restaurant in Los Angeles, how the fuck are we going to have a show? Unless a miracle happens, which is not going to happen. This kind of stuff moves at a snail’s pace and it makes no difference who is pulling the levers, things only go as fast as they can. That’s it.
What are you optimistic about?
I’m all about reinventing the wheel. That’s OK. I’ve done that my whole career. We got dropped off Atlantic in, I think, ‘97?  For most bands, you get dropped from a major label, especially one as big as Atlantic, that’s the end of your career. They can’t recover from that. That was the middle stopping point, a mere hesitation, for us.  Concert wise, we do OK. Pre-pandemic, we did as good or better than we’ve ever done, because we never stopped working. 
You’re never going to please most of the people. There’s no possible way to do that. What I do is move forward in a way that I would appreciate as a fan. If I was a fan of our band, what would I want us to do? And that’s what I do. Does that mean they’re going to make records I like? No, they’re going to make records they like, they have good taste! I’m not a fucking jukebox, if I did that sort of thing my career would have been over a long time, a very long time, ago. There are plenty of bands out there willing to do whatever it is people want them to do. And that’s almost perverse. 
I cannot begin to tell you how many people have told me what I was doing was a total mistake. Those people are gone. This is a war of attrition. I’m not stopping. I’m the fucking Terminator when it comes to that stuff. You can’t stop me.  
If you don’t like our band, I might not say anything, but privately I think you’re a fucking moron who understands nothing. We still have people come up and say, “I didn’t know anything about your band until recently. I can’t believe I didn’t listen to you until such-and-such thing.” Yeah, I can’t believe it either! (laughs) Where the hell have you been? What kind of shit have you been listening to this whole time?