Buzz Osborne On Butthole Surfers

Melvins [L-R: Steven Shane McDonald, Dale Crover, Buzz Osborne, Jeff Pinkus], photo by O1
Depending on how you’re counting it, Melvins released its thirtieth album, Pinkus Abortion Technician in April 2018. The title of the record an obvious, and humorous, reference to the 1987 Butthole Surfers classic Locust Abortion Technician. It should be noted that Butthole Surfers’ longtime bassist Jeff Pinkus has been a member of Melvins since 2013. The record is bookended by two Surfers songs, “Stop Moving to Florida” and “Graveyard.” While a testament to the impact the Butthole Surfers had on Melvins, both bands proved influential on 80s underground rock and the musicians who would break that parallel vision of interesting and exciting music, likely considered largely uncommercial at the time, to the world in the early 90s when alternative rock bands took the foundation built by bands like Butthole Surfers and Melvins to a massive audience.

Though Butthole Surfers had two left field hits in the 90s with “Who Was In My Room Last Night” and “Pepper,” neither Butthole Surfers or the Melvins were aiming to appeal to any trends, their respective music too weird and idiosyncratic for most people with mainstream tastes and otherwise casual music fans. Because of that both bands have a body of work that has aged well and in the case of Melvins, work that continues to evolve organically, regularly yielding interesting records. This weekend, Melvins are playing a pair of shows in Colorado, the first on Friday, August 10 at The Gothic Theatre in Englewood and Saturday, August 11 at The Aggie Theatre in Fort Collins, both with WE Are The Asteroid. We spoke with Melvins guitarist Buzz Osborne ahead of the show and talked about Butthole Surfers and his pragmatic attitude toward the appeal of his own music.

Tom Murphy: When did you first hear about Butthole Surfers?

Buzz Osborne: ’82 or ’83. I think I saw them first in ’83. Seattle.

How did you hear about them?

Same way I heard about every other band. I listened to underground music, I heard the EP and I really wanted to see them. I heard about them long before I saw them, like the year before.

What is it about that music that appealed to you?

It was left of center, it didn’t sound like anything else. They had a nice way of expressing their melodies that I found to be quite exciting and refreshing. I thought they were extremely good players. It was weird to the point that I could get into it and not feel like I was listening to a fucking REO Speedwagon record. It was everything I enjoyed about underground music. But having said that, honestly, if REO Speedwagon put out a record I liked, I would buy it. I’m not going to hold my breath but I’m not being perverse, you know. I never have been. I feel things are good or bad and that’s the end of it.

When you saw them the first time was it more the stripped down thing or the multimedia thing they did later on?

It was stripped down. I’m not sure what you mean. To me it was super punk rock but it wasn’t 7 Seconds, you know? It wasn’t no jive bullshit like that. It was really good in every sense of the word. Not normal but I was okay with that. I embraced that.

Do you feel like they were influential to you then?

Of course! They always were. That’s why at this point now, when I think about what we’re doing and who we’re doing it with, I can’t even really believe it. The idea that I’m in a band now with two guys that I’ve been fans of for literally decades is really quite amazing to me. It’s second to none and I feel like the happiest boy on earth.

The album is bookended by two Butthole Surfers songs? Was there an inspiration for the choice of eras of the band?

I don’t know. It could have been any era. We have been touring around playing both of those songs live a long time prior to recording them. And when we got in the studio with Jeff it just seemed like the right thing to do. An obvious choice. There’s no more to it. There isn’t an era of the Butthole Surfers that I don’t like.

Did you tour with them way back when?

We did shows with them but never toured with them. Three or four shows.

Is there a specific era of the Butthole Surfers you favor?

Like I said, I like every era of the Butthole Surfers. But if I had to get particular, I guess I would pick Hairway to Steven, [Psychic…Powerless…] Another Man’s Sac and Brown Reason To Live.

How do you think they impacted the world of music?

I never thought about how they influenced music in general. Maybe their weirdness. They influenced me. They did have an album that sold a lot of copies but I can’t say how well-versed a lot of the people that bought that album were in what [Butthole Surfers] did before that. Or if they had explored the earlier records if they would have been as excited about it. Maybe they would have loved Another Man’s Sac as well, it remains to be seen. Yeah, these guys are going to love the Brown Reason to Live EP, they’re going to be super into it. But who knows? I have no idea why people like what they like. I only know what I like and I’ve always figured that I operate with the assumption that I have good taste and I will make music I think is good without thinking in terms of how it will be perceived by anyone else. Just figure that if I like it, other people will like it but it probably won’t be millions of people and I’m okay with that. It’ll be enough. I’m not concentrating on selling records or not selling records. I’m concentrating on making music that’s good.