BECOMING involved in music as a high school friend and band-mate of Kurt Cobain, before forming grunge/metal legends the Melvins, Buzz ‘King Buzzo’ Osbourne has accomplished most things in music.
However, after a 31-year career involving over 30 albums of studio and live material, the singer-guitarist is still breaking new ground by going acoustic for the first time on new album This Machine Kills Artists.
“It just seemed like the right thing to do, you know?” he says. “I’ve done a lot of albums in the past and a lot of other types of work in the past, but there’s no real reason other than that. I worked on it for a few months and I realised pretty quickly that I can do things fast, because I didn’t have anybody else working on the songs. So once I had them written, I was able to go in and record them, and I had a great time doing it. It was just another challenge and I was up for a challenge. I’ll take the blame, no problem [laughs].”
The 50 year-old is equally self-effacing, engaging and blunt, and was just as driven by what he wanted the new album to sound like as how he wanted to avoid it sounding like. A quote on his website reads “I have no interest in sounding like a crappy version of James Taylor or a half-assed version of Woody Guthrie”.
“I just listened to most of what that stuff sounds like and just made sure I didn’t do it,” he says. “I think it’s mission accomplished in that department. I didn’t want to do some National Skyline type of thing at all. Lots of rock and rollers try to do that; they think it’s more legitimate or something, I don’t know. It’s weird. I could certainly do all acoustic covers of Hank Williams songs if I wanted to, but that just doesn’t sound very interesting to me, you know? As much as I love Hank Williams, it’s not for me to do it. If I could figure out some other angle on it, maybe, but I’m not going to worry about that. I’m trying to be kind of a heavy metal version of Captain Beefheart. I’ve been calling it ‘molk’, which is metal-folk. How does that sound? M-O-L-K; I don’t know anyone else who is doing that. It’s an original concept. For all intents and purposes that’s the kind of area I’m working in. So nothing’s too direct, but I think if you listen to it, it can mean a lot to a lot of different people. I’m never that direct, never I’m not going to lead you by the hand down the garden path. It’s a walk people have to take on their own, you know?”
With more than 2000 shows under his belt, it would be safe to assume Osbourne should take performing in his stride, even if the new format throws up some original challenges.
“I don’t have a band to hide behind on this,” he says. “I just have to go out there and make it work. I’m all on my own; there’s no drums or anything except me and my acoustic. It’s very stripped-down, very minimalistic and that’s kind of how I want it. I’m eight shows into this tour and I did about 17 or 18 shows before this. I’ve done the better part of 30 shows, but I’m still learning, you know? I’m figuring it all out as it’s brand new to me. By the time I get to Australia I’ll have more than 50 shows under my belt, so I’ll be feeling pretty secure that I’ve seen it all by that point, but there really is nothing like playing live to get that experience and feeling that anything and everything could go right or wrong. There’s no substitute for that; none. Things can still go wrong; even songs that I’ve played for years. You just never know. That’s all part of playing live.”
Osbourne will bring his solo show to Australia for a ten-date tour in August, and while he’s not generally known for being a chatty performer, expect at least a bit of banter between songs.
“For now, I have been telling stupid stories and stuff like that,” he says. “It’s not normal singer-songwriter type stuff, it’s more irregular. I want to present this as serious, but still vulnerable to some degree. I got to have some kind of communication with [the audience], but maybe as time goes on I won’t say a word. With most of the Melvins shows I don’t say a word; I just let the music do the talking and don’t worry about it too much. Sometimes at Melvins shows I’ll talk about whatever the fancy takes me, but not a tremendous amount. I’m doing 70 minutes with not a lot of talking; maybe five minutes talking out of 70 minutes. Sixty-five minutes of music is a enough for people to have to deal with [laughs]. Out of those 70 minutes, I’ll be doing about 50 percent old Melvins material and 50 percent new material, which is what I do normally anyway. It’s not a wild stretch, you know?”
The permanently-busy Osbourne confirms that despite his acoustic gigs taking centre stage for now, a return to blasting loud rock music isn’t far away.
“[The Melvins] have a new album coming out in early October and we’re going to do some new shows in the US in mid-October, roughly. Nothing’s on the back burner at all; it’s very much in the foreground. I leave nothing to chance, you know? I’m very much about plans; all kinds of plans. I’ve worked my ass off to get to this point.”
Despite swapping his electric guitar for acoustic, Osbourne laughs off the suggestion he might be mellowing with age.
“Listen to the album and you tell me,” he laughs. “It’s something else I can do, and that’s all it is. I’m a songwriter and that’s what I do; I make music. I do it for a living, I work on it as a craft. It’s all just part of the same thing, thank God.”
When & Where:
Thursday 14 August Geelong | Barwon Club (18+)
Friday 15 August Melbourne | Ding Dong Lounge (18+)
THIS MACHINE KILLS ARTISTS BY KING BUZZO IS OUT NOW.